Dispute – May 15th a – Arrival of New Workmen

May 1885

The Denaby Main Dispute
Arrival Of New Workmen
An Exciting Scene

Between three and four o´clock on Tuesday morning the streets of Mexborough presented an animated appearance. Groups of miners, cudgel in hand and pipe in mouth, were to be seen hurrying along the thoroughfares from every possible direction, impelled to one focus, and that was Denaby Main colliery.

The morning was miserably cold, a thick mist enshrouding all but the nearest objects. Women, with shawls over their heads, were as eager as their lords to reach the rendezvous, the colliery gates, by four o´clock, for that was the hour when it was anticipated that the newly-imported workmen were to descend the mine.

Since the first batch of workmen arrived, the Denaby Main men have taken to wearing walking-sticks, and on Tuesday morning every piece of wood which could safely be brought under this designation was to be observed in the hands of the `early birds´ who were wending their way to the colliery. Some of these useful adjuncts to the speed of the pedestrian were of abnormal, even frightful, proportions ; others on the contrary, were of the description commonly known as`switches´ but the majority were of a more serviceable kind, fit to be utilised as walking-sticks or in a manner characteristic of the Dennybrook shillelaghs.

The inhabitants of Doncaster Road, Mexborough, who were not wakened by ` the clang of the wooden shorn ` or the furious knocking at the doors of sleepy miners, who were drowning their sorrows in the arms of Morpheus, could not reasonably be expected to escape another indication, in the shape of the tin-whistle band, which arrived on the scene about half past three. Never did a big drummer make a nearer approach to breaking the head of his instrument of torture than the stalwart miner who officiated in that capacity early on Tuesday morning.

He thumped the parchment as though a `black-sheep´ were within the drum and his life depended on reaching the hated one with the butt end of the drumstick. As the whistles, shrieking their defiance of the new arrivals, broke into a decidedly new version of ” See the conquering hero comes,” human nature could endure no more, the spell was broken, and dozens of sleepy sconces were to be witnessed along the line of the route, peeping from upper chambers.

As the band marched along the streets the stragglers making their way to the rendezvous `fell in´ two by two, and by the time Denaby Main was reached there was a very formidable-looking procession, some of the components of which looked in the the mist as if they were fit for anything, from pitch and toss to something more harmful to the individuals against whom this demonstration in force was directed. The members of the motley procession, although well prepared for emergencies, did not intend, as one of the party remarked, to `take t´ law into their own hands´, but simply to make a display in front of the colliery – to act in the same manner as the British fleet which steamed up the Dardanelles in Lord Beaconsfield´s regime. By the time the colliery gates were reached the procession numbered several hundreds. Early astir as the men had been the police located at the pit were abroad earlier, and through the mist the forms of the guardians of the peace could be observed moving to and fro along the causeway. Owing to the impenetrable fog the main object of the expedition – that of negotiating with the new workmen – was defeated. The only vulnerable spot on the colliery premises is that border -ing on the river Don. This is the sole point from whence a view of the shaft can be obtained, but on Tuesday morning even the shaft was invisible, and this being the case it was decided to parade up and down the village in the hope that the fog would clear away. For two hours the procession pursued the tactics of the `brave old Duke of York,´ who

– with twice five thousand men
Marched them up to the top of a hill
And marched them down again.

To and fro, with monotonous regularity, moved the long column of colliers and their wives, the proceedings being varied by the witticisms of the women, who, notwithstanding the severe cold and their damp gloomy surroundings, kept up their spirits. Bitterly as the men of Denaby Main hate the new arrivals, the feelings entertained by their better – and in some cases bigger – halves towards the `black-sheep´ or `t´knobsticks´ were still more bitter.

A bystander on Tuesday morning happened to have read that poetical effusion entitled, ” The hymn of the Denaby Main women,” and seized on the opportunity to remark that the only hymn he had heard that morning from the aggregation of shawled female was ” Baa!”

After some time had been spent by the crowd in making the early morning hideous with `tones of wild resonance´ it was decided to make a move in the direction of the deputies residences. A halt was called at the front of each house and a prolonged series of yells, groans, and other noises burst from the throats of the assembly. No further demonstration however, was made. Some of the wives of the deputies seemed to enjoy this outburst of music, and were to be seen laughing heartily from the bedroom windows. As one after another deputy was observed wending his way to the colliery yard the groaning was resumed, but no attempt was made to ill-use them, they being efficiently guarded by the police.

One incident might have led to an outbreak of hostilities on the part of the infuriated crowd, occurred during the proceedings. A number of women were `booing´ at the top of their voices, when a member of the police force threatened to take some of them `to Rotherham´. The ladies immediately surrounded him, and he was in great danger of being ill-treated. The miners closed around, andeveryone present thought a storm was brewing. Cries of ” Chuck him out,” arose but wiser counsels prevailed, and the policeman was allowed to make his escape.

The crowd shortly afterwards moved of in the direction of the colliery gates, where a strong body of police was stationed. Following the advice given at the meeting on the previous night, the men did not stay long in one place, but kept marching backwards and forwards to the strains of the tin-whistle band.

One of the men employed as a `hanger on´ was escorted to work by the band and the whole procession amidst a scene of indescribable uproar. The police near the gates would not allow anyone onto and on the railway gates or even look into the yard, and consequently the men, so far as the new arrivals were concerned, were no wiser than they had been previously.

One of the officials of the colliery was informed by a friend that he was blamed for bringing the new workmen in, but this he indignantly denied. He very wisely made his way homewards by another route, however.

The more prominent officials, especially those against whom the men have a decided antipathy did not go to work on Tuesday morning, while the miners were at Denaby Main.

One of the men employed in the colliery yard observed that ” there would never be anyone at Denaby Main `knobsticking´,” but his hearers emphatically asserted that those who had arrived must be `kept down´. Several miners stated that there was a large arrival of fresh workmen during the night, but the men on watch asserted that no one had entered the colliery, and that the five men who were working had walked from Rotherham by way of Thrybergh Road.

As in the previous instance, the new arrivals sleep on beds of straw in the waggon sheds. Some of the more fiery spirits were in favour of a resort to force, but it was decided to await a favourable opportunity, when negotiations would be opened up with the men.

The procession left Denaby Main at half past six, and marched to Mexborough in an orderly manner, the general feeling among the miners being that the new workmen will leave the colliery premises of their own accord.

Subsequently a private meeting was held, to which the representatives of the Press were not admitted.

The men are in a very excited state, but there are no apprehensions of a riot