The “Bag Dirt” Strike – Letter from Mr W.H. Chambers

July 1902

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Friday 11 July 1902

Position of the Colliery Company – Letter from Mr W.H. Chambers

On the morning of Monday July 7th, the following letter from Mr. Chambers, was published in the local press. In addition to restating the company’s position, the letter throws further light on the history of the “bag dirt” question.

“I have seen so many contradictory statements made with reference to the strike that I think it is incumbent upon me to place those facts which are not in dispute before the public and the men, and I believe that numbers of the latter are entirely in the dark as to the truth of the matter. I avoid technical details, as the public cannot understand or follow them.

In some parts of our pits the strata known by the name of “bag dirt” comes in between the upper portion of the seam of coal, called the Day Bed, and that portion of the seam immediately below it, technically known as the “Bags”. There is no dispute as to the fact that where this substance exists, it must at some time or another be got down, and when got down is used by the men for building the pack walls which support the roof and roads. No dispute arose with reference to this work for many years, in fact, not until after the Cadeby Colliery was started.

The Denaby and Cadeby price lists on this point are identical, and the items affecting it have existed in the Denaby price list for 16 years past. In 1896 the Cadeby men sought to obtain extra payment in respect of this work. They brought an action in the County

Court, at Doncaster, when the whole facts were inquired into, and judgement was given against them. In November 1900 the matter was brought by the men before the joint committee of owners and men established for dealing with disputes as to wages in South Yorkshire. At that meeting the men asked for additional payment in respect of the work, or that the Company should take it off their hands. I at once expressed my willingness to take the latter course in return for the amount they were paid for doing the work. Four arbitrators were appointed by the joint committee, Messrs. Hall and Annables for the men, and Messrs. Longbotham and Thirkell for the owners, and the following, verbatim copy of their unanimous report and award, speaks for itself:

Sheffield, 9th February, 1901.

To the Chairman and members of the Joint Committee of the South Yorkshire Coalowners’ Association, and the Yorkshire Miners’ Association. Gentlemen—On the 30th November last, you appointed us to act as a sub-committee to investigate questions in dispute at this colliery, with respect to the payment for bag-dirt.

At this Joint Committee meeting, it is stated on behalf of the men:-

  1. That they wanted more money for it.
  2. Or that the company take it into their own hands.

We have had several meetings, both amongst ourselves, and also with Mr. Chambers and the men, and have made an underground inspection. On behalf of his company, Mr. Chambers said he was willing to accept the proposal made at the Joint Committee meeting that the company do the work themselves. He stated the amount now paid for it was 1/2d. a ton.

Messrs Hall and Annables would not admit this 1/2d. a ton, unless a document wherein it was clearly stated (such document being the original price list drawn up, and signed on behalf of the men by some person authorised to act on their behalf) was produced.

On February 9th (this day) this document was produced, and submitted to Mr. William Chappell, who, we were informed had written and signed it, and in the presence of the four arbitrators, Mr. Chambers on behalf of the Denaby company, and three workmen, Nolan, Crofts and Rounds, Mr. Chappell declared that the document was in his writing, all of it, and he was authorised to act on behalf of the men.

It is here made clear that cutting top coal in gates and wastes, and dropping and removing bag-dirt is included in the 1s.4 ½ d a ton, and that 1/2d a ton clearly stated as appertaining to this work.

We now beg to report that it has been established to our satisfaction that the price fixed for doing this work is ½  d. a ton —We are, Gentlemen, your obedient servants,

JON. LONGBOTHAM       F. J. JONES, Chairman of Joint Committee


The foregoing award was produced and signed by Mr. Jones, as chairman of the South Yorkshire Coalowners’ Association, and by Mr. Parrott, on behalf of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association, at the next meeting of the Joint Committee.

In those cases where the men have not got down the bag-dirt, as they were bound to do, I have adhered to what I stated, and have sent men paid by the company to do the work which the men have preferred to leave undone, but in no case have I deducted as much as ½ d. per ton as I was entitled to, but have deducted the actual amount paid, and no more.

On the 13th February last some of the Denaby men again raised the question, and brought another action in the Doncaster County Court to recover the amount so deducted by the company, and again the matter was inquired into, and again judgement was given against them. These are the simple facts, and I am perfectly certain that with full knowledge of the truth the men could never have been induced to take the illegal course they have done. The trouble comes from a few men working in one district of the Denaby pit, and from those alone. They tell the other men the dirt has got thicker and that they have not been getting properly paid for doing this work. There is no need to disprove this statement, which I can easily do. They cannot have it both ways. Either the work pays them, and they want to keep it, or it does not, and they want to be rid of it, but where they have preferred to leave the work undone I have had it done for less than the halfpenny, and the balance of that is in their pockets.

If the men throughout the pits want to be relieved of the work, then the company at any time, throughout either one of the pits, will take it off their hands for the halfpenny they are paid for it. The men, however, who allege cause for complaint, about bag-dirt, are in fact better off than any man in either of the two pits. I had the wages paid to these men got out from the 1st January last up to the end of May. These men during that period received an average wage of 9s.4d. a day, as against an average wage of 8s.4d. throughout the rest of the pit. They tell the other men they are being injured, and when an offer has been made to them to leave this part of the pit in which they are so badly used, according to their own account, and go into another they have invariably declined, and the figures I have given above show why they have declined.

I have known many disputes in my time, but never one with such an entire absence of good cause for it as the present one. It is a great pity that the men, as a body, have been misled and induced to take the illegal course they have taken and risk the consequences it entails.— I am, yours faithfully,


Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries (Ltd.), Denaby Main, July 5th, 1902