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Strikes at Tilmanstone 1921 and 1926

In the aftermath of the First World War, the Triple Alliance (of the unions of miners, transport workers, and rail workers), and united action in general, were regarded by many trade unionists as a defence against the threat of wage reductions occasioned by the onset of economic depression. A complicating factor was that both the coal industry and railways had been controlled by the state during the war and were not immediately returned to private hands. The Coalition-Liberal Government of David Lloyd George was unwilling to impose wage reductions, as this would provoke strike action against the government, with political implications. Reductions for miners were postponed until the industry was de-controlled. On 31st March 1921 the coalmines were returned to private ownership. The miners’ union refused to accept the owners’ new terms, and on 1 April 1921 one million British miners were locked out. On 15th April 1921, referred to as Black Friday in British labour history, the leaders of transport and rail unions announced a decision not to call for strike action in support of the miners.
On Saturday the 2nd of April 1921 the pit ponies were brought up at Snowdown and Tilmanstone. There were 70 at Snowdown and 50 at Tilmanstone. The work was supervised by the Dover RSPCA On the afternoon of Thursday 14th April, a “novel” race meeting was held at Archer’s Court Meadow, Whitfield when the pit ponies from Tilmanstone Colliery, mounted by their leaders, competed in scratch races. Six races were run and the following were the winners: – First Race, Tiny; 2nd Race Turk; 3rd Race, Barny; 4th Race, Cornsack; 5th Race, Tartar; 6th Race, Snowball. It was reported that one of the pit-boy riders at these races was thrown and broke his leg, and that two others were injured. The picture was taken in 1913 and is of a pit pony called Little Tick at an unknown colliery but it shows the environment the ponies worked in.
It was then proposed to hold more pit pony races the following week, this time between the Tilmanstone and Snowdown ponies. According to the Kentish Observer, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals then got involved to prevent further pit pony racing. The Directors of Snowdown Colliery, however, stated that, without any intervention from the Society, they had refused to sanction racing by their ponies on the grounds that, owing to their bad sight caused by their life underground, it was dangerous and cruel to race them. It wasn’t the poor light as such that degraded the pony’s eyesight, more that the they were affected by physical injury from things such as dust, rock pieces and other sharp objects. At the peak of the practice of using ponies to move loads in 1913, there were 70,000 ponies underground in Britain. In 1984 there were still 55 ponies in use with the National Coal Board in Britain, chiefly at the modern pit in Ellington, Northumberland. The last four pit ponies in use by the NCB left this pit in 1994.
In Eythorne a “Distress Committee” was set up to provide aid to those in need due to the strike. The Rector, the Rev B. Burrows, was Treasurer and Chairman and it included four residents that where not connected with the mines but who were working in co-operation with the miner’s representatives. By May 1921 it was announced that the committee was in working order, that it had met several times and that it had issued an appeal to the general public for assistance in cases of urgent want. By June the work of the Committee was well underway with between 25 and 30 families being relived every week. It was proposed to have a retiring collection as the congregation leave the Church on Sunday to assist the fund.
The East Kent Colliery Company advertised that both Snowdown and Tilmanstone were open for work in early June but on salaries that were a flat reduction of three shillings per shift on the March 1921 wages. So, for example, the new average Rate Payable per Shift for Colliers on Piece-Work is 24/6 versus the Average Earnings of this Class in March last which was 27/6 per shift.
The lockout lasted for three months, with the miners returning to work 4th July 1921, following a national wage agreement. As a consequence, the accounts of the Eythorne and District Distress Committee were wound up shortly after in July. Upwards of £150 passed through the hands of the Committee, rather more than half being contributed by the Central Relief Fund and the rest through private sources. The Committee thanked all the donors for their kind support.
The Colliery was once again in the hands of the receivers during the 1926 General Strike and was sold to Tilmanstone (Kent) Colliery Ltd. which was owned by Richard Tilden Smith. The 1926 General Strike lasted nine days, from 4 to 12 May 1926. However the miners held out for nearly eight months longer
About 850 men employed at the Tilmanstone Colliery came out on strike although the safety men were still working. It was reported that the district as a whole was quiet, with little evidence in the first week of the strike that anything unusual was happening at the colliery. Special constables had been enrolled in the district in case of unrest but they had not yet been called out. There were, however some instances of fighting reported, usually after drinking resulting to injuries to police officers.
As in the 1921 strike, an Eythorne and District Distress Committee was set up to help those in need as a result of the lock out. The move was first proposed on Thursday 3rd June and it held its first meeting on Friday 4th June 1926 at 2.30 pm in the Rectory. The Committee was comprised of about twelve persons who went out to collect money to be spent on food for those in the district who were in actual want. The Committee investigated claims made upon their resources, and, if satisfied that the claimant is in actual want, issued a chit which could be exchanged at the local grocers for groceries. This course was adopted during the 1921 strike. The Committee continued to meet every Friday and, in the week commencing 14th June, dealt with 28 cases.
Mr Godfrey, of the Eastry Rural District Council, visited the Schools on Monday 7th June with reference to forming a communal kitchen in order to provide food for the schoolchildren if the necessity arose. The matter was left in the hands of Mr Southan, the schoolmaster, to see the local Miners’ Committee and make arrangements with them if it was considered necessary for the step to be taken (which it was). Members of the Tilmanstone branch of the K.M.A. received 4s. each (senior members) and 2s. each (junior members) on Monday 7th. They also each received a parcel of groceries on Saturday the 5th June the money for which came from the George Lansbury Relief Fund. (George Lansbury (22 February 1859 – 7 May 1940) was a British politician and social reformer who led the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935.)
A scheme for providing the miners’ children with food was started on Saturday 12th June, the children receiving tea at the school. Then the week commencing 14th June they started receiving dinner each day. The funds for the scheme were being guaranteed by Mr A. Godfrey of Ash. Mrs Harvey volunteered a subscription in order to make the funds last longer but Mr Southan, who was in charge of the scheme, indicated that he would welcome any further subscriptions. Among those who are gave their services to make the scheme a success where Mrs J. Evans, Mrs H. Gibbs, Mrs Clayton, Mrs A. Dunn, Mrs E. Dunn, Mrs W. Hewish, Mrs G. Woodland, Mrs J. Frier, Mrs W. James, Mrs J. Bishop, Mrs J. Plummer, Mrs T. Hayes, Mrs Broadbent and Mrs T. Parkin.
On Wednesday 16th of June thirty children of Dover miners reached London on the way to temporary homes offered them there during the coal stoppage, in connection with the work of the Distress Committee and organised by the Countess of Warwick. A party of 30 children from Eythorne went to London on Saturday 19th June traveling by motor car. (Frances Evelyn “Daisy” Greville, Countess of Warwick (née Maynard; 10 December 1861 – 26 July 1938) was a British socialite and philanthropist. Although embedded in late-Victorian British high society, she was also a campaigning socialist, supporting many schemes to aid the less well-off in education, housing, employment, and pay, and was often known as the “Red Countess”.)
A further group of children went to London on Friday 25th June for the duration of the strike. Some of the children who had already gone had written to their parents saying they are very comfortable and are having a good time. They were being cared for in private homes by people who had volunteered to take one or two of them. As was the case with the first batch, on the Wednesday before they left, they were all examined and given a health check by Dr Bellamy. The feeding of the schoolchildren at Eythorne School continued each day.
On the afternoon of Tuesday 13th July 1926, the children of Eythorne School were entertained to tea “by the kindness of Major and Lady Violet Astor”. One hundred and five children were present for the tea, which was greatly enjoyed. (Major John Jacob Astor V, was MP for Dover from 1922-1945.)
Eventually the miners were forced, by their own economic needs, to return to the mines. By the end of November, most miners were back at work. At Tilmanstone, safety men were allowed to start in the first week of November. The following notice was then posted in various places in the surrounding villages on Saturday 13th November. “Tilmanstone Colliery: This pit is open for work on terms posted at the Colliery, and signing on for an immediate resumption of work may be made on Monday morning, the 15th November, 1926. Persons employed this Colliery prior to the stoppage are given 24 hours from 5.30 am, Monday, 15th November, to sign on, otherwise they will not be guaranteed to be taken on again. By Order.“ Work started on Wednesday 17th November. Miners from all over the country applied for work.

Vince Croud

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