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The Chartist movement, was blamed by those of shall we say, " a higher social standing ", for a great deal of the unrest of the 1840s. The truth was very different, as the struggling working man desperate strove to keep his head above the water, and his family fed. Some reforms had come, but they were small, and soon eroded. Unrest spread, not just to the people who worked in the Iron trade, but to what many concidered to be those in well paid employment: The Miners. If you believed the many statistics thrown around, that miners could earn over 5 shillings a day, you would not have had much sympathy, for in 1842, 30 shillings a week was a really good living wage. Things though, were not as they seemed, for in spite of the dreaded " truck system " of paying wages having been abolished 10 years earlier, it was still, very firmly in place. The reason why, is part of this next little true story.
Across the Coal fields of the Black Country, in early September, 1842, disgruntled miners began to lay down their tools and take to the streets. In anticipation of the trouble that had ensued elsewhere, the availiable Offiers of the Law, had been despatched to likely trouble spots. Thus, West Bromwich Policeman, Thomas Danks, found himself on the way to Mr Gilberts Colliery, at Hilltop, which was reported to be under attack. When he and his small detachment arrived, they were faced with a mob, between 200 and 300 strong. They were just pulling one of the collieries banksmen from the Canal, having thrown in him, in an attempt to get him to stop working. He couldn't of course swim. It really doesn't matter at this stage, who was right and who was wrong, for what isn;t under debate is the courage now shown by Danks, his two policeman sons, and at least 4 special Constables. They waded in, and Danks managed to arrest one the leaders, George Scarlett, but came under such a sustained assault, they were forced to let him go. There were others in danger too, for there were over a dozen men working down the mine, and huge quantities of coal and iron pieces were being thrown down the shaft. The small band of officers repeatedly tried to clear the Colliery yard, but were forced to retreat, and finally had to send for help and the much dispised Yeomanry. The mob, possible sensing they had been in one place too long, began to move off towards The Ebenezer Colliery, just down the road at Black Lake, followed and harressed by the policemen. It was just a little after 9.20am, and things would get a bit hotter yet.
Not far from Mr Gilberts Colliery lay the Colliery of William Salter, and Police Constable no.13, a young man from Wednesbury called Thomas Dew, was one of several that morning, detailed to protect it. Word reached them that trouble had started at Mr Gilberts, so they set off to help. By the time thet arrived of course, the mob had moved off, and as they were not going in the direction of Mr Salters mine, the two police groups joined and set off after the mob of what had now become known as " The Dudley Miners ". ( Mostly from Tipton and Coseley ) The Police, keen to arrest as many as possible, and the miners, equally determind to escape, split into two groups at the Ebenezer, after once again trying to get the miners to stop work, one heading for the old Hawthorn Chapel, and the other for the Canal. This was a mistake, for the Canal at this point was wide, and deep, and couldn't be crossed easily. Many men simply jumped into the water, others pulled in place an empty boat to make a bridge, and the Police made valient efforts to stop them. Several arrests were made, as men were dragged from the water, and there were reports of some men being attacked with cutlasses, as they struggled to reach the other side. As the melee died down, it became clear that there were some men in the water in difficulty. One of them was George Scarlett, and when he was finally pulled out, he was barely alive. Another man, James Charm, 25 years old, was seen to go down twice, and a labourer at the Ebenezer, Thomas James, made several heroic efforts to save him, succeeding at the third attempt, in getting him onto the towpath. Alas, he was too late, for James Charm had breathed his last. Scarlett meanwhile, had also been hauled out of the murky canal, but despite mighty efforts to revive him, he was pronounced dead by a Doctor who turned up a short time later. The mob mostly disappeared, to be replaced by a steady stream of sightseers, who spent most of the day silently filing past the two dead bodies which had been left on open display. Now you may think this was a terrible thing for the Police to do, but bear in mind, many were saying they had been viciously attacked with Sabres and Cutlasses, which simple wasn't true. In the end, the Yeomanry weren't needed, which must have been something of a relief for the Magistrates, for at times. they were more undisiplined than the mob. And so to the inquiry.
The inquest, having dismissed some very obvious attempts by witnesses to lie their heads off, reached, in accordence with the medical evidence, the verdict of " Suffocation after being immersed in Water ". The Chairman of the Inquiry was Mr Chance, not only a prominent maker of Glass, but also a local Magistrate, and he faced a difficult task. He had been presented with a list of grievences by the striking miners, some of which bore some striking relevences to the awful state of his own workmen. The main complaint was that the Coalmasters and " Butties ", operated the Truck system, when wages were paid in tokens, which of course could only be redeemed in their shops. This was of course illegal, but when work was short, very few could afford to complain about being cheated. Then there was a complaint that many went unpaid for work, which was only too true. The butties, when have roadways cut, did not pay the men the time taken, for it produced no coal, and lowered their profits. Then there was the non-payment for keeping the mine clean, a safety measure that the Butties and Coalmasters had to do to prevent explosions, and the shoring up of roofs and walls. Finally there was the shifting out of the mine, the resulting slack produced from cutting coal, and which would have soon clogged up the workings. Taken then as a whole, it would be almost impossible for any miner to earn 5 shillings a day, he simply didn't have enough paid productive time to do it. The average earnings for a miner in the 1840s would have been 2 shillings and 4 pence a day, if he were lucky, and some underhanded buttie didn't cheat him, or cut a few corners and cause his untimely death. No wonder they went on strike and rioted, any sane man would have done the same.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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