This particular dispute seems to have been around the pay and conditions for the hewers working in the pit. In case you don't know, as I didn't, a hewer is someone who loosens rock and minerals in a mine.
During the 19th century numerous colliery companies, including those at Wearmouth, provided rented homes for miners. Many of these were tiny back-to-back houses laid out in closely packed rows. A prolonged industrial dispute ultimately led to miners being unable to pay their rent being subsequently evicted.
My sources are newspaper reports and direct quotes are in purple.
The first newspaper report appeared in the Newcastle Journal which says that as there was unlikely to be an agreement with the owners of the colliery, those pit men who had received their two weeks notice and had found employment elsewhere were preparing to leave their colliery houses.
Monday 18th April
At this early stage of the dispute, the company were using managers to do the work of those on strike and the strikers seemed determined to continue their fight.
A mass meeting of 600 men was held and their chairman said that only six of the old hewers were at work at the colliery, the remainder being officials who had gone in to replace them. They unanimously agreed :
- to stand by each other until their demands were conceded.
- to stand by those brave men (deputies and others) who, at great personal sacrifice, objected to comply with the owners’ request to hew, and thus supplant the hewers and
- that the wing of the Wearmouth Labour Society would protect all who might suffer in this way.
Tuesday 19th April
By the beginning of the second week, tensions were rising as the company was now using labour from other parts of the docks. The police were on standby and the wives of the hewers seem to be the most vocal in their opposition to the colleagues of those striking who chose to continue working. The employers were racking up the pressure by issuing eviction notices to those on strike. The message was "work or lose your house and your job".
There are indications that the extensive strike of hewers employed at the pits of this colliery, which has hitherto been conducted quietly, is about to enter another phase. The pits have not been entirely laid off, the owners having employed the deputies, back overmen, wastemen, and even the coal trimmers, who load the ships at the drops, in coal hewing; and yesterday and on the preceding day, about 90 men were at work, including a few hewers who have not joined the general body of men, and to which there are additions of one or two every day.
A considerable body of borough police is kept at the colliery, to protect the men, as they go to and return from their work, from the mobbing and other acts of violence at the hands of the wives of the other pitmen. Some men who have not been so protected have been subjected to rough treatment. One man was set on and followed by a body of women from the pit to his dwelling and stoned on the way. His son, in protecting his father, retaliated by throwing stones, one of which hit a woman on the head, and severely injured her.
On Tuesday night a band of women and boys saluted the men on leaving the colliery with “rough music”. Several skirmishes and disorderly scenes ensued, and the result was that informations have been sworn against the principal actors in the affray for disturbances. The men on strike still retain their houses, though they were informed that they must leave them on the termination of their fortnight’s notices.
Late on Tuesday night, 20 men received verbal notices that they would be required to give up their dwellings in twenty-four hours, unless they, in the meantime, proceeded to the colliery offices and entered into fresh engagements. Those who did not would have to apply for the small balances belonging them in the owners’ hands and leave. There has been no response to this, and in a few days the process of eviction will be carried out.
In the temper of the different parties, there is at present no signs of an arrangement. The owners say all they desire is that the men will act on their notices and leave so that the houses may be ready for those who may be got into their places.
Evictions began. Those evicted included young children and they were literally thrown out onto the street with their furniture and belongings.
Notices have been given to miners on strike at Wearmouth Colliery to leave colliery houses in fourteen hours. Evictions of those who refuse commence today. Ninety men are at work and a strong force of police is required to protect them from violence.
This morning the evictions of the men who had received notice on Tuesday to leave their houses was commenced. A little after seven o'clock a large body of police, under the command of Chief Constable Hainsley, marched to the colliery office, where they took up their quarters to be in readiness to protect the men who had been engaged to conduct the removals. These were headed by a man named Campbell, a bailiff, who had gathered a lot of "bums" together. When the bailiffs appeared in the colliery square few persons were stirring.
The first house visited was that of a man who at the last strike was proceeded against before the magistrates. In a few minutes the furniture, all of it of a much superior quality to that in ordinary pitmen's houses, was carried out to the door. The men who had the unpleasant task of removal did their duty quietly, and with as little roughness as possible, and no opposition was offered.
In the next house visited, the door was barricaded, and they left it for a time.
In the third house the inmates had not got their breakfast and in a quarter of an hour they saw their goods placed outside, the door locked, the little children standing round a table in the open road to get their breakfasts.
Other houses were visited and the furniture speedily removed. Everywhere the people displayed peaceable conduct. Where there were any sick inmates of the houses, the bailiffs had instructions not to interfere, and where the inhabitants had not risen, they postponed operations for a time. Ultimately about 20 families were turned out, the men declaring that as the furniture had been placed on the highway by the colliery owners' agents, they would not remove it.
A largely attended meeting of the men was held in the forenoon, when the "tyrannical, unjust and cruel conduct of the owners" was denounced in strong terms. It is intended to take the advice of Mr Roberts of Manchester, as to the legality of the conduct of the owners in turning out some of the men without proper notice and while they had money belonging to some of the men in their possession. Resolutions were also passed pledging the men, no matter what the conduct of the masters, to conduct themselves peaceably, and also to make provision out of the union funds for the shelter of those turned out.
Evictions continued and there seems to have been little opposition from those affected.
On Saturday, the process of turning out of the colliery houses the men who sent in their notices and left work was continued. On Thursday 16 houses were emptied, on Friday 15, and on Saturday 9, making in all 40. The ejectments will continue today and a considerably larger force of men employed in order to carry on more rapidly the clearing out process, as they appear resolved to get rid of at least some portion of the men who have gone out on strike. So far as the pitmen are concerned all has continued quiet.
Monday 25th April
It was reported that all evictions would be completed by the end the week so that the houses would be available for the new labour force which will replace those who refuse to work.
The ejectment of pitmen from the colliery houses was resumed this morning, and up to the dispatch of our parcel about twenty more families have been turned out. The owners have determined to push on more vigourously the clearing of the houses, and have engaged more bailiffs for the purpose. In the event of the men not resuming work, an effort will be made to get the whole of them out of the houses by the end of the week, for the accommodation of others who, the owners say, are willing to come to the colliery. No opposition was offered.
However, there were signs that some strikers just couldn't afford to back the strike and were returning to work.
There are signs of wavering on the part of the men, and the number of men at work at the colliery is being daily augmented. The pitmen on strike have passed a resolution that none of their lads hitherto employed in the pit shall work for “the black legs”.
Wednesday 27th April
The business of evicting families from houses continued and there were now estimated to be nearly 500 homeless.
Thirty eight families were turned out of their houses on Monday, and about a similar number yesterday, so that altogether over 110 houses have been emptied. Half a dozen more men resumed work yesterday morning. Instead of turning out one here and there, the work is now done systematically; group of houses is commenced with and not left until the whole are cleared out. The furniture is being rapidly removed to whatever places can be procured for it. There was no meeting of men yesterday.
The Wearmouth colliery strike, we are afraid, must be attended with much suffering and up to last night about 100 evictions had been carried into effect. This, we are told, renders from 400 to 500 persons homeless. The pit is not standing. Day after day a few men resume work, and the owners anticipate that by the end of the week they will have as many miners employed as they require.
Thursday 28th April
Individuals facing eviction were desperate enough to volunteer to evict themselves for a small payment.
About 40 more houses of pitmen were cleared, making in all 205 families who have been got out. In many instances the pitmen have gone to Mr Campbell, the leader of the ejecting force, and have undertaken, on the payment of half a crown or three shillings from him, to remove themselves, and in this way the process of ejectment has been much facilitated.
Fights are breaking out within families.
On Saturday, a man named Thomas William Hair, was charged with breaking the window of Isabella Hair, his sister. The defendant is one of the men on strike, and it appears that on Friday night he had been supplied with drink and went to his sister's house, where his father and brother, both of whom remain at work, live, and he broke the windows out of revenge for their acting as "blacklegs". He was fined 3s 6d and costs, or in default, to be sent to prison for seven days.
Monday 2nd May
The resolve of the strikers was weakening at the beginning of the fourth week. Individuals were slowly returning to work but the bosses were not allowing the ring leaders back. There was an offer from other collieries to help pay for them to emigrate to America.
lt is stated that a strong disposition is manifested amongst a section of the men at this colliery to return to work, and the owners have received many applications from men working in other districts to be employed. Several more of the old hands resume work this morning, and others have offered themselves, but the owners will only employ such as they desire, and many of those now out will not, it is said, be again allowed to work at the colliery under any circumstances. A meeting of the men was held, at which suggestions from different collieries were read, the principal being a recommendation that the men should emigrate to America, and promising them assistance.
A statement was issued by the company saying that pay had increased over the previous three years. This was disputed by the strikers but they said that they would go back to work if it was proven to be true.
The most important feature of the meeting was a resolution passed in reply to the statement issued by the masters, that the average of wages, since Mr Heckels became viewer, was more than the three years preceding. All the men pledged themselves to return to work immediately if the owners would prove the statement by the books or pay sheets, a man appointed by the men to examine them.
Tuesday 3rd May
Men were returning to work in greater numbers and another colliery had offered to employ them on better terms.
Yesterday and Monday, twenty men who had been out on strike, returned to work, making about 150 hands now employed in different parts of the Colliery. Other applications have been made by men anxious to resume work. An agent from Messrs Love and Co’s collieries has been in Sunderland to engage 200 of the men on strike, offering them better terms than is paid at Monkwearmouth, and a deputation has been sent to examine the colliery.
Wednesday 4th May
There was still no agreement with the company and the strike seemed to be drawing to an end.
Yesterday, an interview took place between the deputation for the men and the representatives of the owners of the colliery in reference to the statement made by the latter a few days ago, that better wages had been earned at the colliery since Mr Heckles, the present viewer, came than before; the men would pledge themselves to return to work if this could be substantiated; but it was intimated that the strike was at an end, and that the owners would agree nothing, and they would only take 19 or 20 men back again after they had tried work at other collieries. The deputation that visited Messrs Love and Co’s collieries reported favourably, and it is expected a number of the men will remove thither.
Thursday 5th May
More men went to work again yesterday morning, and the offers to the owners to return are numerous. The owners state that the books are open to the inspection of any professional accountant selected by the men for examination as to the truth of the statement they have put forth. A good few men are engaged in removing, or have gone to other collieries, where they have got employment. Yesterday, a meeting of the men was held, when Mr Richardson, the chairman, said the wish of Mr Heckles, the viewer, was, by driving from the colliery men who had worked there all their lives, and dispersing them throughout the country, to break up the Union. It was stated that allowance would be made to the men on Monday.
Those still on strike seem to have dug their heels in for the long haul and substitute labour from another county had been turned back by the strikers. The strike committee was only able to pay each striker seven shillings from their strike fund (equivalent to what they would be paid for working between one and two shifts). The company increased the ante by issuing a statement giving details of amounts earned by those who were working.
Some men having arrived in Sunderland from Staffordshire with a view of starting work at this colliery on Monday morning have been induced to leave the town again between Saturday night and yesterday. A meeting of the men remaining out was held yesterday morning, at which the roll was called over, in order to make a distribution of the funds granted, on Saturday, by the Miners' Association. It was stated that the Staffordshire men had packed up their things and taken their departure. Addresses to the men were delivered, and it was announced that a division of the money would be made this morning.
The men out on strike at this colliery received seven shillings each, which was paid by the Strike Committee, and is the first dividend that the men have received. The numbers at work in the pit still continue to receive daily augmentation.
Thursday 12th May
The strikers held a meeting and withdrew their support for the union position.
The men held a meeting at which a great deal of dissatisfaction was manifested, and at the conclusion many of them intimated they would no longer obey the dictates of the leaders of the strike, but would at once return to work.
The strike ended exactly one month after it had begun. The collapse in the strike was blamed on the lack of support from the public and the union. The majority returned to work, much the poorer, under the same terms and conditions as before. Those who were re-employed were allowed to move back into the houses they had been evicted from.
There is every indication that the strike at this colliery is at end. It will remembered that the men turned out a month yesterday, when five hundred hewers, who had given in their notices, laid off altogether over one thousand hands. The men have not received from the Union or the public the amount of support they had anticipated, and the Strike Committee have only been enabled to divide for the month 7 shillings per man. The result is that much discontent has been manifested, and during the last day or two there was greater disposition evinced to resume work upon the old terms. On Wednesday evening, there was quite a throng of men round the colliery office, eager to give in their names to be again taken on, but the owners decline to re-engage those who were prominent in the strike. Fully fifty men were re-engaged; and soon as they can remove back to the colliery houses, from which they were evicted, will be again at work.
The leaders of the strike tried to stop the men returning to work. It seems those who worked during the strike earned good money.
Some of the leaders were also around the office; but their remonstrances with the men who were willing to go back were not effective. As soon as these additional hands get in again there will be 200 hands at work. The men already employed sent to bank, on Wednesday, 83 score of tubs, or more than one third the regular quantity of coals they had hewed; and they have every anticipation that in a few days the colliery will be again fully employed. Some men who have been hewing during the last fortnight have earned very large sums of money, but these are in the best places. As much as £4 10s and £5 have been got men who were previously ship trimmers or coal hewers.
Union leaders were forced to give up their fight and conceded that the company had won.
This appears to have convinced the leaders that their power was departing; and about eleven o’clock, while a number of men were standing round the union house (the Wheat Sheaf Inn), Mr Richardson, who has presided at most of the meetings, intimated that the strike was at an end, and the men at liberty to return to work. There was immediately a rush to the colliery office, when a deputation intimated that the body of men were willing to return on the terms on which they turned out a month ago. Many of them were re-engaged, but the owners would only take those who had not occupied a prominent place in the turn out.
After a month’s idleness and the loss of money, the masters have beaten the men.