I am fascinated and encouraged by the diligent work being undertaken by top reader, commentor and Panoramian Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler into the the mining history of our area. Not just the mines, the engineering and their history, but also the working conditions and morality of the owners. Through the medium of old newspapers, Peter has shone a light into some interesting corners of the Harrison empire and the South Staffordshire Coalfield.
This kind of history is very important to me – I’ve mentioned before how that sometimes, I think we’re all guilty of taking a rosy view of mining and the miners themselves. They were hard people, living in hard, brutal times and it’s important that we don’t romanticise that. Therefore I think it’s massively important that we record as much of the social and union history as possible. These poor folk were treated dreadfully by their employers and we must never forget that.
Peter sent me this email earlier in the week, and I think it’s well worth sharing.
On the 17 August 1872 the Tamworth Herald reports the Annual Gathering of the Cannock Chase Miners, and this year they celebrated the 8 hour system. Some assembled at Hednesford Hills, others at Sankey’s Corner, and united at Five Ways. The number was computed to be 10,000.
Of interest to me here is the complex subject of the role that Religion played in the lives of the miners. Here at a gathering of working class people the Rev G Poole, vicar of Burntwood, takes the stage and addresses the ‘congregation’…
He could not help thinking that in the not too distant future the Trades Unions, like the long hours, would be no more (Applause). Then when society had attained a high degree of civilisation, and minds were permeated with love of justice and religion, in that happy time the masters would occupy their due position and men would be paid according to their merit and not en masse. The skilled and industrious workmen would be well rewarded, and the idle and unskilled would be taught this lesson; that if he desired the happiness of his family or his own welfare, he must not give way to the habits of indolence (Hear, Hear). At present he could not help reflecting that too many made themselves the slaves of Satan (Hear, Hear).
The miners representative then addressed the gathering and the following propositions were passed…
That the formation of the Boards of Concilliation and Arbitration were the best way of preserving good relations between the labour and their employers.
To express pleasure at seeing the Miner’s Regulation Bill passed in Parliament.
That the passing of the Criminal Law Act (1871), is a piece of class legislation, and as such reflects discredit on the Trades Unions, which they do not merit, and that they resolve not to rest until the said Act is repealed.
To press the government for the Masters and Servents (Payment of wages) Bill which will make compulsory the weekly payment of wages, without deduction. Also to amend the law relating to the compensation for injuries done to workmen due to the neglect of persons appointed to manage works on behalf of the employers in that district.
All were carried with great applause.
Below this article is the news that the proprietors of the two pits, the Conduit and Grove, have refused the to advance the wages of the engine winders from 4s 6d to 5s per day, and to reduce the hours from 12 to 8. The men employed to the number of 1000 struck work on Thursday.
I’d like to thank Peter for his excellent work, and encourage other readers to contribute similar material if they find it. It’s really important that we record everything we can, after all, this is our community and our communal history. I find the link between religion and mining interesting, and I’m sure many readers will have something to say on that, and I don’t think we’ve ever done much on the unions locally, which must have been quite strong.
I welcome any contributions you may have.