The “Bag Dirt” Strike – Mass Meeting of Men – Annables & Hall

July 1902

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Friday 11 July 1902

Reply to Mr W H Chambers – Mass Meeting of Men – Annables & Hall

A mass meeting of the men was held in the croft, behind the Reresby Arms Hotel, on Monday evening, when Messrs Annables and Hall attended to explain the arbitration report which they had signed. It was evident before the meeting commenced that many of the men had read Mr. Chambers’ letter, and naturally it formed a principal topic of most of the speeches. Mr. E Croft of the Denaby lodge was chairman of the meeting and officials of both local lodges occupied seats on the platform or stood nearby.

The attendance was very large, and when the resolution was put at the close of the meeting to continue on strike it was unanimously adopted.

The chairman began by complimenting the men on their orderly behaviour during the past week and then went on to say that the letter from Chambers which had appeared that morning, “had scarcely a word of truth about it”. (Hear,hear).

“Mr Chambers did not tell the public about the meeting that was held in Sheffield when Mr Pickard, himself (the chairman), Rounds and Nolan were present. Mr Chambers did not tell what they and Ben Pickard said to him.

Mr. Chambers had put only the bright side of his case in the paper. There were always two sides to a question. We cannot say today that we have not gone against the rules of the Association, but if you will tread on a worm it will turn. (Hear, hear) In the course of further remarks Mr. Croft said Mr. Chambers did not tell the newspapers that before the Colliery Company had to send men to get down the bag dirt the miners had already got down their share. Mr. Chambers was showing only one side as the same as he did in 1885. With regard to the strike, some men, he said, had asked: What are you going to do for money? They had stood it for seven months in 1885, and they would not give in now, but would stand like braves with the faces to the foe. (Hear, hear) He and Nolan had told the management on deputations that if the grievance was not remedied the wheels would stand, and the reply they got was, “Let them stand!” It was the wrong way, but what man could stand 17/9 stopped off a three days’ wage. He could tell them that their committee had not been idle, and that circulars of appeal had been sent to the branches. He felt sure if they had strike pay grass would be grown over the wheels before they would go to work on the old lines. (Hear, hear) If the strike was to last a week or two years he hoped they would continue in the same mind as they were then. They could not be worse playing than working. They had been treated as beasts of the field and not as men:”

Mr Hall’s Explanation

Mr Fred Hall, after a request for a hearing said what he was going to say was the truth. He did not wish to go into all the details from the start of the matter, but would briefly say that when the price list was formed for the Cadeby Colliery the matter was referred to the joint Committee of owners and workmen, and after long discussion and an examination of the two pits ultimately the Denaby prices was adopted at the Cadeby Pit.

They made an often interrupted attempt to explain the situation as they had seen it.

The basic point of issue was whether a price list signed by William Chappell in 1885 had been superseded by one of 1890 signed by Ben Pickard On the 30th November 1900, the Denaby Lodge had raised the question of “bag dirt” with the Joint Board. Three of the four arbitrators selected to deal with the question had also dealt with the formulation of a price list for Cadeby Colliery in 1894, this list being identical to the Denaby price list for 1890.

Before they had signed for Cadeby they had been assured by the Chairman of the Coalowners’ that all the items on the price list, including the 11d. a yard for cutting tops, were being paid at Denaby, but this turned out not to be true.

In February 1901, a meeting of representatives from both sides of the industry had taken place at the Victoria Hotel, Sheffield. The men’s representatives had argued that the 11d. a yard ought to be paid independent of any claim for the extra hardness or thickness of the “bag dirt”, but Mr. Chambers, for the company, argued that the tonnage rate included the dropping and removing of “bag dirt” and had backed up his statement by producing the 1885 price list. The miners’ representatives, however, were suspicious of the document and decided to check it’s validity by asking Mr. Chappell to attend a meeting of the Joint Board on the following Saturday. In an informal discussion with Mr. Hall prior to the Joint Board meeting, Mr. Chappell had been unable to confirm or deny anything regarding the 1885 price list but later, in the formal meeting, after inspecting the document in question, he confirmed that it was his writing.

Mr. Hall told the assembled men that he had then made the point, “supposing what Mr. Chappell says is true, all we can say is that the document is in existence. In the year 1890, which was some five years after that document was written, you had a revision of the price list, and when you revised your price list why in the name of fortune, if that was to be so, was not the 1s.4 ‘Ad. for dropping “bag dirt” included in your 1890 list?” Since that time a deputation of the Denaby and Cadeby men and union officials from Barnsley, had argued the matter with Mr. Chambers, and the men themselves had had a ballot on the question (the ballot of September 1901), when they failed to get the requisite number for strike action. Hall argued that the document which had been signed was nothing more than a report to the Joint Committee that, according to the Chappell price list, the halfpenny a ton was clearly stated to be for the removal of “bag dirt”; it was not intended to be an agreement which the Denaby men would have to work to. Their report had said nothing about the thickness of “bag dirt”, and it was unfair of Mr. Chambers to claim that they had signed a document that men would have to get down “bag dirt”, ten feet thick for the halfpenny a ton which was on the 1885 price list tonnage rate. At this point a miner commented: “At one time we have a halfpenny a ton for shift work; that is what it was for. I have thirty years experience at Denaby Main, and I should know a bit”.

Mr. Annables then stated that when the 1885 document was produced and verified by Mr. Chappell it had “knocked all the ground from under their feet”. He went on to say that, “He had understood and always believed and always fought for the 11d. per yard to cover bags and bag dirt, and had always understood and believed for many years that the halfpenny was for shift work. He never knew until the agreement was produced at Sheffield that the halfpenny a ton was for bags and bag dirt”. Annables also repeated the claim made previously by Mr. Hall that all they had signed was a report not an agreement.

Mr Nolan Replies to Mr Hall

After Annables had spoken Mr John Nolan, the Denaby delegate, who was greeted with good humoured calls of “Bag-dirt Johnny,” the same right as any other man on the platform to speak his mind. He stated that on the last occasion that the Denaby officials had been to see Mr. Chappell regarding the price lists Chappell had also said that as he remembered it the halfpenny was part of the agreement because the men wanted something like a “floating halfpenny for shift work: it was not for “bag dirt”. Mr Nolan said the officials had been informed that Mr Chambers had instructed Mr Parker Rhodes says he would not allow the question to go before the Joint Board.

A resolution was proposed by a miner in the meeting that the pits remain closed until a revised price this was agreed upon.

This was seconded, and unanimously adopted.

The gathering then dispersed

From “The Bag Muck Strike” by J.E. McFarlane:

The issues raised at this meeting were complicated because of the diverse interpretations put on the wording of the price lists involved. One of the main points at issue, however, was whether the price list of 1890 superseded the price list of 1885. This should clearly have been the case but because of the “bag dirt” situation which had developed at Denaby Main it was obviously in the company interest to try and keep to the 1885 basis, and this is what Mr. Chambers had done. Although Hall and Annables had at first challenged the existence then the authenticity of the 1885 list, when Chappell had verified his signature they had seen no alternative, “as honourable men”, but to sign the report. In doing so they had given some credence to the owner’s implicit contention that the 1885 list took precedence to that of 1890. The obvious challenge to the Chappell price list of 1885, however, was not on the questions of its existence or authenticity but on its relevance, given the revised price list of 1890. This

This weakness in the company’s case was not explained by the two representatives nor was it later noted that if the company considered the 1885 list as the contract, they had misled the Judge at the County Court by using the list of 1890. In addition, the Joint Board report of Hall and Annables had not been produced as evidence in court, yet, only four months later, it was being used as a major weapon in the armoury of the company. The Denaby lodge officials knew of the existence of the Chappell price list before the deputation to Chambers, but it seems likely that they did not rate its significance very highly and were therefore caught completely unawares by Chambers’ strategy in using the Joint Committee report as a basic text to support his contention that the contract of employment at Denaby was governed by that price list and not that of 1890.