Newport – Life and Work of a Risca Cuckoo: John Brewer

Our chairman John Brewer gave this talk at our meeting on 28th June. He started his talk by explaining the origin of the name ‘cuckoo’ given to inhabitants of Risca. Two men heard a bird singing beautifully and decided to trap it by building a fence around it. However when the fence was completed the bird simply flew away. On subsequent occasions the men repeatedly increased the height of the fence but without success. An old friend passing by saw their efforts and asked why they were trying to trap a cuckoo in their garden when there were already two ‘Cuckoos’ there!

The subject of John’s talk was a local ‘cuckoo’ from a working class home, Jonah Roberts. He left school at 12 and was soon working underground in the Blackvein Pit. He was ambitious, however, and extended his education by attending evening classes and copiously reading books. As a result he became interested in both politics and trade union affairs. He rose through the ranks thanks to his native wit, hard work and brilliant oratory (once being mentioned as being in the same class as Winston Churchill and Nye Bevan). He even visited 10 Downing Street as a member of a Miner’s Union delegation. Politically he achieved the rank of alderman but unfortunately died within days of his appointment- due, not surprisingly, to a miner’s lung disease.

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