Union and Chapel

Strikes and unionisation are little mentioned in the history books, yet they must have been a prominent part of mining life. In 1926, the miners above used their strike time to decorate the Clayhanger Chapel. Taken from ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo & Geoff Harrington.

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.

Redundancy notice sent to Edward Brown, from the Harrison Company following Edward’s ill health. No sentiment at all. Edward was a relative of reader Andy Dennis. Click on the image to read the sad story.

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26 Responses to Union and Chapel

  1. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    many thanks to Pedro, again, for his onging diligent research. Your readers might like to check these references to learn more of this topic;-
    Tolpuddle martyrs; George Loveless, Joseph Arch. Hugh Bourne, William Clowes, and a long lecture about Primitive Methodism in Castlestreet Methodist Church 2007 lectures, which may prove illuminating….or simply search; history of primivite methodism in England !
    There is a unique museum/ chapel in the village of Engleseabrook, near Newcastle under Lyme, which is well worth a visit, as is Mow Cop, not too far away from there.
    kind regards

  2. Pedro says:

    Some info on the Rev G Poole…

    Harrod Staffordshire Directory – 1870 Directory Entries for Burntwood
    Burntwood is a parish and village 1 mile distant from Hammerwich railway station, railway station in the east division of the county hundred of South Offlow, union, county court district and diocese of Lichfield, arc deanery of Stafford and rural deanery of Lichfield. The church is dedicated to Christ. The living is a vicarage, annual value £280, with residence, in the gift of the vicar of St Mary’s Lichfield. The rev George POOLE, B.A. is vicar (see also). The Primitive Methodists have a chapel. There is a school for boys and girls, George HOWKINS master, Emily HOWKINS mistress. The [parish contains 4000 acres of land, of which there are numerous owners. The population is about 1500. The lord of the manor is the Marquis of Anglesey. POSTAL REGULATIONS – Edward HALL sub postmaster. Letters arrive at 8.30a.m. , are despatched at 5.30p.m. The nearest money order and telegraph office is at Chase Town . Post town Lichfield County Lunatic Asylum R.A. Davis M.d. medical officer Mr DUMBELL clerk.


    ….By 1867 the village was known as Chasetown. The credit for devising the name is variously given to George Poole, vicar of Burntwood and Elijah Wills, headmaster at Chasetown School.

    He also wrote a book entitled

    Found Ready: Memorials of the Rev. George Poole, B.A., Late Vicar of Burntwood, 1880.

  3. David Oakley says:

    Hi Bob,
    As a child of the ’30’s, at the village church school, I remember singing “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high or lowly, and ordered their estate”, as a verse to “All things bright and beautiful”. There is also a fragment of Catechism I remember – “and to do my duty in that stage of life unto which it has pleased God to call me. There was also a verse, popular at the time, “God bless the squire and his relations, and
    keep us in our proper stations”, The Vicar of Burntwood’s address is quite illuminating, “- in that happy time, the master’s would occupy their due position”. “master and “position” seemed to sit together rather well in that
    Victorian philosophy, and at that time the second son of the squire was often secured a “living” within the church. The indolent were described as slaves of Satan, which would suit the mine- owners no end if one of the these rare species werer ever discovered lurkling in their pits. No, the workers had very little to thank the Established church for in those grim times.
    Perhaps we have to go back to the Levellers, singing their hymns around the campfires of Cromwell’s army for a true early example of radicalism and
    Christianity but the Primitive Methodists took a major part in later reforms.
    Charles Wesley radical ideas and his reaching out to the working class was denounced in print and pulpit, so much so, that the Church of England was
    determined to distance themselves from him. His idea to create lay preachers from ordinary working men bore later fruit, as many early Trade Union leaders emerged later in the nineteenth century as a result of an experience of public speaking.
    David Evans gives excellent references to this topic and I feel sure,
    having read them one cannot help feeling gratitude to these courageous yet strongly principled Christians who did so much to improve the conditions of the working man all your years ago.

  4. pedro says:

    Thank you to the Davids. I notice that Bob says…”I don’t think we’ve ever done much on the unions locally, which must have been quite strong.”

    One of the questions that occurred to me from the above miner’s gathering, was how much did Religion hold back the joining of the Unions. I will try to see if I can find anything.

    I have a feeling that some areas took a lot of persuading to join the newly formed Miners Association.


  5. David Evans says:

    HI Pedro
    first thoughts..not sure that “Religion” did hold back.etc Primitive Methodist movement seemed to be more at the vanguard for move to improve the conditions of workers ( Collectives ,work, housing, health, education )especially in Potteries in the 1800s from my visit to the museum at Engleseabrook.who have a fabulous library and may be able to give more detailed information to help answer your question. Locally in Walsall Wood and Clayhanger area I think all the Methodist Church records are archived in Essex Street. The photos of the soup kitchens in the 1926 Miners General Strike in Walsall Wood may give a small indication of involvement on a practical level . A very good question. Thanks Pedro and good luck in your research.
    kind regards

  6. Andy Dennis says:

    I suspect the connection between miners and religion is much older, possibly ancient. Miners were notoriously superstitious and religion and superstition went hand in glove, especially in earlier times. I have wondered whether as miners work in such dangerous conditions and closer to the devil (however manifested in pagan and pre-Christian belief systems) that the need for faith in someone up there looking out for them was all the stronger. The very tightly knit communities typical of mining settlements would be just the right breeding ground for (necessarily clandestine) non-conformist worship, out of which, it seems, the Wesleyan and Methodist churches grew following the Act of Toleration.

    I’ve not before considered the idea that Methodism inhibited trade union membership and would be interested to learn more, but I know that my grandfather was a keen Methodist and named a son after the great miners’ leader Arthur Cox. His father was also a keen Methodist, but as a checkweighman would he have been a union member? His first two sons were John and Charles, most likely after the Wesleys. I have good reason to believe that his great (my 4x great) grandfather was a follower of Wesley and may have heard John Wesley preach in the flesh. Obviously, lots of local families have similar histories, in particular those whose ancestors were here in the nineteenth century.

  7. Pedro says:

    Knowing little about the subject, I suppose a little knowledge could be misleading. I was referring to around the time of the Rev Poole, and took him to be more orthodox Church of England. It would seem that the Methodist were more in touch with the working classes.

    I have ordered the Rev’s book through the local library, and so it may shed some light on his position.

    I am also thinking that around 1870 the miners were struggling to form one National Union. I have found a piece from 1872 which I will send to Bob as it may warrant a section of its own.

    All the best Pedro

  8. David Evans says:

    Hi Pedro
    many thanks for your notes. You don’t waste much time, do you!
    This might also be a helpful link, through Google books;-
    Methodism and Society, by Stuart Andrews, pages 69 on..
    written in simple language and makes some interesting points.
    Kind regards

  9. Andy Dennis says:

    Thanks both. Looks a useful source, David.

    As I understand it the established church, whether RC of CofE was seen to reinforce social structures, which discriminated heavily and brutally against ordinary working folk. The established church never did my ancestors any good and I still resent the fact that some people are part of the government simply because they have risen to the rank of bishop. I don’t mind bishops being in an upper chamber (call it what you will), but they should be there on merit, not selected by a mystical fringe organisation. (That should twist a few knickers!)

    • David Oakley says:

      Hi Andy,
      Well put. The reinforcement of the social structures appertaining to the time were the basis of the C of E hymns I quoted. According to one observer…..”the church offered no function to the poor man, his place was on a rude bench or a mat , listening to sermons on the subordination of the lower classes to the grand famiily worshipping among the spacious cushions of the squires pew.”
      There were courageous clergyman, of course whose social conscience rebelled at the extreme hardship of miners and other workers and who put their “living” at risk by nothing more than a mild support of the unfortunate workers, A Rev. Wolstanthome, wrote the authorities, is of the lower order
      of clergyman, uneducated, of vulgar habits and low connection”. While the
      Vicar of Hinckley on offering support for strikers from the pulpit had a report sent to the Home Office as seditious. Whilst on the other hand, We have the Vicar of Avergavenny putting himself at the head of yeomanry and the Greys, to seek out and punish the ringleaders of a miners strike against a reduction in wages and the abolition of truck
      Pedro’s remark about the 1870 miners struggling to form one National Union can be partly explained by national fragmentation within the industry, difficulty of communicarion, some miners were still churchgoers and believed implicity in the natural order of things as dictated by the C of E.while other feared even more the “blacklist” held by employers. While with other that “tuppence” a week subscription could be better spent at home.
      My grateful thanks to Pedro for supplying all this material which has kept this dialogue ongoing which is, after all, the essence of a succesful blog.

  10. pedro says:

    At the time of the Rev. Poole speech above, one of the more national representatives was the Amalgamated Association of Miners, and on the 23rd of November 1872 the Tamworth Herald reports of a meeting in Tamworth.

    In 1871 Unionism had been adopted at Hanbury and since lodges had been set up at Wilnecote, Fazeley, Tamworth, Polesworth and Baddesley.

    Mr. George Pickard was the Miner’s Agent for Cannock Chase and also on the Executive of the AAM. He had been deputed by the Executive to enunciate to the miners of Warwickshire the principles of Unionism…and instruct as to the course to pursue in establishing a Miner’s Association in that district.

    He said that in adopting the principles they must not be surprised at opposition, the Association in its infancy had been cried down, and put down, by a class of gentlemen, who from their education and social standing, ought to have expected better things. Their influence was brought to bear in every way possible to crush such organisations, and where truth could not prevail they did not scruple to use means unbecoming the dignity of manhood…They remembered with gratitude the assistance rendered to the cause by many kind ladies and gentlemen, especially that of the Press to whose powerful help they owed much of their success. The AAM now numbered between 70,000 and 80,000

    It is a long detailed speech on the evils of the Masters and mentions the “Dick Turpin” system whereby the miners were cheated in the weight of the coal they sent up. He also talks of the disaster at Pelsall where rules had been neglected, and the Criminal Amendment Act.


    I believe that the AAM went bust during a protracted strike in 1874.

    From the above it seems that Cannock Chase are were to the fore in Unionism.

    Mr. Pickard refers to the Press in their help to further Unionism, and this set me thinking. I have now come across many clips from the Tamworth Herald and the Lichfield Mercury concerning the miners, strikes and the Harrison family. But they do not appear together. They just report the glories of the family and are factual about the Miners.

    This is in complete contrast to my findings concerning the Witton Explosions that can be seen on the Share History site…


    The Birmingham Daily Post is quite scathing at times concerning the employers in the Armaments manufacture. In fact the Pall Mall Gazette pulls no punches concerning the Home Secretary Bruce who is serving at this time.

    Could it be that the mine Owners around the area are doing a Murdoch!?

    All the best Pedro

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  12. Pedro says:

    Keeping to the time of the Rev Poole it might be interesting to some to read of the Pelsall Hall Colliery disaster that occurred a few short months after the above address. A good description can be obtained from the CCMHS site..


    Regards Pedro

  13. pedro says:

    While looking for info on the racecourse I noticed this, and I will refrain from jokes concerning the title of the song…

    BROWNHILLS…Service of Song

    A service of song, entitled “Crossing the Bar,” was rendered by the choir and friends of the Bethel Primitive Methodist Chapel on Monday evening. The connective readings were given by Mrs Brown, of Clayhanger. The Chairman was Mr. Poxton of Wallsall Woood.

  14. pedro says:

    The above is from the Lichfield Mercury 10th December 1909.

  15. David Evans says:

    HI Pedro.
    Thanks for the chuckle! I think the chapel stood on the Watling Street..between the tollbar and a certain pub! (Prince of Wales?)
    There was a famous poster going the rounds at the time, I believe;-
    “Jesus saves fallen women”..imagine the miners’ rejoinder!

    • Andy Dennis says:

      I thought the Primitive Methodist chapel, as opposed to Park View at the corner of Chapel Street opposite the Prince of Wales, on the Watling Street stood somewhere between Castle Street and Newtown, roughly opposite Knaves Castle.

    • Pedro says:

      There is another clip saying the Brownhills Primitive Methodist was a Church in Watling Street in 1903.

      Could they be two different places as the above mentions Chapel?

      Regards Pedro

  16. David Evans says:

    HI Pedro
    I think Primitive and New Connexion Methodists called their places of worship chapels originally..Park View and Bethel would be known as chapels at the time, and both belonged to the original Cannock Methodist Circuit , I think, Brownhills West’s Rehobeth, just along the Watling Street near the Rising Sun joined the newly created Brownhills and Pelsall Methodist Circuit in the 1930s. Confusing ! I think Andy has properly identified Bethel as the chapel near Knaves Castle. But the name Poxton rings no bells. The Poxon family were and still are active members of Clayhanger ( former Primitive ) Methodist….chapel/church!
    Many thanks for your kind research.

    • Pedro says:

      Primitive Methodist Chapel

      On Sunday afternoon, at the Bethel Primitive Methodist Chapel (Clayhanger), a service of song. “A Story of a Soldier’s Life” was given by the Watling Street Wesleyan Choir under the leadership of J Deakin. The connective readings were rendered by HJ Holland of Brownhills. Mr F Poxon presided over a good attendance, master Earnest Deakin presided at the organ. In the evening Walter Yeomans of Walsallm Wood was the preacher…

      12 May 1916 Lichfield Mercury

  17. Andy Dennis says:

    I think Poxton is a variant or spelling error. My great grandfather’s sister Mary Dennis married a Henry Poxon in 1855, but the entry of marriage in the parish records says Poxton, see for example IGI or Sue Lote’s website. Possibly just a slip of the vicar’s pen. Census records all have Poxon.

  18. Andy Dennis says:

    J Deakin would have been Jonah Deakin snr. His son, Jonah jnr. was also a chapel choir master and a local councillor. Jonah snr (1877-1951) was born in Wellington, Shropshire the son of a coal miner. By about 1880 the family had moved to Watling Street, Brownhills, where by 1911 he and his wife Jane were running a grocer’s shop, between Howdles Lane and Castle Street. In the 1960s the shop was operated by George Mason, before it was demolished to make way for the dual carriageway. There used to be a very good biography of both Jonahs on the web, but it seems to have been taken down.

  19. David Evans says:

    HI Andy and Pedro
    I sent Bob some information about Clayhanger Methodist chapel and original Chapel House some while ago. Makes interesting reading. Ashamed to admit ignorance of its name “Bethel” until now. What was the name of the other one along the Watling Street..?
    Jonah Deakin , Bill Upton, Sam Breeze..well-respected men of their times.
    Many thanks to both of you. Kind regards, David

  20. David Evans says:

    HI Pedro
    Memories of Brownhills Past, by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington, page 47 mentions thatthe First World War wooden hut at Clayhanger Primitive chapel hhad been donated by Colonel Harrison. Perhaps he also gave Rehoboth (Brownhills West Prims) theirs, and Ebenezer (Walsall Wood ) Prims their wooden hut, too. Incidentally the one at Ebenezer was used as a snooker hall!

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