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A. J. Cook

A. J. Cook, secretary of the Miners Federation of Great Britain said: -
" The history of the coal mining industry in Britain is one long record of struggle between profits and human life. That is the battle which the miners are fighting and it is the battle on behalf of the whole working class".

Looking back into the history of mining we see that every tiny reform, advance in wages, or improved working conditions, have had to be forced by prolonged agitation and strikes. Even before Cook's time the situation was the same.

In those days the government, the public, or the mine owners paid little attention to the conditions under which mining was carried on in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Men, women and children worked as long as 13 and 14 hours per day, in atrocious conditions.

It was dangerous work and accidents were common and it was not till after 1813 that inquests were held on miners killed under ground. Prior to this no one new or cared what happened, except in the mining communities where husbands, sons and brothers were being killed and maimed digging the coal, a commodity that Great Britain as a nation depended.

I recall seeing a memorial to 26 children drowned in an inrush of floodwater, 11 of them young girls from 8 years of age to 17.


So a lot was required to be done to redress this situation. And of course a lot was done, through this struggle. But if one reads the history books on mining you will find that A. J. Cook was right when he said; "It is one long struggle"


In the mining community of Silkstone, near Barnsley men, boys & girls started work but about 2pm 4th July 1838, a fierce storm started.

A warning was sent to the miners, some tried to exit via a drift in Nabbs Wood. Sadly a swollen stream near the entrance burst its banks.

A torrent of water poured into the drift and 26 children aged between 7 and 17 were drowned in seconds

The children were buried on 7th July 1838

Before I say anything on the run up to the 1984/85 strike I should like to say a little on the run down of the industry in general. There was a steady decline of the industry from 1920. I don't like to bandy statistics about but I must, to give some idea of the decline. The number of miners in 1913 was over l million, producing 287million tons of coal from 3,000 pits. 98 million tons of this being exported.

After the first W.W. the market for British coal was sharply reduced. The development of electricity and hydro electricity had its effects, and the post war boom for British coal collapsed. The war prevented the installation of new equipment and wrecked the export trade as other countries were driven to develop their own coal industries and alternative sources of power. Thus the world capacity for producing coal increased.

By 1932 the workforce in the U.K. was down to 827,439 and in 1938 to 782,000 miners producing 227m tons, 46m tons being exported. In 1947 when the mines were nationalised, there were 718,400 miners producing 187½ million tons, from 958 collieries.

The Railways that had been using 9 million tons of coal, changed to electrification and diesel, lowering their order to a few thousand tons to fuel the trains.

In 1960 manpower was down to 588,500 and output stood at 186,800 tons from 698 pits.

Then the use of cheap oil began to erode the coal markets of Britain and Europe and the first major post war pit closures came in the early 1960s. Harold Macmillan, appointed Alf Robens to succeed Jim Bowman as chairman of the N.C.B. (Feb 1961)

Robens recognised the need to cushion the social upheaval involved in pit closures and Macmillan, a man who respected miners, allowed Robens to run the industry at a loss in order to limit the social devastation.

Robens and the N.U.M. also warned of the risk of relying on oil supplies from politically unstable parts of the world.


Pit Terminology - Glossary

John Lumsdon