disobedience of the Seamen and Keelmen, but against the
unruly behaviour of ' another description of Men called Pit-
men,' amongst whom, ' from their numbers and habits of
1 Her husband had lately died.
* A Lady f the Last Century, p. 202.
3 Northern Tour, ii. p. 261.
20 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
Life, discontents frequently arise which call for the inter-
position of the Civil Power aided by a Military force.' 1
In the first volume of the Reports of the Society for
Bettering the Condition of the Poor 2 there is a long and
serious account of the situation and shortcomings of the
mining poor, and of the provisions made for the benefit
of the Duke of Bridgewater's colliers near Manchester, by
the Rev. Thomas Gisborne, written in 1798. ' It is to high
wages,' he informs his readers, ' that many of the criminal
habits, so often ascribed to the character of a collier, may in
part be ascribed. . . . To economy, he is, in general, an utter
stranger.' When first his wages are paid the collier and his
family may be seen ' indulging themselves in the use of animal
food three times a day.' The week after, it is true, they have
to descend to a diet of rye bread with oatmeal and water,
till ' the next receipt of their wages enables them to return to
a course of luxury.' A contrast is drawn between the luxurious
and riotous pitman with his wage of 16s. (or with the family's
labour of 20s. or even 80s.) and the decent and frugal agricul-
tural labourer who, on his wage of 9s. a week, would cer-
tainly never be able to succumb to the wild debauchery of
meat three times a day. Drunkenness, profane language,
deceit, ' riotous dispositions, impatience of supposed griev-
ances, and discontent inflamed by the contagion of turbulence
and clamour,' are amongst the charges brought against the
miners. The chief remedy proposed by the Rev. Thomas
Gisborne was that the colliers should by religious education
be led to ' a just sense of revealed religion, and of the rewards
and punishments of a future state.' Failing this the posses-
sion of gardens and other property was to be encouraged as a
corrective to bad habits ; 3 and the truck system and ' tommy-
1 H.O., 42. 6. In 1793 the Mayor and magistrates of Newcastle asked for
barracks to be built (H.O., 42. 25).
2 Pp. 170-73, and pp. 223-6.
3 The effects on miners' characters of giving them some land above ground
had been noticed by Arthur Young in his Northern Tour, 1768, vol. ii. pp. 262 ff.
A certain Mr. Danby, who owned a colliery at Swinton in the West Riding,
tried the expedient of allowing the colliers to enclose bits of the barren moor.
The effect was magical : ' the whole colliery, from being a scene of idleness,
insolence and riot, is converted into a well-ordered and decently cultivated
colony. It has become a seminary of industry ; and a source of population.
One of these model colliers in particular roused Arthur Young's keenest admira-
tion. This man, James Croft by name, after working from midnight till noon
every day in the colliery, cultivated seventeen acres without outside help. He
MINERS OF THE TYNE AND THE WEAR 21
shops ' instituted near Manchester by the Duke of Bridge-
water were praised. By such a method ' the collier always
has credit for necessaries and reasonable comforts ; and, at
the same time, is not able to squander the mass of his gains,
to the injury of himself and his family.'
The unsatisfactory behaviour of the miners created a good
deal of uneasiness amongst their neighbours. The Bishop of
Durham, who as Lord of the Manor had been given the mineral
rights of the district by a legal decision early in the century,
when the growth of the mining industry made the question
vital, now urged the creation of additional chapels in populous
districts. ' I hope,' he had written in 1793, in reference to a
dispute between coal-owners and men, ' the good sense of the
People will in a little time prevail and convince them of the
happiness which they enjoy. 1 But so little did the expedient
of additional chapels succeed, that seventeen years later, in
1810, the Bishop's stables were requisitioned to hold three
hundred recalcitrant strikers, for whom there was no room in
the Gaol and House of Correction.
The dispute in 1810 was not connected with wages. 2 It
was concerned primarily with that persistent cause of friction,
the yearly bond, and incidentally with certain special griev-
ances, including fines. The history of the dispute is briefly
as follows. 3 In October 1809, just before the annual binding,
the masters agreed amongst themselves to bind the men for
a year and a quarter instead of a year, that is till January
1811, so that after that time the yearly binding should be in
January instead of in October. This they did because, October
being a very busy time, the men could force up the binding
bounty. The new plan was propounded to the men at the
binding ; they agreed to it and were bound for the year and
a quarter. Afterwards, on thinking it over they realised the
never took more than four hours' sleep, and on moonlight nights less. Arthur
Young raised a subscription of ^100 to free him from colliery work, so that his
twenty hours' toil should be in future devoted to the land alone. It is not
surprising to read that Croft's industry brought him to an early grave. See
Autobiography of Arthur Young, edited by M. Betham Edwards, p. 55.
1 H.0.,42. 23.
2 Wages were estimated to have risen thirty or forty per cent, in 1804, and so
great was the demand for men that bounties of twelve and fourteen guineas on
the Tyne, and of eighteen guineas on ihe Wear were given (Galloway, Annals,
i. 440 ; Victoria County History of Durham, vol. ii. p. 347)-
1 See Sykes, Local Records, ii. p. 403, and Tyne Mercury, December II,
December 18, 1810; January I, January 15, 1811.
22 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
disadvantages, and determined that in October 1810 they
would strike, unless the masters consented to bind them for
a year as usual. The men had some sort of ' brotherhood '
or confederacy, possibly formed now, possibly of earlier date.
Its existence was publicly known about July. 1 In October
the masters refused to grant the demands made on them, and
all the men on the Tyne and the Wear struck work. The dele-
gates from the different collieries held frequent meetings, but
' they were hunted out by the owners and magistrates, assisted
by the military, and committed to prison.'
The hunt for strikers continued for several weeks, and the
overflow of prisoners from the Gaol and the House of Correc-
tion at Durham filled the Bishop's stables, without any
effect being produced on the strike itself. At last, when
matters were at a deadlock, a parson magistrate, the Rev.
Mr. Nesfield, Rector of Brauncepeth, and Captain Davis, in
charge of the Caermarthen militia, who guarded the prisoners,
intervened as mediators. The stable prisoners, to whom they
appealed as the leaders of the strike, refused to make terms,
* leaving it entirely to their partners at liberty.' The result
of the negotiations was that the pitmen returned to their
work, and promised to fulfil their present bonds, that is up
to January, whilst Mr. Nesfield pledged his word to them that
he would act as mediator and bring forward proposals to
improve their position in future. The main proposal, to
which they are said to have agreed at the time, was that
by a compromise the binding time should in future be neither
October nor January, but April. As soon as the prisoners
were released they published in all the Newcastle papers 2
a dignified message of thanks to the inhabitants of Durham,
for their * kindnesses and favours ' during their confinement
in the stables, to the soldiers who did their duty over them for
their ' good behaviour,' and to Captain Davis, Mr. Nesfield, and
others for the trouble and interest shown in befriending them.
This message was signed by four leaders on behalf of 159
After the men had gone back to work, Mr. Nesfield found
the path of the peacemaker a thorny one. He addressed
the coal-owners on the River Wear, inviting them and two
men from each colliery to meet him at Chester-le-Street on
December 20, and offering to submit for their consideration
Commit tee on Combination Laws, 1825, p. 2; and Tyne Mercury, February
26, 1811. a Tyne Mercury ', December 4, 1810.
MINERS OF THE TYNE AND THE WEAR 23
such regulations as would remove the peculiar cause of the
present discontent. But the coal-owners refused his over-
tures ; they argued first, that the River Wear did not consti-
tute the coal trade, but that the River Tyne, Hartley, Blyth,
and Cowpen were integral parts of it, and that therefore
they could not make any separate arrangements ; secondly,
that the plan of inviting two men from each colliery was
objectionable ' lest such Meeting should hazard a Recurrence
of the late Disturbances.' They further hinted that his inter-
ference was uncalled for, and that if his services were needed
he would be informed, in which case the coal-owners would
' attend with Deference to your Recommendation as far as
they can do consistently with what is fit to be observed on
such an important Occasion ; at the same Time keeping in
view the Duty they owe to themselves, their Workmen, and
the Peace of the Country.'
Mr. Nesfield's goodwill was not daunted by this cold recep-
tion, and he proposed a new meeting on January 3, inviting
this time all the coal-owners of the Tyne and Wear districts
to attend. Whether it was the near approach of the new
binding time and the fear of riots, or some other motive that
changed their attitude, the coal-owners now accepted the
invitation, the conference took place, and Mr. Nesfield brought
forward proposals under twelve heads. On this occasion it
was the men who thwarted Mr. Nesfield's good intentions of
acting as peacemaker ; the masters, after notifying the fact
that some points did not meet with their approval, accepted
his proposals as a whole for the sake of peace and quiet. The
pitmen agreed to the clauses which enacted that the condi-
tions, apart from the bond under which they were hired,
should be clearly set down in a book, that a copy of the bond
should be handed to a representative appointed by them,
that fines should lapse if not demanded at the ensuing pay
day, and that if fined when they were voluntarily idle they
should be paid when they were compelled to be idle : but
they now rejected, though not unanimously, the proposal they
had originally accepted that the binding time should be on
April 5. They also rejected the proposals designed to meet
their grievances about fines for deficient measures, and foul
coal, and payment when the pit was made unfit for working
by an accident to the engine.
The conference accordingly broke up without arriving at
any agreement. The negotiations that followed can only be
24 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
guessed at. This much is certain : that the men were ulti-
mately forced to accept the proposals, and when their bonds
expired in January, were bound peaceably for 1J years.
The 5th of April henceforth remained the regular binding
day till the bond system came to an end in 1844. The coal-
owners were afterwards said to have adjusted the business
' by the assistance of legal weapons,' l and as no records of
actual prosecution exist, threats of prosecution under the
Conspiracy and Combination Laws were probably sufficient.
A curious glimpse into the scenes of the binding time is afforded
by a correspondence in the Tyne Mercury. 2 That paper on
January 29 inserted a paragraph explaining that the reluctant
pitmen at Jarrow were urged by a Methodist preacher to
accept their bonds, under pain of hell fire if they refused.
* At the time appointed, the pitmen WERE bound, the fear of
hell vanished, and they got comfortably drunk, as usual upon
such occasions.' Next week a correspondent wrote on behalf
of the Methodist preacher, impugning the truth of this account,
and declaring that the fulminations from the pulpit were
directed against the combination or Brotherhood with its
oath. ' This Oath is illegal ; and because Christianity teaches
subjection to the laws it is unchristian and immoral.' This
version of the affair roused violent protests from a voluminous
writer signing himself ' No Methodist,' who quarrelled with
the Methodists, not because they had used unfair pressure
in urging the pitmen to return to work, but because after
being ' the principal founders, supporters, and propagators of
the combination,' they now posed as its destroyers, whereas
in reality they had not declared their opposition till it was
already * annihilated by the strong arm of the Law.'
The use of the strong arm of the Law to put down the
pitmen's combination possesses a certain piquancy from the
fact that the masters themselves were formed into an illegal
combination commonly known as the ' Newcastle Vend.' 3
The Vend, which had existed ever since 1786, and possibly
before, was an agreement made between the different coal-
owners that no pit should sell or ' vend ' more than a certain
1 Tyne Mercury, February 12, 1811.
* Ibid., January 29, February 5, February 12, and February 26, 1811.
* For particulars of the Vend during this period, see 1800 Reports of the
House of Commons Committees on the Coal Trade (specially App. 41 to the First
Report, which shows how it was worked), and the 1829 Report of the House of
Lords' Committee on the Coal Trade.
MINERS OF THE TYNE AND THE WEAR 25
fixed amount of coal. At the beginning of the year a rough
and liberal calculation was made of the whole amount for
which there was likely to be a demand, and the proportion
in which each individual colliery might supply it was arranged.
The price of the coal of different collieries differed according
to its quality, and that too was fixed at the beginning of the
year. By this arrangement the collieries with inferior coal
were ensured a certain sale, and if any owners shipped more
than their stipulated quantities they were bound at the end
of each year to make an allowance to those who had shipped
From the men's point of view the Vend gave them more
or less regularity of employment by equalising the work.
' One great Consideration,' said a coal-owner to the 1800
Committee, in speaking of the system, * is, I believe, the Peace
and good Order of the Country.' He went on to explain that
if the inferior pits were to stop work the men would go and
call out the workers in other pits.
In the troubled days of 1816, when the iron trade was almost
at a standstill, and the Staffordshire and Shropshire miners
were wandering about the country starving, the pitmen of
the Tyne and Wear suffered much less severely. The mines
which, like those in Northumberland and Durham, supplied
coals for the London market were, of course, less affected by
the depression of trade than the mines whose output was
mainly consumed by neighbouring furnaces. On the Wear
indeed there was a small strike ' upon the ostensible ground
of their present wages being inadequate to their support,
while the price of bread-corn continues so very much higher
than it has been,' but the magistrates and the soldiers soon
sent the strikers back to work. 2
It is clear that the system of a yearly bond, guaranteeing
the men a certain minimum of work at a fixed rate of pay,
1 A case was begun in 1794 against the Duke of Northumberland's agent and
five others, principal members of the Vend, for wickedly conspiring, combining,
and confederating to cheat the public, by a certain Mr. Errington who had
inherited an interest as lessee in a coal mine belonging to the Duke of Northum-
berland, and had found the output limited below a profitable amount by the
agreement, but after obtaining the removal of the trial Irom Newcastle to York
Mr. Errington's ardour cooled and the matter was dropped. See First Report
on the Coal Trade, 1800.
a Annual Register, 1816, Chronicle, p. 73, quoting the Tyne Mercury. See
H.O., 42. 151, for the Rev. Mr. Nesfield's views on this strike. He thought
the men unjustified.
26 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
gave a certain protection to the Northumberland and Durham
miners in sudden depressions of trade during the year. It
also gave them facilities for concerted action which the Com-
bination Laws might check but could not destroy. Their well-
known ' turbulence ' acted also as a protection against any
attempt actually to lower the money wages at the time of
binding. Mr. Buddie, the well-known colliery manager, 1 was
asked in 1829, 2 whether a reduction in wages could ' be effected
without danger to the tranquillity of the district, or risking
the destruction of the mines, with all the machinery and the
valuable stock, vested in them ? ' 'I should think not,' he
answered ; ' but the coal-owners have not the power of reduc-
ing the wages till April next.' . . . ' Is it possible another
year to hire the workmen at lower wages, if the present prices
of coals continue ? ' ' I should conceive not without great
disturbance and perhaps not succeeding in the end.'
The system of paying wages in goods or truck instead of in
money was prohibited by law in 1817. 3 The truck grievance
seems never to have been so acute in the Northern as in the
Midland mines, 4 although its existence is mentioned from
time to time.
In 1819 the wave of excitement about Reform which
spread over the country after Peterloo affected the pitmen in
the north. 5 ' Until within these few weeks,' wrote Mr. John
Buddie on October 25, 6 ' our Colliers and the body of Labourers,
of every description, connected with the Coal Works, never
troubled their heads with politics.' The mischief he ascribes
to the publications, the Black Dwarf and the Block Book. ' They
are to be found in the Hat Crown of almost every pitman you
meet.' This zeal for politics was combined with discontent
about their lot, and restiveness about the bond. ' Their
constant cry,' he writes some weeks later, ' is that they work
1 He invented the system of 'splitting the air.' See Galloway, History of
Coal Mining, p. 146.
9 1829 Lords' Committee on the Coal Trade, pp. 68, 69.
1 57 George III. c. 122. 4 See Town Labourer, 1760-1832, pp. 66-71.
5 For an interesting estimate of the numbers of men and boys employed in
1819, see H.O., 42. 198.
Underground. Above ground.
Tyne T . . 6,000 2,800 8,800
Wear . . 4,000 1,850 5.850
I Hartley and Blyth 500 250 750
H.O., 42. 197.
MINERS OF THE TYNE AND THE WEAR 27
" far too hard for their wages," and cannot exist upon [them].
One fellow at Heaton, after having solemnly made this declara-
tion last say Friday, gave 6s. lOd. next day for a White Hat.' 1
The men's grievances are fully set out in a pamphlet entitled
A Voice from the Coal Mines, or a plain statement of the various
grievances of the Pitmen of the Tyne and Wear, addressed to the
Coal-owners, their head agents and a sympathetic public, published
by the Colliers of the United Association of Northumberland and
Durham in 1825, 2 a publication made possible by the repeal
of the Combination Laws. A clear account is given of the
conditions of employment.
Foremost among the grievances was the system of fines.
Without entering into tedious technicalities, the men's fines
can be briefly described as follows :
(1) When the hewer's coal was measured, if there was any
deficiency in any particular corf or basket, he forfeited the
whole corf. There was great uncertainty as to the standard
measure, and hence the system gave * rise to much injustice
and oppression.' 8
(2) If foul coal, flint, or stone was found mixed in any corf
the hewer was fined 3d. a quart for it, and if there were more
than 4 quarts he was guilty by law of a misdemeanour. Under
the term foul coal, it was said, ' the master classes whatever
part of the strata he pleases.' *
A second grievance was what may be called the * three-days
grievance.' A stipulation that a minimum of work of nine
days a fortnight must be provided, was inserted in the bond,
but by the arrangements drawn up by Mr. Nesfield in 1810, if
an accident happened to the engine which made the pit unfit
for working, after three days the men were to be paid 2s. 6d. a
day. Later on the clause was amended in such a way that the
arrangement applied if a pit was rendered unfit for working
by an accident to the engine, * or any other cause.' Some of
the coal-owners interpreted these words ' or any other cause '
very liberally ; and when work was slack they would lay the
pit idle for three days, resume work for one day, lay it idle for
three days again, and so on, thus cheating the men not only
1 H.O., 42. 199. Although the name of the writer is scratched out the letter
is clearly from Mr. Buddie.
2 This Union was founded after the Repeal of the Combination Laws, 1825.
Cf. Galloway, Annals, i. p. 465, and Buddie's Evidence before Committee on
Combination Laws in 1825, p. I.
3 A Candid Appeal to the Coal-Owners and Viewers, 1826 * Hid.
28 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
of their stipulated minimum but of their 2s. 6d. a day as well.
The men who were thus cheated when work was slack were
themselves fined half a crown a day if they were absent when
their employers wanted them.
A grievance which was to play a more important part later
was the length of hours worked by the boys, seventeen in some
pits ; and another grievance was the hardships caused by the
use of the Davy lamp. 1 Owing to this lamp, declares the pam-
phlet, the miner has now ' to suffer the most awful agony in
an exceedingly high temperature.' Complaints with reference
to wages were mainly connected with shortage of work and
with fines and deductions. Detailed estimates from two pits
put these fines and deductions at a little over 2s. a week. Thus
in one pit where not more than nine days' work a fortnight
was provided and the weekly earnings were about 13s. 6d., the
deductions were reckoned as follows :
Caller and smith . . . .01
House rent and fire . . .03
Picks and pick handle . . .03
Fines and forfeits . . . .10
The estimate of the wages which would produce ' reasonable
comfort ' to the collier's family, we give elsewhere ; 2 they
are high compared with the actual wages. The colliers in
fact had no intention of being reduced to subsistence level, and
appeals to them to remember that mine owning and mine
working were expensive occupations, which left little margin
for wages, met with a blunt response : ' We are not ignorant
of the great expense incurred in the working of the mine ;
yet princely fortunes have been amassed by both our employers
and their ancestors ; and even men from our own ranks, have
grown rich by the emoluments arising from the coal mines. . . .'
According to the 1842 Mines Report, a great impetus was
1 See Town Labourer, 1760-1832, p. 25.
Town Labourer, 1760-1832, pp. 34-35. It works out at i t 6s. 3^d. a
MINERS OF THE TYNE AND THE WEAR 29
given to the Miners Association in 1826 by the refusal of the
masters to give the customary hiring bounty, and 4000 men are
said to have joined the Union. 1 ' The Union of the Pitmen,'
wrote Lord Londonderry that same year, February 26, 1826, 2
* is entirely established, and if the Coal-Owners do not resist
their Combination they must surrender at Discretion to any
Laws the Union propose.' He enclosed an interesting pamphlet
called A Candid Appeal to the Coal-Owners and Viewers, . . .
from the Committee of the Colliers United Association, from which
we learn particulars of some attempted negotiations between
the Pitmen's Union and the Coal-Owners. When the Colliers
United Association, as it called itself, approached the Coal-
Owners Union Committee with the suggestion that a meeting
should be held by representatives of both sides ' in order the
better to adjust the exceptionable parts of the Bond,' the
coal-owners ' refused to take any notice of it on the ground
that we were not a corporate body, and the Coal-Owners Union
Committee knew nothing of and therefore would not recog-
nise or treat with such a body of men as the Colliers Union
It is interesting to notice in the Candid Appeal that the men
claim a certain share in the management of affairs that directly
concern them. Thus they object to the clause in the customary
Bond which refers ' the settlement of differences and dis-
putes between the contracting parties to two viewers,' and
ask that a body consisting of two viewers appointed by the