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Sam Blount
The Tale of a Local Miner

You will notice, this month, that no photograph of the hero of our tale is to be found at the start of our story, that is because none exist, he’s just another lost soul in the sands of time, as so many of our workaday heroes became. But who played such a vital part in the creation of industrial Britain which became, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the leader of the world. Just one of those who toiled to the end of their days to provide us with the lifestyle we enjoy today.
It is believed that Samuel Blount was born in November 1840 and baptised in the old Norman Church of St. Nicholas in, the then small village, of Baddesley Ensor, the nearest principality of note being Tamworth. His father, John, was a miner at the nearby Maypole Colliery and, following his education at the village school of St. Nicholas, at the age of just ten years old, he followed his father to work down the pit.
By the age of 20yrs, in 1861, we discover that he had become a skilled colliery worker, and in 1864 he married ‘the girl next-door’ who he had known all his life and who was born in the same year, Mary Smith.
But times were hard, the pit was nearly ‘worked out’, and days would go by -2- without any work at all. At best they were living ‘hand to mouth’ and at worse the women folk in his community went without to feed their families. It was at this time that an agent came to their vicinity recruiting skilled workers to sink a new pit, at Denaby, South Yorkshire. The agent informed them that they would be the best paid colliery workers in the country, also transportation, by train, to the site from Warwickshire, and board and lodgings was to be provided free of charge.
Sam was sold on the idea and soon after their marriage he and his young wife, along with dozens of others from that part of the country, arrived at Mexborough Railway Station. A rag-tag of grey humanity wended its way behind a black clad overseer, up Station Road. Men carrying their livelihoods, protective clothing and tools of their trade, in canvas Bosses, while their wives carried, or towed, tired, wailing, children. As they passed along Church Street, over protective mothers ran out from house to drag children inside out of the way of these outsides who were know to be wild and ungodly, after all some could be Irish Catholics or even worse members of the murderous ‘Molly Maguires’, the same as lead riots and killed landowners a few years previous.
They were lead to a field where their free accommodation was to be found; this consisted of rows of tents, and although life here would be rough Sam was exited. He was now a ‘Pit Sinker’, on contract to the firm that owned the pit, it was dangerous, exhausting work, but of high status and he was now among the precious few who were the most highly paid workers in the colliery system. With such high wages it wouldn’t be long before he could offer his new bride one of the houses he had seen on their journey to the site.
After they had been allocated a tent Sam began work the following day and was escorted, with a group of other men, to the site then known as ‘The Denaby Pottery Pit’. The pit was owned by Messrs’ John Buckingham - Pope, Pearson and partners, many of them owners of pits in West Yorkshire, and elsewhere, notably Altofts near Wakefield. Test pits, to see if it was viable to sink and establish a colliery at Denaby, were achieved in the latter half of the 1850’s when the Barnsley Seam was reached at 422yds, beneath the Magnesium Limestone, the thickness of the seam averaging 9ft. The land had been owned by John Fullerton but in July 1863 an agreement was signed with him and after much pomp and ceremony, and the cutting of the first sod; work began at once to dig the two shafts.
The circumference of the two shafts, one up and another down, had been drawn; a trench following these outlines had been dug and a brick wall descending to the bottom of the trench constructed; the soil had then been excavated; the wall supported on blocks and the second phase began. It was at this stage that their problems began as water was hit, and huge, heavy, cast iron, horseshoe shaped pieces, known as ‘tubbing’ had to be used to line the shaft. It took a year to alleviate this problem and it was at this stage that Sam joined the digging process. The work was dangerous, the only way of getting to the workings was by descending the shaft in a bucket on the end of a rope, the work was hard, heavy, Sam never seemed to be dry, and quite often he would return home exhausted. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom and towards the end of their first year together Mary gave him the fantastic news that they were expecting their first child and in the spring of 1865 she returned home to Baddesley Ensor and gave birth to a baby boy who they named John, after Sam’s father.
Coal was reached, at the pit, in September 1867, with coal production beginning the following year and Sam signed a contract to join the workforce as a miner. But relations between the owners and the workforce had never been good and at the end of 1868 a dispute began, over the size of corves and payment for filling them. Sam was on contract to the pit owners and therefore could not come out on strike, and went to work at one of their other pits, The West Riding Colliery, Altofts, Bottom Boat, Nr. Wakefield, on the Aire and Calder Canal. And it was here that Mary gave birth to another son, this time named Eli.
Their stay at Bottom Boat was to have been a temporary one but in 1869 another dispute began at Denaby, this time the miners wanted the right to join a trade -3- union. In September of that year this was settled and Samuel and Mary returned to Mexborough where another child was born, this time a little girl, who they named Mary after her mother.
New Years Day 1870 heralded in the Great Depression, which saw a decade of misery for the working class. Sam and Mary returned to Mexborough where they took a little house on Sparrow Barracks, Doncaster Road, and took in 2 boarders, a lodger, and to help Mary, who had just given birth to Rebecca Jane, a domestic servant,. But much of the workforce at the pit still lived in the tent colony, where sanitary conditions were less than ideal, and it was in 1870 that Smallpox swept through the area and in August 1870 both their firstborn son John, now aged 6yrs, and their beautiful little girl, Mary, aged 13mths, died within three days of each other.
Despite this it was here that they stayed, until feelings between the management and the workers, at the pit, began to become fractious and another dispute was in the offering. By this time two more children had been born, William in 1873 and Thomas in 1875 and, with a wife and four children to feed, Sam had to work to support them. It was at this time that Sam, possible through relatives, heard of a new pit being sunk in Warwickshire and as an experienced Pit Sinker quickly found work at the Ansley Hall Colliery, near Nuneaton, where they stayed until1880. Again their life had been rough and their little son, Thomas, died, but Mary had given birth to yet two more children Laura in 1877 and Charles in 1880.
But the attraction of the good wages paid to the miners of Denaby Main Colliery, and with seven mouths to feed, Sam returned here and in 1881 we find him and his family living in an oasis for those employed at Denaby Main Colliery close to the glassworks, in William Street, Swinton. But in order that Sam could be closer to his work and to obtain larger premises, for their growing family, they moved to 33, Clayfield Road where, in 1885, the last of their children, Samuel was born.
Here they were to live for nearly twenty years and with all the lads, at home, working down the pit with Sam and taking in a lodger, the family, for the first time, began to become quite prosperous. Then the infamous, and well documented, 1902/03 ‘Bag Muck Strike’ hit the area like a thunderbolt.
The problems began prior to this when the management of the pit tried to contrive any means by which they could reduced the outgoings of the pit, the highest of these being wage paid to the men, and William, Sam’s son, now married with tiny children, was finding it particularly difficult to feed them all and asked his father to look after his son, who he had named after his father, Samuel.
As with many families the strike dispersed the our family to the four winds: Sam took Mary, and the two other Sams to Billingley, near Barnsley, where in 1911 we find them living in a three roomed back-to-back house, his son Sam, later went to live in Conisbrough, whereas his grandson settled close to Eli in Goldthorpe; Rebecca Jane was luck, she was in service with the Storrs Family in Cheshire, and so missed the starvation, cruelty and depredation of the strike, she later married John Renwick and settled in Stalybridge, Lancs; Laura again was in service; Eli, Sam’s eldest surviving son, went to live, firstly in Hickleton, but settled in Thurnscoe; whereas William, who had been involved in the riots at the pit during the strike and was refused work at Denaby Main Colliery, after the men capitulated, took his family back to Baddsley Ensor, but returned in 1910 after the retirement of Mr. Chambers, the pit manager.
Samuel Blount died, aged 84yrs on 8th February 1924 at 11, Bank St., Mexborough and is recorded as still being a miner at Denaby Main Colliery, a pit that he had helped to dig some 60 years previously. Mary was lost without her lifelong companion. She’d suffered: deprivation and carried nine children through it; endured life in a tent colony, where she had awoken in below zero temperatures to find her hair frozen to the ground, and cooked outside in the bleakest of winters; suffered the humiliation of discrimination, where local shopkeepers had refused to serve her because of her husband’s occupation; but this was beyond her. She died aged 84yrs five months after her husband, at 11 Bank St., Mexborough. They now rest, as they did in life, together, buried in Mexborough Cemetery.

Information obtained from: Ancestry.com; Find My Past; Census Returns for 1841 – 1911 Low Seams and High Vistas Baddesley Ensor of Yesteryear by Albert Fretwell; Original documents appertaining to Denaby Main Colliery then in the possession of J.E. MacFarlane; A Railway History of Denaby and Cadeby Collieries, Mexborough & Swinton Times, The Obituary of Joel Kirby, The Devils Acre by Matthew Plampin, Log Book of St. John the Baptist C of E School; Dig with Fred Dibnah; Parish Church Records of St. John the Baptist Parish Church Mexborough; Family Recollections

News From the Local History Office

The Royal Wedding
I’m sure that everyone will join with me in wishing Prince William and his bride-to-be, Kate Middleton, all the best for their wedding at Westminster Abbey on Friday 29th April 2011.

Mexborough & District Heritage Society Open Day
As you all know The Local History Room has now closed at Mexborough Library. On Friday 6th May 2011 we will commence a series of open days, on consecutive Fridays, in the Reference Section of Mexborough Library, beginning at 10.30a.m. Here you will be able to ask questions via your committee members, view our archives, census returns, maps, photos, parish records, etc ect. We hope to see you there and if we cannot answer your query there and then our committee member will take your address and get back to you at a later date.

Next Meeting of Mexborough & District Heritage Society
This will take place at 7.15p.m. on Tuesday 24th May 2011 at the Miners Arms, Doncaster Road, Mexborough. It will begin with our AGM but will be followed by Bring and Share Your Photos. This will be an opportunity for you look through our collection of old photos of Mexborough & District and for you show some of your own.

Copyright: This newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety, without the permission of J.R. Ashby.