Valuable information has come to light about Plaid Cymru’s role in combating poverty in the nineteen thirties.
Papers transferred to the care of the Plaid Cymru History Society by Siôn ap Glyn show the extent of practical work done to help unemployed people and their families in underprivileged areas in the North and South. ‘Clybiau Cinio Difiau’ – Thursday Dinner Clubs – were set up by Plaid Cymru during the Great Depression which hit Wales especially hard nearly ninety years ago, by a small party that had been launched barely a decade before.
As pointed out by Saunders Lewis, Plaid Cymru’s President at the time, the aim was for people in employment to help those less fortunate by foregoing one meal a week and giving sixpence to provide food for the unemployed. Thursday was the day suggested to hold the dinner clubs, mainly because by Thursday many poor families would run out of money and be unable to afford a meal. The cost of the meals were paid by party members, the funds administered by the party office. The Thursday Dinner Clubs continued their role until the outbreak of war in 1939. Historian D. Hywel Davies concluded that this was the most successful charity work undertaken by Plaid members during the 1930s – “the flow of nationalist sixpences had continued unabated”.
The papers include detailed reports for the year 1937 about the work of two clubs in the South Wales coalfield – Dowlais, Merthyr and Dyfnant (Dunvant) near Swansea – and one in the North-west quarrying area of Rhosgadfan. Dowlais was the area where the initiative was launched, it seems, and a visit by Saunders Lewis was the catalyst that led to its being rolled out to other areas. Later on, another dining club was set up in Treorci in the Rhondda.
The reports are full of interest – in Dunvant, for example, on local leader Dr Gwent Jones, revealed that the first dinner held proved something of a damp squib – proud local people were unwilling to accept ‘charity’. This barrier was surmounted by inviting ‘guests’ from among unemployed people in the community to an evening session where they could “speak, lecture, sing etc., depending on their talent, but always sharing food with us”. After that, the dining sessions proved a great success.
The original documents, which are mainly in Welsh, will be deposited as part of the Plaid Cymru archive in the National Library in Aberystwyth and they can now be viewed on the Plaid Cymru History Society website here –