Chapter 4 Conflict at the Collieries

By 1869 Denaby Colliery had its first strike, a lock out one, over the management´s refusal to recognise membership of the Yorkshire Miners Association. Other strikes took place in 1875 and 1877. Each occasion meant great hardship for both the men and their hapless families, but yet a unity and camaraderie existed, with women supporting and encouraging their husbands. During a strike in 1884/5 rioting took place, and more than 200 striking miners were evicted from their homes, for non payment of rents. In 1887 all 1,500 men employed at Denaby Colliery were made idle, not however as the result of a dispute but due to a fire which completely destroyed the engine house.

The inhabitants awoke on the morning of Christmas Day, to find that fire had ruined the hydraulic winding engine, and the huge building that housed it. The Sheffield Telegraph and Star initiated an appeal to help the workforce and their families, who had been left without the means of earning a livelihood.

0ne of the worst of all the strikes during the history of the two collieries was the “Bag Muck” strike of 1902/3, especially for the families housed in the thousand or so, properties, owned by the company. The threat of eviction once more was used against the men.

The strike began at the end of June 1902, but it was July 26th before the men received their first strike pay from the union. This amounted to 9/- per man, and 1/- per child per week, little enough but at least it brought some comfort for the hungry. Soup and bread was served to children in schools, and donations came from as far afield as Grimsby and Manchester Thousands of loaves of bread were distributed from the Masons´ Arms, Mexborough and by Mr. John Lowe of the Station Hotel, Conisboro. The Salvation Army as well as other churches, the Castle Inn Conisboro and the Park and Plant Hotels, Mexborough all ran soup kitchens to help alleviate the hunger. Mr. Weston of the Reresby Arms, Mr. Whittaker, pawnbroker, Mr. Morris the potato merchant, Mr. Appleyard of the Croft, and many others all gave food.

By Christmas the strike was 26 weeks old, and some of the families had already fled the village. There was no coal for heating or cooking, and furniture and clothing had to be pawned. Food was expensive to buy, butter 1/4d per lb, fowls, 2/6d each and rabbits 2/- per couple. Flock beds were 4/ 1 1d and solid gold wedding rings were 5/ 1 1d including a present, however few could afford food never mind the price of a ring in 1902. During December the colliery company were granted eviction orders against 750 of their tenants.

The evictions began on January 6th 1903. There were terrible scenes of deprivation when the families were forced to leave their homes, and have their few possessions put out into the streets. Rioting took place and Lord Asquith, MP for Morley, and Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire came personally to read the riot act.

It was a cruelly cold winter that year and those evicted had to live as best they could in tents and huts on muddy ground with none of today´s modern facilities. A few did have friends and relatives to take them in and some schools and churches opened their doors to provide shelter. However the majority of the village establishments were afraid to offer this facility due to their close connection with the colliery company.

These strikes spelt disaster for the men and their families, especially when the company sued and were awarded damages of £6 per man because contracts had been broken. There was little financial help from local relieving officers and less from neighbours and relatives who were all similarly affected by lack of money.

The mining community in general were not renowned for being great savers. There were exceptions of course, but most lived such hard and dangerous lives that they gave little thought for tomorrow.

Colliery owners were renowned for their lack of sympathy for the strikers´ suffering families, so the men were forced to return to work on 22nd March 1903, much impoverished and in debt.

The owners´ attitude seemed different in times of war. During the Boer War for example, families of any collier called up for active service were allowed to live rent free and given free coal. Wives were paid 5/- per week, with 1/6d for each child.

Colliery workmen also gave 6d per week, boys 3d per week for families of serving colleagues. Coal from Denaby Colliery at that time was 19/- per ton for “Barnsley hards”.

Further strikes occurred in 1921, 1926, 1971 and 1972, but the longest and the most bitterly fought one of 1984/5 led finally to the closure of Cadeby. Denaby having already closed in 1968 when most, of the workforce had been transferred to Cadeby. At Denaby fifty million tons of coal had been mined, mainly by hand and transported from the coal face with working pit ponies, the last colliery in the country to employ such antiquated methods.

Cadeby Colliery Disaster Mining has always been a dangerous industry with many accidents and fatalities. Denaby and Cadeby collieries both suffered their share of these, causing considerable anguish in the community.

July 8th 1912, was a happy and memorable day, when King George V and Queen Mary paid a visit to Conisborough Castle. People turned out in their hundreds to line their route, and packed into the Castle grounds to catch a glimpse of the royal pair. There was a holiday atmosphere and much celebration, resulting in many of the workforce absenting themselves from their jobs.

In the early hours of July 9th an explosion at Cadeby Colliery took the lives of 35 men. Colleagues immediately went to the rescue of the injured, but a few hours later a further explosion killed 53 more, both miners and rescue teams alike. This disaster stands out in the history of the two collieries, because of the bravery of the rescuers, and the large number of fatalities, of which there would have been considerably more, if it had not been for the royal visit.

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