The National Agricultural Labourers’ Union


     The End of the 19th Century

They called it ‘The Golden Age of Farming’:
The end of the Corn Laws, 1846,
Until Depression, 1873,
When foreign competition, the prairies,
Refrigeration and also steam ships,
Saw farm jobs drop by a third in our county,
With hardly a farm job left for a woman;
A 10 hour day with extra at harvest,
Shepherds and cowmen working the whole day,
Damp, cramped cottage for a home, no rights,
Children working long hours as well;
Some farm workers were content, I don’t deny,
But our children lacked an education,
And we had no vote – it was degrading,
We were backward and poverty stricken,
That’s why Joseph Arch’s union spread here,
The National Agricultural Labourers’ Union!
Imagine! A nine and a half hour day!
Thanks to William Yeats, the Stroud mechanic,
And Joseph Banks, the Slad Road chemist,
We had a lot of hot summer meetings
In Stroud and the Valley villages,
In 1872, I think it was,
With Mr Banks calling for an end to truck,
Calling for shorter hours and higher wages:
‘In sterling money, not fat bacon …or a couple of swedes,’
Is what I remember him eloquently saying
At the meeting in Stroud we all went to.
We went to another big meeting too,
All about emigration and empire,
Thomas Connolly, a London stonemason,
Talked about the wonders of Canada:
‘ Which could accept up to 100,000 people
Every year without causing a glut on the labour market.’
He said you could get three meals a day and good wages –
That’s why I am so lonely; all my boys have gone,
And my daughter is about to emigrate, too.
The joy has gone from my life,
An occasional letter ends up wet with tears,
And I don’t see how I can escape the workhouse,
Mr Hardy might write his novels about these things,
And the painters might paint their pictures,
But there is no romance in the story of my life

Randwick 1832

Randwick 1832 An earlier posting on this blog entitled ‘Weavers and Workhouse Walk’ contained a section on the scheme used to alleviate poverty in Randwick in the early 1830s. We thank the Stroud District (Cowle) Museum Service for giving us permission to make transcrip read more

Going on Strike

I hated the way they looked at me,
Back in 1973,
The day after our ASLEF strike:
There was hatred in their eyes as I trudged
Along the platform to the signal;
It was a long walk, I can tell you,
Me in me uniform, billy can in me hand,
Them in their suits, Telegraphs in their hands,
Watching me walk along that long platform,
Billy can in my hand.

After what seemed to be an hour or so,
I reached the security of the cab,
Where I wanted to turn and shout out loud:
“OK, Let’s start at the end of the last century,
With the Dock Workers’ Strike of 1889,
It showed that zero-hours unskilled workers
Could protect themselves against wage cuts,
And that manual labour did have dignity,
Like on the canals and wharves around Stroud.

And what of Nineteen-Hundred-Eleven?
The Triple Industrial Alliance!
Nostalgic name from Edwardian days,
Railway workers, dockers and miners,
Joined in union solidarity,
Protecting families, wages, lodgings and homes,
Before the Great War claimed them for its own.

The Triple Industrial Alliance!
Defender of the working class after the war,
Against wage cuts and longer working hours,
At the forefront in the General Strike,
In coalmine, railway station and dockland,
Thinking of others apart from themselves.

And what of the Welsh Hunger Marchers
In the Great Depression of the thirties –
Receiving help and succor as they walked
Through west-country working class towns,
On their poor, solemn, path to London;
This is all beyond your understanding,
And your capitalist consciousness.”

But the whistle blew:
The flag was green, not red,
And all of this was thought,
Not said.

The Great Money Trick from ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’

To be performed by the illustrious Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company at the esteemed Prince Albert on the centenary of publication of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’, April 26th 2014. There will also be, ladies and gentlemen, for your profit and pleasure, readings, more theatre, and a book sale, as well as Sam Clark-Stone’s disco- nickelodeon.
What more could you ask for?

“Money is the real cause of poverty,” said Owen.
“Prove it,” repeated Philpot.
“Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.”
“Prove it,” said Philpot.
Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it in his pocket.
“All right,” he replied. “I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.”
Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread, but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left should give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives of Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them, as follows:
“These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.”
“Now,” continued Owen, “I am a capitalist; or rather I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the landlord and capitalist class. I am that class; all these raw materials belong to me.”
“Now you three represent the working class. You have nothing, and, for my part, although I have these raw materials, they are of no use to me. What I need is the things that can be made out of these raw materials by work; but I am too lazy to work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins” – taking three half pennies from his pocket – “represent my money, capital.” “But before we go any further,” said Owen, interrupting himself, “it is important to remember that I am not supposed to be merely a capitalist. I represent the whole capitalist class. You are not supposed to be just three workers, you represent the whole working class.”
Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.
“These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth one pound.”
Owen now addressed himself to the working class as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.
“You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you plenty of work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is that you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.”
The working classes accordingly set to work, and the capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.
“These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is, one pound each.”
As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the capitalist’s terms. They each bought back, and at once consumed, one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of things produced by the labour of others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they had started work – they had nothing.
This process was repeated several times; for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pool of wealth continually increased. In a little while, reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each, he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended on it.
After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools, the machinery of production, the knives, away from them, and informed them that owing to over-production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.
“Well, and wot the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?” demanded Philpot.
“That’s not my business,” replied the kind-hearted capitalist. “I’ve paid your wages, and provided you with plenty of work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at the present. Come round again in a few months time and I’ll see what I can do.”
“But what about the necessaries of life?” demanded Philpot. “we must have something to eat.”
“Of course you must,” replied the capitalist, affably; “and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.”
“But we ain’t got no bloody money!” said Philpot
“Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!”
The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed…

Patriotism, Ralph Miliband and the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail’s ideology can be vaguely reduced to a simple sort of syllogistic equation:
Logical and correct analysis of Capitalism’s mystifications is Evil
British really should mean English
Thinking is un-English
Not being English is Evil

But a response to its recent journalistic attacks on Ralph Miliband needs a broader brush, canvas and palette when we start to look at the heterogeneous nature of English identity – as opposed to the Mail’s imaginary one dimensional one. Ralph Miliband’s writing, along with that of Raphael Samuel, Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson, helped generations of students better understand the tectonic plates of our national identity. They helped so many people understand what it truly means to be English. They helped so many people develop a love of England, its history and its landscape.
They reminded us of our radical heritage: the Peasants’ Revolt; Lollards; Tudor Rioters; Levellers; Diggers; Enclosure Rioters; Food Rioters; Luddites; Chartists; Trades Unionists; Socialists; Marxists; Christian Socialists; Republicans; Suffragettes; Hunger Marchers; Radical Councils; Anti-Fascists; Imperial linkages; Slavery, Anti-Slavery, and so on and so on.
They reminded us that there is more to being English than Queen and Country, King and Empire, Class and Deference. They reminded us that so many of our so called national timeless traditions are but recent upper class inventions. They reminded us that it is possible to sing: “It’s the same the whole world over, It’s the poor wot gets the blame, It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure, Aint it all a crying shame” and yet realise that this music hall ditty contains within it an analysis of profit as stolen wages. They reminded us that we should all read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and The Great Money Trick.
These historians follow a long line of writers from the sort of canon the Daily Mail would like: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, Swift, Defoe, Dickens, Orwell, Gaskell, Bronte, Elliot, Equiano, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Clare, Brooke, Thomas, to name just a few. These are people who have helped define our identity.
This is a picture of English identity with a lot of different colours, shades, pigments, light, shade, shadow and figures. It’s not just a Daily Mail black and white one is it?

The 1926 General Strike and Gloucestershire

We’ll start in Stroud. The Great Western Railway Company decided to make an example of some Union men, as a consequence of the Strike. We should remember this act of victimisation each time we visit the railway station, and also remember the fact that Stroud railway workers refused to return to work at the end of the nine day strike, even when ordered to do so by their union. The Great Western Railway’s response was to say that the only people to have suffered victimisation were their shareholders.
In Gloucester, at the Docks, there were fights between strikers and police when attempts were made to prevent boats moving up and down the river and canal; there was a police baton charge when people tried to stop the swing bridge opening. The motto in Gloucester was “ All out together, all in together”; here follows Ralph Anstis’ description of the events at the bridge in Gloucester (much more of Ralph later).
Three to five hundred pickets were involved after crews of three vessels agreed not to move some goods. In consequence, volunteer labour was utilised, with police presence. After “scuffles” between police and pickets, the two barges and a tug set sail. This prompted the owners to want “to send a tug and an empty lighter along the canal to Sharpness with scab labour to pick up a cargo. Ralph writes: “Striking dockers tried to stop the tug from sailing by preventing the bridgeman from opening the swing bridge. Police were rushed to the scene. Hissing and booing, the crowd refused to give way and the police made a baton charge to force the pickets from the bridge. Eventually the tug and lighter got through. Fourteen men were arrested and thirteen of them were later sent to prison for fourteen days with hard labour.”
We shall now look at the Forest of Dean – the weather was against us this weekend, but we do intend to walk the colliery trails at some point, using the below for context. In addition, the Dean Heritage Centre has three leaflets available: The Speculation Trail, New Fancy and Cannop Ponds. You could use these and this blog to re-create those far-off days of the spring, summer and autumn of 1926. The Dean is quite well served by ‘bus services; there is also the railway to Lydney and bike hire available. The campsite recommended on an earlier posting on this blog impressed us when we visited, if you fancy staying a while.
The miners were “locked out” for another seven months after the TUC called off the nine day General Strike, and that, of course, had a dire effect upon lives in the Forest. Seven thousand men were unable to support themselves and/or their families; they needed assistance not just for the nine days of the General Strike in May but right up to the month of November. The Co-op saved many families from starvation when some Poor Law Guardians were refusing food and outdoor relief for men who had been, let us remember, locked out; they had not gone on strike. They had been locked out by their employers. Think of that when you visit the Forest of Dean.
If you want to know more about the General Strike and the Forest of Dean, then buy, beg or borrow a copy of Ralph Anstis’ “Blood on Coal”. The following information is taken from that book but I can only touch the surface – do try and read it, if you can. Having said that, let’s look at the main collieries in the Dean in 1926, with grateful thanks to Ralph.
He provides a map and a list at the front of his book – these are sites worth visiting to look at and write about; all contributions gratefully received. So, let’s start with these bald facts, transcribed from the map and Ralph’s evocative and detailed descriptions:

A: Norchard (Betwixt the Lydney-Bream and Lydney-Parkend roads, on the old railway line, just north-west and about 3 miles outside of Lydney.) Libby Bullock told me that the main entrance was at Pillowell., but there is no sign of it now. In its place is a small industrial estate, selling commercial cleaning equipment.

B: Princess Royal (Betwixt the Bream-Parkend and Lydney-Parkend roads, north-east of Bream). Clive Bullock said that if you were travelling to Bream from Whitescroft, you pass the Royal Oak as you climb into Bream and you pass the colliery site at the bottom of the hill. There is a housing estate called Princess Royal.

C: Flour Mill (North-west of Princess Royal, on the other side of the Lydney-Bream road, about one third of the way between Bream and Parkend). The following are Ralph Anstis’ words: “ Started in the 1840s, it was not until the 1860s that large-scale development began at Flour Mill Colliery, Bream. Coal was sent down a rope-worked tramway to the screens at Park Gutter (Princess Royal) for loading. The two pits were connected underground in 1916 to improve working and ventilation. Flour Mill closed in 1928 and Princess Royal in 1962. Some buildings survive, one in use by a firm repairing steam locomotives. The route of the rope-worked tramway can also be traced.” Clive said: “Leaving Parkend, go up to the old Pike House, turn left, and the site is a quarter of a mile up there on the left hand side.” By the way, the locomotive that steamed on the 150th anniversary of the opening of the London Underground was restored here.

D: Parkend (West of Parkend on the left hand side of the road that leads towards Cockshoot Wood)

E: New Fancy (Follow the previous road north towards a junction with Staple Edge Wood to your west, the colliery was north of and on the other side of the junction.) Ralph wrote these words: “New Fancy Colliery, on the hill above Parkend, employed many miners from that village following the closure of the Parkend Royal Colliery. The pipes at the latter remained in operation for ventilating “the Fancy”, as it was referred to by the men. The colliery closed in 1944, despite the presence of large reserves, as it became uneconomic to work. Today, the waste heap is a noted viewpoint and the imposing stone wall of the loading bank can still be found in the woods.” Clive told me that there is a working free mine near a quarry on the road from Parkend to Lydbrook.

F: Cannop (On the road that leads from Parkend to Lydbrook, just north of the junction with the Coleford-Speech House road, on the left hand side). Ralph’s book has the following caption beneath a photograph: “ A view of the Coleford to Cinderford road in the 1930s. Cannop Colliery can be seen just down the road, with the Hopewell Colliery site in view behind. Still working today, it has been turned into the Hopwell Colliery Mining Museum and visitors can take trips underground. In the centre distance, Speech House Colliery can also be seen; by this date it was use purely for pumping water out of Lightmoor.”

G: Arthur and Edward (Continue north on the Parkend-Lydbrook road, then follow the road west at the next junction; it will be on your right, within the triangle of roads.) Ralph Anstis wrote this description back in 1999: “Arthur & Edward Colliery or Waterloo as the men preferred to call it, lay at the head of the Lydbrook Valley. It was connected to the railway loading screens by a system of tram tubs, on a half mile-long incline, connected by an endless rope and known colloquially as “The Creeper”. The pit closed at Christmas, 1959.”

H: Trafalgar (closed) (East of G in Serridge Inclosure and roughly equidistant between G and Cinderford, just north of the old railway line). Clive told me to look for Brierley, halfway between Lydbrook and Cinderford; locate a road opposite a petrol station that goes down into a wood; Trafalgar was down there.

I: Crump Meadow (West of Cinderford, between two old railway lines, north of the road that leads to Speech House, in Serridge Inclosure.) Ralph’s book states that at the end of the last century, “after bulldozing and landscaping, all that can be seen are some concrete foundations and, perhaps, the remains of a loading wharf.” Ralph also states: “Sunk in 1824, Crump Meadow was another old colliery which did not long survive the General Strike; it closed in 1929. As with Foxes Bridge, workable reserves of coal were becoming exhausted and Crawshays were concentrating their energies on their new pit, Northern United, which opened in 1933; this pit provided employment for many who were out of work after the closure of Crump Meadow and Foxes Bridge.” (This is where Clive’s grandfather first worked.) Clive advised that you find an industrial estate in Cinderford, then Winner’s Garage (a Skoda garage), where a track leads up into the woods; there are signs of old workings about a quarter of a mile along.

J: Foxes Bridge (Just south of I) Ralph Anstis: “Yet another Crawshay pit, Foxes Bridge sat atop the escarpment looking over Bilson and Cinderford, and began producing coal in the early 1870s. In the 19th century, Foxes Bridge, Trafalgar, Lightmoor and Crump Meadow collieries, which lay within a couple of miles of one another, produced two thirds of the coal raised in Dean. Foxes Bridge closed in August 1930.”

K: Lightmoor (South of J, south of the Speech House road, west of Ruspidge) Ralph Anstis, wrote the following in 1999: “Lightmoor Colliery lay in the heart of the Forest, close to Speech House and the Dilke hospital, alongside the mineral loop line of the Severn & Wye Railway. The colliery also had its own private branch line and locomotives, linking it with Bilson Yard, near Cinderford. It closed in 1940 after a hundred year life and is today the most intact Dean colliery site remaining, including one of the engine houses.” The caption to a 1910 photograph in the book states that, “The waste heaps in the centre foreground eventually became the tip which remains as a landmark to this day. The nearer engine house still stands, albeit minus its roof and is an extreme state of neglect.” The caption adds that its Cornish pumping engine is now at the Dean Heritage Centre, “restored to working order.” Clive added that you look for a left before you get to the Dilke Hospital and a sign saying “Forest Products”; you then go down a track past ponds and the remains of the pit head.

L: Eastern United (South of Ruspidge, south-east of K, on left hand side of the road that leads from Soudley to Ruspidge). Ralph wrote: “Eastern United was also owned by Henry Crawshay &Co. Sinking began in 1909. It was one of the easier pits to work, with wide, well-lit roadways, and it returned handsome profits for the company. Following nationalisation, the mine closed suddenly in 1959, much to the shock of the workforce, at a time when it was thought the location of a new seam promised it a bright future.” Clive said that when it closed the miners said there was more coal left down below that they had taken out. There is warehousing there now and an industrial estate. This is where Clive’s granddad finished. Clive said the colliers were dumbfounded. It was such a big pit.

M: Speech House Colliery closed before the Strike; a caption to a photograph in Ralph’s book states: “Speech House Colliery, circa 1910, after it had closed for coal production but was still in use for pumping Lightmoor. The site is now a car park and a picnic area.” Look for the Beechenhurst Picnic Site, going towards Coleford.
Libby Bullock reminisced while we drank our tea and said: “When we were children, we used to go and visit the pit ponies. There were about eight. We’d go the miners’ huts and have cheese on toast cooked by the miners on an open fire.”