Sir Alfred Cope

Sir Alfred Cope was born in the first quarter of 1877 and grew up in Lambeth, London. Both parents; Alfred and Margaret, were also born at Lambeth according to the information shown on the 1881 census and his father was employed as a wine cooper. At that time, the family also had a 15 year old domestic servant living at their family home.

By 1891, fourteen year old Alfred William Cope was working as a clerk. Ten years later in 1901, the census shows that 24 year old Alfred Cope was a Civil Servant, working for the Inland Revenue. His career in the civil service led to him being Second Secretary of the Ministry of Pensions from 1919 to 1920 and Assistant Undersecretary for Ireland and Clerk to the Privy Council (Ireland) 1920 to 1922.

Alfred Cope was involved in negotiations with the Sinn Fein leaders on behalf of the British Government and he was a key player in the establishment of Eire as an independent state. He did not shy away from controversy or danger. One of the first things that he noticed on his arrival in Ireland is that there were a large number of men awaiting trial. He regarded this as improper and wished to speed up the process in order that the men be treated along the same lines as in mainland Britain. This resulted in him receiving death threats through the post. On one occasion, his endeavors to negotiate with Sinn Fein meant that he was blindfolded and taken to a secret location to engage in dialogue with its leaders.

His efforts for peace in Ireland earned him the KCB medal (Knight Commander of the Bath) which he was awarded in 1922.

Sir Alfred Cope was Secretary of the National Liberal Organisation from 1922 to 1924, which was a difficult period for the Liberal Party. It may have been through his political interests that he became acquainted with Sir Alfred Mond (Lord Melchett), who was the Liberal M.P. for Swansea West for the years 1918 to 1923.

Sir Alfred Cope took employment with Lord Melchett as First Secretary of the Amalgamated Anthracite Company in 1925 and later became Deputy Chairman of the combine. When the £5 million merger took place between the Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries Ltd and the United Anthracite Collieries Ltd in 1927, Sir Alfred Cope became Managing Director of the amalgamated company. No man before him had organised such a centralised control in the local coal industry, with his responsibilities covering 21 collieries after the amalgamation.

His career in the coal industry lasted approximately ten years, during which time he took up residence at Wernoleu, Ammanford. He had travelled to continental Europe and to Canada on many occasions and was praised for the part he played in the development of the overseas market. Sir Alfred Cope took an unprecedented degree of personal involvement in industrial disputes, believing in the benefits of what he called "The Personal Touch". His handling of the disputes were sometimes the subject of heated controversy but even so, many of those who disagreed with him paid tribute to his "tremendous drive" and the dedication which he showed to his work over periods which "would exhaust men of ordinary stamina".

"Lessons from the Irish Rebellion", was the subject of the talk he gave at the Tabernacle Chapel, Cwmgorse on Monday the 7th of March 1927. He told the welcoming audience that it was his first attempt as a guest speaker and had chosen his subject as it had no bearing on any of the controversial matters of the day. His comments may suggest to us that he did not seek controversy for the sake of it and the points that he made during his address gives us a possible insight into the man's character.

The first lesson that Sir Alfred highlighted was that it was "impossible to govern an enlightened country without the consent of the governed". Other lessons that he had learned was that "extremism was the negation of freedom" and that promises made by extremists were "fatuous" and "never came true". He told the audience that perhaps the greatest lesson was that "strife was the result of misunderstanding". He continued by saying "Don't always be suspicious of the hand which declares friendship." Sir Alfred believed that it was a hand worth grasping and after his experiences in Ireland, he said that he would always endeavour to grasp it. He believed that this applied to industrial matters just as it did to nations.

Although he was not popular with everyone, Sir Alfred's public relations skills were welcomed by many in the locality and his attendance at the Tabernacle Chapel, Cwmgorse was well received. A letter published in the 7th of April 1927 edition of the Amman Valley Chronicle, also praised Sir Alfred for attending the Rugby Cup Final game and presenting Cwmgorse Rugby team with the cup. He had also agreed to become President of the League for the next season. Another anecdote regarding Sir Alfred Cope shows a compassionate side to his character. On the morning of the 19th of February 1927; the day that the Cwmamman Workmen's Hall was due to open, Sir Alfred Cope was one of the expected guests. A man named Philip Roberts was involved in an accident at the Gellyceidrim Colliery and taken home. On hearing the news that one of his employees had been injured, Sir Alfred visited the mans home and remained chatting at his bedside for some time and reputedly did not leave until he was assured that the man had been afforded every possible treatment and was comfortable. The Amman Valley Chronicle called it "Another Precedent".

On Friday the 29th of March 1935, Mr Dan Thomas who was Secretary of the Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries Ltd, stated in London that Sir Alfred Cope would be standing down in the following month.

Sir Alfred Cope's retirement dinner took place at the Hotel Metropole, Swansea on Tuesday the 9th of April 1935. Mr F. Le Bars presided over the evening, which was attended by local anthracite coal exporters at Swansea. The Amman Valley Chronicle reported that they wished for an opportunity to show their "appreciation of the manner and the spirit in which he at all times shared with them the common task of facing the difficulties with which the anthracite export trade has had to contend." Sir Alfred was presented with a "suitably inscribed" cocktail cabinet. It was understood that soon after his retirement, he was to accompany his sister on a holiday to South Africa.

Sources:
Amman Valley Chronicle from 1927 and 1935
Birth Index: - District: Lambeth, Vol: 1d, Page: 485
1881 Census: RG11; Piece: 600; Folio: 119; Page: 4
1891 Census: RG12; Piece: 398; Folio 83; Page 11
1901 Census: RG13; Piece: 382; Folio: 22; Page: 35