June 2024 meeting: From the Valleys to the Spires: how the Welsh came to Oxford

Our speaker on 10 June was Sharron Jenkinson to whom we were very grateful for coming at short notice when the original speaker had to pull out due to ill-health.

Economic hardship during the 1920s in Wales was on the increase due to a decline in coal exports after WW1 and cheaper imports from abroad. Pay and conditions continued to decline even for those who still had work, these factors led to strikes and political action. In 1926 the general strike lasted 9 days and the Welsh coal miners’ strike lasted 9 months. This was later followed by a hunger march in 1927 to London from Wales.

It wasn’t long before those facing uncertainty in Wales heard of the job opportunities at Morris Motors, Pressed Steel and MG in Oxford. Welsh migrants in turn told friends and relations to join them and by January 1929, 250 men and boys had been offered work in Cowley. Noting the trend in migration from Wales to Oxford a speculative Welsh builder Frederick Moss arrived in Oxford to take advantage of the increased demand for housing. He was responsible for building numerous estates in the interwar years, including Florence Park which was exclusively for the rental market. Moss later became an Oxford City Councillor and remained a prominent member of the local community.

Amongst the Welsh migrants were former choir members and soon the Cowley Choir was formed. It grew in numbers and reputation becoming the Oxford Welsh Prize Glee Singers (1931) and later the Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir (1978). Today they continue to be very active part of the local community and preserve the heritage of the Welsh migrants. The Welsh migrants also had a significant impact on trade unionism and politics in Oxford, by 1937 over 90% of the Cowley workforce were in the TGWU and most shop stewards were migrants. They also influenced the local political scene with Labour becoming a force in Conservative Oxford. There is no doubt the Welsh migrants left a rich and lasting legacy on the City of Spires.