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Enoch Edwards Story, Pit Boy to Politician - John Lumsdon - Page 1

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EnochEnoch Edwards (Born 10th April 1852 –Died 28th June 1912 )

He was a British trade unionist and politician.

Edwards was born at Talk-o'-the Hill and became a coal miner as a child. He was elected to Staffordshire County Council before becoming President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain in 1904, and then MP for Hanley in 1906.

In the election of 1906 he was elected as a Lib-Lab for Hanley. In 1900 he had contested the seat against the Tory MP A.H. Heath. At that election he lost by 642 votes. In 1906 the result was 9,183 for Edwards and 4,287 for Heath a majority of 4,896.

He died at Southport 28th June 1912.

Enoch Edwards was born on 10th April 1852 and was the oldest son of James Edwards a miner from "Talke O' the Hill" colliery near Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire. At the age of 9 after a very meagre education at a local Methodists Day School he started work at Hollinwood Colliery for 6d a day which was then owned by the Birchenwood Coal and Iron Co. Ltd.

On Saturday 17th March 1906 Enoch was entertained at Dinner by the North Staffordshire Miners Federation (NSMF) at the Grand Hotel Hanley in celebration of his election as MP for Hanley. In his speech he related to some of his experiences of his early years in coal mining.

Alone in the Pit with a dead man

One day at the pit he was running errands for the Butty, shortly afterwards there was an accident. It was agreed that the men who were in the pit must come out and he was told by the head Butty to go along to the Four Feet level and fetch a man out who was working by himself 800 yards away. The head Butty said he himself would fetch the others out who were about 300 yards from the shaft bottom and they would be gone up when he returned.

Enoch then started off along this 800 yards roadway, the last 100 yards was up a rather steep incline and when he traversed this he did not know where the man was working so he called out. He stood there alone with a candle in his hand; it was one of those things that was indelibly engraved on his mind, something he will never forget. He called out again, still no answer. He ventured to take a heading to the left and walked into the face where a man, six feet in stature with about two hundredweight of clod across his jaw.

He got some of the dirt off him but the poor man was beyond human aid. He then retraced his steps in fear and trembling that his candle should go out. Down the dip he went and along the rest of the 800 yards level. When he got to the pit bottom, the others had gone up and he was left alone in the pit with a dead man, he a boy ten years of age.

They used coves in those days (a receptacle for carrying coal up the shaft) and he managed with difficulty to step into it. He pulled the bell line, then instead of going up it went down until he got to the surface of the water in the sump then it went back up. By the greatest good fortune in due time he landed at the top.

His other recollections were; the hours were long, from six o’ clock in the morning to half past five and sometimes later in the evening and the wages were 6p a day. Not withstanding the long hours and the hard toil (to which of course no lad could be subjected to now) he was not without aspirations to rise in the world. One of the men at the pit took an interest in him and placed books at his disposal with the advice to improve him as much as possible. Later a library was started in connection with the Sunday school and a great variety of books were made available.

Leaving Hollingwood colliery in 1869 Enoch went to Talke o’ the Hill pit.

His involvement in Union work started at the age of 17 when he started collecting money for the local Miners Association.

Even when his Colliery Manager threatened him with the "sack" for this he was not deterred. At about the same time he also started to take an interest in Friendly Societies and soon after became appointed Secretary for the local Talke Branch of the Ancient Order of Shepherds, later becoming Secretary for the District, a position he held for 14 years. He also became a member of the Ancient Order of Foresters.

By the time he was eighteen Enoch had taught himself to read and had even become a Sunday school teacher. He was to continue to have links and strong views about education for the rest of his life. However, he remained in the local mining industry and worked at several collieries in North Staffs.

Recovering bodies at Talke 1873

During his connection with Talke-o’-the-Hill pit, some of the most terrible calamities which visited the neighbourhood occurred. On the occasion of the deplorable explosion in 1873 he was in the pit at the time, but fortunately he was uninjured. He, on several occasions assisted in rescuing men under the most difficult and dangerous circumstances, some of the bodies had their clothes burnt and blown off them and some were unrecognisable.

About this time he was requested by the management of the colliery to take up an official position. He however preferred the calling of a collier, with the freedom from anxiety of a responsible post.

In 1874 he left the colliery and found employment under the Harecastle Colliery Company, at this colliery Mr. Edwards was again offered and again refused a responsible appointment.

Many of the miners’ leaders were Methodists and Enoch was a leading figure in the Primitive Methodist Church. It was a far cry from the days when in 1739 John Wesley had preached to the colliers. But the rise of the Primitive Methodist connection was not so remote. Enoch Edwards had been born in the same year as saw the death of Hugh Bourne , the millwright who, from his Methodist society in Burslem, had carried his gospel to the colliers in Kidsgrove and Harriseahead, and who along with William Clowes (1780-1851) of Burslem had held the first “camp meeting” on Mow Cop.

Often must Enoch in his youth have heard of those two men and of their followers, who schooled in self-expression, had played a part in leading strikes and building trade unions. And now within site of the lofty Mow Cop, the Mecca of Primitive Methodism, Enoch Edwards preached in the chapel every Sunday that he was at home in Burslem.
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