Harsh times

Shields Daily News
Saturday 7 March 1903

A WEEK WITHOUT FOOD

A single middle-aged woman, Mary Ellen Buckley, who lived by herself in Jerry Clay Lane, Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, was yesterday removed to the Clayton Hospital under singular circumstances.

As the woman had not been seen by the neighbours for several days, the house was forcibly entered, and she was found lying on a bed upstairs in a very weak condition. She was conscious, and said that she had been in bed since Sunday without food.

She also admitted having taken a quantity of laudanum, and two small bottles were found on a chest of drawers.

It is stated that the woman has been in straitened circumstanced for some time, and as she was in arrears with her rent she was afraid of being ejected from her house.

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.

Wrenthorpe Colliery 4: union officials take swipe at Bishop of Wakefield

Less than six months after the presentation of the silver tray to colliery owner, W T Marriott, local miners are embroiled in the first ever national miners’ strike. Colliery owners had passed on falls in the price of coal to their workers’ by slashing wages. Lock-outs took place as miners’ rejected this erosion in living standards.

The first of these two pieces from September 1893 is about a strike breaker at Wrenthorpe. It was published only a couple of days before the Featherstone Massacre.

Yorkshire Evening Post
Tuesday 5 September 1893

AN INDISCREET NON-STRIKER

To-day a large number of people made their way towards Wrenthorpe Colliery (Mr W T Marriott’s), expecting that there might a scene consequent upon the action of a byeworkman employed at that pit. It seems that it was arranged when the lock-out took place that two of the byeworkmen should continue working in order to attend to the pumps. The miners, we are informed on good authority, thoroughly approved of this course, but one of the individuals in question has acted in a very indiscreet manner. It is said that he has not only jeered at those who are out work, but has gone [to] the length of exhibiting in the window of his house piece of beef with words attached to the effect that they could strike who liked, but that was going provide for his wife and children. The result has been that has been accompanied to and from his work by an improvised concertina band and a large crowd of women and children. Affairs became so threatening last night that a number of policemen were sent escort him home, and the feelings of the people have been so aroused that the individual in question deemed it advisable to absent himself from work to-day.

Finally, a great piece of journalism from the London Daily News (republished in the Irish Independent). It not only gets to grips with the hardships caused by the pay reduction and strike but also the factors behind the glut of coal and drop in productivity of the skilled miners. And three union officials from Wrenthorpe Colliery heavily criticise the Bishop of Wakefield for interfering in the dispute.

Irish Independent
Saturday 16 September 1893

THE COAL STRIKE

(FROM THE DAILY NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT)
Wakefield, Thursday Evening

In so far as I have been able to judge from a visit to Featherstone, Newtown [sic], Stanley Village, Outwood, Wrenthorpe, Castleford, Normanton, and other places in the district of which Wakefield is the centre, Normanton, Featherstone, and Castleford are those in which the pressure of poverty is the most severe. No more in this than in other districts are there are any signs of what one understands by excitement. The scores of collieries that one passes are silent and deserted. The men are, as they call it, at “play”. In outward appearance the strike region is as dull and decorous as Gower Street. There is no picturesqueness about it. A stranger forgetting the day of the week would imagine it was Sunday. That is only the outward show, but in every miner’s house I have been in to-day there is either great poverty or all but positive starvation. The families that suffer most are naturally those to which no strike pay comes.

A miner’s wife told me in her house to-day at Newton Hill that she had only had four fires in the last fortnight. “It is fortunate for us,” she said, “that this is not the winter time. If it were winter we should perish of cold.” At several of the collieries which I have passed grown-up people and young children were searching the pit rubbish for fuel. “There is none to be had if we had money to buy it with,” says a miner’s wife, who tells me that she has just been compelled to sell foe fifteen shillings a sofa which not long ago cost three pounds. She and her family have for the last two or three days been reduced to a little dry bread once a day. Every family in the little street where she lives depends on the strike money doled out once a week. I find that, as a rule, this dole runs out one or two days before the weekly distribution.

In their treatment of their poor customers the small shopkeepers display not merely much forbearance, but a great deal of self-sacrificing at charity. The mistress of a small shop tells me that 15 miners’ wives who in ordinary times are fairly well off and free from debt, have called open her within the space of three hours for relief. Many of these small shopkeepers are very badly off in consequence of the continence of the strike. “This strike has stopped my business,” says a miner’s widow, who in London would be called charwoman. She used to assist her neighbours in various household duties, earning in this way 7s or 8s a week. Bat now, as all the families are idle, there is nothing for her to do, and she depends for her scanty subsistence on the kindness of her neighbours, who are themselves in sore straits.

Near Wrenthorpe Colliery I met miner who was carrying two loaves rolled up in a napkin for the relief of his daughter, a widow with five children. “They ate their last meal yesterday,” he said and I am going to let them have this,” tapping his parcel. Two of the worst cases I have come across are in Newton village. Two houses in it have twenty-three inhabitants between them, counting parents and children, and the weekly dole of “strike brass” is their only means of living.

I have spoken with many miners whose worst hardships began long before the strike – men who, though willing to work, could not get more than one day’s or two days’ work out of the six. One man tells me that several times during the last sixteen weeks he has come home at the week’s end with less than six shillings. “And I am not man,”’ says he, “to spend a farthing in drink.” Says another miner – “I have not seen the colour of a sovereign in my pay since Christmas, and I could tell you many who could say the same thing themselves.” The miners as a class declare that they are not better off now than they were in 1888 [five years before], before the rise began.

I have had a conversation this afternoon on this particular matter with three miners who hold official positions at the Wrenthorpe Colliery. “What,” they ask, “is the good of the higher rate if our chances of earning it are so small? There are too many hands after the 40 per cent rise since 1888. Since that year 40,000 new hands have come to work is the mines of a few counties, and there is not enough for us all.” One the three condemned very strongly what the miners call “indirect reductions” and the unfairness of compelling skilled miners to take unskilled hands into their “partnership”. Work with a man not fully skilled means, to his skilled mate, loss of time and earnings; and if the skilled man refuses to work with the new comer the manager is as likely as not to order him to bring in his tools and to walk off. If he does walk off, he may have to tramp the country for weeks in search of work at some other mine. A man will rather submit to injustice rather than ran that risk.

The three representative miners agreed in saying that the Federation [miners’ union] never would agree to arbitration. In whatever way the strike might come to an end, it would not be by arbitration. “The Bishop of Wakefield is jawing away about arbitration. Let him mind his own business. How would he like if we arbitrated about his wages? Would he wipe away a tear with the corner of his apron, or would he flare up like any other sinner? I wish the Bishop had to depend on me for his wages. I should see to it that he got something more useful to do than to arbitrate about other people’s wages. If I am only worth 26s a week (when I can get it), is the Bishop of Wakefield worth all them thousands a year? I say no man in England is worth a thousand a year. I don’t care who he is, but he is not, and he can’t be worth a thousand a year if we miners are worth no more than what we get.” Who will dare deny that the miner who spoke in this way was right? They are religious men, these three representative miners but I fear they have a poor opinion of the Episcopal Bench. “The bishops are a useless lot. Their faces don’t get worn as ours do from poverty. I don’t want to starve ‘em but I’d like to knock 40 per cent off their pay.”

Wrenthorpe Colliery 3: miners’ gift to pit owner

Here’s a strange piece of news. Is this a one-off example of miners giving their boss a gift as an act of genuine affection? Or are they really motivated by fear for their futures?

Yorkshire Evening Post
Thursday 20 April 1893

PRESENTATION TO A WAKEFIELD COAL OWNER

The miners employed at Wrenthorpe Colliery, near Wakefield, were thrown out of work for a considerable period during the latter half of 1892 by the stoppage the pit for repairs. Mr W T Marriott, of Sandal Grange, owner of the colliery, behaved in a particularly generous manner towards the men during the time they were unable work, and the latter have determined to acknowledge in a tangible manner the kindness of their employer. A subscription list was opened, and as a result a handsomely-chased solid silver waiter [tray] and an illuminated address will shortly be presented to Mr Marriott.

Little did the miners know but they were about to get kicked in the teeth, and by that summer they’d be on strike.

 

When trade unions were illegal

A piece from before the repeal of the notorious Combination Acts which prohibited trade unions. Arendale and Ashton were sent to prison for trying to organise strike action at a local pit.

Leeds Intelligencer
Monday 17 January 1820

COMMITTED TO YORK CASTLE

Joseph Arendale and George Ashton, both of Alverthorpe, colliers, charged upon oath with having severally on the 24th December last, solicited, intimidated, and by other means endeavoured to prevail on Charles Scholes, and Richard Davis, being two workmen in the employ of W Fenton, Esq at his colliery, situate at Potovens Plain [Brandy Carr], in the West Riding, to leave off their work, contrary to the statute. – To be imprisoned 3 months.

Flippant approach to potential assault

Leeds Times
Saturday 1 June 1867

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Late on Thursday night, a man named Quinn came running up Balne Lane, Wakefield, crying out in stentorian tones for the police. He happened to fall in with one of the supernumeraries of the West Riding constabulary, and to him detailed a strange story. At a wedding that day he had met with a young woman, whom he only knew by the name of Elizabeth, and he took her to a relative at Potovens, to endeavour to get her a situation. Whilst returning home across the fields they were set upon by a number of men with hedge-stakes, who seized the girl and carried her off, and the same fellows, he alleged, belaboured him until he got out of their clutches A force of policemen were despatched to scour the neighbourhood of the alleged outrage. They have ascertained enough to throw suspicion over Quinn’s story. The latter is a notoriously bad character, and the house to which he took the woman at Potovens is little better than a brothel. Returning home he attempted to abuse the girl, and some Alverthorpe men coming up at the time rescued her from his clutches, and one of them took her to his home. There is reason to believe that Quinn pumped up the charge in order to prevent another and more serious accusation being preferred against him.

Desperate measures to thwart bailiffs

Leeds Mercury
Tuesday 19 February 1867

A MAN BURNING HIS OWN FURNITURE

Yesterday, at the Wakefield Court House, a man named Wood was charged under the following circumstances:– He resided at Potovens, and, on Saturday, the bailiffs had possession of his premises, taking away a clock and some other property. He was away at the time, but at night he went into the house, and burnt the furniture that remained. In doing so, he set fire to the woodwork of the house, and might have set fire to adjoining property. The facts having been heard, the case was dismissed, the magistrates saying that the intent in destroying the furniture was not to burn the house.

The first school in Potovens

In a hamlet where nonconformity was so popular, it’s funny how the Anglicans stole a march on the Methodists by setting up Wrenthorpe’s first school. Not only that, but they did it on a site within 100 yards of the Wesleyan Chapel.

This article gives clues as to how they managed it: a particularly zealous Vicar of Alverthorpe, with a curate to work in Potovens; a government grant; and, funds from interested parties – landowners, and the proprietor of the local woollen mill.

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 29 June 1844

NEW NATIONAL SCHOOL AT WRENTHORPE

On Thursday week, as we briefly stated in our last, the interesting ceremony of laying the foundation stone new school, took place at the village of Potovens, Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield. After a brief introductory address to the assembled villagers, by the Rev G A Walker, Incumbent of Alverthorpe, the stone was laid by the conjoint efforts of Mrs Robinson, of Silcoates, and Miss Smith, of Wrenthorpe. Addresses on the value of education generally, and of scriptural education in particular, were then delivered by the Rev R Buckeridge, one of the curates of Alverthorpe, John Robinson, Esq, of Silcoates, and Mr Cooper, of Wrenthorpe, and the proceedings were wound up by a concluding address from the Rev G A Walker, in which he returned thanks to Mrs Smith, of Wrenthorpe, for her kind and valuable gift of the site of land whereon to erect the school, and informed his hearers that they would be severally waited on for their contributions in aid of the sums obtained from public, educational, and other sources, so that every individual might have it in his power affording his mite, however small, to say, at some future period, in answer the inquiry of “who built that school?” – “I did my share towards it.” The Rev Gentleman then stated that the Church Catechism would be taught the school generally, but that if the parents of any child conscientiously objected to that course, and after due argument the question, persisted in their objections, it would not be insisted on. There was considerable number of the villagers present, notwithstanding that a heavy rain was falling, for which “inclemency” the Rev Gentleman most appropriately, under circumstances of the recent drought, expressed thankfulness, and hoped that the school about to be erected, might hereafter have the same revivifying effects upon the minds and morals of the rising generation, as the copious showers falling from the heavens would have upon the parched earth. We understand that in addition to the gift of the land by Mrs Smith, Mr Walker has received £100 from the Privy Council, £50 from the National Society, £20 from G L Fox, Esq, £10 from Mrs Lawrence, of Studley, and £10 from G Sandars, Esq, besides several other handsome benefactions, and that a confident hope is entertained that enough will be subscribed to build a master’s house, as well the school.

The school had opened by early the following year, as gleaned from another Intelligencer piece.

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 17 May 1845

WRENTHORPE NATIONAL SCHOOL

On Wednesday last, the girls and boys taught in the National Schools at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, were, through the kindness of several parties in the neighbourhood, regaled with tea, buns, &c. The friends of National education will be glad to learn that although the above school has only been opened about four months it already numbers upwards of two hundred scholars [out of a population estimated, in 1844, as 1,100], who are under the care of Mrs Senior and Mr Hoadley.

The National School functioned for 35 years, closing in 1879, a couple of years after Wrenthorpe Council School was built. The 1844 building is now part of Wrenthorpe Mission.