Alfred was the 7th child of a family of 12. He was born in Aberdare on 8th January 1906. His mother and father had moved to Aberdare from the Oxford area. His father was a plasterer and carpenter, was very poor, and often only able to work and be paid for 2 hours work per week, particularly in the winter. The family lived at 3 Albion Street, Blaengwawr.
At the age of 10, Alf worked Friday evenings and Saturdays cutting up sheets of newspaper for a local butcher. He did a paper round before school and sometimes missed Friday afternoon schooling to go on the grocer’s cart helping to deliver goods. He earned about 2 shillings and six pence per week (12½ p in today’s money) which he was proud to hand over to his mother. He did get the occasional “goodie” from the grocer or butcher to take home. He also ran errands for neighbours for a copper or two (1 or 2 old pence), which he could spend for himself.
He recalls his school attendance as being poor and notes that he was the only pupil in the class not to receive a commemoration mug. At Ynyslwyd Elementary School, Alf was in the A Class and studied scholarship papers but he had no books for doing his homework. He then spent a year at the Higher Standard School on the Gadlys probably to complete a higher academic “Standard” than that offered at Ynyslwyd. At the age of 12½ he was the only scholar in his class to win a scholarship to the Aberdare Boys’ Intermediate School and only the second scholar to gain a scholarship from his school. He recalls that the system then in place at Aberdare was that there were 35 free places and 35 paid places.
Alf started at the Intermediate School according to the school roll on 16th September 1918. There were only male teachers in the “big” school and Alf found them hard after his women teachers in Elementary School. There were no male teachers in the Elementary School because of the 1st World War. There were separate bands A and B in the school but the bands were taught in the same room. Alf was started in 1A and then went up to 3A, as there was no Form 2 in those days. The pupils had to buy their own books but Alf could only buy three secondhand books from older pupils. To do homework, he had to borrow books from other pupils who had finished their own homework. This was not always possible so he was always being punished or given rows. He says that he was too proud to admit to the teachers that he could not afford to buy the books that were needed.
Alf played in the school football under-14 team and was reserve player when the members of the school squad won the Welsh Schoolboys Team competition. Frequently he was told that he would be thrown out of the squad because he did not have the proper football boots. His father had attached wooden pegs to an ordinary pair of boots for him.
He left school at 14 on 1st April 1920 from Form 3A. He wanted to leave to learn carpentry from his father. He couldn’t do this until he was 16 so he took a temporary job in the Cwmaman pits. He didn’t want to work in the pits but because of the 1st World War wages were good and he could earn £1.18 shillings a week. After starting work in the pit, Alf was befriended by another miner who was a Christadelphian and this led him to have a lifelong involvement in the Christadelphian movement. He did not smoke or drink.
When he was older, Alf had a role in the Trade Union movement and was very active supporting workers’rights. This led to him being blacklisted by the mine owners and he had to leave the pits around 1934. At one time he worked for Edmund Stonelake on union business. Stonelake was involved in the establishment of the Labour Party in Aberdare and became leader of the Council, as well as Chairman of the County School Governors, 1919–1922 and 1946–1948. Alf had learnt to drive so managed to find a job working for the Aberdare Urban District Council driving a dustcart and managing the group of men collecting the refuse. He did this until World War 2 broke out when he returned to mining instead of going on active service.
After the War, when he was released from the pit, he was given his old job back working for the Council. He continued working for the Council, eventually becoming a Sanitary Inspector. He was called out to sort out any major drainage problems in the Aberdare area. He retired from this post at the Council when he was 60 but continued to drive until he was 90 when he was persuaded that his car was now “past it”. He did not want to buy a new car so he stopped and gave up his driving licence. He was very proud of the fact that he had never had an accident. His final years were spent in a Christadelphian old person’s home in Swansea and he enjoyed his last few years walking along the coastal paths until his death in 2002.
Alfred Spiers: born 8 January 1906; married Muriel Price, 1927, with whom he raised 5 children: Joan, Vida, Norman, Kathleen and Mary; Alf died January 2002.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Alf’s grandson Paul Spiers, ABGS 1973–78, for this account. It was written using notes made by Alf of his memories of school and his working life.
CR. 27 June 2016