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The Cramlington Strike of 1865

From "The Miners of Northumberland and Durham"
by Richard Fynes (1873)

About the middle of June in this year the workmen engaged at Cramlington Colliery made application for an advance of score price, amounting to about one penny, and, in some cases, twopence per ton, in order to place them on an equal footing in regard to wages with the other men of the district. The men struck work on their demand being refused, and subsequently the question was referred to Messrs. J. R. Liddell and George Hirst; and these referees suggested that one penny advance might be conceded if the men would nick the coal. The men, however, were in no humour to nick the coal, or to take the concession limited or hampered by any conditions, and they at once struck work, and determined to remain out till what they asked for was granted.

For some time things went on very quietly. When Mr. Burt assumed control of the affairs of the union, the strike had already lasted eight weeks, and gave promise of lasting twice as long. The financial state of the society was not a flourishing one by any means, as all the cash the men then had in hand did not amount to more than £23 3s. 2d., and this with 500 or 600 men out on strike at one of the largest collieries in Northumberland. But with his mild, straightforward and well-developed mind, Mr. Burt boldly grappled with the adverse circumstances surrounding him, and very soon made it apparent to his constituents that they had chosen the right man for the difficult situation he had entered upon.

For some time all went quietly enough at Cramlington, but when the pits had lain idle for nearly sixteen weeks, notices were served upon most of the men that they would have to vacate their houses within a given time. Though many had been expecting this, the notice caused considerable alarm, and efforts were made to bring about a reconciliation between employers and men. The masters had offered to have a second examination of the colliery by arbitrators, if the men would commence work pending that investigation; and this question was submitted to a largely-attended meeting of delegates held at the Astley Arms, Seaton Delaval, on Tuesday, the 10th of October. The delegates, however, decided to leave it to the men of Cramlington to say whether they would resume work on these conditions, and a meeting of the men on strike was called at the same place on the following morning, when it was decided not to commence work again till the full terms demanded were conceded.

The owners considered it necessary to bring the matter to a climax, and a number of "candy-men" were introduced into the village almost immediately after the decision of the men was given, and imperatively ordered to clear all the houses of the miners marked with a cross. The house of Mr. Thomas Baulks, the treasurer of the association was selected as the most fitting place to inaugurate this unfeeling work. The morning was wet, a heavy shower of rain was pelting down, and the roads about the houses were black and boggy. When the "candy-men" reached the house of "Tommy Baulks", as the men familiarly termed him, and drove his wife and children crying out into the rain and mire, the pitmen, crowding round, grew very savage, and commenced hooting and yelling at them in a very wrathful manner. But the "candy-men", who cared nothing for hooting and yelling, continued to bring out the goods and chattels contained in the cottages - on which the men could no longer contain themselves, but made a general onslaught on these beggarly rascals.

The poor wretches, once in the grasp of the Northumberland miners, changed very suddenly, and from insolent tones which they had formerly adopted towards the men, they now begged for mercy in a most pitiable and craven manner. Many of them made all the haste they could back to Newcastle, and could on no account be persuaded to return. The police interfered to prevent the "candy-men" being ill-treated, and many of them got very considerably mauled. The men were desperate and cared very little what they did; but they were aggravated a very great extent by the insolence of the evicting party, who, not content with entering the houses, and turning the inhabitants and their furniture to the doors, misbehaved themselves in a hundred different ways, such as drinking milk and eating food which they found in some of the cottages, and on one occasion emptying some dirty slops out of a jug on to a mother and her children.

On the Thursday the evictions were continued, and a scene of indescribable confusion prevailed. A number of police were mounted, for what purpose it would be difficult to determine, and as most of the riders were inexperienced horsemen, they of themselves created not a little disorder. But when the "candy-men" began to turn women and children and furniture out of doors in their reckless and indifferent manner, a number of the young women got "blazers" - pieces of sheet iron used as blasts to draw up the fire - and, accompanying their shrill treble yelling with an incessant and discordant banging on these iron plates, they created a perfect panic. The terrified horses of the policemen plunged and kicked, the pitmen shouted and yelled, and rushed hither and thither, hooting and pelting the "candy-men" and police; and in fact a perfect riot prevailed. Stones at one time flew almost as thick as hail, and a number of "candy-men," chased out of one house ran to another for shelter, but found it barricaded on the inside. The inmates were summoned to open it, but they refused ; and even when the proprietors of the colliery came, they still defied them. The officials, fearing some disastrous result, got the "candy-men" off safe, and hurried then by a special train to Newcastle.

The evictions were now suspended for a time, but early on the following Sunday morning, when the inhabitants of Cramlington village arose, they learned that a large number of policemen had been in the place long before daylight, and had borne several of their comrades away in custody to the Moot Hall. A meeting of the delegates of the union was held on the following Wednesday, when the proceedings of the men were severely censured, and they were advised to maintain a peaceful attitude in future, and to leave their doors open. The place continued to be under the guard of a large force of police, who patrolled the village both night and day. On Tuesday, the 17th of October, a detachment of the 64th Regiment arrived in Newcastle from Manchester, under the command of Captain Ryan, for the purpose of assisting the police to keep order at Cramlington, while the remainder of the men were evicted. Just as the soldiers arrived in the Central Station from Manchester they were met by the six men who had been committed that day by the magistrates to the Quarter Sessions, and who were then on their way to Morpeth Gaol.

On Thursday, the 19th of October, the six men were arraigned at the Quarter Sessions at Alnwick, after their case had been specially referred to by Mr. Rode, the chairman, and a true bill had been returned against them. They were indicted for "that they did, at the Chapelry of Cramlington, on the 12th of October, unlawfully and riotously assemble together with divers other persons to the number of 100 and more, to disturb the public peace, making great riot and disturbance, to the terror and alarm of Her Majesty's subjects, and did also unlawfully assault and beat one Matthew Taylor." Mr. Shield, barrister, appeared to prosecute, and asked that the case might be adjourned. This, Mr. Blackwell, who appeared for the defence, agreed to, but asked that the men should be liberated on bail, and after some discussion between the Bar and the Bench, it was decided that the bail should be for each prisoner, £200, and two sureties of £100 each. They were liberated a few days after the Sessions, but surrendered to their recognizances at the following Spring Assizes in Newcastle, when D. Moore was sent to prison for nine months; T. Wandless and M.M. Glen, each eight months; and Alex. Barrass, T. Dodds, and T. Pringle, each for six months. John Alexander, Robert Heale, John Waters, and other men were also taken into custody, and charged with aiding and abetting at the riot, but their cases were dealt with by the magistrates.

On the Friday after the men had been brought up at Alnwick, the military, the police, and the "candy-men" arrived at Cramlington, and commenced clearing the houses of their inmates and contents, but there was no opposition showed, and matters passed off very quietly, though the conduct of the "candy-men" did not by any means improve under the protection of the soldiers' bayonets. A number of men seeing no chance of beginning work at Cramlington again, engaged with Mr. Fletcher, the viewer of Trimdon Colliery, who came over to look for men, and left the place. An attempt was made by the owners to get the pit to work with the off-hand men and mechanics, but they refused, and came out with the pitmen, on which the following resolution was passed at a meeting of delegates held at the Astley Arms, Seaton Delaval, on the 16th of November "That we support the mechanics who have refused to work, and that they receive the same support as ourselves." On the following day, the 17th, the men were surprised by the sudden and unexpected appearance of the police and their rascally confederates, to clear the houses of the mechanics and off-hand men, for having thrown in their lot with the men on strike.

At the outset an encampment was spoken of for the shelter of those turned out, but the publicans came nobly forward and offered the men and their families all their spare rooms, and in this manner most of them were housed in comparative comfort. The men in their struggle met with much public sympathy, and not an inconsiderable amount of support. I have no wish here to rake up old sores, which have happily long since healed, and will, therefore, forbear any discussion of he question as to which party had justice on their side. At the time I thought the men's cause was that of right, and whether in my more mature years that is still my opinion is matter of very little moment. A great number of the public evidently held that opinion, for a meeting on behalf of the men on strike, which was held in the Lecture Room, Newcastle, on the evening of Wednesday, the 22nd of November, was not only well attended, but was of a most unanimous and enthusiastic character. Amongst the speakers at this meeting were Messrs. T. Baulks and Lumsden, the former of whom laid before the people of Newcastle, in simple, emphatic language, a complete statement of the position of the men on strike.

But all expressions of sympathy were of but little avail, for they were doomed to be defeated. On the 5th of December about 300 men from Cornwall and Devonshire, with their wives and families, arrived in Cramlington, and soon the pits "hung on" with the assistance of these strangers. On the 27th of the same month a second batch of 128 men, 111 women, and 248 children, turned up from Cornwall and Devon, and with these the owners had their full complement of men to work their mines; though it was admitted on all sides that they were far inferior in ability and physique to the native miners whose place they had usurped. Thus the strike at Cramlington - the last great one in the county of Northumberland - which lasted over twenty weeks, was brought to a termination.

It was very confidently predicted by the croakers that this long strike would shut up the union in Northumberland, but the men determined to support it at all hazards, and rallied boldly around it. During the progress of the strike, a levy of from 1s. to 1s. 6d. per man, per fortnight, was cheerfully paid by the men, and the total sum paid over from the general board towards the maintenance of the men on strike was upwards of £4,290 ; besides which there were very considerable subscriptions from other sources. Indeed, the strike, so far from in any way crippling the union, aided to stimulate it; and since that period it has gone on increasing in strength and importance, and has doubtless been the means of preventing many strikes, for there have been no serious disturbances between capital and labour since. When Mr. Burt was appointed agent there were only 20 collieries, with about 4,000 members, attached to the association, whilst there was not more than £23 in hand. Now there are 16,000 members associated, with an accumulated capital of £15,500.