July 1st 1881.
The Denaby Main Miners.
Singular Proceedings. Pony Drivers Walk Out
At an early hour on Monday morning proceedings of a rather singular type occurred at Denaby Main Colliery. The lads employed at the pit, and known as pony-drivers, assembled near the colliery and behaved in a very excited manner. Although it is nothing extraordinary to see juvenile members of the mining community en masse, in this way and to hear them raising strains the reverse of harmonious, it was very plain from the shouting and yelling on the present occasion that something out of the ordinary way was about to happen.
A tall well-built youth, known by his comrades as `Sixty´ and said to be the oldest driver under the ground at Denaby Main, was apparently the ringleader, and the young gentleman from Mexborough especially played a very prominent part in the demonstration.
One after another mounted the wall on the roadside and in oratorical fashion, announced that the time had come when they should demand their rights ; that they would no longer submit, in this free and happy country, to work for almost nothing, but, in the name of Justice, would have a fair day´s pay for a fair day´s work.
Of course the applause on all hands was most hearty – some of the mothers, too, happening to overhear their offspring preparing their `speeches´ the night before. Were attracted to the spot, and, at times their vocal organs could be heard soaring above the rest.
The colliers were quite taken by surprise at this crisis of affairs and were somewhat chagrined to know that they were thrown out of work. The men advised that the youngsters, who had now turned ” masters of the situation ” should talk over matters with them, and later on a crowded meeting was held in the lodge-room, Mason´s Arms, Mexborough.
The pony-drivers rose in rapid succession and declared that it was preposterous to expect them to work the hours they did for the `paltry pittance´ they received.
During the course of the debate, which was a very heated one, it transpired that the lads were paid by contractors, to whom certain portions of the work had been sold, and the opinion was expressed that if the wages were paid by the company, instead, the drivers would be better off.
The wages were said to run from 1s. 6d. to 3s., according to age and ability, and that, under the present system, the lads did not receive advances when they ought. They would be satisfied with an advance of 3d. and 2d. per day respectively.
The pony-drivers were supported in their contention by many of the men.
After a protracted sitting, a deputation from the boys went to have an interview with the Manager, he however was not in his office, and it was agreed that he should be seen on the morrow.
On Tuesday morning a second meeting was held in the same lodge-room and Mr. Chappell, secretary of the Rotherham and District Miners´ Association was in attendance. He was informed of the grievances, and, after a discussion lasting over two hours, it was agreed by the drivers that work should be resumed on the same terms as before, but on the understanding that the wage list should be revised and that in future they work for the company and not for the contractors.
It was thus fully expected by the men that the dispute was pro tempore at an end. But, unfortunately, subsequent events proved that this was not so.
No sooner had the lads left the meeting than they made it known they didn´t intend going back to work. Some of them said, if the men were such —— as to be guided by Chappell, they had more sense.
The colliers endeavoured to persuade them to start work again, see what terms would then be come to them on their behalf, and then, if not satisfactory, give proper notice. The boys quickly gave their advisers to understand that they could manage their own affairs, and the men found it futile to talk to them on the matter.
There was quite a scene at Denaby Main during the day, and in the evening a party of pony-drivers marched to Mexborough, some of them armed with sticks. On reaching the habitations of their co-workers they cried out, ” No work ” and a good deal of shouting and excitement prevailed. The mob was cautioned by the police, but the gentlemen in blue were only rewarded with derisive laughter.
It is expected that some of the offenders will be prosecuted.
On Wednesday morning only about twenty lads `turned up´ at the pit and the consequence was that when the miners assembled in the yard, expecting that work was to be resumed, they were told by the officials there was nothing for them to do and they had to return to their homes.
Some of those youths who ventured to go to the colliery had to be taken by their fathers, for fear of being molested, threats having been made use of against any who returned to work before all went. It is said that the pony-drivers living at Denaby Main would have willingly gone back to their duties had it not been for the conduct of the Mexborough lads.
A mob collected near the pit and stones were freely hurled at those who were seen to go towards the pit-bank. On the conclusion of the day `shift´ – two o´clock – the road and approaches to the colliery were crowded by a number of the drivers, their object being to `thrash´ those who would be brought up in the cage. But the youths were taken through the mob by Mr. Slack, the deputy manager and the policeman, and none of them were interfered with. The disturbance ceased by degrees, and when comparative tranquillity had arrived the young men seemed tired of their proceedings and told the colliers that they might expect them at their work in the morning.
Accordingly, all of them re-entered the colliery workings yesterday, and the whole of the men are now again employed.
It was freely reported that the drivers intend giving fourteen days´ notice, as there appears no chance of their position being improved