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Trevithick Day Celebrations

A Blue Plaque is to be unveiled in the village of Abercynon tomorrow (Saturday, February 21) to celebrate the life of famous trade unionist John Ewington. 

The unveiling of the Blue Plaque by the Council will form part of a series of events being held to celebrate Trevithick Day. 

Other events being held in the area include the unveiling of an interpretation panel in front of the Celtic Carvery Navigation at The Basin on the same day. 

The Blue Plaque in honour of John Ewington is being unveiled at Abercynon Railway Station by Cllr John Watts, Mayor of Rhondda Cynon Taf. All are welcome. 

Mayor, Cllr John Watts, said: “John Ewington, a quiet and unassuming man, played such a major part in history due to his unfortunate circumstances at the time. 

“It will be a huge honour to unveil a Blue Plaque in his memory – one of many Blue Plaques that are located all around Rhondda Cynon Taf, marking the lives of people who made a substantial impact on society.” 

Railway worker John Ewington made newspaper headlines around the world when his claim of unfair treatment by his employer led to the now-famous Taff Vale Case, which is famed for being central in the creation of the Labour Party. 

Mr Ewington, who lived in Abercynon with his family for many years, became a ‘local hero’ when he stood up for what he believed in, going on to become the subject of a key case in Labour and Trade Union history at the turn of the 20th Century. 

Known as the Taff Vale Case, it centred on Mr Ewington’s unfair treatment and the subsequent strike of railway workers in support of him. 

At the time, the Taff Vale Railway Company sued the union for loss of profits as a result of the strike and won the case for damages. 

The Taff Vale Railway strike started on Monday, August 20, 1900, with all workers protesting against wages and conditions, partly due to what they called the “victimisation” against railway signalman John Ewington. 

But, according to history books, a major factor for strike action was the Company’s refusal to accept the Society as a legitimate voice for its employees.  

At the height of the strike, a mass demonstration of around 12,000 took place at Cathays Park in Cardiff, organised by the Cardiff trades Council, in support of the railway workers. 

Even though the industrial action lasted less than two weeks, it was a major chapter in the history of industrial Britain. So incensed was the Labour movement at the time, it was a major reason for the formation of the Labour Party which we know today. 

It was this initial surge in support from the unions which led to the dramatic rise in the popularity of the Labour Party. 

Mr Ewington, who continued to live in Abercynon with his family, went on to become a member of the Independent Labour Party and moved a motion from his union to the Trade Union Congress calling for the formation of the Labour Representation Committee – the forerunner to the Labour Party. 

A Blue Plaque is now to be unveiled at Abercynon Railway Station in honour of the founding member and secretary of the local branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. 

When he died in 1935, Mr Ewington was described as ‘the pioneer of trade unionism in railway circles.’ He was also a prominent figure in the Independent Labour Party. 

The Council would like to thank Mr Alun Williams for nominating Mr Ewington for consideration for a Blue Plaque, and for his research and involvement throughout the process. 

Thanks also to the Cynon Valley History Society for their work in supporting the Blue Plaque in honour of John Ewington. 

Trevithick Day is celebrated on February 21 – the exact date in 1804 on which inventor Richard Trevithick made the world’s first-ever steam-powered rail journey from Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon Basin.

The nine-mile journey took four hours and five minutes. A memorial marking this historic event is located at The Basin. A new tourist interpretation panel is to be unveiled on the day. Among the guests on the day will be Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Cllr, Brian Mansbridge.

The Trevithick Trail can be followed from Abercynon to Merthyr Tydfil following the route of the old Tramroad, along which Trevithick’s first steam journey ran. 

To find out more about all the Blue Plaques in Rhondda Cynon Taf, visit www.destinationrct.co.uk 

  • Trevithick Day celebrations begin at The Basin, Abercynon, at 10.30am on Saturday, February 21, with the unveiling of the interpretation panel. This will be followed by the unveiling of the Blue Plaque in honour of John Ewington at Abercynon Railway Station at 11.45am. All are welcome at both events.