Price Hilda

 Hilda Price

Hilda May Price had roots deep in the Cadoxton and Colcot working class areas of Barry and of South Wales. She was born in 1920, the youngest of five children, into a talented and strong-minded family. 

Her father, William Henry Harris, Welsh speaking and from West Wales, was an actor and theatre manager. After serving in World War One, he became a pacifist and free-thinker. Harris also wrote radical plays, including an overtly pacifist one: ‘The story I shall tell my son’. This was performed in Barry, causing a great deal of public debate locally. One of his stories to his children told of an association with George Black, whose son became one of the producers of the London Palladium.

Her mother, Georgina Hay Davis was born in Gloucester and had been a dancer prior to motherhood; she was fond of telling her children how she had once seen the Russian ballet dancer Pavlova dance. Given Hilda’s first outside foray into the world of entertainment, no doubt her mother’s enthusiasm for dance was highly formative. But, in classic self-made family entertainment, the mother played the piano, the father the tin whistle, son George the mouth organ, whilst siblings Edna and Bill played the ukulele, Barry a little piano playing and singing. Hilda would operate their Decca gramophone “with small records”.

Alongside this idyll, bitter experiences of poverty, the Means Test and unemployment were endured by the family, and her own work experiences, shaped Hilda’s political thinking. In the very early 1930s, despite her extreme youth, she had been obliged to obtain work cleaning houses, which became her unhappiest working time. She recalled: “Dad was concerned and worried about my place of employment and the long hours I was working. Edna, my sister, came to this house, there she stood, the sun behind her, in a blue suit, tall and elegant, told me to get my coat and to come home. And this so-called lady said, ‘she must scrub the floor.’ Edna said pointing her finger at her ‘NO, you do it’. I was so proud of my sister.”

At the age of thirteen, Hilda became a juvenile dancer, travelling with the ‘Nan Linden Troupe’ to Watford, Pontefract, York, Newcastle, London, Scunthorpe, Liverpool and Belfast. At each of these places she attended different schools. But both her parents had died by the time she was fourteen and she was forced to work variously as a shop assistant, as a maid in Llandough Hospital, a clerk at Sherman’s Pools and as part of the staff in the bar at Barry West End Labour Club, which proved to be her happiest time as a worker.

Hilda’s first political activities were in support of the anti-fascist struggle of the democratically elected Spanish Republic from 1936. That struggle had a very personal dimension for Hilda. She was very proud of her Communist brother George and sister-in-law Gert who adopted a Basque refugee, Espe, who became a much loved member of the Harris family. But, as with so many of her generation, it was the Second World War that moulded Hilda’s future life. In 1941, she became a clerk, then a checker at the Civilian Maintenance Unit at the St Athan’s Aerodrome. She qualified as an airframe fitter, after 80 hours of flying time, became an active member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, a shop steward and a member of the Whitley Council, fighting for equality of opportunity for women.

She also joined the Communist Party in 1941and remained a loyal and active member all her life. In 1944, she married fellow Communist and St Athan’s worker, Iorwerth (Lorrie) Badger Price. Hilda became a nurse in the early decades of the NHS, being proud to be part of the first day at St David’s Hospital where she was an active trade unionist. The couple went on to bring up a family, despite the pressures of the Cold War and her husband’s victimisation in that period.

The Barry feminist historian Deidre Beddoe, a friend of Hilda’s, recognised her special contribution to the women’s movement by writing about her, publishing her memoirs of war-time and arranging for television appearances on historical documentaries. It was Hilda’s voice-over that was used to promote a television programme on post-war Britain and the founding of the NHS.

Hilda and Lorrie had a long and happy marriage celebrating their golden wedding anniversary in 1994.  In retirement, the couple became active in the Pensioners’ Movement, attending the Pensioners’ Parliament, visiting the Humanité Fete in Paris and participating and leading local community campaigns, such as the successful campaign to save the Colcot Shopping Centre. The couple, especially Hilda, were widely respected throughout Barry, inside and outside the Labour Movement, to the extent of local and national Labour politicians sending messages of condolence and respect for her funeral. Iorrie died in 1996, after 52 year’s marriage.  

In old age, Hilda spent her last years at Ty Maesmarchog in the Dulais Valley, retaining a firm grasp of events through her daily reading the ‘Morning Star’. She died on Friday 4th July 2008.

Source: funeral oration at Margam Crematorium by Hilda Price’s son-in-law, Hwyel Francis.


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