‘Black Wednesday’ is a piece of fiction and written for performance. I have based the character, Mathias Pugh, on a minister I knew from the Rhondda. I only heard him at funerals. His strong Welsh accent, roaring voice and intimidating scorn, made even the strongest of men cringe at the thought of going to ‘The Burning Fire Of Hell’. I watched once as he walked through a crown of mourners outside a terraced house. They parted as he moved like a fox through a cornfield. I have written a poem about that day, called ‘Men In Black Suits’.
Wednesday, April 5th 1899, Coal Owners, To Improve Family Life, Allowed Miners A Day Off From Work. It Was Reported That 400 Miners Were Drunk On That Day. As A Consequence, On The Following Sunday, At Bethesda Chapel, Johnston Rhondda, The Minister Mathias Pugh Dedicated The Whole Of His Sermon To What Became Known As ‘Black Wednesday’.
Today, I hang my head in shame. I, being a messenger for the Lord, am ashamed to be a man. Before me, I have written testimonies, from God fearing ladies of this Parish, of the scandalous behaviour of our men, our salt of the community, guiding lights to the young and impressionable. Yes, you, you men, who followed in the footsteps of your fathers to work in the bowels of God’s earth, giving us Proud Welshmen the self-respect amongst other nations, have, in one day, one day of disrepute, cast a shadow upon us all.
You may not remember what you did on that day; that day the Coal Owners, in their misguided quest to improve the stability of home life; that day when a black cloud hung heavy over our valley, but God remembers it all – and so does – Maggie Post.
Two drunken men entered her place of employment; a place where not only the business of The Royal Mail is carried out, but also, also, a place where our good people can talk freely about their burdens. Maggie post, a pillar of our community, a saint to those who needs a listening ear, was accosted by these heathens, with slurped voices and giggles, one of which, and in the presence of two young ladies, broke-his-wind. Yes, broke-his-wind. There was no shame upon their faces, they smiled and walked away, walked away as if nothing had happened. Maggie Post has written, ‘I was in fear of my life; it was as if the Devil himself had been let loose.’ And the two young ladies, two innocent victims of this travesty of decency, have also signed this testimony. The purity of youth damaged beyond repair. As a consequence of this shameful happening, Maggie Post has handed in her rubber-stamp, a great loss to us all. Your names are in my book – and there is a black mark against them.
And there is the widow, of our recently deceased, Jenkins The Boot, a man who was well known and respected by us all. Not only does Mrs Jenkins have to struggle with her grief; she now has to live with the memory of what she witnessed on that day, that terrible day.
From her bedroom window, she saw four young men running across the road with their clothes off. Yes, completely naked. And no, she did not look away, not our widow Mrs Jenkins, being the good Christian woman that she is, much against her better judgement mind you, she continued to watch, continued to strain her eyesight so that justice would be done. And her unselfish diligence was rewarded inasmuch as she was able to name names. Your names are in my book – and there is a black mark against them.
Last, but not least, there is the testimony of our very own Mrs Rowlands. A lady who, for as many years as I can recall, has like a true soldier for the Lord, cleaned our chapel. Our faithful Mrs Rowlands has lovingly polished the very pews you sit upon. And what was her reward on that terrible day? What gruesome sight did she encounter after she had cleaned this chapel to its present splendour, for no payment mind you, other than securing her rightful place at God’s side in Heaven? What did she see when she opened the door? A man urinating against a wall. And not just any wall, but the chapel boundary wall. The wall built by our father’s fathers. The wall that you all walked past to enter this place of worship was desecrated by the Devil’s brew, alcohol. And now, this very morning, Mrs Rowlands has handed me her letter of resignation. The shock was too much, no more will she enter this place of refuge alone; a young woman of 82 years, in the prime of her life, forced onto the scrap-heap. Another great loss to us all. Mrs Rowlands wasn’t able to identify the culprit, she never saw his face, she kept her eyes low and walked past the sinner, but you know who you are, and God knows who you are.
The road to salvation is long and narrow, there are many distractions, and one of those distractions is the Public House, that place of ill repute, the home breaker where men enter at their peril. But I would remind you, there is redemption, and you can start right now with charity. Faith, Hope and Charity; and the greatest of these is Charity. And now, as we sing our final hymn to the Lord, a dish will be handed around so that your free will offerings can be taken. Charity, the great redeemer.
God bless you all!
Rowland Hughes ©