The Evictions of 1885

January 1903

Mexborough and Swinton Times, January 2.

The Evictions of 1885.  

The well-known axiom that history repeats itself, will, unless something unforeseen has the fortune to occur by Monday next, to prevent it, painfully illustrated in our mix, in the form of the evictions for which the Denaby and Cadeby Colliery Company has prepared.

In view of the topic which is now in everybody’s mind in Denaby and district just now, it is interesting to glance back into the past, and see you what were the experiences of the miners nearly 18 years ago – experiences which we think are now but a name to the majority of persons concerned in the events of the next few days.

On turning to the pages of the “Mexborough Times” of April 10, 1885, we find that on the Wednesday in that week about 300 people were turned out of house and home, to be followed by about 400 more the week after.

At that time there was considerable trouble in finding accommodation for the sufferers, as all houses in Mexborough were fully occupied, and shortly prior to evictions an epidemic of smallpox had passed over the village of Denaby, and although it was subsiding at the time we now refer to, the inhabitants of the neighbouring townships were somewhat uneasy lest they should take infection in extending hospitality.

The report of proceedings contains the following:

“At an early hour the inhabitants of the village were alarmed by the appearance of a strong body of police, marching with soldiery step and military gait through the main streets of the village. Their presence in large numbers, and at so unwanted an hour, created great consternation amongst the miners and their families.

Children were hurriedly washed and dressed, the customary household duties of the housewives were abandoned, the breakfast remained untasted, and hasty preparations were made, in the event of their being forced into the street.

The weather was bitterly cold – cold enough for December – as one of the constables remarked. The easterly wind swept along the Valley, and struck a chill into the bodies of the ill clad families of the miners; but this was all forgotten in the numbing anguishing feelings which rent the hearts of those who ill fate it was to be rendered homeless.

The Rotherham contingent of police, were in strong force, were “officered” by Superintendent Hammond and Inspector Birkinshaw. The body of men were marched to the scene of operations along the M.S.and L. line of rail, and was stationed a few yards on the Conisbrough side of the houses where the ejectment orders were to be carried out.

The Chief Constable of the Riding (captain Russell) the Chief Clerk (Mr W.S.Gill), and superintendent Dykes (Doncaster) shortly afterwards arrived on the scene. The constables were drafted from Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Leeds, Bradford, Doncaster, Mexborough, Swinton, Wakefield, Rawmarsh and most other places in the Riding.

The sad work then commenced, Inspector Onten, with a small force of police, commenced in Rossington Street, and afterwards ejected the families from Tickhill and Melton Street. The inhabitants were first warned to get ready. The men were under the impression that if they did not touch their goods themselves the company would not be able to recover the rent due. In every instance the occupant refused to take their furniture into the road themselves, and the police were marched into the houses, and ordered to take the furniture and deposit it in the roadway, immediately opposite the respective houses.

The occupants of the cottages were left standing in the road with their goods, the doors of the houses being locked, and the windows nailed as to the last piece of furniture was taken into the roadway. The scene was a very sorrowful one, some of the police engaged in the work being as much affected as the evicted families.

Women were standing disconsolate by the side of their scanty stock of household furniture, anxiously asking where they were to go. Children were crying, some already feeling the effects of the weather, which was miserably cold for an April day. Some of the women who possessed more fortitude than their weaker sisters, were urging the latter to “cheer up,” while others were talking of making their way to the workhouse with their families. Others again expressed their determination to starve rather than go to the poorhouse. The men were standing listlessly idle, talking in low tones, and discussing the chances of obtaining shelter for their families for the night.

The police undertook their duties with a due regard for the feelings of the families to be ejected, and were not molested in any way, the crowd which congregate around the doors of observing a strict silence, the men having passed resolutions at their meetings in favour of keeping the peace. Some laughter was occasioned at one portion of the proceedings by the overturning of a large tub of rainwater, which caused a general scattering of the bystanders. Indignation was expressed in several quarters at the large force of police presence.

The groups of crying children watching the desolation of their houses, with frightened faces, completed one of the saddest scenes ever witnessed in Yorkshire. The furniture was piled in heaps opposite each house, the majority of it being worth little, the 13 week strikes having made sad inroads on the little stock possessed by the cottagers.

It was some hours before any attempt at organisation was made, into such a state of demoralisation had the men being thrown by the onlookers for action on the part of the officers of the law. When they collected their scattered senses they rose to the emergency. Wagons were borrowed from Mr R. Dickinson and others for the removal of the furniture, and offers of help, as they appeared, were quickly made known to the leaders of the men.

The chief Constable and superintendent Gill journeyed to Mexborough, and made arrangements, by which the use of Mr Henry Waddington’s auction room was obtained, and Mr W Chappell, the secretary of the Association, provided 10 houses in Swinton for the reception of some of the homeless families. The Salvation Army to their lasting credit, threw open the “barracks” for the reception of the women and children, and a great deal of private benevolence was bestowed on the unfortunate ones who had been removed from their dwellings.

Mr Dickinson of Mexborough, and Mr Horsefield of Conisbrough, threw open their barns for the reception of furniture, the latter also offering to Lodge a few families, and supply them with fuel. Mr R Champney of Mexborough, kindly placed a horse at the disposal of the men, who attached it to one of the wagons, laden with furniture. In other cases the wagons heavily laden with goods and chattels of the evicted miners, were dragged along the streets to their destination by means of ropes, the miners yoking themselves to the shafts and working with a will.

Numerous women and children were asked to share scanty meals, and were invited indoors to warm themselves. One good Samaritan spent a good deal of money in refreshments for the evicted ones, and many a person will remember with gratitudethe frequent supplies of hot ale at a time when comfortably clad persons were to be observed shivering in their topcoats. Mr Lowe of the George and Dragon Inn, accommodated several families.

On Thursday morning, Mr C Scorah, Butcher, distributed £100 of beef and mutton amongst the men on strike, the reverent C.J.Leslie also gave away a hundredweight of peas, a quart of peas being given with each piece of meat. Only yesterday a commercial traveller at the Montagu Arms, after expressing sympathy with the men, presented them with a sovereign, which he said they could spend in beer or whatever they thought fit. They decided to spend it on soup and bread for the youngsters, which intention they communicated to the donor, on which he gave them an additional sovereign.

Over 100 families were evicted in what is termed Irish row, Cliff View, Annerley buildings, Cross Row, and Doncaster road.Amid the thousands who visited the village on Tuesday, not a laugh was to be heard, and the conversation was conducted in a subdued tone.

The number of cats evicted with their owners was somewhat astonishing and “poor pussy” seemed, if anything, more concerned than its master in many cases. Youngsters were to be observed taking a last hug of their prized furry favourites

The Chapel at Clay Lane Mexborough, belonging to the Primitive Methodists, the Doncaster Road Free Church, Mount Zion school room, Mr Henry Waddington’s assembly rooms, the Salvation Army barracks, Mr Meggitt´s Bone Mills and other places were thrown open for the reception of the homeless families. The evictions were completed by two o’clock on Tuesday afternoon,”

Such is the mournful account of the events at Denaby in 1885. The most noticeable feature in the report is a peaceful attitude assumed by the men; an attitude which we trust will be maintained next week, shoud the worst come to the worst, for no good can be attained by any action that is not strictly peaceful.