Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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ABRAHAM , WILLIAM ( Mabon ; 1842 - 1922 ), M.P. and first president of the South Wales Miners’ Federation .

Born 14 June 1842 , at Cwmafan , fourth son of Thomas and Mary Abraham , he was educated at Cwmafan National School , became a tinplater and then a miner , commencing as a ‘ door boy .’ In 1870 he was elected a miners’ agent and played a prominent part in the struggle which led to the agreement for drawing up a sliding scale of wages in the coalfields in relation to prices and profits in Dec. 1875 . He was the miners’ chairman of the Joint Sliding Scale Association until it was terminated in 1903 . From 1892 to 1898 the South Wales miners did not work on the first Monday of each month, a scheme to limit output in order to maintain wages [it also gave opportunities for holding miners’ meetings]. This was known as ‘ Mabon's Monday .’

In 1885 he was elected M.P. for the Rhondda division , the first miners’ representative from South Wales ; he represented Rhondda West , 1918-22 . He was associated with the radical wing of the Liberal Party until 1906 when the Labour Party became a separate political organization, although the Miners’ Federation did not become affiliated until 1909 .

Mabon , however, did not take an active part in political life; his main importance lies in the history of trade unionism in Wales . The miners were at first loosely organized in a number of small and independent local bodies. Mabon strove to preserve their autonomy despite the urge of younger miners to form a more unified and firmly-knit organization. They were successful, and in 1898 the South Wales Miners' Federation was formed, and Mabon became its first president . He tried to exert a moderating and conciliating influence on his followers, but could not prevent the series of critical disputes which produced the first general miners’ strike in 1912 .

His other great interest was the eisteddfod. His burly appearance and powerful voice were features which made him well known and effective as a conductor of eisteddfodau at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th cent., a period during which the eisteddfod attracted enormous crowds. He would often sing to the audiences, as he was endowed with a good tenor voice.

In 1860 he m. Sarah , daughter of David Williams ; she d. in 1900 , having borne him three sons and three daughters.

Mabon was made a Privy Councillor in 1911 . He d. at Pentre , Rhondda , 14 May 1922 .

Sources:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ;
  • Ness Edwards , The History of the South Wales Miners , London, 1926 ;
  • The Times , 15 May 1922 ;
  • T. Marchant Williams , Welsh Members of Parliament, 1894 , Cardiff, 1894 ;
  • private information.

Author:

Professor Huw Morris-Jones, D.Phil., (1912-89), Bangor

Published date: 1959