The Other Miner’s Strike
In 1893 Ripley featured heavily in the largest industrial dispute Britain had hitherto experienced. Around several areas of Britain some 300,000 miners were locked out by their employers for long periods.
Derbyshire mining was a significant contributor to the national tonnage, which in 1880 was some 147 million tons annually, with 8 million tons from Derbyshire pits. In 1913 the annual national tonnage had risen to 287 million with 18 million from Derbyshire. A key stimulus to the Derbyshire contribution was the decision of Midland Railway to favour Derbyshire coal for the fast-developing network.
An article published by The Nottingham Daily Express of 3rd November 1893 discussed the context of a series of disturbances in several areas and, in particular, involving miners employed by Butterley Company in the Ripley area. Some sources suggest that the Butterley Company was one of the few mine owners to be still operating the ‘Butty System’ which many had dispensed with after the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1872. This Act and several others of this period served to constrain the harsh conditions of those working in the mining industry, such as banning women, boys under 12 and, later, introducing maximum working hours.
The dispute was basically over the mine owners desire to protect their profits by reducing miners pay or hours when coal prices fell. At this time the mine owners wanted at least 15% cut to wages. Most miners were already on a 3-day week (and, of course, a 3-day pay packet). The new Miners Federation of Great Britain took the view that miners should be on a fixed hourly rate. This issue was to be a curse on the industry’s staff relations until the Second World War and nationalisation.
The Ripley meeting discussed the use of police and the military to deal with disturbances. One barbed comment was that ‘we had come to a sorry state of things when one man residing at Ormonde Fields, Codnor could send for 100 police and soldiers’. Many will know who this was referring to : Frederick Channer Corfield, the manager of the Butterley Company’s mines.
There were several serious disturbances. One in particular was at Featherstone, near Pontefract, when the military were called in to protect Lord Masham’s colliery. Stones thrown by the miners which resulted in a volley of shots from the South Staffordshire Detachment. Several were injured, and two miners died; one of these being James Gibbs of Loscoe.
According to the excellent pages of http://www.healeyhero.co.uk, in August 1893 the first violence broke out at Killamarsh, Derbyshire where a crowd of miners began to throw stones at a gang of non-union labourers. This brings to mind similar incidents at the same location almost a century later, in 1984.
The meeting in Ripley moved a resolution condemning the introduction of police and military in Ripley and a second pledging a fund to provide relief for the miners.