24 June, 2019
An information board recounting how Blaenavon ironworkers were held to ransom by their bosses has been unveiled at the site where people once queued for nine hours to pick up their pay.
In the 230th anniversary year of the Ironworks opening, Blaenavon Town Council has installed the board outside Caddick’s Builders’ in North Street, which was once the infamous Truck Shop.
When the Ironworks opened in 1789, hundreds of people descended on the town to find jobs. There was then very little in terms of shops and other services, so the needs of the workers and their families were met by the ironmasters at the company shop, also known as the Truck or the ‘Tommy’ shop.
The wording on the information board, provided by local historian Dr Nathan Matthews, reads: “In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, Blaenavon workers and their families had to buy food and clothing from the iron company’s truck shop. Whilst it was a necessity in frontier communities such as Blaenavon, the company shop was also used by the masters to keep prices high and keep people in debt. Workers were not paid in cash, so they could not spend their money elsewhere.
“The ‘truck system’ became very unpopular and was among the causes of protest in South Wales during the early 19th century. Over time, new laws were passed to remove the truck system and its injustices.
“From about 1814, the company shop was located in Engine Row, near the ironworks. With a rising population, demand was so high that the shop was moved from to bigger premises in North Street (Caddick’s offices) in 1844-45.
“The shop operated well into the Victorian era. On payday, it is recorded that women would queue for up to nine hours to get served. The new shop was extensive and sold everything to cover the needs of the workers and their families, including bread, meat, butter, cheese, footwear, clothing and general groceries.”
The board is part of a history project that has also seen the Town Council erect a similarly designed one at the Lion Hotel to commemorate the Blaenavon riot of 1868, where hundreds of people protested about not being able to vote in the general election.
Mayor Jac Denley-Jones said the Council had been supported by Dr Matthews and Torfaen County Borough Council in designing and placing the board.
“Not everyone, including many local residents, is fully aware of how tough life was for our ancestors,” she added. “We’re pleased to be able to play a role in informing visitors and locals alike about an important time in the history of the town.”