An interesting one reaches me from Peter ‘pedro’ Cutler regarding the shocking state of mining housing and the tyranny of the tied house in the mid-1930s, with regard to local colliers.
This was a time when housing was in very much short supply, the rash of Council House construction only just underway; and mine owners, ever mindful off profit, weren’t generally too bothered about the communities that laboured for them.
This is a salutary lesson for those hankering after ‘the good old days’…
Yeah another great piece of research by Peter, for which I’m ever grateful – he must spend hours digging through the news archives for this stuff, and I don’t know what we’d do without him.
While looking for something quite unrelated, I noticed a piece in the Litchfield Mercury from November 13th, 1936.
Councillor G Newman of Rugeley Council was incensed with the Brereton Colliery Company who were shortly to evict 28 tenants. The tenants were former employees of the Company. Mr Newman had received an assurance from Mr Staley that the Company would take no action if the Council agreed to rehouse the tenants.
Two weeks later Cllr Newman wrote to the Lichfield Mercury to make the position clear. The unfortunate tenants of the Company houses should know the disastrous plight into which they have been placed. He said that if the Council had excepted his motion to bind Brereton Colliery to the agreement with Mr Staley the tenants, who are now under notice, would have been quite safe.
The Council had received a letter from the Company saying that the Council could not interfere with the Company’s proposals to evict these persons, as the houses were wanted for the housing of other employees, and so prevent migration to other areas. But Mr Newman said that he had been ‘sat on’ and told that Mr Staley was a gentleman and we should take his word. It was fortunate that with 10 minutes to elapse before the evictions they were delayed for another 14 days by Mr Cadman. He added that the Council would not be able to find houses in time, so the only hope was that the Company would further suspend the evictions.
To get some idea of the Brereton Colliery Company I turned to the CCMHS publication ‘The Cannock Chase Coalfield’ which gives a whole chapter to the history of the Brereton Collieries from 1791 to 1960.
In September of 1920 the collieries were taken over by James Cadman and his elder brother Sir John Cadman. They appointed John Staley as the General Manager, and James Cadman was the Chairman and Managing Director. John Cadman was the academic who had been knighted for his services in coal and oil during the Great War. In the 1930’s he was advisor to the Government and became Baron Cadman of Silverdale.
It is not clear when the company started to build houses for their employers but…
…there was a terraced row named Talbot Road, known locally as ‘the Barracks’. Others in Springhill Terrace and Redbrook Lane. In addition to the new houses many old disused colliery premises were converted into living accommodation, a typical example of this was the conversion of the large stable block built at the Levels, originally to house the large number of horses needed to work the old pits. In 1932 the Company owned some 133 dwellings.
I was not able to find how the evictions progresssed but did find this picture of ‘The Levels’ from April 1936…
Reading the remainder of the Cadman tenure of the Collieries in ‘The Cannock Chase Coldfield’ something further puzzled me. It was stated that during the Miner’s Strike of 1926 Mr Cadman pleaded with his workers to return to work. This seems at odds to the hard attitude adopted with the evictions, and it would be very unlikely that gentlemen of the Cadman’s stature would plead with the working man!
…..’Prior to the strike,’ he said, ‘the mine was losing 2 to 4s per ton and foreign coal was coming into the country.’ Even so there was a drastic shortage of coal in the area, and a premium price could be commanded. He offered the men the same rate of pay as before the strike, plus a bonus of 1s per shift for men and 6d to each boy, as long as he could get a price of 25s per ton of coal. 120 men immediately returned to work and many more quickly followed.
According to local reports half of the miners in Rugeley worked at the Brereton Collieries, and in early June the owners offered to open the pits after Whitsun on the same terms as before the strike, and invited the men to return to work. Very few took advantage of the offer, but the number that were working was greater than the last week. Ample police protection had been provided for the men working, although they were not regarded favourably by the people of Brereton; there had been no disorder. The general feeling was to wait for a national agreement.
The strike was into its 8th week and there was a great deal of dissatisfaction in many parts to the Brereton men returning to work. There were 500 down the pit, and a meeting was addressed by Mine Agent Baker. He said that he had great difficulty restraining 15,000 men from marching down in a body and burning the Brereton pits. He strongly advised them not to work, but although initially less worked the numbers working gradually increased.
In the 15th week there were over 600 working, and the number was expected to increase as those out of work feared loosing their work permanently. In September there was nearly a full complement of workmen.
The Cannock Chase owners were totally against national agreements, they wanted their own local bargaining. It seems to me that Cadman offer was designed as an enticement and not a plee.
Below is the Circular sent to the workforce…
You have heard Your Mr Cook.
What fresh facts has he told you? None.
What hope has he given you? None.
What Union pay has he offered you? None.
What prospects have you secured? None.
What good are you doing stopping out? None.