The “Bag Dirt” Strike – Wednesday Interview with Mr Chambers

July 1902

Mexborough and Swinton Times July 4th 1902

Interview with Mr Chambers

On Monday June 30th, the Denaby and Cadeby miners representatives tried to arrange an interview with the pit management for the following morning but Mr. W. H. Chambers, the managing director of the company, had not returned from his holiday in Ireland and no meeting was possible until Wednesday afternoon.

The 10 representatives of the men, who had been deputed to lay the grievances before the management, and an interview with Mr WH Chambers, the managing director, on Wednesday afternoon at the colliery offices Conisborough.

In the evening the deputation reported to a large meeting of workmen on the Denaby football field, the speaking been done from the grand stand.

The proceedings at Dean to, as reported, may be summarised:

Mr Chambers requested that all grievances should be laid before them, and not only the question of the “bag dirt.” The civil matters were dealt with one after another. In regard to the “bag dirt” the deputation made put forward a suggestion for a compromise for the removal of “bag dirt”, which in some parts of the Drift District of Denaby pit was more than thirty inches thick. Mr. Chambers however, when asked if he would attend to the last ten inches if the drift men got down the first eighteen inches or two feet of the dirt, had replied that he would not agree to anything; the matter had been before the County Court and in February 1901 four arbitrators, including two representatives of the men (Messrs. Frederick Hall and William Annables), had signed a document agreeing that a halfpenny a ton on the price list covered the cost of the “bag dirt”. Mr. Chambers had argued that this halfpenny covered the “bag dirt” question even if the thickness went up to ten feet. He had then offered to take over the whole of the work dealing with “bag dirt” if the colliers in all the districts of the pits, not only those affected by “bag dirt”, gave up the halfpenny a ton. On the demand for the provision of a proper price list for contractors, Mr. Chambers had said he was prepared to consider the question if the men concerned made application for it. He had declined to give any undertaking with regard to fines for sending out dirty coal, losing lockers’ etc., but on the question of lads’ wages he was willing to submit the differences to arbitration. On the final point at issue, the making up of wages for men working in bad and difficult places, Mr. Chambers had claimed that he was always willing to make up the wages of good fair working men and had given instructions that that should be done.

The “bag muck” question was the obvious sticking point and it was this which commanded the attention of most of the speakers at the meeting. The suggestion by Mr. Chambers that a half-penny a ton was put on the price list to cover bag-dirt if it went up to ten feet in thickness was “not at all a likely arrangement” and the general consensus was that “the extra work should be paid for, and the colliery company were the persons to pay for it”. On the “bag dirt” question the position of Chambers was reported as being adamant, especially since he believed that, as the rules of the Y.M.A. had been broken, there would be no strike pay for the men. He had told them distinctly, “I shan’t budge one iota. You can report to the men that if they are prepared to pay a halfpenny (a ton) all through the pits (the plural suggests that this would have applied to Cadeby colliery as well as those districts at Denaby which had no “bag dirt”) we will do the “bag dirt”. . . The colliery owners have plenty of money, and they are as prepared to stand as you are:’

After hearing the report of the deputation to the colliery management, the assembled men re-affirmed the resolution to continue the struggle, but  they also passed unanimously a resolution asking for an explanation from Hall and Annables, the Union men who had signed the arbitration agreement mentioned by Mr. Chambers, and for them to visit Denaby Main. This arbitration agreement had caught the local union officials by surprise. In the words of Mr. G. H. Hurst, the Cadeby Lodge Secretary, it came before them that day, “like a shot out of a gun”. The officials of the two lodges claimed that they had the right to have the contents of such an award submitted to them before it was signed, and also called into question the justice and equity of the arrangements.

The timing of the Denaby and Cadeby dispute had proved inconvenient to the managing director of the collieries and he had complained of the interruption to his holiday. It was also badly timed for the district officials of the Y.M.A., the majority of whom were attending the Miner’s Federation Conference at Southport. The resolutions passed at the Denaby meeting on Wednesday night were despatched by telegram, to Ben Pickard, M.P. the Yorkshire Miners’ Secretary, at Southport, who replied as follows:-

“Sorry you have not taken advice of Executive Committee. Hall and Annables cannot attend until Monday next. Will men attend at 5.30 o’clock?”

In response to this a telegram was sent stating that a mass meeting of the men would be held on Monday July 7th, at Denaby, to hear Messrs. Hall and Annables