Thursday, 28 January 2016

Burradon Banner - Self Help and Welfare

Welfare provision and self help in the Burradon mining community was a gradual progression from small cooperative schemes towards employer and state subsidies. Post war, this eventually developed into the welfare state we know today. This situation was not unique to Burradon Colliery it was happening throughout working-class communities.

Several of the slogans emblazoned on the Burradon Union Lodge banner of the 1950s refer to the newly-won state provision of welfare created by the post war Labour Government. These are: family allowances, social security, health and more loosely happiness, peace and prosperity.

We can see several examples of this gradual progression and better provision of welfare from the late 19th century onwards. This was provided by a number of different organisations: religious groups, with the Methodist denominations being dominant in the coalfield communities, unions, the Co-operative Society, one-off charity events to benefit a single cause and friendly or mutual societies. Sometimes these organisations overlapped in the activities they undertook. In fact, you can often see the same residents' names appearing as leading activists in more than one organisation. Moving through the timeline of the twentieth century some of these leading activists are also listed as councillors for the local authority.

Probably the beginnings of self help in Burradon can be traced to the mining disaster of 1860 where seventy-six workers were killed by an explosion in the pit.  The mineworkers had lobbied the coalowners for a mutual provident insurance scheme to pay compensation in the event of accidents or deaths in the pit. The coalowners did not back the scheme at that time, but the campaign for a change in attitude towards fairer conditions for mineworkers was to gain momentum. Although miners' cottages often came with a garden in which to grow vegetables and allotments were often provided, the conditions for the colliery workers, in the mid-19th century, was often squalid and there was not much regard for health and safety in the pit.

The co-operative movement followed closely behind the mining disaster. Great Britain's co-operative societies were born through the efforts of poor people to help themselves and one another in years of hardship. In 1844, when wages were low in England and food expensive, a group of weavers in Rochdale saved a few pence every week until they had £28 and acquired a small shop. There they sold food at the same price as other grocers, but the profits were divided and given back to the customers in proportion to the money each had spent in the shop. The scheme was so successful that the idea quickly spread. The Cramlington and District Co-operative Society founded a retail branch in Burradon, in 1872. The Cramlington and District Co-operative Society had been founded, in Cramlington, in 1861. The workers of Cramlington pooled their resources and sent a couple of the men off to Newcastle to buy provisions. The local traders thought the scheme would flop, but it was a huge success, selling out in no time at all. The scheme continued to grow and in 1894 a large premises was built on Burradon Road. It was still flourishing in the 1950s.

The 1894 Ordnance Survey mapping showed a mechanics' institute having been built on Burradon Road. These were establishments formed to provide adult education, especially in technical subjects, to working men. The Mechanics' Institutes were used as 'libraries' for the adult working class, and provided them with an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking in pubs. The mechanics' institute at Burradon did provide recreational facilities though, including snooker tables. They were funded by subscriptions and may have been given practical support by the colliery owners to get the structure built. Mineworkers seemed to be  enlightened as to the benefit of education in self improvement.

The newspapers often featured reports of  events held in some charity fundraising capacity, or in celebration. One example would be the concert held for Henry Cuthbertson who lost both his legs in a colliery accident in 1894. He was able to set himself up as a barber in a wooden hut near the Social Club, presumably with the money raised at this charity concert.

Morpeth Herald 1894
Many of these concerts were held in churches or were organised by religious groups. One such group was the Independent Order of Rechabites, a friendly Society founded in England in 1835 as part of the wider British temperance movement to promote total abstinence from alcoholic beverages and other self help benefits. Over 200 people attended their annual social in the Co-operative hall in 1903 and joined their friendly society providing benefits in case of sickness or death.

Morpeth Herald 1903
The memoirs of Honor Weightman, recalling life around the time of the second world war, makes a mention of her father having been taken by pit ambulance to the infirmary after an accident. Frequent mention is also made of a village Doctor. In 1921 a cottage, which still stands, was built to house a village nurse. It incorporated a war memorial. Dr John Dagg was appointed community GP on 23rd November 1938. He replace Dr Roberts and the interim GP of 3 months, Dr White. In an interview I held with former miner Bill Wardle several years ago he referred to various mineworkers schemes of mutual recreation initiatives, such as the mechanics' institute and the recreation ground. The committee of trustees had at one stage discussed building a swimming pool in the  recreation ground, but it was felt that it would be underused and not be economically sensible. A bandstand was erected instead, but this was rarely used either. These schemes were financed by a mixture of subscriptions, some charity donations, a levy on wages and sometimes support from the mine owners.

The mines had been commandeered and nationalised during the 1914-18 war. This led to a better awareness of conditions within the coal industry. It was a time of low output and falling wages within the industry. The Coal Industry Commission Act 1919 (c 1) was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom, which set up a commission, led by Mr Justice Sankey (and so known as the "Sankey Commission"), to consider joint management or nationalisation of the coal mines. It also considered the issues of working conditions, wage and hours. Taking the pits into public ownership wasn't implemented at that time but it was recognised that mineworkers were at a disadvantage over labourers in other industries in having to spend a great deal of time getting themselves and their clothes clean after a shift. The miner's unions had been disappointed the coal mines had not been nationalised at this time and continued to campaign for public ownership in the decades that followed. This was the subject of many speeches given at the annual miners' picnic, the speakers often questioning what useful part the owners played in the management of the pits and stating that the industry could survive without them. There is sense from reading the transcriptions of the speeches that the workforce believed they were the rightful stakeholders in the industry. The coalowners and coalminers had now organised themselves into national associations and unions. However a concession was obtained in that a miner's welfare fund was established which later became the Miner's Welfare Commission. This extract is from and HMSO publication of the Miner's Welfare Commission of 1945:
Miners’ welfare originated in an Act of Parliament in 1911, dealing generally with conditions within the coalmining industry, but which touched, somewhat tentatively, one aspect of welfare, namely the provision of pithead baths. Following the reports of the Sankey Commission in 1920, and the Samuel Commission in 1926, two more mining industry Acts were more directly concerned with welfare. These established a fund and an administrative framework for the purpose of welfare for workers in and about coal mines.
When viewed as a complete series, these and subsequent Acts present a picture unique in the industrial history of Great Britain, viz. : comprehensive welfare founded on legislation but effected, in the main, by voluntary and co-operative methods. The approach to actual welfare problems was, at first, tentative and experimental. But as soon as experiments began to show results, and it became clear that the spirit of organised welfare could flourish notwithstanding difficult and complications within the industry, its scope was enlarged or strengthened. Hence we find today, welfare firmly planted in the mining industry and, although it was not always so, its importance as an integral part of the industry widely recognised. In 25 years it has developed from small and tentative beginnings into a great organisation for the benefit of the miner and his dependants, with capital assets in the region of 24 millions sterling and with an annual income, in normal times, of £1,000,000.
Pit head baths were soon after established at some collieries. The capital cost was met by the colliery owners but use of the facilities had to be paid for by the miners themselves. It was not until 1951 that Burradon Colliery were to build a large pit baths and canteen, although a small canteen had been established in the pit manager's house on 25th August 1941, Mrs Saint being the manager. On 5th November 1937 the colliery started to pay its workforce every Friday instead of fortnightly, as had been the long-standing custom. The week without pay had been known as baff week. In 1938 miner's were allowed three days paid holiday per year. This was extended to one week's paid holiday the following year.

These were the beginnings of a involvement and funding by the state and colliery owners in the welfare of the workforce. After nationalisation and the creation of the welfare state the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation was created to fulfil the role of the previous mentioned organisations. The website of the CISWO states:

CISWO was established as a limited company prior to the Miners’ Welfare Act 1952. It was a partnership between the National Coal Board and the Mining Unions, to address the welfare of employees and their dependants “beyond the colliery gate.” It succeeded the Miners’ Welfare Commission, very much a social experiment between 1920 and 1952, which developed community facilities for the benefit of mineworkers and their dependants. The work of CISWO as an Organisation until 1995, was funded by British Coal on the basis of a levy on the tonnage of saleable coal.
The organisation comprehensively was, and still is, involved in many aspects of a miner's welfare: recreation, health and education.

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