I should like to start our newsletter this month by informing you of the publications at your disposal which have be sent to me for you to read:-
1. This month's issue of Yorkshire History. In keeping with the time of year this carries an article on Christmas Singing (which is quite distinct from Carol Singing) this article is quite humorous in parts as for example when a group singing in the fog to the inhabitants within a farmhouse find they have been entertaining a haystack, but also carries its sad side too as when eleven out of fourteen singers drowned as they crossed the Ouse by ferry this became known as The Christmas Tragedy at Stillingfleet', and is to be carried in a future publication. Other items are the Monastic Estate and Newby Bounds, Working Class Housing in Huddersfield, Oakbrook House which was owned by the Rrth Family of Sheffield after whom Firth Park in Sheffield was named, the Leeds Dripping Riot covers when a woman was sent to prison for removing some dripping from the meat tin, Place Names, Book Review, Focus On, Landscape History Newsline, Places to Visit, Listings.
2. Yesterday Today Summer Edition which is a small publication published by the Local History Dept. of Doncaster Central Library, this has items on A Pauper's Prison? Life in the Doncaster Union Workhouse (this is of particular interest to us as this was the workhouse which took the poor of Mexborough and tells where info' can be obtained on this subject), Women Family Affairs (this tells how the break down of marriages was dealt with before divorce was as it is today), Godfrey Higgins, Wartime Exploits on Doncaster Trolleybuses, The Day That Marked the End of the War (an edited version of our May Newsletter), Doncaster and Military Aviation, and finally Stainforth and District Local History Society. To the rear of this publication can be found a list of forthcoming activities such as Clean and Decent which is an exhibition at Cusworth Hall and is to be on show from 18th Nov. '95 - 3rd. March '96. Then at Melton Hall College from 30th Sept. '96 - 2nd. Oct. '96 there is to be a weekend Conference and Council Meeting for those of you interested in family history. Beneath this item is to be found a list of recent publications by Doncaster Family History Society and their Snaith Group.
MEXBOROUGH'S INVOLVEMENT IN 'THE BAG MUCK STRIKE'
This month as we are to have a talk by Ray Porthouse on Mining in Our Area I thought it would be most appropriate that we should cover an event which stood out so dramatically in the history of Denaby Colliery, and burned such a bitter and lasting memory onto the minds of those of our older generation who speak of it to this day and tell of the appalling treatment meted out to the miners during that year long struggle known as The Bag Muck Strike' of 1902 - 1903.
Bag Muck was an uneven layer of rock which ran through the seam of Barnsley coal, measuring from 24 inches to 36 inches in thickness. When thin and soft, the colliers had no objection to digging it out, but when it was hard and there was an abundance of it, it cost the miners time and effort to dispose of, time which a miner could be spending on digging out coal and therefore earning money.
Although the problem of bag muck was not only to be found in Denaby Colliery, the problem here was more pronounced, and although it only directly affected one hundred of the two thousand seven hundred workforce the majority of them had to handle it in some way, and as a consequence the men wanted payment for the extra work involved.
As the Denaby Main Hotel (the Drum) was owned by the Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries Company Limited, the same firm which owned the pits and with whom they were in dispute, it meant that it could not be used by the Denaby Lodge of the Yorkshire Miners Association for their meetings, even though it was more convenient for everyone. Likewise they could not be held at the Reresby Arms, as the owner Mr. Fullerton had financial interests with the colliery company, and in addition it was not registered as a lodge room and therefore any ballot held there would have been out of order. So therefore all meetings of the Cadeby Lodge were held at the Station Hotel at Conisbrough and meetings of the Denaby Lodge were held in the Masons' Arms, Doncaster Road, Mexborough -possibly in the very room used by the Society.
On Thursday 10th July 1902 a meeting was held of the Denaby Lodge and collection cards were issued to enable members to show valid credentials when approaching tradesmen etc. for donations to help the men on strike. The night before this there had been a meeting of the Mexborough and District Trades Council and Mr. J. Barker speaking that night made the comment that roughly three thousand men and boys had been thrown out of work, and he hoped that they would not be lacking in rendering every possible support that they could, and it was during one of the first days of the strike that the people of Mexborough donated in all
£910s 6d (£9.52), all of which was spent on providing bread and other foodstuffs for the miners and their families.
On the 8th August 1902, which was the sixth week of the strike, the Mexborough and Swinton Times reported that the two branch rooms to be found within the Station Hotel at Conisbrough and the Masons' Arms, Doncaster Road, Mexborough had successfully distributed no less than 8,000 loaves of bread to the families of the striking miners and that soup kitchens had now been set up at both the Park and Plant Hotels Mexborough.
Two months after the start of the strike the company wrote to every striking miner living in a tied company cottage, stating that unless the miner paid all rent that was owing to the company before the 15th November 1902, then the miner would be evicted, and it was following the distribution of these letters that quite a few Mexborough landlords received applications for houses from a number of the Denaby Miners. The majority of the miners in Denaby stubbornly refused to move, and on 13th December 1902 the company applied for an eviction order on 750 men. ft was adjourned for two* weeks so the evictions would not take place in Christmas Week.
It was during these latter months of 1902 that Mexborough Urban District Council sent a deputation to see Mr. Chambers the Managing Director of Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries Company Limited to try and bring the dispute to an end, but with little success. Mr. J. Dixon and Mr. F. H. Hirst from Mexborough Urban District Council then went to the Yorkshire Miners Association offices at Barnsley to try and persuade the officials to make a new approach to the company. As a result of this the two parties involved met in Sheffield but without a successful outcome.
By Christmas the strike was in its twenty sixth week and things were getting desperate for the miners and their families. Most of the possessions which the miners had had been pawned or sold. Most of the shops in Denaby were owned by the company, and the people managing them had been ordered not to allow the striking miners families credit even to obtain necessities, and they had to resort to begging in nearby towns for money to buy food. By this time too their furniture had been repossessed by hire purchase firms or sold. Most of their clothing was pawned, and even the boots given to their children by charitable organisations had to be sold in order to buy food. Coal which they had just a few weeks prior been digging out themselves had to be obtained from hawkers who sold it at high prices by the basketful, and two or three families would put their money together in order to buy just one basketful so they could have one fire on which to cook food, but this was as nothing compared with what was to come. Then on the 1st. January 1903 the miners received a letter from the company stating that if they had not returned to work by the 3rd. January they and their families would be forcibly ejected from their homes.
On the 6th January 1903 the evictions commenced firstly in Firbeck Street and Cliff View followed by Edlington Street with roughly two hundred police led by Superintendent Blake of Doncaster who was assisted by Inspector Watson of Mexborough. By Friday 9th January 1903 the evictions were completed. This involved roughly two thousand people in all.
On the day of the evictions there had been a severe frost plus a fall of snow and an icy wind blew, the miners and their families were inadequately clothed, many without shoes on their feet, having sold their clothing and shoes to purchase food. There were reports of a woebegone family of twelve, the oldest being between 12 or 13 years wandering the streets looking for somewhere to shelter from the cold. The policemen were almost in tears turning old people out of their homes.
The people of Mexborough tried to help where they could and accommodation was provided for them wherever possible in old stables, hay lofts, outbuildings, or the kitchen floor. Tents provided by other Yorkshire Collieries were put up on Sparrow Barracks, which was an area opposite the present day Miners Arms Public House. The Parish Church gave the Tithe Barn which was at that time used as a Parish Hall, while Mexborough Urban District Council gave the old Small Pox Hospital (does anyone know where this was?) and a schoolroom. Accommodation was also provided by the Primitive
Methodists at Denaby, Mexborough, and Goldthorpe. Accommodation was not made available at the school in Denaby as it was owned by the colliery, and Denaby Parish Church as it had been built by the same firm, and St. Albans R.C. Church and the Wesleyan Methodist also did not help them for some reason.
There was a justifiable outcry as to the inhuman treatment which the miners had received and the story was covered by many newspapers. One headline in the Manchester Evening News read "Concentration Camps at Denaby" and animated pictures depicting the evictions were shown at the Montgomery Hall, Sheffield.
The tents provided on Sparrow Barracks had not been occupied long when
a violent wind got up and therefore they did not provide much shelter for those within. Everywhere was overcrowded and as the sanitary arrangements were less than desirable it was not long before smallpox broke out, which was not related solely to the miners as people who were trying to help them also came down with it, as we find on reading the records of both Doncaster Rd. School and St. John's School, both of whom tried to look after the children who attended their schools.
Following the evictions, more pressure was put onto the striking miners.
Mr. Chambers the Managing Director of both the Denaby and Cadeby Collieries placed advertisements in newspapers and wrote recruiting letters directly to men in other coalfields, stating that the collieries were to re-open and workers began to arrive from other areas of the country in order to take up the promise of accommodation and employment offered by this firm.
Of course the strikers hated this as they believed that the newly recruited workers were taking their jobs, and began to throw stones and abuse at those they began to call "blacklegs". Even the children at Doncaster Road School took part as the miners, escorted by policemen, tried to get to work and then return home at the end of the shift. Mr. A. Brown, the Headmaster at this time, was quite angry about the barracking of "blacklegs" when it was reported to him and strongly denied that it could happen.
Demonstrations began to be held against the men at work, and on Monday 23rd. February 1903 between two and three thousand men "augmented every step of the way by excited women" marched from the Masons' Arms, Doncaster Road, Mexborough, towards Denaby Colliery and arrived in time to meet the workers coming out of the mine, who had to be protected by police both mounted and on foot. This demonstration was only broken up when the returning workers were successfully escorted to their homes.
The Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries Company Limited then took the Union to court as they had found out that the union had broken one of the rules. The D.C.M.C.L were successful, therefore the Union had no alternative but to tell the men to go back to work as they could no longer lawfully provide them with strike pay.
On 22nd. March 1903 the men capitulated and went back to work after their union was sued for damages of £150,000 by the D.C.M.C.L. Many of the men found that their jobs had been given to others and four weeks after the end of the strike 1,000 men had still not been taken back by the colliery, this they said was because of repairs to make the pit safe again.
The Rev. Jesse Wilson, the Primitive Methodist Minister of Mexborough who did so much to help those striking miners (he wrote a book on the Bag Muck Strike called the Story of a Great Struggle 1902-3), wrote a letter on 20th April 1903 in which he states that "there are still roughly several thousand people affected by the strike even though the dispute is over. I am proud to have been able to find them shelter, food, clothing, and to have put shoes on their feet. But still children were going to school unfed. We must keep them alive, I appeal on behalf of these poor women and children for help in money, boots, clothing, or food, for their sakes".
By 20th June 1903 five hundred men had still not been reinstated, and it was
said that if they tried to get work at other pits in the area and they were found to be ex-employees of the D.C.M.C.L. that they would be told "Well we don't want you"
and in the end a report came forward that "a goodly number would have to look for a new sphere of labour". Mr. Chambers also refused to re-employ any of the strike leaders at the company's collieries.
The events surrounding the 'Bag Muck Strike' and other strikes of this ilk are indelibly stamped upon the culture of our coalfield areas and the people to be found here have a particular strength of character.
References used for the writing of this newsletter came from:-
The Bag Muck Strike Denaby Main 1902 - 1903 by J. E. MacFarlane. A Railway History of Denaby and Cadeby Collieries.
School Records of Doncaster Road and St. John the Baptist Schools.
We now have the book available for you to read which was written by the Rev. Jesse Wilson at the time of the 'Bag Muck Strike', The Story of a Great Struggle.
J. R. Ashby.