Locked out: A miner’s pay packet from 1928.

John Anslow – local historian and along with his late brother, one of the foremost chroniclers of the history of Walsall Wood – has been emailing again with another fascinating artefact from The Wood and he makes some fine observations upon it, and in particular on the General Strike and life in the 1920s.

John also has some questions to ask, and I hope readers can help with those, please – John has been responsible for some of the most important articles on the blog over the years, and I’d love to see what readers think about this one.

A miner, lost too soon, and his wife – Abe and Eliza Anslow, taken around 1918. Image kindly supplied by John Anslow.

Without further ado, John Anslow wrote:

This might interest you and your readers, Bob.

The photographs show what I believe to be my grandfather’s last wage packet, dated 8 June 1928; he died shortly afterwards, aged 38.

Abe Anslow was a coal miner (a hewer, on the death certificate) and that particular week in June, after mining one-and-a-half tons of slack and two tons of ironstone, he took home eighteen shillings and eight pence, or about 93 pence in today’s money.

According to the CPI inflation calculator, £1 in 1928 would have had the same purchasing power as £63.24 today.

This little scrap of paper set me thinking, and I should like to enlist the help of those who know much more about local mining history than I do.

 First, the wage packet itself.

Images kindly supplied by John Anslow: Click for larger versions.

 (i) The stall number, I believe, refers to an eight-yard section of the coalface allocated to a pair of hewers.

(ii) The seam is identified with the letters “D. T.” Any ideas?

(iii) What are the “percentages” referred to here? (H2 – 3s 4d and 1 @ 8s 9d)

(iv) I hadn’t realised that ironstone was mined in the coal pits hereabouts.

Next, the historical context.

From what Dad told me (8th June 1928 was his seventh birthday) the 1920s were desperately hard times for mining villages such as Walsall Wood, though he recalled many instances of people looking after their neighbours and struggling through together. I have mentioned in a previous comment on your blog the arrangement Abe had with Mr Headley, who supplied animal feed on credit and was repaid in bacon when a pig was slaughtered.

The General Strike of 1926 must have been particularly harrowing for mining families. As you doubtless know, it was called in response to the miners being locked out by the coal owners on 1st May 1926 after refusing to accept a cut in wages and longer hours – “Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day”.

In coal fields throughout the land, miners were out of work for over six months but gradually began drifting back, on the owners’ terms, during October and November. I assume events in Walsall Wood mirrored those in the rest of the country.

It’s doubtful there’s a local resident alive today who remembers the lockout – anyone capable of doing so would now be in their late nineties – but perhaps readers can recall tales told to them by parents and grandparents.

Finally, a few comments about local industrial history.

I am dismayed that people barely twenty years my junior know nothing of the General Strike, let alone its causes or the hardships endured by the miners and their families. Nor are they aware of the poverty that was endemic in mining villages right up to the Second World War.

It is not my intention to embarrass you, Bob, but your blog plays an invaluable role in keeping the folk memory alive: helping us to remember who we are and where we have come from.

I was fortunate in being able to talk to people of my grandparents’ generation who, in turn, related stories their grandparents had told them. In two degrees of temporal separation I was back to the years when the canal first came through the village.

This experience makes me feel rather like the elderly lady who, when interviewed by a journalist in the 1850s remarked: “My first husband’s first wife knew Mr Cromwell and said he was a very nice man!”

 All the best,
John Anslow

 An afterthought

For completeness, and so that you can picture the man who spent his working life kneeling deep underground, hewing coal for such meagre recompense, I have attached a photograph of Abe and his wife, Eliza, taken around 1918.

  • John

I welcome all view, clarification and memories on this, and I know John will too: Comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or find me lallygagging on social media.

This is a fine contribution for which I am, as ever, indebted to John Anslow. The brothers Anslow have shone a beautifully crafted light upon some of the wonderful, little-known corners of Walsall Wood history – from sneaking into garden parties to cocksure monstinks; from dignity in poverty to odd interconnected stories, the Anslow boys have been behind some of my very favourite things to share here.

I am honoured to be able to feature these contributions here. Thank you John.

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6 Responses to Locked out: A miner’s pay packet from 1928.

  1. morturn says:

    Most certainly you must remember that poverty was a family’s best kept secret. People do all sorts of things to hid it away, and still do today. Poverty can and is often be seen by others as failure. People never consider their own privilege when judging other people’s quality of life

  2. Pedro says:

    I find this a very interesting article, and could make several comments. So I will have a think and try to keep it relevant to the local area.

    “Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day”…This was the rallying cry of AJ Cook the head of the Miner’s Federation. The relevance here can be seen in the comments of the Blog article “Sunshine after rain”…

    “The probable confusion would come from the events of 1926 when Arthur had rose to the top of the Miner’s Federation; he was touring the country addressing miner’s meetings. He spoke at Heath Hayes and Pelsall, but was later stopped from speaking again at Heath Hayes by the Chief of police for Staffordshire.

    Abe could well have been at one of these meetings.


    On the Committee of those who represented the Mine Owners was WE Harrison, much mentioned in this Blog. During the Strike he would probably be based at his London residence. My interpretation is that he took a back seat. He would be keen to see the dispute settled as coal in Cannock Chase was easier to extract than many other locations, and he could continue to make money.

    “Abe Anslow was a coal miner (a hewer, on the death certificate) and that particular week in June, after mining one-and-a-half tons of slack and two tons of ironstone, he took home eighteen shillings and eight pence…”

    WE Harrison

    Harrison, William E., 1875-1937, colliery owner, purchased Wychnor Park, Burton on Trent, and Orgrcave Hall estate, Alrcwas, Staffs….411 Ibid.; Rubinstein, `British Millionaires’, 220 (William E Harrison, died 1937, probate £1,392 million).

  3. Eldyne Cooper says:

    My grandfather, Harry Harris, was a miner, I’m pretty sure at Walsall Wood. My Mom, who was the youngest but one of eleven children, eight of which survived to adulthood, was born in 1920, She told me she could remember standing in line for food during the strike, and how hard life was. Even with all those children my Nan used to take in washing. Grandad died in 1956, and my abiding memory of going to see my Nan is the smell of washing in the dolly tub in the outhouse of the house in Chase Road where she lived with Mom’s eldest sister.

  4. George butler says:

    Has enyone any info on John anslow my 3 rd great grandfather I think he was a boatman

    • John Anslow says:

      Sorry, George, I’ve only just noticed your comment.

      Your great-grandmother, Mary née Anslow, and my great-grandfather, Jim Anslow, were brother and sister. Their parents were John Anslow (Johnny the Boatman) and Matilda née Robinson.

      That makes us third cousins, I think.

      Johnny died in 1902, aged about 86 (he was christened in Pelsall Church in January 1817) and was buried in Walsall Wood cemetery, off Brookland Road. There was certainly a gravestone there at one time, but my brother couldn’t find it last year and thought it must have been removed.

      I know a few family stories about Johnny and can send them to you via Bob, if he’s agreeable, and you would like to know more.

      • George Butler says:

        Thank you so much for your reply, I would love to know more. Richard butler from Woodstock, Oxfordshire (my great grandad) was a boarder in John and Matilda’s home. He went on to marry Mary Anslow, we have no more information or photographs of any of the family from Walsall wood.

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