THE SUNDERLAND SITE - PAGE 190
LITERATURE RELATED TO COAL MINING
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This page is a page in progress. Hopefully more data about Durham & Sunderland coal mining history will be located, & included on the page in the future. Just four items today. In time sequence.
'Mines de Lambton', a collection of 52 albumen images & a map about Lambton Mines - published in the French language in 1891.
'The supply of London coal by water.' an article about the birth of William Cory and Son, Limited, published in Illustrated London News on Oct. 10, 1896.
An 8 page article by Ritchie Calder that was published in 'Picture Post' magazine on Feb. 18, 1939.
'Durham Miners' Association 1869-1969', a history of the Durham Miners' Association, thru 1969.
This fine volume is a collection of 52 albumen images & a map about Lambton Mines - published in the French language in 1891. It is made available by 'Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie, PET FOL-VG-492 (whom we sincerely thank), as you can see here. The volume is in the public domain, hence its inclusion in these pages. A wonderful archive with images of many 'Lambton' coal mines, vessels in the 'Lambton' collier fleet & much more besides. The volume surely merits being made available through these pages - hence my purpose in putting it on site cover to cover.
Physically the book is 36 x 48 cm. in size, I read. A modest index is below the next image on this page. We thank Chris Herring, via Meg Hartford, for bringing this volume to the webmaster's attention.
An attempt at getting you to the correct spot in the book. The images are mostly in a large size however those in a vertical format are available in that large size by clicking the image. Move forward & backwards through the album via the links at the top of each page.
Lambton mines - Dorothea, Harraton, Herrington, Houghton (1 & 2), Little Town, Lady Ann, Lady Durham, Lumley, Margaret, Sherburn Hill, Sherburn House
Lambton fleet colliers - Biddick, Dora, Heathpool, Lady Ann, Lady Beatrix, Lady Eleanor, Matin, Sherburn, also fleet tugs Her Majesty, Pilot, Snowdrop
Places - Durham Cathedral (1 & 2), Lambton Castle (1, 2, 3, 4 & 5), Lambton Park (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6), Lambton Staithes (1, 2), Penshaw (1 & 2),
Miners - A group of foremen & miners, Miners' houses & gardens.
The following image came from an eBay listing for 8 letterheads of 'The Lambton and Hetton Collieries Limited', of Newcastle, dating from 1917. An e-Bay item, which sold for GBP 9.25 or U.S. $13.76 on Jan. 29, 2015. We thank 'atlantic-fox' the eBay vendor for his fine (larger) listing image.
The article below entitled 'The Supply of London Coal by water.' was published in Illustrated London News ('ILN') on Oct. 10, 1896. I hope that you will find it to be an interesting commentary both on the birth of 'William Cory and Son, Limited' & of the system for the physical handling & distribution of coal in London at that time.
The article was accompanied by a fine print entitled 'Coal Traffic in the Thames : William Cory & Son's derricks at work', - by artist Charles (W) Wylie. The print can be seen here. Where you can also read where the webmaster found the article - indeed where you today, as this page is amended, can buy the very page & article that I have transcribed with diligence & care.
THE SUPPLY OF LONDON COAL BY WATER.
In that famous Third Chapter, which itself now stands as a far milestone upon the road of progress along which we have since passed, Macaulay records that the consumption of coal in London in the latter half of the seventeenth century seemed to the writers of that age enormous, and was often mentioned by them as a proof of the greatness of the imperial city. "They scarcely hoped to be believed when they affirmed that two hundred and eighty thousand chaldrons - that is to say, about three hundred and fifty thousand tons - were in the last year of the reign of Charles II, brought to the Thames. At present, " he proudly adds, writing in the year 1847, "three million and a half of tons are required yearly by the Metropolis." And at present, let it be stated with an equal bulk of somewhat futile pride, no less than about sixteen million tons of coal are brought annually to London. It will naturally be seen that, the greater the amount imported into "the imperial city, " the more complex becomes the problem of carrying so huge a bulk of material to its final resting-place. Roughly speaking, about half of this immense quantity is carried by rail, and about half by sea. It is with this last division of the subject, and the developments which have just now been suggested and carried out in connection with it, that we have to deal at present.
Of the eight millions of tons, then, which come up to London yearly by water, about two millions are conveyed by the gas companies through their own steamers, and of the remainder over five millions find their way to town through the agency of certain firms, hitherto distinguished separately by the names of Messrs. William Cory and Son, Lambert Brothers, D. Radford & Co., Beadle Brothers, J. and C. Harrison, Green Holland and Sons, Mann, George and Co., and G. J. Cockerell and Co. Hitherto, as is also natural, each of these distinct firms has had its own plant, its own methods and its own principle in working the competition of one against another. The necessary fluctuations in price, and the retardation of any assured possibility of fighting the land traffic of coal with even moderate success, were the natural outcome of such a condition of things. It should seem, therefore, not unlike the inevitable consequence of an economic law that some kind of combination should eventually be formed between the various firms interested in the shipping of coal to London by water, that they might the better enter into competition with the railway traffic, and that they might also relieve the internal expenditure of so many separate bodies by a large and material annual sum of money. Amalgamation, therefore, was clearly the true policy, and amalgamation has therefore been arranged in such fashion that after the date of Nov. 1 all these companies will trade together under the style and title of Messrs. William Cory and Son, Limited.
The internal economies already mentioned will, of course, involve the new handling of the entire trade through one central office. Here ensues an enormous reduction of expenditure ; and by the combination which will utilise all the Derricks for a common interest and by the laws of a common endeavour. Anyhow, take the thing all in all, it is calculated that a material saving will be made to the combined companies upon every ton brought up yearly to the Metropolis. If the ambitions of the new company prove true and successful, and if the railway traffic be held in check by its economical advantages, there is no assurance as to what might ensue. At present it is clear that this combination in no way resembles a "coal ring".
Not the least interesting division of the equipment with which the new combination sets out upon its amazing task is the extraordinary conquest which it has made over the difficulties that necessarily attend the mere manipulation of the coal, its loading and unloading, that is - the victory, in a word, over the malignity of matter. Recently a large party of journalists were afforded an opportunity of inspecting the facilities afforded for the rapid discharging of steam-colliers and the barging of coal, and visits were paid to the Derricks moored near the Victoria Dock entrance, the Albert Docks, the Tilbury Docks, Gravesend and Erith, and to the extensive barge building works of William Cory and Son, at Charlton. The works at Charlton afforded a particularly interesting object-lesson in the new quick discharging Derrick system of which Messrs. Cory are the originators. The upper Derrick, which is a reasonable example of the discharging-berths, is fitted with ten hydraulic cranes of three various types, the swinging crane, the overside crane, and the luffing crane. By this means four colliers can be worked simultaneously, and no less a quantity than 5000 tons can be loaded into the barges in the space of twelve hours. Each bucket of coal is weighed as hoisted at the moment of rest before tipping. At the entrance to the Albert Docks Messrs. Lambert have their splendidly equipped jetty ; at the Tilbury Docks Messrs. J. and C. Harrison have their incomparable plant for discharging colliers, while at Erith, Beadle's coal-wharves extend about three-quarters of a mile, and are connected with about seven miles of sidings for the supply of the South Eastern Railway system.
It will thus be perceived that the whole of the river facilities for the handling of coal lies between the fingers of the various companies that have banded together, not, indeed, as philanthropists, but for the ulterior benefit of the public no less certainly than their own. They possess, moreover, twenty-five steam tugs, 1250 barges, a fleet of thirty-one colliers, and many thousand railway-trucks, the latter of which are used for the transporting of coal from the landing-wharves to such localities in the South of England as lie too far inland to be served from the coast. A service of sea-lighters, which have already been in use by Messrs. Cory and Son for the space of two years will also be considerably augmented, and it is unnecessary to add that they will play a most important part in the developments that are to be confidently looked for. The history of these vessels has been associated with a good deal of controversy. When they were first put forward as practical improvements, the Sailors' Union took considerable exception to them, chiefly on the grounds that they were perilous to human life. However that may be, this much is certain - that they have stood a two years' test between the Humber and the Thames, and that not one life has yet been lost upon them. Moreover, they are exceedingly popular amongst the men - an infallible demonstration of their safety. The usual practice is to arrange towing-gear between two of these vessels attached to a steam-collier, which itself carries a cargo of coal. If the weather happens to grow too rough, the lighters can be easily be cast off the collier, when their qualities as excellent sea-boats practically ensure their security. But their best characteristic is their capability of carrying their cargoes to places inaccessible to the ordinary steam-collier. The early-built vessels of this kind carry only 350 tons each, but in the augmented service they will have a much larger capacity. Of this service the Snurk (?) is the first, and is capable of carrying 1000 tons of coal. With the appliances above mentioned, fifteen steam-colliers, each carrying 1500 to 2000 tons, can be discharged every twelve hours. It is under such auspices, and with eager expectations founded upon them, that this gigantic enterprise sets its foot afar upon river and upon sea.
We start the page with a fine, evocative image next below - of a scene that was repeated many times each day at any of thousands of coal mines across the United Kingdom. The image is not of a Sunderland miner, but it was taken at a Durham mine - at Greenside Colliery, 7 miles W. of Newcastle. The image, which dates from 1938 or thereabouts, shows miner Tommy Shotton (that's Tommy at left) collecting a token & miners lamp as he started his shift in the Greenside mine.
I read that Greenside Colliery operated for over 80 years, from 1880 or thereabouts thru to Jul. 1966. From 1907 it was owned by Stella Coal Co. Ltd. - until it was nationalised in 1947 & became, of course, a National Coal Board property.
The image was included in an 8 page 1938 magazine article. Which article, I now learn, was published on Feb. 18, 1939 in 'Picture Post' magazine. An article by author, journalist & academic Ritchie Calder i.e. Peter Ritchie Calder, Baron Ritchie-Calder of Balmashanner (1906/1982). 'Steve' of Gateshead tells us, in his guestbook message (thanks!) that the photographer for the Picture Post article was D. (David) W. Savill, who was 'married to my great aunt Agnes McDine, a Greenside lass.'
I try in these pages not to reinvent the wheel, so advise that you can see the entire Ritchie Calder article here as a 'pdf' document. The above image is not from that 'pdf' file however. It rather appears here thanks to the unusual kindness of Paul Debney, whose e-Bay store would seem to have since vanished.
Ritchie Calder advised in his article that 'Every day three miners are killed and over 400 injured in the bowels of the earth'. As they toiled for their then average British miner pay-packet of 'about £2 16 0 a week, with all allowances'. I read that there were 41 known miner deaths at Greenside Colliery over its lifetime. Ritchie Calder uses the next words to describe the sad scene at any of the thousands of pit-heads after a mining disaster has occurred.
WAITING.... Ever since the shuddering summons of the hooter, urgent and fraught with foreboding, had sent them running to the pit-head. Waiting women, coats over their night-clothes, shawls over their heads, shivering with cold and with fear. Waiting for that winch to bring up its load, for the cage gates to open, for limp men, their gas-masks dangling round their necks, their clothes scorched, and a look of men who had been through hell, to stagger out with stretchers. Waiting as they have waited all their lives as miners' wives, for that moment when their ever-present nightmare becomes a reality. Only those who have stood at the pit-head after a disaster and have watched the dry-eyed agony of those women can realise the human price of coal.
Next are two more images from that 8 page article. Do read the whole article!
Webmaster's comment - The text which follows was published by 'Stephenson' in a booklet entitled 'Monster in the Pit'. The booklet does not state a publication date, & contains no information whatsoever about 'Stephenson', the name stated prominently on the booklet's cover. The booklet, however, was surely published, in or about April 1991, by Rev. John Stephenson, former Rector of All Saints', Eppleton. He retired in 1996, I read, & in 2010 was living in East Herrington. In 1991 he was described by the Northern Echo as the North-East's best known priest. 'A pacifist, a poet, a campaigner for social justice, a friend to the miners and an inveterate opponent of the first Gulf War.'
Can anybody put the webmaster in touch with the Reverend John Stephenson today? Or alternatively I invite him to contact the webmaster. Re matters of copyright.
Anyway, the 'Monster in the Pit' booklet contained a lengthy article entitled DURHAM MINERS' ASSOCIATION, 1869-1929. The name of the article's author was not stated. The article was illustrated but I cannot tell if those illustrations were the same illustrations that apparently appeared in a 68 page soft cover brochure published in 1969. That brochure, by author E. Allen M.A., contained 12 full page black and white photographs, a forward by Alfred Hesler, General Secretary (of the Durham Miners' Association, I presume), & would seem to have been entitled 'Durham Miners' Association, 1869-1929; A Commemoration'. 'Bookfinder' advises that it was published by 'Durham Miners' Association', of Red Hill, but David Temple, of that Association, tells me, in Oct. 2013, that they did not, in fact, publish it.
All of the images in the article below, are images added by the webmaster. They do not relate in any way to the original illustrations, whatever they were.
Is it appropriate, copyright-wise, to provide here Mr. E. Allen's text that was published in 'Monster in the Pit'? Is the text Mr. Allen's complete text - to the extent at least that it clearly does not include an 'annexe to the main account' to which the author makes reference & includes no images? I do not know the answer to those questions. I undertake however to remove the text below from the site, should Mr. Allen so request. I like to think that he might just welcome the text's inclusion here.
I have tried to transcribe the text with diligence & care.
DURHAM MINERS' ASSOCIATION, 1869-1929
On November 20th, 1919, the miners of the Durham coalfield celebrated the Jubilee of their Association. Appropriately, for it was the room in which the first official meeting of the Association had been held in November 1869, a meeting was held in a room of the Market Hotel, Market Place, Durham City. A resolution, expressing thankfulness for what had happened in the past was combined with an affirmation of commitment to the principles represented by the Association in the following terms : "That we place on record our deep appreciation of the services rendered to the mining community by the old pioneers of the Durham Miners' Association who commenced their labours in this room fifty years ago and pledge ourselves individually and as a committee to continuing their good work."
Further celebrations took place in the Miners' Hall at Red Hill on Saturday, December 20th, 1919. A brief Council meeting was held : photographs were taken : letters of friendly congratulation were read : presentations were made, amongst them one to Mr. M. Thompson of Murton who had been a delegate at the first meeting of the Association. Toasts were proposed and replied to : Peter Lee replied to Mr. W. B. Charlton, Chairman of the County Federation Board : Robert Smillie replied to a toast by William Straker to the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. What memories these names must evoke. Now, a further fifty years on, the time has come to celebrate the Association's centenary. What changes there have been since that Jubilee celebration. They evoke a whole series of unanswerable surmises as to what the position may be when the next occasion of celebration comes along. Mr. E. H. D. Skinner, who will be remembered by many as the former Chairman of the Board of the Durham Division of the National Coal Board has left on record a conversation he had with Sam Watson (1 & 2). They were together at a conference and they talked about the position the industry might possibly be in in the future and jocularly referred to the possibility that in 100 years time there might very well be a very much smaller coalmining industry in Durham. Sam dismissed the suggestion with the remark that anyhow these would be other people's problems, not theirs. But the future has crashed through into the present and the rapid rundown of the industry in recent years, which seemed then so remote, has become, and has been since the late fifties, one of the toughest and most anxious problems the men in the industry and the officials of the Association have been called upon to face. But there is a sense in which the future must look after itself : each generation must solve its problems as it finds them, and in its own way. If the future for the coalmining industry in Durham holds the prospect of further contraction in size, in contrast with the prospects of continuing growth which those who celebrated the Jubilee might entertain--though even then there were signs, in coal as in cotton, that a massive change was not far off--it is still proper for those celebrating the centenary today to use the same words and express the same sentiments as their predecessors in 1919--deep appreciation of what has been done in the past and a resolve to continue their good work. A centenary, no doubt, is an occasion for looking both ways, forwards in time as well as backwards, but insofar as it it is a commemorative celebration of what has been done it is fitting that the main emphasis should be placed on what has passed. We should not seek to press too far back in that past : coal was being extracted from the soil of County Durham well before the Durham Miners' Association was formed in 1869 and there were numerous attempts to form unions amongst miners before the arrival of the D.M.A.
It is with pride that Durham miners remember the names of pioneering trade unionists such as Martin Jude and Thomas Hepburn. It almost seems to be a law of institutional evolution that before a continuing instrument to serve a particular purpose can be set up there should be a series of experimental episodic formations which, like sheet lightning, provide a vivid illumination, but, unlike the daylight, only a fitful one.
The Durham Miners' Association appeared at a time when the industry was attaining a considerable size, when men were becoming increasingly aware of common problems and the possibilities of finding solutions in common and united action. In Durham the problems which drew men together arose from their detestation of "The Bond", and "Rocking", and the need to protect their position with regard to rates of pay and conditions of work. It is to their credit that the men who sought to solve their problems through the formation of a union also expressed their determination to put a stop to the long shift-working to which young boys were subjected.
The issue fared up at Monkwearmouth when four men of the Wearmouth Colliery were charged before the courts for breach of contract. They had signed "The Bond" in the customary way and had then withdrawn their labour on the grounds that the low wages which the coalowners were paying did not provide, even on the most stringent tests. "a living wage". It provided a focal point for the widespread discontent which had been growing in the coalfield for many years. Discussions took place between various people on the possibilities of forming a union and in the upshot a meeting was called for November 20th, 1869, to be held in a room of the Market Hotel, Durham City. This was the start : no official records of this meeting appear to have survived : the source of information is the Durham Chronicle. In its issue of November 26th it carried a detailed account of the proceedings : the bulk of it is printed in John Wilson's "History of the Durham Miners' Association", but it may be worth while to give a few illustrative details here. It was said that the delegates present at the meeting represented 4,328 members. They could hardly be members in the enrolled and paying sense of the term but it could quite well be that numerous groups of miners in the county had sent men who could act as delegates, for already meetings had been held at which the notion of forming a Durham miners' union had been given attentive consideration. There had been a meeting in July, 1869, not so much, as yet, to pass resolutions but rather to consider how a body could be brought into being which could quite fittingly do so : it is possible to find references to similar meetings at other places, at Thornley, for example, in September. Those who were contemplating the formation of a miners' union were clearly moving to a point of decision. It is this meeting in the Market Hotel on November 20th, 1869 with which this point of decision may be identified. There is an air of specific purpose about their proceedings as reported in the Durham Chronicle and they pass resolutions. A selection of their resolutions, as reported, is as follows :-
"That the following be appointed Trustees--Alan Murray, W. Clarke, Isaac Parks, W. Patterson, R. Carr, W. Wilson, John Armstrong and T. Noble" : again :- "that each delegate have one vote" : "that Mr. John Richardson be Agent and Secretary and be paid 32s per week and allowed third-class railway fare when on the business of the Association when such business calls him more than four miles from his residence, the delegates to decide his place of residence" : " that the miners of the County of Durham have their attention called to the objects contemplated by the Association by hand-bills and that 500 be printed": "that the agent go into the Crook and Spennymoor districts and explain the advantages of the Society": there were others : but these will suffice ; the Association, small and shaky though its structure might be, was "in business."
The union was formed at an opportune time. Trade was beginning to boom, and did so steadily, particularly through 1871-2 into 1873. Coal prices were rising and the coal-owners, eager to gain and fulfil contracts, were more amenable to trade union pressure than in a slump. Rates of pay were increased by several stages until in February, 1873, the total advance made wages 58.7% above the level of 1871 : the trend of opinion amongst the owners was that the practice of "The Bond" should be discarded : at a meeting of miners and coalowners on February 17th, 1872, on the basis of this understanding, consideration was given to the question of what the best terms of service might be : the owners favoured a monthly, the men were unanimous in their view that fortnightly notices should be the rule : this period of notice was adopted, with fortnightly pays. The acknowledged leader of the Durham Association was now William Crawford. He was made an Agent in 1870, later President and then in March, 1872, he was made Secretary. He was a vigorous, forceful man, dedicated to the cause of trade unionism, and the encouraging start enabled him to speak and write about the future in bold and confident terms. It was as well that circumstances had provided such a favourable context for the start of the new union and that their leader was a man of vigorous optimism, for the book broke. During 1873 coal prices fell and the market, as indeed the economy generally, was sliding downwards into one of those cyclical depressions with which the 19th century was learning to live even if it could not either understand or control them. The coal trade continued to experience low prices and slack demand--certainly demand below the capacity to produce coal which the industry had now built up, and this made for coalmining trading difficulty which was reflected in a continued reduction of wage rates. By 1879 rates, instead of being over 50% above 1871 rates, were 10% below. The continuing low price of coal presented a sharper problem to the union that might otherwise have come about because of the arrangements for determining wages which had now been agreed upon by the Executive Committee of the Association and the coalowners. These arrangements fell into two parts. First, it had been agreed that the variation of wages for a particular grade of labour (the hewer) should be related to an agreed basis rate which should itself be moderated by percentage additions or decreases whose amount should depend upon the average price of a ton of Durham coal in the market. This was the first of four sliding-scale arrangements. The first was put into operation in 1877, to run for a period of two years. Three other sliding-scale arrangements followed : the fourth being terminated in 1889. The history of the sliding-scales is an astonishing one. The attitude of both owners and men seems to be one which can only adequately be described by a piece of jargon drawn from psychology : they seemed to have a sort of love-hate attitude towards the sliding-scale principle. The owners terminated the first because they were dissatisfied with the way in which it was working out : the men terminated the 2nd, 3rd & 4th. The merits which may be claimed for the sliding-scale arrangement are that the adjustment of wage-rates, to an agreed basis rate, is, or can be, reasonably quick and impersonal. It does not require the lodging of a claim by the men for an increase or of a claim for a reduction by the owners. It does not lead to unduly protracted negotiations because of stone-walling by either side, or both, when a claim is made, or because of excessive claims by the side presenting it.
The sliding scale provided an automatic mechanism which could therefore rule out undue delays, and the possibility of clashes between the two parties to the wage bargain. But, equally obviously, the willingness of both sides to continue the operation of such arrangements will tend to depend upon the acceptance by each of the reasonableness of the foundations on which the sliding-scale changes take place. And it was precisely because of suspicion and uneasiness on these counts that the sliding-scale arrangements fell into disfavour. The owners terminated the first because the fall in coal prices could not be given what they regarded as their due reflection in a decrease in percentages on basis rates because they had, perhaps unwittingly, agreed that there should be a minimum level below which the rates should not go. When they met the minimum wage requirements "in the flesh", so to say, they did not like it. The Association terminated the other three because they became increasingly critical of the figures which the owners were using to measure the costs of producing a ton of saleable coal and which, therefore, in conjunction with realised sale-proceeds on the market, would be relevant to the calculation of profit. "Let us see a more detailed breakdown of costs", they said. The men became increasingly restive at having to accept, blindly, the simple assertions of the owners that, given the costs of production, based on, in part, existing wage rates, the realised average price of coal left them with inadequate profit margins or even losses. The miners naturally were not content to go on being told the time by simply being told the position of the fingers; they wanted to look inside and study the works. But a close look inside the clock, where the ratios between the various moving parts produced the profits, was precisely what the owners were not prepared to accord. Continued willingness to operate a sliding-scale arrangement between realised prices and percentage changes on basis wage rates is also clearly dependent on willing acceptance of the level of the basis rate itself, and also of the principle that the right relation between wages and prices is for wages to follow prices, In the end the experience of four sliding-scales was enough, for both sides, but it is an understandable reflection of the continuing attachment of the miners to sliding-scales that when steep wage reductions were demanded in 1879 the miners' leaders were already engaged amongst themselves in discussions which eventually led to the second scale. As negotiations proceeded the owners reduced the amount by which they had initially demanded that wages should be reduced, and the men's leaders moved increasingly over to the idea that a wage determination should be left to arbitration, though, as the owners' demands came lower the leaders, as well as the Federation Board expressed themselves as prepared, however reluctantly, to consider acceptance of the owners' terms. They drew attention to the slackness of trade and to "the risks which always attend a stoppage of the pits when trade is paralysed and men both suffering and disorganised."
In the upshot the miners' leaders offered arbitration but the owners gave notice that all existing wage arrangements would expire on a named date and that thereafter work would be available only on the basis of agreement to accept quite sizeable percentage reductions. The men were unwilling to accept these terms and they remained 'on strike' from April 5 to July 28, when an interim award by Judge Bradshaw giving a reduction was supplemented by a further award by Lord Derby giving a further small reduction. The Association was again involved in a general county strike in 1892. The owners presented a claim in November 1891 for either a reduction in wages of 10% or a submission to open arbitration. (Webmaster's Note - an article ex Illustrated London News of Mar. 26, 1892, available here, sets out in some detail the causes of the 1892 strike). After protracted discussions the various unions in the Federation Board ballotted on the issue of "strike" or "no strike" and the voting on March 16 was 43,000 for striking and 12,000 in favour of leaving the Federation to settle. the strike was on : it lasted until June 3rd. Its settlement was in part effected by the entry of Bishop Westcott. He appears to have been saddened at the evidence of privation and hardship amongst the people of Durham : it is possible he may also have been influenced by the evidence that tempers were rising, attitudes hardening, with the possibility that there might be ugly scenes and public affrays. Be that as it may, he appealed to the owners to meet him and the miners round a table, not on the grounds of the rightness or otherwise of their case, but on the humanitarian ground that the continuance of the stoppage of work was bringing many people into distress. A meeting at Auckland Castle took place and a settlement was eventually reached on the basis of a 10% reduction in wages and the undertaking to consider the setting up of a Conciliation Board, on the existence of which the Bishop set a great deal of importance. It had a shaky and uneasy start. A Board was set up and held its first meeting in 1895 : it was suspended in 1896 : but it was renewed in 1899.
The course of wage determination after the abandonment of sling-scales presents itself therefore as a series of arbitration awards. It is interesting to see from the facts that the variations asked for by the owners were consistently greater that the awards eventually made. This cannot be automatically taken as proof that the system of arbitration operated to the advantage of the miners but it is at least evidence that the owners did not get the amounts for which they initially asked. How, precisely, the outcome should be interpreted depends, in the last analysis, on a just blend of perceptiveness and trust.
When this section was introduced some pages back it was said that the means for determining wages and conditions of work fell into two parts. It is now time to consider the sort of instrument of control to be found in this second part. What we find is The Joint Committee. Its establishment arose from discussions between a number of employers and a number of the miners' leaders on July 19th, 1872. At this meeting a formal resolution was adopted that six members of each Association (owners on the one hand and miners on the other) should meet regularly to consider matters of detail on which one or other of the two parties might seek a ruling. The purpose of the Joint Committee comes out more clearly however if note is taken of the rues which were agreed upon by a further committee which had been given the specific job of drawing up a code of rules : "The object of the committee" it was laid down, "shall be to arbitrate, appoint arbitrators, or otherwise settle all questions (except such as may be termed County questions or questions affecting the general trade) relating to matters of wages practices or working or any other subject which may arise from time to time at any particular colliery . . . "
February 14, 1910
Washington 'F' Pit
Owners complain that back shift hewers are not staying in the face until loosed byOctober 20, 1913
their marrows . . .
Owners complain that men at coal cutting and drilling machines refuse to work more
than 11 shifts per fortnight and ask that they work when ordered 12 shifts or more in
accordance with custom of colliery : the Lodge must not prevent these men carrying
out the custom."
The Joint Committee seems to be in serious danger of being converted to an undesirable extent into a committee for the hearing of complaints, where, for the most part, it would seem the committee is being called on to inculcate a discipline which local managements are failing in. This may perhaps be interpreted as a further sign of the development of an increasing militancy in the attitude of the men in these closing years before World War I. The point is worth consideration. It may be a further aspect of a swing against the attitude and policy associated with the leadership of Crawford and Wilson. Both men, though firmly and utterly committed to the cause of seeking to better the position of working men through Trade Union action had had consistently strong views on the subject of unconstitutional strike action by lodges, the inexpediency of strikes considered as an industrial weapon, and the non-validity of Socialism as against a radical version of Liberalism which would enable them to stand for Parliament as candidates in the Labour interest, but with Liberal sponsorship. They insisted upon constitutional action in industrial disputes because only in this way, as they seem to have thought, could continuing negotiations and mutually respecting industrial relations be maintained with the coal owners. Their tactics and language on the point have, from the start, a surprisingly contemporary relevance. No occasion seems to bring out this attitude more clearly than that in 1872 when Crawford was about to open his negotiations with the coal owners and the men at Haswell and Castle Eden Collieries had come out on strike. After a short consultation the miners' leaders who had gathered in Newcastle to open up these joint discussions sent the following telegram to the men at Haswell and Castle Eden.
" We regret to hear that Haswell and Castle Eden Collieries are idle. You must know that
you are wrong and we strongly advise you to commence work tomorrow otherwise steps will be taken to repudiate such reprehensible conduct and if necessary the strongest action will be taken in the matter."
The attitude of Crawford and Wilson has been described by Professor Geoffrey Best in his Bishop Westcott Memorial lecture as " Burtism. " Burt, the Northumberland miners leader held and practiced precisely these doctrines and beliefs -- but not more strongly, one would think, than Crawford and Wilson : and the attitude could just as rightly be described as Wilsonism. Neither term is particularly attractive as literary coin but the point of the distinction which it is desired to make is that Wilson did not hold these views as a follower of Burt : they were his own; and he sought to provide a leadership and a strategy to the Durham miner which would have this stamp.
But a tide of opinion was now beginning to run against him : and it was, in the end, to carry the D.M.A. away from him. This opposing tide had already shown itself in various ways. There was the occasion when certain lodges had brought forward resolutions asking that the Gala be held, not in Durham City, but in some other place--Waldridge Fell, Auckland, were mentioned--away from the citadels of the established order. Another example is seen in the formation in 1898 of a Progressive Group--The Durham Miners' Progressive Federation--which even in the Wilson era is restless under the sponsorship of the Liberal party. It is seen yet again in the nomination of Tom Mann to speak on several occasions at the Gala : he first spoke at the Gala of 1912. His nomination, his appearance to speak, no less than what he said--and on one occasion he was called to order by the chairman on his platform for expressing sentiments which, to the chairman, seemed an abuse of hospitality--were a pointed challenge to the Burt/Wilson formula. It would not be wrong, either, to see as further evidence of the changing tide the application by the D.M.A. in 1907 to become a member of the M.F.G.B. By this act Durham expressed its willingness to depart from its long-cherished position of County independence and associate itself with such policies as might arise from the majority decisions of the M.F.G.B. And this, in certain instances, particularly the matter of Hours, would mean the abandonment of something which had been almost a Durham gospel. The 8-hour shift which the M.F.G.B. was pressing Parliament to establish by statute had long been steadfastly opposed by Durham. Although its adoption meant reductions in working time for some miners it involved an increase in the length of the working day for hewers, the county's most numerous and influential workmen, and the threat of multi-shift working, with all its social and domestic inconvenience.
But the day of County isolation and self-determination had passed : opinion had hardened against it and if there was a price to be paid for merging with the national movement amongst miners and taking up a more militant and socialistic stance which tended to express itself with increasing sharpness in a demand for the Nationalisation of the coalmining industry, then the D.M.A. had now reached a stage when it was prepared to pay that price. An increasing number in the membership of the D.M.A. would no doubt be inclined to rank that price much lower than Wilson and Crawford would. But, as was said earlier, each generation must settle its problems in its own way and the way of Wilson and Burt was beginning to slide away into history.
It would be wrong, however, to interpret the activities of the D.M.A. in the years between its formation and World War I merely in terms of industrial relations, bargaining procedures, and the evolutionary shift, ideologically and politically, from " Burtism " to militancy and Socialism. The D.M.A. had notable achievements in the field of welfare. Its interest in safety in the pits was always strong and it promoted a very beneficial system of training in ambulance work and safety methods for the men at the pits. It did so by an effective blend of courses, competitions and the presentation of the issue as one of challenge to the individual miner to improve his knowledge, test himself in competition with his fellows, and, in so doing, put himself into a state of knowledgeable preparedness for acting in emergencies either independently or as one of a disciplined team.
Another notable achievement, not unrelated to the first, for it stems from the dangers inevitably associated with pit life, was the evolution and elaboration of a committee for dealing with cases of compensation. The Compensation Committee began in 1898. It was built up carefully and solicitously to become an effective instrument for dealing as quickly and equitably as might be possible with cases of need arising through accidents in the pits.
Those arrangements became a source of justifiable pride to the leaders of the Association. There was a recognised need for such an instrument : the D.M.A. met that need and met it carefully, thoughtfully and effectively, employing for the purpose whatever legal skills might be thought necessary. The D.M.A. has had a number of lawyers in its service, amongst them Mr. R. W. Williams and Mr. I. E. Geffen to mention only two. It is a safe surmise to make that these men valued their association with D.M.A. and their power to make a contribution to the welfare of its members through their work.
Yet another notable achievement in contributing to the welfare of their members other than through the normal and traditional trade union procedures, indeed one which has been widely recognised to be an outstanding piece of imaginative and perceptive pioneering, is to be seen in the acquisition, betterment and building of homes for aged miners. The man whose name will always be remembered for his initiative in starting this work, his patient understanding and careful custodianship of the scheme as it developed is Mr. J. Hopper. He first suggested that the D.M.A. should form an Association and use its funds for the purpose of acquiring or building houses which could be allocated to old miners in 1899. Reading between the lines the impression is created, perhaps unjustifiably, that Mr. Hopper's suggestion was not received with very great enthusiasm. It was a kindly thought no doubt but it is easy to come away from the records with the thought that a number of people at the time tended to think that there were other, bigger more exciting campaigns in which the Association might engage its time and finances. But Joseph Hopper quietly persisted with his suggestion and, gradually, support for his suggestion grew. He secured support from a number of men of influence in Durham amongst them Canon Moore Ede. First, a large hall standing in two acres of ground was acquired near Boldon. This was taken over by the Boldon lodge for their own men. Next the Committee negotiated with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for parcels of land amounting in all to nine acres, in three different parts of the county. A splendid opportunity then came their way when the chance was afforded to acquire at one go the whole of the colliery village of Haswell Moor, 112 houses, each with a garden and obtainable at £25 per hose. Amongst the advantages of the acquisition, and clearly there were many, one that was particularly pleasing was that here you already had a collection of houses grouped on their common site and it was possible to envisage making very quickly the transference from a collection of houses to a community of people using them. The whole scheme, which had gained large support amongst people outside the industry, was given an official send-off in the same month. The work of the committee expanded : it built homes, and indeed, the provision of new houses, generally small single-storey properties, bungalow type, in little rows and crescents became the central formula for its work. What they built can still be seen today : sturdy, neat, inexpensive and obviously eminently livable. The number of houses is now more than 20? and though today the function of housing old people has passed to the Local Authorities these properties stand as a quietly moving tribute to the imaginative insight and patient endeavour of an early leader who, by reason of the quietness of his personality, does not otherwise figure prominently in the records.
To this work in providing homes for aged miners the D.M.A. has added a further contribution to welfare by acquiring and running convalescent homes. The first such home was opened in 1930 when Conishead Priory was acquired : a second was opened at Richmond in 1961 to be called the Sam Watson Rest Home. What some miners at any rate think of this aspect of D.M.A. activity is illustrated by the fact that a representation of the Conishead Priory Convalescent Home figures as the central theme on one of the banners proudly carried on Gala Day.
With regard to Education, however, there does not seem to be the same weight of support as in these other fields of welfare. Plenty of examples, of course, can be found of leaders, in speeches or in circulars, stressing its importance. It is also true that from time to time there is reference to a contribution which has been made to some institution or movement in adult education. But the main interest in Education seems to come after the war and in these more recent developments the move worthy of note would seem to be, first, the keener interest taken in educational activities during the heavy unemployment of the 1930's when men had so much 'time' on their hands and when various bodies, interested in general social welfare, Councils of Social Service, The Society of Friends, the Extra-mural Departments of the Universities, the W.E.A., and others were actively concerned to co-operate with the miners in laying on courses which would at least occupy and interest people's minds, as indeed, for many, they did. In a number of cases, small but significant, a means might be afforded for somebody to move forward to more continuous study at a higher level, at Ruskin College, Oxford, or Fircroft, or, possibly, for a still smaller number study for a degree at a university. Secondly, a development well worthy of mention must be the Sunday classes which, for so many years, were taken by Sam Watson or by speakers he was able to persuade to go along. In the interest of his Sunday class he could be very persuasive and as a result its members heard many notable speakers whose path they might normally never have been likely to cross. Of his Sunday Class he was very, and very properly, proud. It introduced into the thoughts of the members international issues in a manner which consistently continued the interest in international affairs and the peoples of other countries which had been exemplified in the international interests of the leaders in the days of Crawford and particularly Wilson, and is illustrated by the names of speakers at the earlier Galas. As a pendant to the weekly class was the annual week of residential study at Cober Hill, near Scarborough. Men competed for a limited number of places by the writing of essays : many are the stories that could be told, and indeed have been told, about the exacting task which this essay writing presented to many, and how they coped with it.
Cober Hill and the Sunday classes are remembered and will go on being remembered, no doubt, with both pleasure and pride by Durham miners ; and they will not be likely to forget the man responsible for their initiation and development.
These references to education and unemployment have spilled over beyond the period it was intended to keep to, for 1914 provides a natural stopping point. Forget them, then, for a while and pause to try to take stock of the position which the D.M.A. had by this time carved out for itself and of the economic position of the industry to which it belonged. In taking stock, however, there will be no attempt to present a full array of statistical tabulations, membership, assets, and the like. Figures have been used from time to time by way of illustration and this is the way in which they will continue to be used : the full statistical arrays will be found in due course in the two volumes which it is the intention to publish when this occasion of centenary has slipped behind. The same economy of selection of statistical data will be employed when dealing with the economic position of the Durham Coalfield. So, if the reader wants an array of full statistical sequences he will not find them : let him be patient : they will come.
The position of the D.M.A. by 1914 can be briefly but perhaps adequately indicated by giving the figures of its membership and comparing them with the figures of membership of miners unions in other districts. A good source for such comparisons is found in the tables which show how different districts voted on issues of great significance on which opinion was either strongly held or divided. When district voting took place Durham could throw in a total of approximately 100,000 votes. Only South Wales and Yorkshire could throw in bigger figures. Scotland came along a good fourth in these comparisons. In numbers and solidarity of organisation Durham had become, from the shaky less-than-2,000 start, one of the 4 most powerful components within the national miners' organisation. On the lists of the Executive Committee of the M.F.G.B. there had appeared by 1915, the following Durham names :- T. H. Cann, S. Galbraith, J. Hobson, Dr. J. Wilson, W. House, J. Robson, W. Whiteley : in later years they were to be supplemented by further notable names : by 1930 the following new names had appeared on the M.F.G.B. Executive Committee :- T. Trotter, J. Batey, W. P. Richardson, P. Lee, J. E. Swan, J. Gilliland. Of these W. House held office as Vice-President (1914-17) : James Robson (1918-21) : and W. P. Richardson (1921-30) served as Treasurers.
The economic position of the industry was strong and that of the industry in the County so strong as to look almost unassailable. The county could provide a large quantity annually of coals of different sorts and classes. Its gas coals were in strong demand in gas works both locally and nationally. The London gas companies maintained a shuttle service of ships taking gas coal from the region's ports to the Thames. Its steam coals were in strong demand locally, across the North Sea in Western Europe, and for bunker purposes all over the world. Its coking coals, particularly the coking coal of the thin but rewarding Victoria Seam in South West Durham, were rated to be the best in Western Europe. A growing population in the North East served to sustain an expanding market for its household coals.
In so far as its coals were bought by heavy industry, e.g. the iron and steel and shipbuilding industries, or taken up for bunker purposes by the shipping fleets of the world, its activity was one of course affected by the cyclical variation of the demand originating in these ways and it was one of the stock beliefs of the trade that the prices of coals in export markets tended to be more variable than the prices of other coals, e.g. gas coals. For this however there was, as yet, no diagnosis, let alone suggestions for a remedy, for which there was general acceptance and support. The alternation of slump with boom had to be accepted as part of the facts of national economic life. In the period up to 1914 however these alternations had worked out their course along an ascending growth path, both nationally and regionally. The tonnage figures of a slump of the later years could be above the tonnage figures of a boom belonging to the earlier years, if two cycles far enough apart were taken. It was an unsteady, or perhaps, better, oscillating progress along the time-path of the industry. The cycle had thus its brighter as well as its darker and more damaging features. Unfortunately the greater degree of damage might be likely to be done to those members of the community who work with short horizons of time rather than long : a wage earner paid weekly or fortnightly may well be more vulnerable than a man paid monthly or quarterly. The reason is not far to seek. Slumps inevitably brought with them an increase in unemployment, low or non-existent pay packets, and therefore the pinch of harder times for miners and their families. The weekly sum which the D.M.A. could provide to its unemployed members was small and did not go far : in the absence of National Unemployment Insurance Benefit provision a miner's family would be thrown back on its savings and such credit as the local shops, notably, perhaps, the local Co-operative Society, could provide. But miners do not as a rule, or did not then, save much and a month can be a long time for a family which is without a regular wage packet or other dependable source of income. All the same it is fair comment that even in the slumps the hope of economic revival could be genuinely and sincerely nourished. It is in that respect, if no other - though there are indeed many others - that that day differs so very markedly from today.
During the first World War two lines of development stand out which are important because they provide a link with developments on which comment has already been made and developments yet to come. Because of its key importance to the working of the national economy in wartime the industry eventually passed under Government control : exhortations to maintain output in the national interest became a common-place. These are circumstances which will not be explored further. The two developments which it is perhaps important to single out for special comment are :-
The growing dissatisfaction in various parts of the Durham coalfield with the existing basis for wages and a growing demand for a reform of the wage system, which would include, in particular, the establishment of a 'living' minimum wage.
The emergence of an even more sharply expressed conflict of opinion between those who, on the whole, tended to be satisfied with a continuation of Burt/Wilson and those who, like Mr. Gilliland, appear to have desired a strong and open advocacy of Socialism.
The first sensitive issue came to a head during 1916 when increased rates were successfully negotiated but an underlying restiveness persisted at what was thought to be the undesirably low minimum rates. The second came to a head, indeed exploded, when Mr. Cann tackled Mr. Gilliland on the justification for certain allegations he was said to have made against the more moderate members of the D.M.A. leadership. Mr. Cann moved, in a memorandum, from his questions to Mr. Gilliland, without a break, to a vigorous polemical assault on the Independent Labour Party. We may perhaps read two things from these events. First, that a spirit of dissatisfaction is gathering strength which could develop into a full scale attack upon the whole principle of basing wages on the determinations of a Conciliation Board which had been set up as long ago as 1895. Second, the members of the Association are indicating firmly where they stand on the issue of Burt/Wilson or Socialism and it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a growing weight of support for Socialism.
As a tailpiece to this brief account of what seems to be significant in World War I and as a quieter item that the two already mentioned there must be put into the record the fact that on October 23rd, 1915, the Association moved from the North Road to its newly-erected Hall and Offices at Red Hill. This is where, of course, its affairs are still conducted. It is a quiet place, not without dignity and though its meetings must often have been vigorous and turbulent, with plenty of hard things plainly said, they have not disturbed its peace. If, in the days to come, when, sadly, the Hall and Offices might have to be applied to other uses, and there are ghosts about the place, they will be friendly ones.
As during 1918, it became increasingly possible to visualise an end to fighting, two events took place which provided a very clear pointer to the way in which it might be expected that discussions with the coalowners on matters of pay and conditions might develop.
First, the programme of the M.F.G.B. for its Summer (1918) conference contained demands for the nationalisation of coal mines, and land : there was also a demand for a six-hour day. If this was to set the tone and indicate the direction then there was already evidence that quite a number in Durham would be found ready to speak, vote and act in sympathy.
Second, Mr. Robson, who had been asked in 1917 to examine the structure of wages in Durham and, in particular, the function of the Conciliation Board, presented a very detailed and raking report. The general tenor of his argument was one of profound dissatisfaction with the principle upon which wage-rate changes were calculated. There is an echo of a similar dissatisfaction which had been expressed, but not in such forthright terms, during the love-hate relationship of both owners and men to the sliding-scales. He had noted the tendency of the owners to make great play with costs and he was not satisfied that the build-up of costs was conducted in a manner that was either fair to the miners or indeed strictly correct as pure accounting procedure. It is dissatisfaction with the clock-face treatment all over again but is is much more aware of itself and more determined to produce a reform.
" What are these costs?" he asked. " Unless the owners," he said, "are ready and willing to allow the accountants to ascertain not only the selling price but the cost they have so often urged I am not prepared for my part to allow the important interests of our people to rest upon the word of the owners."
It is impossible to go here into the detail of the case he wished to press : but it is evident that there had been an increase in purpose and determination on the side of the miners leaders : if the chips are not yet down then the situation bears the signs of a determination to throw them down if need be. It is worth recalling that John Wilson had elicited a reply from Lord Davey which disclosed the rightness of the miners' insistence upon disclosure and explanation of costs item by item. But it is at this point that one is again forcibly reminded of the complicating duality of the position in which the D.M.A. now found itself. On the one hand it had to work out as satisfactory a relation as possible with the Durham coalowners : on the other the D.M.A. was caught up in the plans and aims of the M.F.G.B. The situation in 1918 illustrates the tension between the two most vividly. The Durham Federation Board had asked the coalowners for a new start with regard to the compilation and discussion of costs and the reply of the owners had not been discouraging. Yet it is precisely at this time, when the owners seem prepared to take the clock-face off and explain the works, that the M.F.G.B., at its July Conference, had carried its resolution in favour of nationalisation unanimously. Nationally. the M.F.G.B. was consorting with the N.U.R. and the Transport Workers' Federation to organise opposition to both the Government and the T.U.C. at one and the same time.
"This conference of the Triple Alliance," they said, "decides to recommend to all its constituent parts to take such action in accordance with their respective constitutions to ascertain whether their members are prepared to take industrial action . . . " Mr. Cann must have been relieved to receive, later, a telegram from Frank Hodges, General Secretary of the M.F.G.B., to take no action about a ballot on direct action till further notice. The general complexity of the situation was not helped by the development and then the breaking of a feverish post-war boom, by the confused state of opinion created by the publication of the Sankey Commission and the action of the Government in relation to the recommendations. 1921 was a year of depression, strikes and confusion. The Government's policy towards the mining industry seemed to consist of short-run expedients, with, behind them, a longer-run determination to establish the coal industry in a position where it could make profits and avoid losses without depending upon a continuing subsidy. This made it clear that one of the issues of the mid-part of the twenties must inevitably be wages and the costs of coal, which would, in turn, inevitably raise the question of hours.
Controversy over hours, wages, profits continued unabated through 1924 and 1925 and when, in April 1926 the notices previously given by the coalowners expired and the miners were asked to agree to terms which would mean a reduction in wages and an increase in hours the outcome was not in doubt. The miners were in no mood to accept a worsening in the terms and conditions of their work. So they were locked out. On May 4 the T.U.C. gave instructions for the calling of a General Strike in sympathy with the miners. The general strike did not last long : the miners lock-out did. They did not go back to work until November. At its end the men had to go back on the owners terms : the basic subsistence rate was reduced by nearly 1/- per shift : there was an increase in hours from 7 to 8 for workers other than Deputies and Hewers whose shifts were increased from 7 to 7½. The question that arises is how this stoppage, particularly when the stoppage in coalmining was supplemented by stoppage arising from the sympathetic strike organised for a few days by the T.U.C. should be interpreted.
To some it seems to be an attack by organised labour on Government, Law, Order and the general stability of the realm. To some it seems to be the beginnings of an immense gesture of industrial defiance by the workers which somehow ran out of fervour and conviction and left the battle to be fought lengthily, wearily, by the owners and miners in coalmining : to many, perhaps, it was a last stand in a coalmining battle with the owners over hours and pay which could be traced back to 1919 and 1920.
It had its brighter side. The summer was better than most English summers tend to be. The pit ponies were brought out of the pit : their scamperings on the unaccustomed grass, the many pony races, all provided delight and excitement. The difficulty came when, after a long summer, not of discontent, but of philosophic acceptance, with the means to buy things grimly scanty, the good weather broke and the days grew cold and wet. Under such conditions a return to work, necessarily on the owners terms, was inevitable. And so it turned out. The writing of this section of the brochure has been immensely helped by the provision of a letter written by a man who lived through these days in 1926 and remembers them. In response to a request he wrote his recollections down. What he has written is simple, clear and unmistakeably sincere. In parts it is immensely moving. It confirms the impression with which this section opened. The miners lock-out and the general strike which, for a time, accompanied it, was no surge of incipient revolution : it was a last stand by men who felt that circumstances had left them no option if they were to maintain their dignity and self-respect. How far this impression is acceptable and how the miners' stoppage occurred in a place not far from Durham City may perhaps be conveyed by a few extracts from the letter which has been mentioned. After describing how the miners and their families spent their time, and how much goodwill was created between them, local farmers, local shopkeepers and others, he touches on the danger to solidarity which was created by the establishment of Spencers (Midland) Non-Political unions and he has a vivid account of the situation at West Rainton, where the Adventure Colliery was working with "blackleg" labour . . .
"Mass meetings were held in parts of the county where the morale seemed to weaken. Such a meeting of 30,000 miners was held at the Adventure Colliery at West Rainton. All the Miners' Lodges brought their bands and banners from every corner of the county. The Adventure Colliery was working with blackleg miners and hundreds of police were drafted into West Rainton from as far south as Hull. On the sight of the blackleg miners coming up from the pit (surrounded by a cordon of police) the crowd became incensed : but due to the advice of the miners leaders an ugly scene was averted. A. J. Cook was appealing in his shirt sleeves from a raised, make-shift platform : it was a scorching hot day. The Rainton Workingmen's Club provided a dinner for the speaker and the loyal men of the colliery who refused to break away to blackleg. In the afternoon a visit was made to each blackleg s home and here again the police were present in strong force but it was a peaceful picketting, no action against the canvassers could be taken . . . "
He describes he closing scenes of the stoppage and the return to work in these terms :-
" . . . I was summoned to attend a County delegates special meeting in the Red Hills Miners' Hall in Durham City to hear the report of the deliberation and report of the National Conference given by our President, Peter Lee. It was an atmosphere of despair and defeat with Peter Lee almost in tears giving a lamented advice for we delegates to return to our miners' halls and advise their members to go to the colliery office and sign on for a return to work as had been arranged with the coalowners. It was a day of torrential rain and I rode to and from Durham on my pedal cycle. When I reached the Miners' Lodge Hall I found it packed to the door with an overspill on the road. A clearance in the hall was made for me to reach the platform where men and boys were sitting with their legs dangling to the floor, for a make-shift sing-song had been going on awaiting my return. I was in such a bedraggled, drenched state that the Chairman, George Gregory, announced that the delegate needed time to arrange his notes (which were sopping wet) and the check weighman was going to get his wife to make me a cup of tea. They lived next door to the hall. The concert was renewed and I sat in the Committee room with my tea. In about half an hour I felt I wanted to commence my report and the Chairman and Committee cleared the platform, and I spoke for about a half-hour giving all the phases leading up to the day's special conference at Durham. I was listened to in dead silence and when I announced that I was instructed by our County leaders that no useful purpose could be served by continuing the lock-out and men and boys must go at once to the colliery office where the manager and his officials together with the colliery clerks were ready, waiting to interview each man and boy individually, the hall exploded with a rush for the door. It was chaos, with men and boys jammed in the doorway. The street was crowded with hysterical men and boys rushing up to the colliery office to sign on. Yet the worst was yet to come for the manager only made it possible for a single file of men and boys to enter the office. Cap in hand it was a great humiliation but desperation took place of any such. The manager announced that as the pit had stood idle so long it was impossible to replace all the men and boys at once and some would have to go on the dole for a while. Thus he picked his men and boys as he wished and it gave him the opportunity to use this phrase--which became a by-word at every colliery--it was now Tom, Dick or Harry, I'll send for you when I want you. It was evident that the local owners had coined that guarded phrase and sent it to each colliery. Needless to say that many active trade unionists and Labour Party supporters were never sent for and names circulated around every colliery . . . "
The rigours of the owners terms, the determined follow-up of the Government in repudiating the Samuel Commission, the repeal of the 7 Hours Act of 1919 and the passing of a controlling and correcting Trade Disputes and Trades Unions Act in 1927 had two effects in Durham. It reduced the more moderately-minded men to a condition of stoic resignation and inflamed those whose views were already strongly Socialistic to even stronger expressions of distaste for the Government and the system which it was interpreted as representing and defending. It provided an opportunity for those who held Communist or near-Communist viewpoints to assail the D.M.A. leadership and undermine their appeal to the Durham miner. Mr. W. P. Richardson, intent on the rebuilding of his exhausted resources had the difficult task of trying to stave off the extremer critics and persuade his rank-and-file that to listen to the extremer voices might be simply to invite continued financial loss and disruption. His critics openly campaigned to replace Richardson and moderate leaders who thought like him with men who would aim at providing a more militant leadership. Those with long memories or a good knowledge of the records may recognise the threat implied by the nomination for election to the Executive Committee in such names as W. Crangle, B. Hunter, A. Henry, G. Cole, J. Glanville and J. Stephenson. In 1928 the extremer elements in the County intensified their campaign. They issued circulars : they attempted to make unauthorised use of the name of A. J. Cook -- "Follow the lead of A. J. Cook ": "Get a leadership of fighters ": "The Communist party calls upon you to force Robson Straker and Co. to get up from knees grovelling. Tell them to fight or get out ": "Smash the Plender and the Dodds awards ". The moderates had to defend themselves : they did the best they could by the issue of circulars, but vigorous though their language could be it seemed pale and anaemic against the crudities of expression and argument provided by the extremer men. In such a situation the louder and cruder protagonist may, in the short run, but only possibly in the short run, gain the advantage. The pity is that the short run victory may set back the clock of reconstruction and make the task of the more moderate man all the harder. But Peter Lee, in one strongly and vigorously worded circular provided what seems to have been something of a check : "they stand for change by civil war and destruction, " he said : "we stand for change through the ballot box and reconstruction." Bit by bit the D.M.A. was recovering its poise and its strength. The leaders of the D.M.A. took part in the discussions which preceded the passing of the Coal Mines Act in 1930.
They had a part, too, to play in the operating of the key committees for the County through which the aims of the Act were sought to be achieved. It was now thought that the coalmining industry in Durham--as elsewhere--was in need of two things : order and stability on the one hand and, on the other, re-organisation through the planned co-ordination of pit with pit, amalgamating them where necessary, even though this would, in more normal circumstances have been regarded with suspicion as likely to lead to monopoly. To achieve the first it was thought there should be control, of prices and quantities of output, by means of Joint Committees, one committee for prices and one for the fixing of output quotas. To achieve the second a Coal Mines Re-organisation Commission was set up and the chairman was charged with the duty of going round the various coalfields to introduce, by agreement, schemes of re-organisation which would be likely to lead to more efficient working of the pits.
Committees to achieve the first were soon in being and working and there is reason to think that they worked as thy had been intended to. The Re-organisation Commission achieved very little.
The main picture presented by the industry, despite these attempts at orderly control, is that of prolonged and massive unemployment amongst the miners, with the D.M.A. actively cooperating with the Government on the one hand in the organisation of relief works and, with voluntary bodies on the other, such as Councils of Social Service, Community Service Councils (as in Durham), the Society of Friends, the Universities, Lord Nuffield and others. Talk to the older man today of unemployment and he will most probably begin to tell you of the massive, long and demoralising unemployment of the 30's. It is an experience he has not forgotten : it is possibly true to say that it is an experience he never will : it has seared itself into his very soul. Sam Watson was made Unemployment Officer to the Association. He produced a number of guides to the intricacies of the Insurance Acts, the provision of National Assistance, which were a help to men in finding their way through the complex detail of the Acts, the Rules, the Orders relating to the welfare of the unemployed. Within this brief compass it is impossible to portray adequately the conditions and reactions of people to conditions at this time. On one side it would call for the insights of the philosopher and the poet : on the other it would involve the compilation of a long catalogue of official and voluntary provision which even if completed, would do less that justice to the inspiration of those who worked within their framework. The reports of various committees, the studies such as that by Newsom "Out of the Pit" leave us in no doubt about the shock which this degree and length of unemployment gave to people. Young boys could leave school and have no job to call their own for perhaps 3 to 4 years. If they got work it would most probably be short-run in nature in afforestation or road construction. Men, particularly those of middle age, once out of a job, grew resigned to the possibility that they might never again go back to what they would call "their own job". The allotment patches provided by the Society of Friends, the larger agricultural areas provided under the Land Settlement schemes of the Government were only too often, well intentioned though they may be, a pitiful irrelevancy.
When World War II came in 1939 the demand for men--full employment--came with it. Men long unemployed, in whom the hope of a permanent job might well have flickered out, could hardly be blamed for thinking ironic thoughts about the change in their circumstances. World War II, like World War I, was a time of full, even, at times, over-full, employment as coal shortages developed : also of control by the Government; and before the war was over it was clear that very soon on in the post-war period the long-hoped for nationalisation of the coal mines would be realised, but the full unmistakeable note of triumph was not heard until the Gala of 1948. In 1946 and 1947 the Association, particularly as expressed in the circulars and addresses of Sam Watson had been more concerned to stress the long struggle the union had had to reach this goal and, with this, stress, too, upon the need for a strong sense of responsibility. As Mr. E. H. D. Skinner has clearly shown in publications in which he sought to set out the existing economic position of the industry, the tasks of organisation on the side of management were great.
Sam Watson associated himself wholeheartedly with the endeavours of Mr. Skinner to build up understanding relationships between Board officials in their managerial function and the union. In these statements by Mr. Skinner there are frequent references to the support he received from Sam Watson and it is clear that he regarded Sam Watson's personality and leadership of the D.M.A. as a sheet-anchor in his work. Not that Sam Watson was lacking in determination in the pressing of a point where the Union's interest was in question. Mr. Skinner says things which show clearly that in his view Sam Watson was a doughty opponent.
In addition to drawing attention to the need for creating a balanced and efficient managerial organisation, in which the Association would have a part, Mr. Skinner pointed out the implications for Durham of the great fall in exports of coal as compared even with 1939. He found the answer to his problem in the attaining of a higher output. He pointed out that in the very favourable conditions for selling coal an enlargement of output would be likely to bring about a decrease in costs by distributing an existing burden of overhead costs over a larger tonnage. "Divisionally", he said, "we are losing heavily and [that] the loss can be reduced by increased output." Hence the production drives, the campaigns to recruit young lads who might be likely to make a career in mining and the emphasis on the reduction of absenteeism--though in this respect Durham's record was first-rate and it was frequently Sam Watson's justifiable boast that if the other coalfields had only the absentee rate of the Durham coalfield there would be no problem of absenteeism left. Hence also the emphasis on the enlargement of output by Sam Watson even in his Gala programmes. He linked the chances of continuing success by Labour in General Elections with the maintaining of a large and efficiently produced output.
It is a matter of constant interest to see how, in the last analysis, everything is made to turn on the continuation of a Labour Government. But in the Gala programme of 1950 the Secretary had to admit a much reduced majority. At the next Gala his main emphasis was upon the tragic disaster at Easington Colliery on May 29, when 83 members lost their lives. He had also to refer to the explosion at Eppleton Colliery on July 6 when 7 men were killed and 2 men, seriously injured, died later.
In 1952 he was compelled to ruminate on the ejection of a Labour Government from office. His theme was political, and he seemed to take the continuing growth in output, output per man-shift and wages per shift for granted, as though, given sufficient exhortation, it would continue so. In all three of these categories the figures for the Durham coalfield were the highest for any post-war year. It is an interesting situation for the time was not far distant when the economic position in the coalfield would be vastly changed and again present problems of massive complexity.
With the gift of hindsight we can now see how change came creeping in. In June, 1948, agreement had been reached on the subject of compensation for redundancy--a remote contingency on any significant scale, it seemed to be. In July, 1949, had come the closure of the Burnhope Lodge--but again a small change of this nature need cause no alarm : small pits had closed before--even in the great days of massive build-up of the coalmining industry in Durham. In January, 1952, a new shaft was sunk at Murton and this might quite reasonably be taken as an important event capable of off-setting, with its promise of output, any number of Burnhopes. In December, 1951, it was to be noticed that miners had climbed to the head of the table of Industrial Workers Earnings. Sam Watson is said to have declared on one occasion that nothing gave him greater pleasure than to note that miners who had once been near the bottom of the 'Earnings League' were now at the top. There was indeed much that was happening that could encourage an easy mind.
In 1954 circumstances and anxieties about possible unemployment and redundancies compelled him to address himself to this problem explicitly and at length. It was possible to argue, however, quite correctly, that, as yet, the problem was one peculiar to West Durham rather than Mid and East Durham. It was also possible to argue, as indeed he did, that controlled transference of redundant miners either to pits near their houses, or, when the men volunteered, to pits in the Midlands, together with carefully selective recruitment and the steering of new candidates into the areas of pit run-down would be likely to keep the problem in check without undue stress. But from 1957 onwards pit closures began to multiply and the early attitudes tend to be shown up as too trusting. By the sixties any pretence that the situation was anything but serious could not be sustained and nobody tried to. It is evident that through the late fifties and the sixties up to date two tendencies have been at work in Durham. Beginning in a small way (the opening of the South Pelaw Pit Head Baths in 1948) there has been a growing number of occasions when, at this pit or that, new Pit Head Baths have been opened. In addition there have been additions on the side of medical or welfare provision. In 1947 new medical treatment centres were opened at Vane Tempest and New Herrington : in 1951 a Rheumatic Clinic was opened at Seaham : in 1953 colliery medical treatment centres were opened at Hylton, Washington, Murton, Harton, Thornley and Monkwearmouth. These lists are not intended to be complete and exhaustive. The full detail can be found in an annexe to this main account on pages 35-46. Here the purpose is to pick out the significance of these happenings. Evidently there is coming to fruition a comprehensive set of plans for increasing the welfare of the Durham miner in these ways. If we note them with pleasure, as indeed we must, we may perhaps also be permitted to note the irony of their arrival. This quite massive, many-sided and wholly welcome welfare provision comes, so to say, at the end of the day. The self-same years which carry their record also record, again with increase in the numbers involved, the closing of pits and the disappearances of Lodges.
During the sixties, possibly beginning in the late fifties, a sequence of pit closures has been announced amounting to a more rapid and more massive run-down of the Durham coalfield than anything before experienced. The coalmining industry in Durham County has been subjected to a planned sequence of closures for which "crunch" is the only adequate word. The D.M.A. has taken this treatment with characteristic stoicism and reticence. Its officials have at various times addressed the top management of the National Coal Board in terms which leave no doubt of their dismay and anxiety. At times their leaders have expressed themselves in terms of angry surprise, as when, for example, the decision was announced that the new power station to be built in South-East Durham was to be nuclear-fired. A decision of this sort was seen by the Union leadership, understandably, as the adding of insult to injury, or vice versa : the outcome is the same whichever way you turn the phrase: but they have stoically accepted these closure decisions of the N.C.B. and have not diminished one whit in their zeal to co-operate with the N.C.B. if by so doing they can ensure that these drastic changes shall take place with the least possible stress and damage to their members. It is in keeping with the traditional attitudes which have been manifested by the Durham leadership all along the line; from William Crawford, or beyond him Tommy Hepburn, right through to the present time. It may be that, when all things are considered this is the best way to deal with an old and declining coalfield : a quick drastic surgical operation rather than a long drawn-out anaemia may perhaps be the best on the wider view. It may be so, but even if it is, it is still possible to be critical of the delays in the arrival of new jobs in the region under the Distribution of Industry Acts. One cannot, either, withhold a sympathetic thought for the leaders and the men who have had to adjust their ideas, their hopes, and fears several times to the changing information given out on different occasions as to which pits would be likely to be long-life which medium-term pits and which short-life under threat of early closure. Pits which at one time seem to be classified as long-life have turned out, on later information, to be included with the medium-term pits. Such changes in the dates of closure of threatened pits must have been at times difficult, even infuriating to adjust to. Yet the attitude of the Durham leaders did not change : they maintained a stoic dignity and a continuing willingness, in the interests of their members, to co-operate with the process and the outcome of closures : all credit to them : the more so if we reflect on the relatively long time for which nationalisation of the coalmines was looked forward to, first by a minority, then by the union generally, as a means for the fulfilment of their hopes for "a better deal", and the relatively brief period for which, in Durham at any rate, the miners have been able to savour its full uncomplicated triumph. Support to the formula of nationalisation gathered its strength in the years before World War I. The disappointing outcome of the Sankey Commission, the stoppage of 1926, the eventual necessity to go back on the owners' terms, the heavy and numbing unemployment of the 1930's added further weight. When World War II ended, the formation of a Labour Government, the passing of the Act which nationalised the mines, the arrival of "Vesting Day" must have seemed the perfect consummation. But in Durham, except for a short run of years, Nationalisation may well have seemed "a dusty answer" to their hopes and dreams.
In the early years of Nationalisation, as has been well pointed out by Mr. Skinner in his address at a County Conference of Durham Colliery Conservative Committees at Red Hill, Durham, on August 19th, 1950, a first task of great importance was that of "creating a properly balanced, efficient, economical and humanitarian organisation." The building up of a managerial organisation which would satisfy the requirements mentioned by Mr. Skinner would necessarily take a good deal of time and discussion. In the process of fashioning this structure many men would continue to be employed in positions of managerial control who had exercised these powers under private ownership. There may have been those whose patience was sorely tried and who disliked a process which left, as has been said, "so many of the old faces on the other side of the desk in the manager's office." But these men had the necessary knowledge and experience : they could constitute the necessary continuity in pit operation. That this was so was recognised by the leadership of the union : and they appreciated, further, that as compared with the position under private ownership they had been given a recognised place and share in the policy-making and decision-making that was going on. But hardly had the County cleared the ground around its feet and put itself in good operational and organisational shape than it found itself beset by the problems arising from a planned programme of pit closures which, in the last five years, has involved a scale of closure which, ten years ago, no one would have dared to predict or, perhaps, even thought of predicting had he dared to. How different, then, from what the early campaigners for nationalisation must have envisaged, has been the task in which the co-operation of Durham miners has been sought and stoically given.
Nearing the end of this commemorative account of the hundred years life of the D.M.A. there is one remark still to be made which no account of the D.M.A. should omit : it is that no account of the history of the D.M.A. can be regarded as complete without a reference to the Gala. With the Gala of 1969 the score will be 86. It is less than the 100 by which the Union counts its age because the first Gala was not held till 1871 : none was held in the years 1915, 1916. 1917. 1918 because of World War I : none was held in 1921 and 1922 because of the 1921 lockout and the depression in 1922 that followed the lockout : none was held in 1926 because of the Miners' Stoppage : and none was held in the years 1940/45 inclusive which covered World War II. Numerous writers have tried to portray in words the essence and significance of the Gala. Sam Watson has himself tried his hand, but he has also asked how it is that no one in the movement has so far succeeded in capturing the occasion in words. No one has so far done this. Some succeed in expressing, in terms that carry conviction, one aspect, or possibly two aspects, of the occasion : John McCutcheon, in his book "Troubled Seams", (1 & 2) has perhaps come nearest to capturing the ineffable poignancy of some moments during the day in what he writes about the playing of 'Gresford' (1 & 2) by the massed bands. But it is to other writers one must turn for the capture of other features of the Gala. This perhaps is the secret of both the Gala itself and the inability of the writer to capture the scene and the occasion in all its aspects. The Gala has, or had in its best days, a comprehensive inclusiveness which is nothing short of terrific. There is too much for one writer to discern and express, from the first snatch of the music of a band as it enters the city early in the morning, to 'Gresford', to the political speeches, to the dancing in the streets, to the throng of folks as they pack in the narrow streets, to the uninhibited drinking that starts early and goes on late, to the service in the cathedral and the crepe upon the banners of those lodges which have suffered fatal accidents since the last Gala, to the final scenes of the late evening in the days when trains were used much more than they are now, when the approaches to the railway station could be dotted with recumbent forms sleeping off their heavy drinking, needing to be wakened by their mates to be asked where they were from, how they proposed to get back, and to be reminded of the time of departure of the train which would take them back. It is a canvas : a full canvas : a medieval canvas--a Brueghel in modern dress : yet it is more than a canvas, for there is noise, laughter, music and talk. It is a day, or again it was a day, when Durham miners could meet each other and renew their faith in their movement and in each other : its form has been that of a day of roistering, political affirmation and renewed dedication to the cause of unity. No writer, then, has so far succeeded in capturing the essence of the Gala in words and presenting its spirit to us through his words. And now the Gala is changing or maybe, some would say, it has already changed. It is now not so much the Big Meeting--the Gala in the old meaning of the term--: it is moving increasingly to being a Fair, and if it has not lost anything of its vivacity those who remember it from the 1930's, or those whose memories will take them back further still, may perhaps be forgiven for thinking that it has lost something of its one-time inner significance as the biggest and most meaningful folk-gathering in the United Kingdom.
The Gala is smaller now than once it was. The throng in the streets at the peak moments is nothing like so closely packed : the number of banners ranged round the old race-course where the platforms for the political speeches are set is sadly smaller. It is only to be expected. It follows the decline in recent years in the number of active pits in the coal field. In 1953 the number of pits was 121 : by early 1969 the number had fallen to 38. But, if one may hazard a prediction, it is that the Durham miners' leadership will go on as doggedly, as stoically, with the Gala as it will with the industry. If they and their industry have, eventually, to go then they will go, not with a bang, for that is not in keeping with their tradition, but certainly not with a whimper.
Let a last reflection link the D.M.A. with the words inscribed on the memorial to Durham miners which is to be found in the Cathedral. These are the last two lines :--
He breaketh open a shaft away from where men sojourn.
They are forgotten of the foot that passeth by.
JOB 28 : 4
The first is true : mining communities have developed in solitary and divided places and an aerial view of central and west Durham, even now, might well give the impression that the mining villages and townships distribute themselves over the county, with its rolling hummocky fields, like so many plates flung carelessly down upon the grass of a camp site. It is true even of the pits which lie along the East Durham Coast, though urban development has gone further here and population groupings tend to be linked together, for many miners must perform their tasks at the face and in other places underground under the, to them, quiet waters of the North Sea.
But the second is not true, for they and those who have gone before them are remembered here.
I would like to offer here a fine quality image of the miners' memorial in the aisle of the south nave of Durham Cathedral - and some day soon I doubtless will. Most sites seem to refer to its having been erected in 1947 but March 3, 1946 may prove to be the correct date. But .... quality images of the memorial elude me. There is, however, a wonderful image by 'Ninesergeants' WWW available that I cannot use for reasons of copyright. But you can see & admire it here. If any site visitor can provide a quality image of the memorial for inclusion here, do consider being in touch.
A postcard image, ex e-Bay, of the memorial follows.
In 1913, the region boasted 304 pits employing 165,246 people. I read, in the Archie Calder 1939 article referred to above that 'Government experts have prepared a "Doomsday Book" of our coal reserves. They have surveyed only a quarter of our coalfields, but they have found, and identified, enough coal to last us until A.D. 2080--£30,000,000,000 worth of black wealth in the vaults of Britain.'
The programme for the 1973 Durham Miners' Association Gala, held Jul. 21, 1973, is now on site from cover to cover - here. Move within the booklet via the arrows. In most cases a larger image of each page is available with a click of your mouse. Amongst other matters, the programme contains the following sections that the webmaster found to be of interest:-
i) a chronological listing, from 1869, of significant events in the history of coal mining in Durham - commencing here,
ii) a list of the pit disasters from 1869, the lives that were lost & also the miners' strikes here,
iii) a listing of the dates of all previous galas from 1871 (#1) to 1973 (#90) commencing here.
A SITE SEARCH FACILITY
THE GUEST BOOK - GO HERE