Sweet reason and the sourness of hypocrisy

An interesting contribution today from veteran blog writer and local industrial historian Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, who has once again been delving via the newspaper archives into the grizzly reality of life as a miner, rather than indulging the more airbrushed versions of the industry common on many local history fora and sites.

The General Strike of 1926 bit deeply in the local coalfields, and the ultimately unsuccessful fight against reducing wages and increasing working time was bitter and protracted – but did gain widespread local support.

The Westley Church was just over the bridge where the car workshop is today on the corner of Hall Lane and Lichfield Road in Walsall Wood. From ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo a& John Sale.

Miners children were fed by charity, soup kitchens and ‘fighting funds’ operated by churches and newspapers. They literally stopped children from starving.

Meanwhile, the mine owners – choosing to exert the squeeze downwards rather than bear the load themselves – continued their showy largesse, social climbing and glad-handing.

I thank Peter from a fascinating eating article that really reaches into the reality of life at the time, and it’s great to see his return after somewhat of a break. Great to see you, old chap: Welcome back.

I’m sure this article will generate comment: Please feel free to throw in your shilling. Comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or pull me to one side on social media.

Peter wrote:

Birmingham Gazette 11 June 1926. Click for a larger version.

Hi Bob,

I came across this picture from the Birmingham Gazette of June 1926. It shows miners children in Hednesford on their way to the food depot during the General strike of 1926. It mentions the Birmingham Evening Despatch ‘Shilling Fund’ which set up in June 1926.

‘The Fund has a splendid send-off but deeper inquires showed more urgent was the need. The situation in Hednesford and district is that over 10,000 children are in need of food. Last week 5408 children were provided with from two to four meals during the week. The cost 6d per child for the week. In Pelsall District [It covered a bigger area than Pelsall – Bob] it is stated that nearly 20,000 children are going hungry. Poverty came up on miners of the Chase during the first week of the look-out. The situation today is very serious, and unless help is speedily forthcoming, it is certain that the dispute will not only involve children’s health, but may involve children’s lives.’

July 1926 it is reported, ‘Children are starving in the Cannock Chase coalfield, and a wife and child only receive 3s 6d a week, for the Lichfield Guardians have cut down relief by half.’ The Despatch asks for contributions of a shilling or a fraction of a shilling… P Goulding, Central Distress Committee of Brownhills, expressed thanks to the Despatch… Over 40,000 shillings have been donated. 

In August the Despatch says the dispute has entered the eighteenth week, and there is a greater need than ever. 66,000 has been collected.

In September nearly 70,000 shillings has been contributed. ‘The need for feeding the hungry miners children is greater than ever, and also an urgent demand for clothing. Nurse Phillips, 14 Bungalow, Green Heath, Hednesford appeals for serviceable boots, clothing, blankets, sheets etc.’

In December a small balance was used for the Christmas of the miners children, there is a picture but of poor quality in the Birmingham Gazette… ‘350 Christmas puddings sent to Hednesford, from the £3,925 13s 3d raised by the fund for the miners’ kiddies during the most disastrous stoppage in the history of British industry.

The Fund had been closed in early December and, ‘The distribution by John Baker of the Miner’s Association and by the Central Relief Committee under Rev F Cobb of St. Saviour… The men have been back at work for nearly a month but in the Hednesford area several of the larger pits are on short time and the miners are finding it difficult to make ends meet, with the barest necessities. This is typical of the rest of the Cannock Chase coalfield where it is said many can never hope to get out of debt which had to be incurred. 

It was in the January of 1926 that  WE Harrison opened the B’hills War Memorial Institute. G Cooper was Chair of War Memorial Committee and spoke of generous assistance of the Colliery Companies who had subscribed £750… ‘If the same spirit of sweet reasonableness in other coalfields, as did in Cannock Chase and Pelsall, the clouds that were hovering over the month of May would be quickly dispersed.’ He paid tribute to the character and worth of WE Harrison… ‘who never refused assistance to any good cause in B’hills, he was alpha and omega of all charitable work in the village.’

WE Harrison at this time was in possession of the Wychnor Estate, Alrewas. He would spend quite some time during 1926 at his London residence as he was a member of the Coal Commission. He seemed willing to speak freely in the public arena, but I couldn’t find many contributions within the Commission meetings.

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