Hywel Francis (1946 – 2021)

This week would have seen the 75th birthday of Hywel Francis, President of Llafur from 2018 until his death in February. He was one of the founders of Llafur and its driving force whose vision ensured that the Welsh Labour History Society did not become a small gathering of academics but a vibrant gathering of ‘people’s remembrancers’.

Hywel was a great creator on institutions and Llafur was part of a cluster of movements: the Coalfield History Project which laid the foundations for collecting archival materials and oral memories of the coalfield and the South Wales Miners’ Library which houses them and became a vital centre of research and education.

Hywel was born into the Welsh Labour movement and his commitment to history was an organic part of his life rather than a purely academic interest. 

He was educated at Whitchurch Grammar School (where he was captain of the rugby team) and the University College of Swansea where he studied for a PhD under the direction of Ieuan Gwynedd Jones. He remained a firm admirer of Ieuan’s scholarship and humanity throughout his life.

His own research cut a swathe through twentieth-century Wales, starting at a time when the recent history of Wales was largely unexplored. The first major contribution was ‘The Fed: The History of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century’, jointly written with Dai Smith (1980). Hywel’s sole publications include his classic ‘Miners against Fascism’, which showcased his internationalism and recovered the hitherto unknown story of Welsh volunteers who fought to preserve the Spanish Republic. Much of his study was based on oral history, then a novel technique of which Hywel was a pioneer.

Many others followed this including ‘History of our Side’ his study of the 1984-5 strike in south Wales which benefitted from its insiders and participants perspective. He had been a notable organiser and fundraiser for Miners’ Support Groups. Hywel wrote the history of the miners in south Wales and gave it back through adult education classes and through Llafur He was always in search of other organisations to collaborate with in this quest.

Many remember his dry sense of humour and his kindness. He gave Neil Evans one of the photographs in the gallery below inscribed on the back: ‘Hywel Francis fiddling the books before handing over to Neil Evans as Llafur Secretary.’ The occasion was a mass rally against unemployment in Sophia Gardens in 1981

Hywel was elected to Parliament as Labour MP for Neath/Port Talbot in 2001. Llafur was still very much in his heart, though his appearances at meetings were necessarily limited. When Ieuan Gwynedd Jones died in 2018 he was the obvious choice (to everyone except himself) to replace him as President of Llafur. He was incredibly proud of occupying that position. We salute his work for the society over 50 years. We are all the poorer that is was not for longer.

The photographs below show Hywel with Will Paynter, former President of the NUM and Professor Ieuan Gwynedd Jones at Maes-yr-Haf, the first home of the SWML; with members of the Llafur Committee and the club committer at ‘the Max’ The Marxian Club at Blaenclydach in 1985; and with Neil Evans at the demonstration against unemployment in Sophia Gardens in 1981.

Neil Evans, Vice-President, Llafur

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