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date: 17 October 2019

Morgan, David Wattsfree

  • Chris Williams

David Watts Morgan (1867–1933)

by Bassano, 1915

Morgan, David Watts (1867–1933), miners' leader and politician, was born at Skewen, Neath, Glamorgan, on 18 December 1867, the son of Thomas W. Morgan, miner, and his wife, Margaret, née Davies. After attending the national school at Skewen, and other elementary schools in Neath and Swansea, he began work as a pit boy at the age of eleven. Six years later he moved to Ynys-hir in the Rhondda Fach, continuing to work down the mines. Later he became a miners' checkweigher in nearby Wattstown.

Study at evening classes in Glamorgan enabled Morgan to qualify as a mining engineer but, apart from leading rescue attempts in the wake of mining disasters, he never practised. None the less, he had a great practical knowledge of the coal industry and, as well as writing pamphlets on mine safety, compensation for accidents, and miners' wages, he gave evidence in his capacity as a miners' agent to the royal commission on mines in 1908, arguing for a more rigorous and informed regime of mine inspection. He regularly took part in rescue work, saving eighty men following the Mardy colliery explosion of 1884, and eighteen men after the Senghenydd explosion of October 1913.

In 1898 Morgan became secretary and agent to the 1 Rhondda district of the newly established South Wales Miners' Federation. Although the federation's president, William Abraham, remained senior agent in the Rhondda, Morgan took primary responsibility for running the district's affairs and sat on the executive. After entering parliament in 1918 he acted as advisory agent to the district. From 1898 he began to style himself Watts Morgan (later often hyphenated) rather than David Morgan (Wattstown), by which he had previously been distinguished from two other prominent south Wales miners' agents also named David Morgan.

Watts Morgan was a moderate trade unionist, identified with the conciliatory politics of his senior colleague William Abraham. These two worked together, fruitlessly, to try to resolve the Cambrian Combine dispute of 1910–11, but their desire for compromise was given short shrift by the more radical miners' leaders of the Combine pits. Like Abraham, Watts Morgan was active in the Rhondda Labour and Liberal Association, espousing traditional Gladstonian policies, and opposed the affiliation of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain to the Labour Party. Yet he also supported the rights of organized labour to political representation, working hard to advance a slate of miners' candidates at local elections in 1908. He himself had a leading career in local government: he was from 1903 a member of Glamorgan county council, representing the Porth and Cymer ward until his death. He was a magistrate from 1914. Surprisingly, given his political moderation, he joined the Plebs' League and sat on the board of governors of the Central Labour College.

Watts Morgan was twice married: first (probably in the late 1880s) to Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Williams, coalminer; and second, on 23 January 1911, to Blanche Amy Morgan, a hospital matron and a widow, the daughter of George Moon. In 1914 his second wife was among a group of wives of miners' agents who promoted the provision of pithead baths, often in the face of opposition from miners who preferred to bath at home. In 1915 she courted controversy by sending a telegram of support to Charles Stanton, candidate in the Merthyr Boroughs by-election, who was standing against the official Labour nominee and vice-president of the South Wales Miners' Federation, James Winstone. For his wife's actions Watts Morgan had to make a public apology.

On 4 August 1914 Watts Morgan enlisted as private in the 10th (service) battalion of the Welch Regiment (1st Rhondda). He was commissioned in October and by April 1915 he was a lieutenant in the 17th (service) battalion of the Welch Regiment (1st Glamorgan); by early 1916 he had been promoted captain. His two sons enlisted at the same time. He played a leading part in recruiting campaigns both in the Rhondda and in north Wales, where his fluency in the Welsh language was particularly valuable. He is said to have recruited 15,000 Welsh miners for military service. He was subsequently transferred to the labour corps, was promoted major in May 1917, and went to serve in France. He was mentioned in dispatches on three occasions, and was appointed DSO early in 1918 for his exploits with the ‘pick and shovel’ brigade at Cambrai in November 1917, when he and his pioneers defended themselves against the German counter-attack until relieved by the Guards. After the armistice he commanded a demobilizing station, was promoted lieutenant-colonel on retirement in March 1919, and was made CBE in 1920. A committee of leading Rhondda figures presented him with a cheque for 100 guineas in March 1915 to mark his contribution to recruiting, and the Cardiff daily the Western Mail termed him 'The Organiser of Victory'.

As early as 1903 Watts Morgan was being spoken of as a strong candidate to hold a parliamentary seat in the miners' interest. In February 1918 he was selected as Labour candidate for Rhondda East, and was among the ‘patriotic’ miners' leaders in south Wales against whom the Lloyd George coalition did not run candidates at the general election of 1918. Elected unopposed, he defeated a Lloyd George Liberal in 1922, and a Conservative in 1923. He was returned unopposed in 1924. In 1921 he was termed the 'best-dressed' man in the House of Commons, and enjoyed wearing a top hat, a morning suit, and white spats when the occasion demanded.

Watts Morgan became a Labour Party loyalist, but did not consider himself a socialist, and he expressed vigorous opposition to the Communist Party, which had one of its centres of strength in his constituency. In October 1928 he offered to resign his seat and fight a by-election against Arthur Horner, communist member of the executive of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, who was being talked of as a prospective communist challenger in Rhondda East. The challenge was declined. In the event, and despite suffering ill health, he held his seat against Liberal, Conservative, and communist opposition (Horner) in 1929 and again in 1931 in a straight fight with Horner.

In parliament Watts Morgan served a term as chairman of the Welsh members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He had a special interest in housing, on which subject he made his maiden speech in April 1919, arguing that the shortage of housing in the coalfield was 'the chief cause of the industrial unrest'. His 'rich, sonorous voice' was, however, infrequently heard in the Commons. He was a member of departmental committees on increases of rent and mortgage interest in 1923, of the rating and valuation national advisory committee, and of other committees dealing with mine gases, electricity, river pollution, the Home Office, and the Police Council. He did much work on private bills, but seems not to have been seriously considered for office during the minority Labour administrations, notwithstanding his friendly relations with Ramsay MacDonald.

A burly, genial, hearty, larger-than-life character, Watts Morgan enjoyed outdoor sports, especially golf and bowls. He sat on the aldermanic bench of Glamorgan county council from 1925 and was chairman from 1926 to 1928. He chaired the committee that implemented £5 million of roadbuilding schemes, constructing many inter-valley roads, both to improve transport in Glamorgan and provide work for unemployed miners. He was a member of Bethlehem Calvinistic Methodist church in Porth, of the Rhondda lodges of the freemasons', Ivorites' and Foresters' friendly societies, president of the Rhondda and Pontypridd district of the British Legion, and was associated with the British Empire League, the Women's Guild of Empire, and the Comrades of the Great War. He died at his home, Caemawr, Porth, Glamorgan, on 23 February 1933, and was survived by his second wife, two sons, and four daughters. When he was buried in Llethr Du cemetery, Trealaw, thousands lined the route and shops and businesses were closed as a mark of respect. In April 1934 a memorial to him was unveiled at the cemetery.

Though less obviously talented than many figures in the south Wales labour movement, Watts Morgan was faithful to the miners' union and to the Labour Party, notwithstanding the fact that both moved significantly to the left during his lifetime. As Lieutenant-Colonel David Watts Morgan CBE DSO MP JP he earned the sobriquet Dai Alphabet from Rhondda miners. He was on good terms with members of the royal family, and it was remarked that he was 'as much at home at a garden party on the lawns of Buckingham Palace as among his mining constituents' (Western Mail, 24 Feb 1933). The king and queen and the prince of Wales issued statements expressing their deep regret at his death, as did Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald, David Lloyd George, and George Lansbury.

Watts Morgan straddled the transition in south Wales miners' politics from Lib–Labism to socialism, but was never fully representative of either. His commitment to the war effort, though carried to considerable lengths, was much more typical of the attitudes of south Wales labour leaders than has frequently been acknowledged. The rise of the Communist Party in his constituency in particular (more so than anywhere else in Wales) meant that his patriotic attitudes were thrown into sharp relief, and his reputation suffered from his regularly being characterized as a bluff stereotype. As one obituarist suggested, the truth is more enigmatic: 'His beaming countenance and his Mussolini like activity earned for him a place among the immortals of the Rhondda' (Porth Gazette, 25 Feb 1933).


  • The Times (24 Feb 1933)
  • census returns, 1891, 1901
  • R. Page Arnot, History of the south Wales miners, 2 vols. (1967–75)
  • S. V. Bracher, The Herald book of Labour members (1923)
  • R. Lewis, Leaders and teachers: adult education and the challenge of labour in south Wales, 1906–1940 (1993)
  • T. O. Marden, The history of the Welch regiment, 2: 1914–1918 (1932)
  • Welsh Army Corps, 1914–1919, Report of the executive committee (1921)
  • C. Williams, Democratic Rhondda: politics and society, 1885–1951 (1996)
  • LondG (5 July 1918), suppl.
  • Hansard 5C (1919), 114
  • ‘Royal commission on mines’, Parl. papers, 3, Cd 4349 (1908)
  • m. cert. [1911]


  • Bassano, vintage print, 1915, NPG [see illus.]
  • Bassano, vintage print, 1923, NPG
  • Bassano, whole-plate glass negative, 1923, NPG

Wealth at Death

£313 17s. 9d.: probate, 31 March 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

J. M. Bellamy & J. Saville, eds., (1972–93)
London Gazette
M. Stenton & S. Lees, eds., , 4 vols. (1976–81)
, 5th ser. (1909–)