Wrenthorpe Colliery 5: summer of strikes and enlisting

The colliery closed in 1900 but reopened seven years later, trading as part of the Low Laithes Colliery Company Limited.

Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War the mine was called which lasted for much of the summer. It’s traced in the Yorkshire newspapers.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 6 June 1914

STRIKE AT A WAKEFIELD PIT

The employees, numbering between 1,200 and 1,300 at Wrenthorpe Colliery, Wakefield (Low Laithes Colliery Company), have now been out strike over week, and the pit ponies have been drawn out. The sudden cessation of work arose through the men at the coal face being requested to hew coal to the depth of one yard six inches instead of one yard ten and a half or eleven inches, as before. This, the men contended, was contrary to the existing agreement. The management, on the other hand, confess that they are somewhat a loss to understand the attitude of the men below ground. It is understood that a deputation of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association will interview the management on Monday with the view of arriving at a settlement of the trouble.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Saturday 13 June 1914

STRIKE WRENTHORPE PIT

At an adjourned meeting, yesterday, of the employees of the Wrenthorpe Colliery, Wakefield, who have been strike about a fortnight, the question of returning to work on the old conditions in accordance with the offer of the management was further considered. In the course of the meeting, however, it was stated that the deputies had gone on strike for an increase in wages, and this practically broke up the meeting. Deputies’ pickets were afterwards put out in the neighbourhood of the pit. It would thus appear that the settlement of the trouble is now as remote as ever.

Leeds Mercury
Thursday 18 June 1914

WAKEFIELD MINERS’ STRIKE

The strike at Wrenthorpe Colliery, near Wakefield, still continues. Yesterday pickets of the miners met the surfacemen on their way to work and endeavoured to persuade them to stay away and throw in their lot with the strikers. In some cases they were successful. Out of the sixty-one top men who went to work Monday, fewer than a score remain.

By mid-June the colliery’s owners came up with a tactic to break the strike. They issued summons to about half the pit’s workers, suing them for breach of contract, as they left work without giving 14 days’ notice.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Monday 22 June 1914

THE COLLIERY STRIKE: NEARLY 600 SUMMONSES

Arising out the strike at the Wrenthorpe Colliery of the Low Laithes Colliery Company, several weeks ago, through which between 1,200 and 1,300 men and boys have been rendered idle, summonses have been served 583 of the employees for breach of contract, and these are returnable before the county magistrates to-day.

Our Wakefield correspondent learns that as the strikers allege the management have been guilty of a breach of agreement requesting the men hew six inches less coal than formerly (thus throwing wrong the prices list agreed upon), it is the intension of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association to make it a test case for the whole the county.

The Yorkshire Evening Post describes the scenes as the miners marched from the Colliery Newton Bar to the Court in Wood Street. And the union’s trump card – to file a counter claim.

Yorkshire Evening Post
Monday 22 June 1914

MINERS’ PROCESSION TO POLICE COURT
WRENTHORPE STRIKE SEQUEL
OVER 500 COLLIERS SUMMONED AT WAKEFIELD

Strange scenes were witnessed at Wakefield to-day in connection with the prosecution of 583 miners, employees at the Wrenthorpe Colliery, where a strike progress. As early as eight o’clock the summoned miners, with their womenfolk and children, and other sympathisers, gathered the gates the Wrenthorpe Pit, which is owned by the Low Laithes Colliery Company (Limited).

Two hours later several thousand people had assembled. The men passed the time by cheering and enthusiastically greeting various prominent “deputies” and leaders as they arrived on the spot, and subsequently a brass band attended, and a procession was formed, and headed by the band and the branch banners of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association marched into the town via Northgate.

Interested crowds of people lined the route, and when the procession reached Wood Street there was soon a crowd of many thousands outside the West Riding Court House. A large force of police officers was in the vicinity, but there was no disorder. The miners cheered lustily, and then the procession broke up, the summoned men filing into the Court House in an orderly manner.

By the time the defendants were accommodated the court was crowded. Mr Percy Tew, the Deputy-Lieutenant of the County, presided on the Bench, and among those present the well of the court was Major Atcherley, Chief Constable of the West Riding.

Mr G E Blakeley, solicitor, of Dewsbury, prosecuted; and Mr A W Willey, of Leeds, appeared for the defence.

Mr Blakeley said the summonses had been issued under the Employer and Workman Act of 1875 against 583 workmen, and the claim in respect of each was a sum of £3 for damages sustained by the company in consequence the breach of contract by the various defendants leaving work without giving the necessary fourteen days’ notice.

OBJECTIONS TO THE SUMMONSES

Mr Arthur Willey submitted that the summons and the claims were bad, because they were deficient, not giving the date of the alleged breach of contract. It was true, he was informed, the contract was broken by notice not having been given; but some of the men had worked at the colliery for fifteen or twenty years.

How could he file a counter-claim on behalf of any one of those men? Any counter-claim filed two days before the hearing the case, and it was impossible to do it on particulars which he had not got.

“I am,” he added, “acting for nearly 600 men in regard to a dispute which has been going since May 21. People who bring 500 people here indiscriminately ought to let me have full particulars. These men work in different shifts. Thirty of them have prodded me with medical certificates to prove their inability work on certain dates, but how can I produce them when I do not know the date on which they are accused of breaking the contract?”

QUESTION OF COUNTER-CLAIM

The claim was too general, he added, and was entitled particulars and an adjournment to give him an opportunity of counter-claiming.

“With regard to the men having broken a contract,” he observed, “the plaintiffs have broken theirs, but I cannot yet frame my counter-claim, etc. As a matter of fact, one man who is summoned has not worked at this pit for two years. (Laughter.) Another man has never worked there in his life.” (Loud laughter.)

The gist of the claim, Mr Willey also said, was for damages. The plaintiffs were asking for fifteen or sixteen hundred pounds’ damages, and these would have to be proved because the magistrates could not give them “moral and intellectual” damages. (Laughter).

Mr Blakeley said one knew better than the defendants, the date on which they deliberately “threw down”, and that it was the unvariable rule and law to give 14 days’ notice, and when the notice was not given that it was open for the colliery company to sue for damages. The defendants also knew that the damages meant 5s. a day for twelve days following May 26th, the date on which they struck work. There was no reason at all why, if they had any, the defendants should not have put in counter-claims, without single date.

AN ADJOUBNMENT GRANTED

Mr Willey said he expected the date to have been June 8, because there was a week of negotiations after May 26. There was also a settlement after that, but other circumstances arose and the negotiations came to nothing.

The Chairman said the magistrates did not think the summonses were legally bad. The Court could amend them and give leave to the defendants to put counter-claims, but, under the circumstances, they thought it would seem fairer to allow an adjournment.

Mr Willey: It is extremely probable I shall have 500 counter-claims to file and that means good deal of clerical work and time.

After a consultation between the solicitors the case was adjourned until Thursday, July 2nd.

A further adjournment was agreed in court in early July and by the 10th of that month, it was reported that the miners had gone back to work.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Friday 10 July 1914

RETURN TO WORK

The miners at the Wrenthorpe colliery, Wakefield, who have been on strike for about six weeks are to resume work. They complain of the very little financial support they have received from miners in other districts.

After a consultation between the solicitors the case was adjourned until Thursday, July 2nd.

Less than four weeks later Britain was at war and Wrenthorpe Colliery miners were keen to enlist.

Leeds Mercury
Tuesday 8 September 1914

MINERS TO THE FORE

Eighty-four miners from Wrenthorpe Colliery, near Wakefield, have joined the colours, and about 100 have gone from Park Hill Colliery.

Another dispute over a well

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 5 June 1858

A CHARGE OF ASSAULT AGAINST “PROPHET” WROE

At the Court House [Wakefield], on Monday last, Mr Wroe, better known as “Prophet Wroe”, was charged with having assaulted an old woman named Jane Ramsden, at Carr Gate, on the 18th ult. The affair arose out of a dispute which exists between Wroe and some of the persons in that locality regarding their right to take water out of a well situated on his property. On the day in question the complainant went to the well, and got a pitcher of water, when Mr Wroe went up to her, seized hold of her, “shook” her, and took her pitcher from her and poured out the water. Witnesses were called who stated that they were in the habit of getting water from the well for the last 15 years. Mr Shaw, who (instructed by Mr Barratt), appeared for Mr Wroe, said all that the defendant had done was done in the bona fide assertion of his right. A man had as much right to order another out of his field as out of his house. In the present instance, Mr Wroe had only, after repeated warning, used the necessary force to turn the complainant off his property. Witnesses were called who stated that Mr Wroe had only ordered the woman off, and that no unnecessary violence was used. The case was dismissed.

More trouble at Wrenthorpe WM Club

Yorkshire Evening Post
Friday 22 September 1905

A WAKEFIELD CLUB OFFICIAL AND THE FUNDS

To-day, at Wakefield, Eli Bateman, miner. Wrenthorpe, and Albert Moorby, also a miner, of Wrenthorpe, were summoned for withholding or misapplying the sums of £29. 10s. 2d. and £11. 14s. 6d. respectively, the moneys of the Wrenthorpe Working Men’s Club. The hearing of the case lasted some hours.

Mr J R Green prosecuted, and asked be allowed to withdraw the case against Moorby, who had repaid the money due from him as secretary the club.

The magistrates agreed.

Bateman was fined £1 and £1. 5s. 6d. costs, and an order made upon him to pay the deficiency, £31. 15s. 8d. in all, or two months’ imprisonment.

Magistrates give James Wroe the needle

Controversies involving immunisation campaigns are nothing new. Around 120 years before the MMR arguments in the late 1990s, ‘Prophet’ John Wroe’s heir, James, is up before local magistrates for not vaccinating his child, presumably against small pox.

Edinburgh Evening News
Saturday 1 February 1879

THE BAD EFFECTS VACCINATION

Four persons in well-to-do circumstances, residing in Wakefield and the district, were summoned yesterday before the burgh and West Riding magistrates by the vaccination officer for neglecting have their children vaccinated…

Mr Wroe, of Melbourne House, Carr Gate, and son [sic] of the late “Prophet Wroe,” the leader the followers of Johanna Southcotte, was charged with a similar offence. Mr Wroe said that vaccination was contrary to the law of Moses, and as he had religious and conscientious, objections to it, refused to obey the law. He was ordered to have his child vaccinated, and to pay 15s. for costs.

Farmer attacks woman over right of way

Leeds Mercury
Thursday 17 January 1856

ASSAULT UPON A FEMALE

At the Wakefield Court House, on Monday, William Ramsden, farmer, near Carr Gate, was charged with assaulting Eliza Willoughby, on the 2nd inst, under the following circumstances. On the day above named, the plaintiff was proceeding along a footpath leading from Beck Bottom to Lindal[e] Lane, for the purpose of fetching water from a well. At a foot-gate in the field she was stopped by the defendant, who struck her with a hay fork, inflicting a wound on her hand. Ramsden stated that his object was to stop the foot-road, as serious damage had been done to his property. He was ordered to pay £2, and was informed by the magistrates that if he wished to stop the road, he was to take legal measures for effecting his object.

All’s not well at Brandy Carr

Barnsley Chronicle
Saturday 21 September 1861

WHICH HAS THE RIGHT TO THE WELL

[At the Wakefield Petty Sessions, Monday 16 September], John Beecher, of Brandy Carr, charged Aaron Farrar with doing damage to his property by breaking open a door that was used to cover a draw-well. Mr Barratt appeared for the complainant, and Mr Gill for the defendant. Water is not plentiful at Brandy Carr, and wells are valuable. The complainant has a well upon the premises he occupies at Brandy Carr, and to this well he claims exclusive right. For years he has received money payments of those of his neighbours who have used the water, while those who refused payment could only obtain the water at night when he was in bed. During the past year he had the well covered with door, and had kept it locked.

On the 31st of August, and again on the 6th September, the defendant came to the well when drunk and broke the door, and for the second of the two offences he was now charged.

Several witnesses were called in support of the complainant’s case, including Mr Booth, the owner of the property, who said that the well belonged to the complainant.

Mr Gill, in defence, said there were three houses, the occupants of which had all a right to use the water besides the complainant. The defendant was the owner the house he occupied, which was one of the houses to which the right appertained, and not only he, but his father before him had all along used the water, and they had a full right to it. He should call witnesses who would prove these things – would show that not only the defendant, but the other persons to whom he (Mr Gill) had alluded had used the water as a right. Perhaps the defendant had used more violence than was necessary. He, however, was provoked. The water he had a right to use, but the complainant locked it up and challenged the defendant, offering him 2s to break the lock. He accepted the challenge, broke the lock, though now he regretted he had gone so far. However, he thought that when they had heard the evidence they would discharge the summons on the merits, but if they did not do this they would, at all events, see that there was a question of disputed right they had no jurisdiction. Mr Gill then called Sarah Ann Totty, an old inhabitant of one of the three houses, – a very demonstrative loud voiced woman – who said that for ten years she had used the water, but admitted that she paid 2s for the repair of the bucket and rope, and had besides been on terms of intimate relationship to a cousin of the defendant; Isaac Farrar, another claimant of the water, who had always freely used it, and who added that before the defendant broke the door the complainant offered him 2s to do it; and Jane Farrar the wife of the defendant, who had fetched water from the well 24 years. This last witness had paid Beecher 1s, but it was to have the bucket mended.

Mr Barratt called a person named Newton in contradiction, who said that he had seen a lock on the well seven or eight years ago.

Mr Tew said that in the opinion of the Bench the damage had been done wilfully and maliciously. The complainant must, therefore, say what the door would cost, and Mr Banks would assess the damage and give reasonable damages. The damages and costs amounted to £1 10s. 6d. Matthew Rhodes, the son-in-law the above complainant charged the above defendant with assaulting him on the same occasion, and again the defendant was fined Is, with 14s expenses.

As this case took place less than six months after the 1861 census, we can find all the people named, living at Brandy Carr in the Alverthorpe with Thornes census returns as well as their occupations. It’s interesting that the Bench took the side of the landowner over agricultural labourers and factory workers.

 

Anti-pollution fines over 100 years ago

Leeds Mercury
Wednesday 18 March 1914

POLLUTING BALNE BECK
RIVERS BOARD ACTION AGAINST WRENTHORPE COLLIERY

At the Wakefield County Court yesterday, before his Honour Judge Greenhow, the West Riding Rivers Board brought an action against the Low Laithes Colliery Company Limited to recover penalties for alleged breach of an order made upon them on November 4th last to abstain from turning polluting effluent from their Wrenthorpe Colliery at Wakefield into the Balne Beck.

Evidence was given that on several subsequent occasions black and turbid liquid had been seen flowing from the colliery into the beck, the result of an overflow from settling tanks at the coal washer.

One the witnesses, farmer, through whose land the stream from the colliery runs, stated that the stream water was not fit for his horses to drink, and he had, therefore, to keep a tub the land full of town’s water.

For the respondents, Mr Blakley, of Dewsbury, stated that since the order two settling tanks had been constructed and four others were in course of construction. Some of the pollutions seen by the Rivers Board’s inspectors, he suggested, were the result of accident.

His Honour imposed a penalty of £100 (£50 each in respect of two days), but ordered that this should not be enforced if no further pollution occurs after the completion of the plant six weeks hence. He granted costs against the respondents.