Dispute Week 3 – Letter from Pope – Delegation to meet

16 January 1885

Mexborough & Swinton Times, January 16th 1885.

The Denaby Main Dispute
Delegation to meet

A crowded meeting of the Denaby Main miners was held at the Mason´s Arms Inn, Mexborough, last Friday. A Miner occupied the chair.

Mr. Chappell, the secretary of the Miners´ Association, said they would all be aware that a certain document has been left at the colliery offices by the men, with three or four proposals to be submitted to Mr. Buckingham Pope, who was at St. Moritz, a four day post. He ( the speaker ) had since received a letter from Mr. Chambers, the manager of the colliery, as follows :-

Conisbrough, January 6th.

Dear Sir, – I have heard from Mr. Pope, and he states that he cannot entertain your proposals, as it would entail the working of the colliery at a loss. You may see the letter if you wish to call at the colliery office.


W.H. Chambers.

( A Miner : ” That´s short enough.” )

They did not know what the letter referred to might contain, and perhaps it would be best to call at the office and see it. He did not wish to say anything in a defiant way, as he had already stated times out of number that the case was serious enough without any aggravation whatever. If the meeting thought it was advisable to send a deputation he thought it would be the proper thing to do, and they would have a fair opportunity as to what Mr. Pope´s opinions were. If his letter were as long as that read to them in the wagon-shed of the colliery recently, there might be a number of inferences drawn from it.

There could be no question – and everyone who understood the question was fully persuaded – that the owners meant to make a very serious reduction in the men´s wages. The proposals of the owners were far beyond what it was possible for the men to accept, and there was scarcely a man about the place who was disposed to give them favourable consideration. He did not doubt for a moment that if they were carried into effect without any alteration in the number of men and places there would be a reduction of not less than 20% or 25%. The men who had been doing the work knew what it would take to carry it out strictly, and there was no doubt, if the system were adopted that the men would have to do their work up to the mark, otherwise serious fault would be found.

He thought the best plan would be to see the communication referred to. He did not think they should set themselves in a defiant attitude against the letter from the managing director, or the chairman of the company, inasmuch as it was a communication the whole of the details of which they had not had before them, and it was in answer to the letter which the deputation left, and which had been fully considered by the men. It would not take many minutes to show that the men´s proposals would realise more profit to the company than the owners terms.

Mr. Chambers had stated that 10% more round coal would be made, but the men´s proposals would realise more money from the company than they would realise for a given amount. If a hundred tons realised 5s. on an average, it would amount to £25. If the condition of that coal were improved by the alteration, to the extent of gaining 10% more round coal, that meant he would get 2s. 6d. per ton extra for the 10%, and therefore he would cover the alteration in the price the men had suggested, because if he obtained 85 tons, 85 half-pences would only amount to 3s. 6 ½d. If Mr. Chambers had any confidence in his proposals he would get no less for the 100 tons than 25s. to 30s. in order to cover the extra.

He would not say much more. He thought it would be better for the deputation to see the letter referred to, and make themselves acquainted with it´s contents. Of course they should have an expression of opinion from this meeting.

The letter was the answer to the communication they had made to Mr. Pope, and the manager stated that through the ordinary medium of business they could see it, that was by going to the office.

( A Miner : ” If there is a letter he had better bring it up here.”)

They could not claim that. It was the ordinary way of conducting business between the deputation from the men and the manager of the colliery.

To propose that they did not go near, and to ask for the letter which did not belong to Mr. Chambers but to the company, was out of the ordinary methods.

The Chairman said the men had the support of the district, and were likely to receive that support, but if there was a chance of going to work again at the old rate of wages they should accept it. The district would not allow the Denaby Main men to suffer the least reduction.

A Miner said the letter distinctly stated that there was no alteration.

Mr. Chappell pointed out that they did not know the arguments which Mr. Pope had used.

A Miner said the situation was unaltered. The only question was whether the men had any fresh proposals to make.

The Chairman : No there is none.

Mr. Chappell remarked that the men wished to know what Mr. Pope had said on the whole, and what points he had raised. The letter from the manager was a summary of certain arguments used by the chairman of the company, and if they saw and heard the letter read they would be able perhaps to combat all the points raised.

In his opinion the meeting should authorise the deputation to say that the men, as a body, were prepared to work on the old terms, and that they were fully prepared to try and do their duty, as far as sending the coal out in a proper manner was concerned.

They were quite prepared also to support any alterations in the way of `mottying´ the corves. If there were four men No. 40 the numbers should be 40a, 40b, 40c, and 40d, and that any man who violated the rules would be known

Four men under the old system might fill stuff – one might fill in a faulty manner and the others who filled properly might get the blame. There would be no harm in adopting a system which would fix the blame on the right man, if all of the evils complained of rested indeed with the men.

They were not however, prepared to accept everything which had been said concerning that. He contended all through the dispute that where a colliery had worked in the way that Denaby Main was worked, where the deputies had their own separate districts, the deputies were `set off´ one against the other, to use a mild phrase, and each tried his best to get as much coal out of his district as he could, with a view to lessening the cost. Under that arrangement the men were encouraged to send out large numbers of corves, and it was impossible for a man to do his duty. No man could fill forty tubs in a day properly. Experienced men stated that twenty-five, or from that to twenty-six or twenty-seven, were as much as one man could fill fairly.

( A Miner : With a strain )

One of their experienced deputies said thirty, but that was a very different thing from thirty-five or forty. If men were encouraged to send out large numbers of corves they would be sure to send the coal out in a way not in keeping with the contract. They were of the opinion that the men were not parties on whom the whole of the blame should be laid, and the deputation ought to be prepared to suggest an alteration in the `motties´ and so let the right party be saddled with the blame, if there was any.

He received a letter from a manager of a colliery that morning, where it appears that the same thing in connection with the `motties´ had occurred.

He thought the chief grievance was that a great many `motties´ were lost, and the coal therefore lost, and the men were anxious for some system to be adopted in order to prevent the recurrence of such a condition of affairs. ( Hear, hear )

He ( the speaker ) had a gentleman at his house the other day who said he was endeavouring to bring out a patent to prevent that state of things. Then Mr. Chappell described the invention, and contended that with a few alterations, which he suggested, a great gain would accrue to many of the men, while it would be a loss to those who are in the habit of pilfering from their brother colliers.

The suggestions the men had made were worthy of consideration. He heard favourable reports, but he did not attach much importance to them in the absence of corroborative evidence. Some said the men would commence work again in a very short time, and that the owners were more conciliatory than the men were apt to think. The deputation would perhaps do good service if they met Mr. Chambers and expressed the sentiments of the meeting – viz., that they were willing to work on the old terms, and that they would try to do their duty in sending out coal in a proper manner as far as was possible under the circumstances, and good might result from it.

The Chairman : But on no consideration are we going to separate the packing. That is ” touch me not.”

Mr. Chappell thought that that would not be pressed. He did not like to hear much said about the packing. There were so many people ready to fling things in their faces, and it was rather awkward to combat them.

One man asked him why he made so much row about the packing, and twitted him with trying to throw dust in the eyes of the people, and asking if they gave it up on the same conditions as when they took it, what they had to do with it.

A Miner moved that the same deputation as that which met the manager earlier should meet him again.

This was seconded, and carried unanimously.

Mr. Chappell said a very serious strike not only took place, but was prolonged fourteen weeks through a resolution which was proposed to the effect that the men never met a certain manager again. The directors of the colliery backed the manager up. The resolution was rescinded at an open air meeting on Swinton Common.

Under certain circumstances they might be firm, but there was no danger in that case, as it was an answer to a document. It was only fair that they should know every point which the managing director might raise in his own defence.

The Chairman : We are low enough, and all the district says so.

Mr. Chappell asked those miners who had relatives in South Staffordshire to send them a number of circulars which had been issued asking for funds to support the hands on strike.

The Chairman stated that he was one of a deputation which attended a meeting of No.2 Manvers Main lodge. The members of that lodge promised to give their support to all financial members, but stated that all the funds obtained should be devoted to the benefits of unionists, and that they would not consider the necessities of non-union men.

Another miner spoke highly of the treatment he had received at No.2 Manvers Main lodge. The deputation were received as gentlemen, and received many tokens of sympathy. The deputation were given to understand however, that if they did support any men outside the association the lodge would not support them at all.

A resolution was passed to the effect that if it were discovered that non-unionists had received any support whatever that support would be cut off, so far as gatherings at the pits were concerned.

He proposed a resolution, which was seconded and carried, that a deputation be appointed to wait on the Thrybergh Hall miners.

Mr. Chappell said the non-union men might think the resolutions which had been proposed were very harsh. The association had been going on since 1858.

It started with a tremendous struggle, when an attempt was made on the part of the owners to reduce their wages by 15%. That attempt failed, and the union was started. It´s fortunes had ebbed and flowed since that time. He alluded to the proceedings at the Aberdeen Congress, and said much surprise was expressed there that any resolution was necessary to urge men to join trade organizations.

He had nothing to do with the resolutions against the relief of non-union men, and perhaps his sympathies went a great deal further with those men than those of many present. He did not charge every man who did not belong to the union with not attending to his duties in that respect on the grounds of principle.

There were doubtless men who would not join a union, and who yet would take advantage of the efforts of others. Others did not join because they were pinched in circumstances. Perhaps neither of those reasons were good when fairly weighed.

The reason the resolution mentioned had been passed was that the men were weary of constantly paying, agitating, and sending deputations for the purpose of getting things as straight as they possibly could, while those who were outside the union were reaping the benefit, when they made no sacrifice, and they thought it was high time that the non-unionists found their way into the society and helped other men to maintain intact that which was originally agreed to when the rates for coal getting were first made.

A Miner who said he was a member of the Association said it would be well to assist the non-union men. They should not shut the door altogether on them. The men could not live without support, and destitution drove many men to do that which union men did not like.

After some further discussion, it was decided that the non-union men be not assisted.

Resolutions expressing the thanks of the meeting to the Manvers Main lodges for their offers of assistance were passed, and it was decided that Messrs. Dixon, Hatton, Cooper and Brown be appointed a deputation to visit the Thrybergh Hall lodge at their meeting last ( Friday ) night.