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The Decline Of The Industry
And Nationalisation 1947


1926 - Page 1

Newstead No2 At Blidworth

At Blidworth, Newstead No2 (Nottinghamshire) the Top Hard coal at 3’ 7½” (1.10m) and not as thick as first thought, was reached at 6am in No2 shaft at 721 yards (659m) deep on Wednesday morning 13th January 1926, at the Newstead Colliery Company’s new Colliery, situated about 5 miles from Mansfield.

The sinking had been much deeper than expected and wild rumours had been flying about that the sinkings could be abandoned. The No1 shaft was down to 677 yards (619m).

The sinkings had begun on 1st August 1923, some 2½ years previously and the expected influx of water from the Red Bunter sandstone had peaked at 4,000 gallons per minute which was pumped out using Evan’s sinking pumps but the unexpected depth of some 167 yards (154m) deeper than nearby Rufford Colliery was eventually explained by the faulty ground not thought to exist at the time of sinking. Again a glaring error had been made by not drilling a hole on the site to prove the seam, as it was thought that sufficient information existed from the nearby sinkings at Rufford and Newstead. Cast-iron tubbing was used to hold back the water through the Permian measures and then the 20’ 6” (6.25m) dia shafts were completed below by brickwork. The High Hazles seam at 3’ 5” (1.04m) thick had been encountered and passed through higher up the shaft. However high spirits prevailed and a flag was flown at the top of the headgear informing all and sundry of the achievement. The workforce at the time was 400 and was expected to increase to between 3,000 and 4,000 men and boys when the colliery was firmly established.

Geordie's Set On

During February 1926, Staveley Coal and Iron Co was short of men at their newly deepened Markham colliery (Derbyshire) and brought in 117 unemployed Geordie miners from Co Durham, but they refused to stay. They were unused to the prevailing conditions and also did not like the ‘Butty system’, being used to the ‘Marrow’ or ‘Cavilling’ systems. The No2 pit had been deepened to the Blackshale seam at 706 yards (645m).

Clifton Manpower

The maximum manpower at Clifton (Nottinghamshire) (Clifton Colliery Co) rose to 1,545 (1,235 men in Deep Soft and Deep Hard).


At Langton No7 (Pinxton Collieries Ltd), the Deep Soft was abandoned.

Samuel Commission’s Recommendations To Cut Wages

In March 1926 the Government accepted the Samuel Commissions recommendations to cut wages and reject nationalisation. Wage agreements were to be national; however some inefficient pits would have to close.

However when the report was published in March 1926, talks held between the coal owners and the miners’ leaders broke down, as the mine owners insisted on wage cuts and longer hours and issued notices to terminate contracts, however in Nottinghamshire the union countered with strike notices.

Propaganda Newspapers

There was several local news sheets issued around this time. Examples were the ‘Summit and Lowmoor Star’ and the ‘Pleasley Star’. They were projecting propaganda in readiness for an impending strike. Arthur J Cook created the ‘Miner’ which was an instant success. The coal owners in the country gave notice that they would be reducing coal-getting rates and a strike was threatened.

Wage Cuts

In Nottinghamshire, hewers wages were to be cut from 12s 1¼d (60½p) highest in the UK, to 10s 6d (54⅓p), a reduction of 1s 2¼d (6p) a shift, and surface labourers from 8s 5½d (42¼p) to 7s 3¼d (36⅓p) a shift, a reduction of 1s 1¼d (6½p).

In Derbyshire, hewers wages were to be cut from 11s 8¼d (58½p) to 10s 6¼d (52½p), a reduction of 1s 2d (app 6p) a shift and surface labourers from 8s 8½d (43½p) to 7s 6½d (37¾p) a shift, a reduction of 1s 2d (6¾p).

The lowest paid in the UK as a comparison were the hewers in Scotland at 9s 4d (46⅔p) to reduce to 7s 6d (35¼p) a shift, and the lowest surface labourers were in North Wales at 6s 5d (32p) a shift to reduce to 5s 0d, but the worst loss was for surface labourers in Northumberland who were to lose 3s 1½d (15½p) a shift, down to 4s 9d (23¾p).

On the basis of a 5½ day week the reductions would range from 3s 9d (63¾p) to 17s 2d (85¾p) a week.

Exports Banned

Following the meeting on 13th April 1926 a ban on coal exports was approved by the International MinersConference and the threat of industrial action noted by the Cabinet and eventually the Prime Minister became involved. Coal had been stockpiled in the previous few months in anticipation of unrest.

Banning exports was a foolish thing to do! Coal from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and I believe Leicestershire had been flowing to the continent and other countries around the World. However because British ships were now turning to oil, coaling stations began to disappear, and Welsh steam coal and anthracite, both excellent varieties of coal began to be used for other means, displacing the poorer quality coals of the Midlands. These markets never recovered, again a severe blow to the local mining industry.

Prime Minister Met The Mining Association

The PM Stanley Baldwin met the full Central Committee of the Mining Association (Coal Owners Organisation) at 4pm on 21st April 1926. The owners laid down the wages schedule that they had prepared in consultation with the their district organisations, in other words the (lower) rates of pay offered to the miners. The deadlock existed between the miners and the mine owners as to the method by which the negotiations should proceed because the Miners Federation insisted that the new national wage agreement must include a national minimum percentage addition to standard rates. The State subsidy payments under the existing arrangements were to cease at midnight on May 1st.

Coal Commission

The Coal Commission reported that it would be necessary to reduce the percentage addition to the basic wage in some cases but the minimum wage was not to be reduced. They also listed a comparative table of hours worked in Great Britain compared to other countries.

Country Average Hours Underground And Hours Worked At The Coal Face
Great Britain  
Holland  8
Germany (Ruhr) 8
Germany (Upper Silesia) 7
Czechoslovakia 8 app   6¾ app

First General Strike in Britain's History And The Miner's Strike 1926

The Miners strike of 1926 lasted from 3rd May to 26th November (213 days). There was a breakdown of negotiations over pay and conditions between the Miners’ leaders and the Government. The miners had decided to stay out on strike after the first General strike in British history, which had the backing of the TUC, had collapsed after only 9 days. There were over 1 million miners and 2½ million other workers called out by the TUC. The Soviet miners’ union secretly sent large amounts of money to be available to the union.

The leader of the miners’ union the MFGB, Herbert Smith quoted, ‘Nowt doing, weve nowt to give’, and Arthur James Cook (pictured) coined the statement ‘Not a penny off the pay, nor a second on the day’ - however they were forced into returning to work for just that, six months later - less money for longer hours!

Miner's strike

From 1926-1930 The Number Of Hours To Be Worked Underground
Was Increased From 7 To 8!

For the miners it was a disaster. There was public disorder in places and cars were overturned, windows smashed. Fights often broke out as the miners tried to stop delivery of goods. Hundreds were arrested. The rail workers, road transport, builders, printers and steel workers had joined the strike in the first 9 days and bus services were suspended on 4th May as the strike gathered unity. However the General strike ended at 1.15am on 12th May when it was called off by the TUC who had worked out a deal to end the General strike by agreeing to a National Wages Board, minimum wage for miners, workers displaced by pit closures to be offered alternative jobs, wages subsidy restored whilst negotiations continued. The miners’ leaders of the Miners Federation President Herbert Smith 64, (b 1862) a Yorkshireman, General Secretary Arthur James Cook 43, a Welsh miner (b 1883 Wookey, Somerset) rejected the deal, but the TUC who was swayed by Jimmy Thomas the Railwaymens leader thought differently and went to Downing Street to tell the PM the strike was over, even though their call for a guarantee of no victimisation was rejected.

Mining families then began to suffer – no pay – anything worth selling was sold if possible or pawned and children survived on bread and dripping and sometimes thin soup from the soup kitchens or other charity.

The NMA had attempted to settle the dispute as early as May for the union was in a precarious financial position and a few pits had continued to work and the dispute weakened the miners so much that even the militant miners sought a compromise. Bolsover Co had employed some Shropshire miners during the stoppage and the known unionist men were victimized.

The MFGB did not allow the NMA to conduct its own negotiations, so much so that men were streaming back to work in the Nottinghamshire pits. Many miners of course moved to other districts to find work to avoid the wrath of their striking colleagues. Local negotiations were then allowed with the owners dictating their own terms and because of the split of the NMA from the MFGB, George Spencer became a hate figure and he was thrown out of the MFGB for defying the strike policy. He was to set up a breakaway union.

Tallies or motties with 2 small holes were issued by the colliery companies and unions and these were sewn onto caps or coats and only men wearing them were allowed to attend for work.

Working Through The Strike

During the strike period, Bilsthorpe, Blidworth, Newstead No2 (Nottinghamshire) (Newstead Colliery Co), along with Ollerton (Nottinghamshire) (Butterley Co) (stood for a month) and Clipstone (Nottinghamshire) (Bolsover Colliery Co) were all developing pit bottom roadways and colliery infrastructure. All three were allowed to carry on developing, the only pits in the country to do so, provided that any coal raised was not sold. However the union allowed it to be used in the boiler fire holes so that winding could continue at the shafts. The small number of miners who were allowed to work for essential maintenance such as pumping by picketing miners did so providing they paid the whole or a substantial amount of their pay to the strike fund. The miners were obviously protecting their interests for afterwards. However at one time around 5,000 striking miners marched to Blidworth to try to persuade the men to down tools. They failed. Sinking continued at Thoresby though.

At Ollerton the ‘Butties’ ruled the roost. They were in charge of the pit bottom headings. The ones at Dec 1925 / Jan 1926 were Harrison, Holmes, Roe, Leatherland, Beresford, Calver, Jenkyn, Brough, Spencer, Broughton, Whitehouse, Hurt, Campbell, Sylvester and McNulty. As the coal faces were headed out, districts were named after some of them e.g. Harrison’s, Jenkyn’s, Beresford’s, Brough’s, Spencer’s and Holmes’s districts. These were the ‘little Butties’ brought over by Butterley Co to the new mine from the Heanor area.

Pit Ponies Brought Out

The pit ponies at the pits on strike were brought out onto the surface and enjoyed some 6 months of freedom from drudgery. However between 1921 and 1926 throughout Britain, 6,802 ponies were killed or died of their injuries, 7,048 had to be put down because of injury and 37,672 were injured but recovered sufficiently to carry on working. Occasionally there were cases of cruelty when the ponies were beaten or had pieces of rock or coal thrown at them to make them ‘go’! I know that later when I started work ponies were obstinate sometimes and would not answer to their given name but would only start to pull a tub when shouted at with words like ‘get going you idle backed bastard’ or similar terms and they seemed to react to such commands.

Pony Races

Pony races were held at the pits and particularly at Mansfield where some 130 yards (app 120m) of underground rails was laid across the cricket pitch and the boys entering the competition, dressed in their Sunday best, white shirt and tie, complete with flat cap and boots, had to limber up the pony which was attired with its underground headgear and harness and attach it to a tub, race down the line to the end of the rails, stop, unhitch the pony and re-hitch to the tub after turning the pony round and race back to the start / finish line. Judging was done with a stop watch and phenomenal speed times for the double journey were just over 1 minute and a few seconds!

The Butties used to remark - ‘that was the speed they ought to be doing down the pit’!


Pit Terminology - Glossary