Maes-yr-haf Educational Settlement, Trelaw Rhondda

Scope and Content

Annual reports 1927-1930, 1933-1941, 1943-1951, 1953-1969; articles, commemorative leaflets and pamphlets primarily concerning the history of the settlement and it's founders 1936-1962.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Maes-yr-haf Educational Settlement was founded in 1927 in response to the problems of unemployment, extreme poverty and feelings of despair experienced by miners and their families during and following the General Strike of 1926. Emma Noble, a member of the Society of Friends visited the Rhondda Valley in June 1926 in order to see the situation at first hand and reported back to the Society that the region's population was in need of considerable material assistance and sympathy. Voluntary service and financial help was provided by the Friends with the overall guiding principle being that of 'Self-help'. Women's sewing groups were formed to repair and alter clothing donated by people across Britain for the people of Rhondda, and boot-repairing centres were also established. William Noble, Emma's husband also helped during weekends away from his position as President of the Engineering Union in the Great Western Railway works at Swindon.

The General Strike came to an end by the end of 1926 but extreme poverty, unemployment and industrial depression continued to be a problem in the Valleys. Adult education and spiritual services had developed alongside the relief work and led to a committee forming in January 1927 in Oxford in order to discuss providing more long-term assistance and support to the people of Rhondda. William and Emma Noble agreed to return to the Valley for a period of 2 years and a house was purchased named 'Maes-yr-haf' as a home for the Nobles and a centre for their work. The prime aims of the Maes-yr-haf Centre were to provide fellowship, counsel, sympathy and practical helpfulness and provide opportunities for adult education, study and discussion. However since large-scale unemployment spread throughout the coalfield over the next 10 years the centre also became an administrative centre for material relief.

Adult education classes on a wide variety of subjects both in the house itself and in neighbouring mining districts throughout the history of Maes-yr-haf. In 1952 the educational work of Maes-yr-haf was approved by Glamorganshire County Council and annual grants provided. The centre has also provided training and opportunities for employment for members of the community. In 1929 the centre received a gift of a hand-loom and this led to the foundation of a small-scale but very influential weaving and handicrafts industry once additional skilled help and other looms and spinning wheels were acquired. Miners' wives were taught new skills which allowed them in many cases to earn a small income. As the industry expanded, new accommodation was built by volunteers in the form of a 2-storey annex. In 1938 pottery was also offered as a taught skill at the centre and the high-quality products of this aroused much interest both at home and abroad.

Miners' Training or Occupational Clubs were set up with the aim of providing men with at least one full day's paid work a week. The clubs also provided the men with one good meal a day and with club amenities such as exercise classes, concerts, lectures and discussion groups. Summer holidays by the sea were also organised. The clubs were financed by the Society of Friends until the Lord Mayor's Coalfields Distress Fund enabled the idea to be applied in all areas of need in South Wales. Unemployed Men's Clubs were established in 1931. These clubs were intended to reach men who lived too far away to come to Maes-yr-haf itself and club premises were set up in a number of areas. By 1932, 10 clubs had been set up with a membership of around 1,500. By 1939 this had risen to 60 clubs for men, women and children, with a membership of 9,000. The centres provided all-day warmth and shelter and were places for the unemployed to meet, talk and read. There were also workshop facilities which allowed the men to carry out repairs or make simple household objects. Physical exercise and recreation classes were held. Sewing machines and classes in dressmaking were amongst the facilities provided in the women's clubs. Choirs were set up in many of the clubs and summer holidays for members organised. The idea of such clubs for the unemployed spread from Maes-yr-haf into the wider world, throughout England and to America.

Maes-yr-haf was also the headquarters of the South Wales branch of the Allotments Committee of the Society of Friends. The centre continued to operate throughout World War Two, making available facilities for evacuees including play-centres, feeding centres and providing lectures, talks and sociability. Maes-yr-haf also initiated an experiment designed to help severely disabled men in the locality following the Tomlinson Report of 1941 which made recommendations to the government for the rehabilitation and employment of severely disabled persons. Workshops were set up to make rugs and domestic furniture and were supervised by expert tutors.

William and Emma Noble retired from the Wardenship of Maes-yr-haf in 1945 after 18 years of service there. Emma died in 1956. William remarried in 1957 but himself died in 1959. For many years the centre has been grant-aided by the Glamorganshire County Council. The centre is still in existence today and is known as The Maes-yr-haf Community Centre, Trealaw.

SOURCE: William Hazelton 'Maes-yr-haf, 1922-1952' (published: 1952)

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