My Fair Lady

This is a wonderful article from local history rapscallion Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler which I think readers will really, really enjoy. Peter has developed a reputation hereabouts for being something of the iconoclast; formerly he has not pulled punches in his explorations of mining and industrial history, often to the surprise of readers.

Continuing this theme, Peter has explored an altogether more heartening history. It is, as ever, a wonderful, though-provoking and prescient article, and I thank him for that most profusely.

If you have any comment to make on this article, or wish to discuss the points it raises, please don’t hesitate to contact me – either add your view here at the foot of the post, or mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Peter wrote:


Coppice Colliery – a postcard, I think. A cracking image from the remarkable website, and featured under a Creative Commons license.

The Fair Lady, Coppice Colliery

Unlike the Harrison family, the Hanbury family were landed gentry and their line can be traced back prior to 1549. Robert Hanbury, who died in 1601, was an ironmonger in Wolverhampton and is buried in the chancel at St. Peter’s Church. Their involvement locally came when Francis Hanbury married Elizabeth Hussey and acquired parts of the Norton estate, and thus eventually, along with the Hussey family began the mining for coal on Brownhills Common.

The fortunes of the Hanbury family seem to have fluctuated, and it was William Harrison Jnr who took over the lease of the Brownhills Collieries from William Hanbury, on the land owned by Hussey, around 1850. In the mid 1840s the Hanbury family managed to buy back the title of Lord of the Manor of Norton.

Postwar Coppice miners inspect new safety helmets. Image from Staffordshire Past track.

Postwar Coppice miners inspect new safety helmets. Image from Staffordshire Past track.

It was in 1871 that Robert William Hanbury [2] inherited the estate, and went on to acquire Ilam Hall in Derbyshire. In 1893 the Coppice Colliery was opened, but on his death in 1903 his estate passed to his wife. By February 1904 Mrs Hanbury had remarried and became Mrs Bowring Hanbury. It appears that the late MP had made a simple will that was contested by his nieces, and eventually, on appeal, went before The Lord Chancellor in 1905. The estate was deemed her absolute property during her lifetime and to be passed to his nieces after her death.

Mrs Bowring Hamilton lived at Ilam Hall until 1926 when the estate was sold, and she moved to the family residence, 5 Belgrave Square London.

On her death in March of 1931 the Birmingham Mail says…A delicate and spontaneous compliment was once paid by the miners of Heath Hayes, to the late Mrs Bowring Hanbury, who was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London, on Saturday….Coppice Colliery, Heath Hayes… Mrs Hanbury turned the first sod in 1892 when the pit was sunk. She was a strikingly beautiful and vivacious women, and became so popular with the mining community in the village that the men wanted to name the pit after her, and called it the “Fair Lady”. It is still known as such throughout the Chase District.

Considering Ilam Hall is a long way from Heath Hayes the Fair Lady seemed to make regular visits to the village.


The Hanbury locomotive from Coppice Colliery. They had another, too, called Thomas! Image from Chasewaterstuff’s Railway and Canal blog.

In July 1904 when she visited with her new husband, the Lichfield Mercury reports that the village was gay with bunting from one end to the other, and even the poorest cottager had decorated the front of his dwelling in honour of this occasion. Mr and Mrs Bowring Hanbury, who were accompanied by Mr and Mrs Charles Fisher, the manager of Fair Lady Colliery, had an enthusiastic reception as they drove to the Colliery, which is their property, and which was Named by the miners the Fair Lady after Mrs Hanbury, who cut the first sod when the Colliery was opened 12 years ago. Opposite the handsome mission church, which was erected recently, was displayed a pretty decoration, “Welcome to our master.” At the Primitive Methodist Chapel, the stone laying ceremony which was graced by the presence of Mr and Mrs Hanbury, and at the church also, handsome bouquets were presented, and a pretty one of cottage garden flowers, bearing the motto “with love from those who work for you.” was handed from the crowd……Mrs Bowling Hamilton witnessed the arrival at the surface of the surface of 600 men employed in the mine, and were afterwards photographed amidst the groups of colliers as they came from the Pit. The visitors took a journey on a locomotive that bears the name Fair Lady. Both this and other engines were decorated, as were the horses and the tubs working on the pit bank.

The Fair Lady was a supporter of the Red Cross, and when in London she would donate articles for sale at the auctions in aid of the Charity, often purchasing them herself and placing them back in the auction.

In September of 1913 a deputation of miners asked her to intervene in a dispute where two miners had been dismissed. She did not conceded to the sacking of the manager but the two employees were reinstated.

In December of 1905 the Fairy Lady gained nationwide notoriety being involved in robbery at Euston Station while travelling back to Ilam with her Maid. There had been a little time to spare, the smaller particles of luggage were placed on the seat of the compartment in which they were to travel. They scarcely lost sight of it for a moment, but a glance at the luggage just before taking off revealed that a portion was missing…. Unfortunately it was at first impossible quickly and accurately decide what had been lost, so the thieves had a week in which to get rid of their plunder.

B 10 Coppice

Coppice Colliery was well known in the are, and remains so today. Image from Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society.

In February 1906 the Pall Mall Gazette…Despite the increase from £200 to £600 (later £1000) in the reward that has been offered, that is little hope of recovery of the £8000 worth of Jewels that were stolen from Mrs Bowling Handbury at Euston station a few days before Christmas.

Scotland Yard noted…Simultaneously with the robbery there disappeared from London a well-known jewel thief who had served more than one term of imprisonment. This man, it is believed transfered of the jewels to United States…… There is every reason to suppose he and his accomplices got safely away to America, where it is the practice of expertise to break up the jewels, melt the gold, and so mix with others of similar description and size so that is impossible afterwards to identify them….

The CCMHS have an excellent publication with more tecnical information concerning the Leacroft and Coppice Collieries. However, again I would take issue with the idea that Mrs Bowring Hanbury’s actions were typical of the ‘family coal owners’ in the Cannock Chase District. For me the comparison does her an injustice.

Around the mid 1800s the ‘family’ concerns were becoming Companies with the ‘family’ being major shareholders and providing much of the board members. The William Harrison Co Ltd had been formed in 1890, and the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery was a Limited Company in 1865. After the Fair Lady’s death the Pit became Coppice Colliery Limited.

This entry was posted in Cannock Chase, Chasewater, Churches, Environment, Followups, Fun stuff to see and do, Interesting photos, It makes me mad!, Just plain daft, Local Blogs, Local History, Local media, News, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories, Social Media, Walsall community, Walsall Wood stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to My Fair Lady

  1. Pedro says:

    Should read 600 men, not 600 million.


  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    this is a very interesting article, indeed and I thank Pedro for his thorough research. I wonder if readers can help to locate the site of the Fair Lady mine, please. Was it the Bleak House site or somewhere else?
    Another “Coppice Pit”, in Walsall Wood, has an equally interesting history, as one of the four original investors / owners’ families, by the name of Peake, seems to have had earned and merited a good reputation among the miners here for a long time. The mine had no connection with the Harrison empire, I believe.
    Many thanks for your article, Pedro

    • Geoff Watterson says:

      The Coppice pit was situated about 200yards down Newlands Lane which is the first on the left traveling from Heath Hayes island towards Cannock the pi t was on the left about 300 yards with the dirt mound between the pit and Norton road

  3. Fred B Lycett says:

    As the crow flies shafts were approx 250 yds off heath hayes island entrance opposite Harpers old bus garage, railway connection went under Norton Rd., later used as haul road for open cast traffic to mid cannock, canal basins were at Rumer hill, emptied many a truck of hard coal, brilliant coal very little ash, meant for forge use but excellent in the fire grate !, alsomoved a few tons of red shale from thepit mound, bound for Redditch new town and later the M6, I think Joe Hubbard was digging at the time, Fair Lady canal basin was the next one to Leacroft, who at one time had all their boat shafts turned hexagon to identify in the case of theft

  4. David Oakley says:

    Very interesting piece of research, Pedro, and once again, my thanks. In reply to David Evans, the ‘Fair Lady’ mine was situated about half a mile up the Wimblebury Road on the right-hand side, going from Heath Hayes. The ‘fair lady’ or ‘the lady’ as it was later known was a comparatively small mine and did not appear to have washing or screening facilities for the coal. The coal and spoil was placed into tubs, and as the pit was on the gradient up to Wimblebury, this gradient was used to transport the coal down to the Ironstone Road mine (‘Fives’ was it called ?) were all the facilities where. The tiny railway for the tubs had just enough downhill gradient to get to ‘Fives’ pit, and passed under the Cannock Road near the ‘wooden stables’ or Biddulph pool. Walking along,one could hear the clinking of the tubs as they passed under the road at a very slow pace.
    Don’t know how the ’empties’ were returned.
    Not being a miner, I know little about the pit, and can only comment on what I saw many years ago. What I do know, however, is that I knew a Walsall Wood miner who worked at ‘the lady’, at the coalface, all his working life. He never received an injury, which was very rare in mining, and
    his wages seemed quite sufficient to keep the family well-fed and prosperous, unlike many miners at that time, so that particular pit could be termed a ‘happy pit’, in contrast to others not so far away.

    • Geoff Watterson says:

      The tramway you have mentioned was from 8s pit down to 3s pit 8s had its own screens under private ownership but it was changed for economy purposes and better access to main lines for distribution purposes, the tramway was two tracks with a walkway between them as you faced 3s the full run was on the left taking advantage of the lye of the land, I walked between the tracks going to work at 8sfrom 19

  5. David Oakley says:

    Just read Fred Lycetts excellent piece and whoops ! got the wrong mine ! sorry, David, for the ‘duff gen’ . What was the name of the pit I described? So many of them at the time.

  6. What an enjoyable piece! This really is a charming story, and fulfils all our well-founded preconceptions of the chivalry and appreciation of beauty, physical, moral, and spiritual, of mining men. (Congruent with their religious devotion, their interest in the cultivation of flowers, their commitment to cultural pastimes.)

    I have emailed you, Bob, with an image I found online of a C. de V. of the Hon. Robert William Hanbury. What I would have loved to discover, was a portrait of Mrs. Ellen Hanbury herself. There must be one. One can only imagine, for the moment, how lovely she would be, trussed up in the “S” shaped corsets of the age, with a feather trimmed titfer, and plenty of decolletage, like Lily Langtry.

    At the time of unexpected death from pneumonia of the “fine physical specimen” who was The Honourable R.W.Hanbury M.P., the local press are full of praise for his relationship with his workforce. Although the Hanbury family seem to have been earning their income from mining at least as much as landholding in the preceding century, I understand why Pedro classifies them as “Landed Gentry”. ( The words “Sugar Plantation” – never far from the history of a wealthy 18th century family – also occur in connection with them, I see)

    They are, indeed, “Old Money”, when compared to the Harrison Family, who only seemed to be fully waking up to the duties beholden upon them as they enjoyed their capital-owning privileges by the time that the industry was nationalised. Far too late for their hard-done-by workforce, including so many of my very own Horton, Blann, Price, and Painter clan.

    No, the good relations of “Capital and Labour” as the Lichfield Mercury has it on the 8th May 1903 after R.W.Hanbury’s death, remind me of the description of the miner’s warmth of feeling towards the Fitzwilliams at the turn of the century, as described in Catherine Bailey’s “Black Gold” – essential reading, for those interested in industrial relations pre and post nationalisation.

      • Pedro says:

        This is an excellent book, and people should not be put off by the cover that looks like something written by Barbara Cartland (not that I am an avid reader of her novels!)

        It gives a very interesting insight into the coal industry over the years, and it is worth it even if there is no interest in the actual family.

    • Hi Susan

      I’m unclear about this, pardon me, but the section you state:

      ‘This really is a charming story, and fulfils all our well-founded preconceptions of the chivalry and appreciation of beauty, physical, moral, and spiritual, of mining men. (Congruent with their religious devotion, their interest in the cultivation of flowers, their commitment to cultural pastimes.)’

      Does it? Were the industrial diseases they suffered somehow less ravaging, the poverty more noble? Your vision seems a tad … romantic.

      I can see your passion, and I understand it. But this isn’t the Dickensian cartoon England of rotters and benevolent toffs, where everything would come right if the middle class discovered social responsibility. These folk were still bone-churningly poor. They were still living in poor conditions and largely disenfranchised. Their religion in many cases was still oppressing them.

      They were the chattels of the industrialist class.

      Fair Lady she may have been, but by the standards of the day.

      Best wishes

      • My flowery rambling point was perhaps that Mr and Mrs Benevolent Toff did have something over Mr Middle Class Industrialist, and their workforce could “smell” it, even if it didn’t materially affect the conditions of extreme hardship which affected most of the population. I sometimes wonder, sadly but resignedly whether we can ever shake hands over our Political Differences. I cannot view this workforce, (my people too) as chattels with no means of personal determination, and no means of intelligently deciding whether to admire and love Mrs Hanbury. No, they didn’t have a political vote. We, as a nation do, now…….and we can’t be arsed, most of us. Wouldn’t everything come right if we all discovered social responsibility?

  7. David Oakley says:

    Some interesting points have been raised in the latter interchange of opinions, prompting me to add my own ‘twopennorth’ to the debate. At 82, I am probably one of the oldest regular contributors to the blog, and am old enough to recognise the danger of viewing the 19th century and the early twentieth century through 21st century glasses. I remember the ‘hungry thirties’ . My father was out of work for several years, haunting Brownhills Labour Exchange for small temporary jobs. I received a Saturdays ‘ha’penny for pocket money, highlights were the annual Sunday School treats and the eager anticipation of a small toy, at Christmas, plus, of course the occasional carnival in the village. Did I know I was poor, and deprived? No ! no one ever told me..
    The same can be said of the Heath Hayes miners. Did they know they were poor and had such harsh lives? I doubt it. That was how things were in those days. You are only become disatisfied if you get a glimpse of better, and with anything better not within their consciousness, they made the best of what they had. I can see how the visits to the village of the ‘Fair lady’ was celebrated in such a manner, instead of a surly silence and resentment overhanging the village. A beautiful Lady ! who cannot but love a beautiful lady? The wide gap in social position and fortune meant nothing to those politically unaware miners. That was the natural order of things. “Chattels of the industrial class ?” Yes, they certainly were, but no one had ever told them ! Industrial diseases ? yes, but at the time they were part and parcel of being a miner, as were the frequent injuries sustained. Bone-churningly poor, by modern standards, yet there was still a fair amount of mis-spending on drink. More than one thrifty miner was able to build his own house.
    I smile, sometimes, when I think of the modern definition of ‘poverty’, years ago, that would be called living in the lap of luxury. My main point is do not judge the hardships of yesteryear by modern standards. What you have never had, you never miss, and the Heath Hayes miners probably lived quite full and happy lives, with the occasional colourful celebration for the visits of the ‘fair lady’ just like us in the ’30’s. when any special event came our way. Thank goodness no one came along to ‘wise us up’. and convert our natural happiness to resentful misery.

  8. Pedro says:

    As someone whose forebears came from Aston, until the recent past I had little knowledge of coal mining, coal villages, coal owners or coal industrial relations. So I have to think what my preconceptions would have been. Welsh valleys, choirs, bands, Methodism, comradeship, insular communities, dangerous occupation?

    Of course, preconceptions will differ, just as political persuasion, with each person. So I presume that we have to try to shake these off in any inquiry. I wonder what were the preconceptions of the 1842 Royal Commission on Employment of Children and Young Persons in the Coal and Iron Mines of South Staffordshire…

    “It is a fine sight to see the miners congregated at dinner, in a large dining hall cut out of the coal. There they sit, naked from the middle upwards, as black as blackamoor savages, showing their fine, vigorous, muscular persons, eating, drinking, and laughing. They sit an hour, for, one or two and then resume their labours.”

    I think this rather romantic view has endured with some interpreters of the history of mining even up to the present day, so what was the reality?

    David says we should not judge poverty by modern standards, but I don’t see this happening on the Blog. There are articles describing conditions from 1840 up to the 1920s, and a judgement can be made by degrees.

    • Pedro, you are doing the best job of all, being interested from the outside and giving us this thought provoking story in the first place. Your non-mining background adds value to your take on things. David: wise words! My family were numerous in Walsall Wood and Shire Oak, but well before my time. My husband, born 1943, and his parents, both pre WWI vintage, and his extended family, and many friends, hailed from Thurnscoe, where Hickleton Main employed 4000 men in its heyday….. not counting other pits in adjacent communities. These relationships is the real source of any insight I have into the lives, culture and attitudes of mining communities.

      • Hi
        Been reading along with interest. I will offer a comprehensive reply when I’ve dried out and considered it fully. Everything welcome.

        Do me a favour, though, Susan – you have a mind like a steel trap, are one of the best local history writers I’ve ever come across, and, it’s fair to say, know a thing or two about dealing with the refined culture of HGV drivers.
        We have squared off in debate a few times and it’s always been a pleasure.
        You’re not Penelope Pitstop in the clutches of the big, bad left wing wolf. I’ve met lots of those, and you’re not one of them..
        Catch you later

  9. Pedro says:

    There seems two contrasting opinions here concerning religion and the miners. This has been touched on in the post Union and Chapel here…

    I think many would agree that the established Church did hold back the miners fight for better conditions, but what of the Non-Conformists? I throw a cat amongst the pigeons!

    The Origins of British Industrial Relations…Keith Burgess

    The relative inactivity of the established church in mining areas, with its conservative and highly stratified government, inevitably made non-conformist congregations which sprang up in its place comparatively open and democratic. The organisational forms which non-conformity adopted in the coalfields were, as a result, ideally suited to the expression of community solidarity. The evangelicalism of non-conformist preaching, and the self-help character of its of its organisations, were basic training for secular community leadership. Yet if the external manifestations of non-conformity had the effect of binding mining communities closer together, its idealogical impact upon the consciousness of individuals was more equivocal. Although non-conformist theology is not a homogeneous lump, there are significant differences, for example, between Calvinist Methodism and the so-called Primitives, it is essentially individualistic, stressing personal salvation and the individuals contract with God. This could be disruptive of community solidarity as least as this affected the miners’ relations with other social classes. Non-conformist theology also had an equivocal attitude to the miners’ organisations, and sometimes opposed strikes as “breach of contract.” It also justified upward social mobility as proof of individual moral worth, which often implied isolation from, if not conflict with, the interests of “community.” It is probable, therefore, that the prevalence of non-conformist religion among mineworkers had a contradictory impact upon their perception of a community identity. The centrifugal implications of its ideological content offset the centripetal effect of its organisational development. This was especially true of the miners’ leaders who were particularly vulnerable to the individualism of non-conformist theology.

  10. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    I paid a visit to the Methodist Church in Heath Hayes today, to take a few photos and to say hello to the folk there. Thenoticed that the foundation stone shows that the Good Lady had been at work laying that stone in 1899. Today the good people were busy helping with the Food Bank. I doubt whether they would share or even try to unwravel the views of Keith Burgess, but might find him some useful job to do.

  11. Hi

    This is going to be long and a bit rambly, I think, but it’s what I feel. Much of it is related to the ‘Echoes’ post, and how people feel about community history. I think it still holds up and is worth reading again.

    There’s a lot of debate about what this blog is actually about, what it’s for. What it masquerades as. Most people call it a ‘hyperlocal’, or others, a ‘local history blog’ – it’s neither. It’s a man meandering through stuff he likes most of the time, but the rest is about democracy, or rather, democratising our history, local events and opinion.

    For years, we were all told what our history was, or informed of our news by worthy sources. Be it current affairs, history or whatever, subjects with most import came to us filtered through the auspices of the media, or learned types in the case of history. Everything had an angle, but like David Oakley’s miners who perhaps didn’t know they were poor, we didn’t detect the angle until it was removed. Some still don’t accept there was an angle.

    The cast on our local history and opinion has been removed by social media and the internet. Blogs like this, and Susan’s, Lichfield Lore and countless others, which enable people with memories to talk to people who are interested, and others with different views. This blog allows the exploration and debate of memory, history and all it contains – and I’m very proud of that. History is being taken out of the hands of beardy charismatics and those with odd agendas, and being put into our own hands to explore. This is a wondrous thing.

    It does, however, carry implications that worry me, as you’ll all be aware.

    History is not the same for everyone. We all have different memories, some conflict with those of others. How we view eras, ages, events or whatever can be coloured by our political, social and religious lives and viewpoints. We are all biased in some way, me included, although we try hard not to be. It’s also worth remembering that history is related by the survivors. The lucky.

    One of the things that make me happy to be associated with this blog is the newspaper and research content. While we have great pieces from a variety of contributors – Davids Evans and Oakley, Andy Dennis, Peter Cutler, Ann Cross – they are often complemented and lit up by journalistic content from the period. Thus, when talking about the Grove Pit Disaster, quick and easy access to the Mining Inspectorate report allows us a frame of reference.

    All this stuff passes through my hands as I type or edit the posts for publication. I’m painfully aware after more than four years that there are massively conflicting views about how we perceive those bits of history that are controversial. I waded into such dangerous waters, deliberately, with Susan above. The reason for this was simple. We need to confront it sometimes.

    This isn’t political, and isn’t about begging to differ or shaking hands, and to me, it’s not about what was acceptable at the time. I’m sure Lady Hanbury was a lovely women, but we must beware of the prism looking back creates. She was clearly a far better owner than Harrison, and in all probability better than MaClean, but her employees were still very, very poor, stalked by infant mortality, industrial disease and poor living conditions. They may, or may not, have realised. But one read through of Dr. Maddever’s report into Brownhills shows the conditions of the time. We cannot ignore that. British society of the day was built on enormous degrees of subjugation – from the chains of the empire’s plantations to the less material chains of the Tommy Shop and tied cottage. Power, then, was still in the hands of the very few.

    What changed things was education and unionisation, followed by the power loss of the upper classes prior and as a result of the Great War. But we must remember that, as in the words of Martin Luther King, freedom is never given to anyone. Those men – and women – who could, fought for a better world. And as it came, we became further and further removed from the privations they and their forebears suffered. It’s now gone so far we’re in danger of losing touch with it completely.

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that very little was willingly ceded to the lower classes – the vote, womens rights in general, workplace safety, union recognition – none came without huge and costly battles. For the upper class so apparently benevolent, they found themselves on the wrong side of an awful lot of historic dividing lines in the last 200 years.

    Lots of things played a part in advancing or retarding social progress. Religion – whilst Methodism was a radicalising force cited by some, the CofE and Catholic Church were supine to the power, and advocated the same in their congregations. Not all local mines, nor miners were methodist. Not all that were, were radical. It’s clearly a complex tapestry.

    What concerns me is although the time and distance between us and them is seemingly huge, in reality, it’s a shadow’s breadth. And this is the crux of it. Susan talked in her flowery language of how Peter’s piece ‘…fulfils all our well-founded preconceptions of the chivalry and appreciation of beauty, physical, moral, and spiritual, of mining men.’ I’m sorry, that’s guff. The miners – as men, and their families, were of no different stock than us today. They were humans doing what humans do, live through time as best they can, applied learned skill to survive. This myth that the miners were something unique is something that reverberates through much local writing and it troubles me.

    Yes, mining had a culture, a language, a social order. But it was little different to that in mills, fields, on ships or, for that matter, on the battlefield. Humans shine in adversity, but they are still human. Scour any paper from the late victorian era to the end of the mining and you’ll note these miners did all the things we do now – get drunk, fight, marry, have kids, get caught thieving, go on strike, play sport, have affairs. It’s all there, in the reports, petty sessions and announcement columns. Rates of petty crime and drunken violence were huge. They were normal humans, not supermen. And al the time stalked by low life expectancy and poor conditions.

    Some local sites still skirt around the fact that the Grove Disaster was, in all probability, caused by the victims themselves. It’s almost as if many can’t entertain the fact that these poor, poor men may have been fallible.

    It’s absolutely essential to illuminate this. So many people treat this period with huge mythology of community and good grace; it’s important that we see what it was and exactly what these people lived through. It’s only by understanding that and accepting it that we can grasp our own heritage.

    Anyone who’s studied oriental or arabic history will know the winds of social history blow in both directions, particularly for the careless. For us to avoid them blowing back, it’s imperative to understand that, for the grace of the age we were born in, we could be those people. The things they fought for – spurred on by the atrocious conditions they endured – make our society more comfortable today. Was it not, after all, the ‘Hungry Thirties’ that spurred on Atlee, Bevan and the social state?

    It is absolutely essential that we recognise the conditions and hold them up to our own times. We know that life went on, and good prevailed, and they may well have known no better. But we do now. I think it’s important we see that clearly, convey it to the coming generations.

    One of the reasons I believe the NHS to be under threat currently is not enough people are around to point out what life was like without it.

    Cheers for all your views, and keep them coming


  12. Thank you Bob. Without this forum, this debate wouldn’t be unfolding, and without your interest and mentoring, my blog, for one, would not exist.

    It’s very tempting for me to leave this particular debate where it is. I certainly don’t want to veer off into what actually does drive the improvement of living conditions et cetera!!. But there is one aspect of what you said above, most pertinent to Pedro’s research, that I really wanted to reply to. You are absolutely right when you say that miners were not uniquely noble, brutal, or anything else, and that they are US, just living in different times and circumstances. Thank God for the fact that no one – in Britain – has to earn a living like that any more.

    However, I do maintain that the miners’ particular working experience – more physically demanding than in other industries; taking place underground, in the dark, in a shift pattern which was unvarying whatever the season of the year, had those particular effects on the culture of the men that I mentioned.

    The brass band, and the very fine choir are cliches, but there aren’t the equivalent to be found amongst workers in other industries. When daylight was available, it was natural that being outdoors, interacting with the natural world, was their strong inclination. The passionate flower growing – particularly auriculas, dahlias, and chrysanthemums for competition, really happened. And in 40’s and 50’s Yorkshire, miners volunteered to help with harvest for free, revelling in the fresh air – to the puzzlement of agricultural workers for whom it was their daily chore. The interdependence of the team underground, on which relied every man’s safety and (before the system changed) every man’s earnings, meant that the overman quashed quarrels above ground, too – even if men were “in their cups”. Courtesy and co-operation – these were essential qualities, not affectations.

    I think the popularity of the “Fair Lady” does illustrate something about a particular enthusiam for glamour in hard dirty days……I’m reminded of newsreel images of thousands of troops gathering to cheer one tiny female figure in the shape of Vera Lynn or Marilyn Monroe. Different scale – same sort of reaction.

    • Hi Susan

      Thanks for your kind words. I hope everyone gets what I’m trying to say here. I was tired last night and some of it may have been foggy.

      You understand mining culture because you grew up with it and it’s in your blood. But you’d be amazed at the subtle and hidden cultures amongst other working groups. The culture of folk music that grew in the mills – ‘The Handweaver and the Factory Maid’ a lovely commentary on social change from that period:

      In the mid-90s I went to a drop forge in Willenhall. Even then, with modern standards of safety, I thought I’d entered hell. Bare-chested men manipulated red hot-tipped bars. The filth, the fury. The teamwork. There was no electric light there, all being necessary generated from the muffles. A hundred years before, Satan himself would have been comfortable to rest there among the water hammers.

      Similarly an iron foundry in Gateshead; men and women in unique, choreographed coordination, everyone having a place, a role and the noise, confidence and speed were a wonder to behold. Then a low rumble. Everyone disappeared. There was damp in the metal, and they knew to hide. Fortunately, the threat passed, and work carried on.

      There is a remarkable account somewhere (you’ll have to google, sorry) of the good Dorothy Pattison tending the wounded, and dying after the foundry explosion in Walsall; of how men with molten metal eating at their bodies jumped into the canal, worsening their injuries. It’s visceral, scary, and all depended on the hungover misreading of a chalk line on the cupola. Any Dotty Pattison did her brilliant best, like some Black Country angel of life.

      The interdependence and love of the outdoors and light was not unique to miners, but they, of course, loved it. The working class culture of the time you allude to – choirs, sport, bands etc – was born out of confining a formerly outdoor people in factories, pits and mills. The boredom made people create, and still does.

      There are so many hidden cultures, it would be wonderful to have the time to find them and document them. We’re more aware of the universal ones – military, sailing – but even the quarry workers had their own unique music and stories.



      • That’s great! So much more to investigate and treasure.

        My best friend – another of my left wing bosom pals – is from Darwen in Lancashire, and is a fount of knowledge on the subject of the culture of the cotton industry….she, also unlike me, is a proclaimed feminist, and we have great conversations about how women’s lives in that particular industry affected how they thought and behaved, and its legacy even today in that area.

        Sister Dora was, of course, a Yorkshire woman!

  13. Pedro says:

    I think we must point out here that the Fair Lady and Billy FitzW were in a minority of landowners who a mined their own land. Most of course sat back and collected the royalties. Much to the annoyance of the new rich over the road.

    • 100%, Pedro. The Devonshire’s too – but yes, there weren’t many. And it is interesting to watch the likes of the Harrisons begin to “ape their betters” in later genertions- as they obviously thought of them, by imitating their pastimes and interests – field sports, (as you know, the previous occupant of my cottage was Mr Harrison’s gamekeeper) and benefaction!

  14. Pedro says:

    Despite the hardship, danger and exploitation, the mining community seems to have had a certain amount of breathing space to develop cultural interests. But in the big cities?

    If you restrict your search to the Lichfield Mercury from say 1850 to 1900, and enter “slogging” you will come up with something such as “the team slogged uphill in the second half” or “the Hunt slogged its way through the covert in Maple Hayes.”

    Put the same term into the Birmingham paper and you will come up with scores of examples of women, children, and in fact anyone that showed weakness, being brutally assaulted just for the fun. Life was stifled, and if not mob-handed, restricted from one end of the street to the other.

    • Really good point, Pedro. (Your collocation extraction method is brilliant, by the way).

      Yes, you have highlighted the fact that the bigger mining communities were fairly suddenly superimposed on a rural landscape. In Brownhills’ or Walsall Wood’s case, not much was there beforehand. In Thurnscoe’s case ( sorry to keep referring to somewhere outside “our” area), it was a very ancient agricultural settlement, and is still surrounded by vast acres of cultivation. Therein lies the stronger affinity with the natural world, uninterrupted by generations of living in an urban environment.

      It’s a different story in the Black Country proper, I suppose, where small pits extracting shallow coal were numerous, and had been exploited for longer.

      I think that the shift system also lent itself to the collaborative efforts of the choirs and bands….although they worked long hours, groups of men could be reliably available at the same hours for rehearsals.

      You also remind me of who The Lords Of The Manor were in the East End of London. No benevolence there. Probably the same in Brum? And mob handedness, oppressing the most vulnerable, is not extinct now…just very different

      • I have a really fine, great friend who grew up in the slums of the Jewellery Quarter – real Kathleen Dayus territory. He talks of the back to backs, communal washrooms and toilets. And suffering Typhus at 5 years old and being shocked on recovery that lots of his pals had ‘gone’.
        Whilst there’s stuff he cherishes, he points out that largely, the idea of coherent, cosy community was rubbish; men got drunk and fought on Fridays; women bullied, bickered and fought over the washrooms on Mondays; bullies and bigger kids lurked in alleys and around the toilets, waiting to separate smaller or weaker kids from anything they valued.
        If I asked him about the ‘good old days’, he’d tell me he was living in them now.

      • Pedro says:

        Actually there is no method in my madness, it’s just the way I tell ’em!

  15. David Oakley says:

    Bob was perfectly right when he states that “This myth that the miners were something unique is something that reverberates through much local writing, and it troubles me………”they were humans, not superman”. Nobody could be more matter-of-fact about his job, than the miner. Whilst working as a Walsall bus driver, I visited many colliery canteens. The method was to take the miners due on the night shift, to work, then wait for the afternoon shift to come up, get changed, and board the bus. This involved waiting in the canteen for about an hour, drinking tea, served in huge pint mugs, and chatting to miners. Nowhere was there any trepidation of ‘going down that deep, dark hole in the ground’ or any obvious relief at surviving another shift, not much different to when the factory hooter goes at 5 o’clock and the workers burst forth.. The ‘crack’ went backwards and forwards across the room, and one could enjoy the intelligent humour and good fellowship that seemed to permeate throughout. Miners were great at talking ‘shop’ and even coming off shift, conversation still centred on the coalface. It was said that four miners, talking in a pub, could mine enough imaginary coal to fill the bar in a very short time. They loved the job. Coalmining was a way of life, and I cannot remember any miner, in my memory, who gave up his job, to work in a factory. Coalminers were great Union men, but I tend to think that this was a natural extension to the ‘family feeling’ that each mine seemed to engender. Certainly not overtly political at the time, in fact, in 1931, the Cannock parliamentary seat which included all the numerous coalmines in the area, was won by Mrs S.A. Ward, of Grange Farm, Walsall Wood, the Conservative candidate !! Thank God our miners never had to face the appalling conditions outlined by Emile Zola in the book, Germinal, of the French coalminers, or the terrors associated with the Pennsylvania coalfields in America in the late 1800’s.
    Lancashire and Yorkshire had its share of ‘Dark. Satanic Mills’, which helped to place coalmining in its true perspective in Victorian industrial history. girls of six or seven were employed to work under the looms, while the weavers were operating, often resulting with dreadful injuries to the girls, and cotton elements, in the air, like fine snow, was just as lethal as coal dust in the high incidence of lung diseases. While in the match industry, there was a painful illness called ‘phossy jaw’ caused by imbibing phosphorous in the workplace.
    Bob speaks of a drop forge in Willenhall. Years ago, the old gas muffles, winking like devil’s eyes in the gloom, were manned by young muffle boys, stripped to the waist, even in midwinter, whose job it was to feed the muffles with brass until white-hot for moulding by the stamper.
    Going down a deep, black hole, to earn a living, seemed to capture the romantic imagination and sympathy of many writers, as Bob states, particularly with its element of danger. To most miners it was just a job, nothing romantic or heroic about it.
    In conclusion, most of us are descendants, one way or another, of these Victorian workers, of whom we should be justly proud, miners, mill workers, factory workers, all had their place in the industrial scene of the period, all faced dangers of some sort at the workplace, long hours, back-breaking work, poor rewards, quite often. Perhaps that’s why we won two wars That indomitable British characteristic, moulded from those hard times, possibly saw us through.

  16. Pedro says:

    The Folk songs above me check if there was anything for Birmingham, and I Came across something that might be of interest. The Brummagem Ballads by the Farriers. The lyrics of the song Birmingham on Sea below is believed to be from around 1880, and the first 15 or so seconds can be heard here…

    I sing the song of Birmingham, of Birmingham-on-Sea
    For that they say is what she is, in days to come to be
    The times are bad, the riddle is, when better shall we see
    Canal locks have been picked and so let’s hope we’ll get a quay

    Chorus :
    Rejoice, rejoice ye unemployed, there soon will be a glut
    Of brand new trades for Birmingham, although ’twill be through cut

    The shortest cut to seaboard is our old canal, of course
    The stake is there, it only wants a little Worcester source
    The question really is not more than one of willing banks
    That must give rise to enterprise the age is one of cranks

    And cranks and cogs must supercede the bargee’s horse and whip
    And Birmingham in launching out of course must launch her ship
    For months and months she suffered from depression she can’t hide
    And hide with her means seek and so she wants a turn of tide


    In Worcester Walk we’ll have a beach as good as that of Wales
    They weave our beach in Temple Row, of course a beach with sails
    A cliff we’ve got in Bennett’s Hill, a cave is there as well
    And daily if you care to look you’ll see the New Street swell

    The gas department breezes finds as fresh as those of Rhyll
    And as for shingle put your hand into the borough till
    Time will provide the sand and shells the guardians keep in stock
    That folk may snug at anchor ride within the Witton dock


    I sing the song of Birmingham, of Birmingham-on-Sea
    For that they say is what she is, in days to come to be

  17. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    two entries from a local Brownhills man’s personal notebook of the times;-
    1) “Manager at Fair Lady Pit fell 220 ft down the Shaft ,May 17,1911”

    and, from 1912;-
    2) “Every collier in the Kingdom on Strike, March 2, 1912 ( 1,053,000 men)


  18. Pedro says:

    David you say…

    “They loved the job. Coalmining was a way of life, and I cannot remember any miner, in my memory, who gave up his job, to work in a factory.”

    Well there is always one!

    1945 Lichfield Mercury…


    Showing a defiant attitude and expressing a definite refusal to work in the pits, (Name left out) Walsall Wood, was summoned at Brownhills on Wednesday, with failing to Comply with a direction to work at the Walsall Wood Colliery as a haulage hand.

    For the prosecution, Mr. T. Oswald Moseley said the defendant was formerly employed by the Company as a haulage hand as a Juvenile. On March 19th he made an application to the National Service Officer for permission to leave his employment on the grounds that his eyesight was affected. Permission was granted to him, but when he became 18 years of age a direction was posted to him telling him to report again for work at the colliery. In reply to that he wrote to say that he was definitely not going down pit again. He was also sending the direction notice back to prove that he meant it.

    The Chairman asked defendant if he refused to go into the mines, to which he replied.

    “Yes. Absolutely.”

    Clerk…”Can you tell the Bench why you refuse?”

    Youth…”I hate the Pits, and am not going down again on those grounds.”

    Chairman…”You are fined £3 with £3 3s costs, and if it is not paid within a month you will be sent to prison for a month.”

    Youth…”Then I will go to prison”…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.