Grim ordeal of evicted miners’ families

During the 19th century numerous colliery companies provided rented homes for miners. Many of these were tiny back-to-back houses laid out in closely packed rows.

Kinsley Camp

Companies with more imagination built model villages like the ones at Woodlands, Doncaster, and Maltby near Rotherham.

However, regardless of the type of housing provided, this counted for nothing during an industrial dispute. A prolonged confrontation ultimately led to miners unable to pay their rent being evicted. Thus colliery-owned housing was an important instrument of social control and a practice that continued into the 20th century.

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Yorkshire witnessed a number of colliery evictions during both the 19th and 20th centuries. One of these began in 1905 involving Kinsley miners who worked at the Hemsworth-Fitzwilliam Colliery. Trouble had been simmering between miners and management and boiled over at the end of July with a number of miners handing in their notice. The colliery company then gave notice to around 140 workers.

Letters were written to the Prime Minister, AJ Balfour, and other MPs asking to help with the dispute. But, while all that was going on, eviction orders 
were issued to about 43 miners’ homes.

At 10am on Tuesday, August 15, about 25 Pontefract Division policemen marched into Kinsley. A number of families had wisely obtained houses or lodgings elsewhere and for them there was nothing left but to hand over the door keys.

In most cases, the police proceeded to dismantle the small houses from top to bottom. Among the houses were those in New Row, Outgang Terrace, Kinsley Terrace, Gordon Terrace and Longsight Terrace.

Youngsters yelled abuse at the police and their mothers joined in, but miners looked on philosophically as they had been told to do by their leaders. It took some hours to eject the families and the whole event, while tragic, also had humorous moments.

The police were divided into two batches, each under an inspector. They visited each house in turn and quickly brought out furniture. A plump policeman would carry out a “peggy” tub full of belongings; another two struggled with a heavy wringing machine; a fourth carried pots and pans 
and the like; others tables and chairs.

Mattresses, bedsteads and bedding were, as a rule, thrown or lowered from the upper windows into the arms of officers below. One of these policemen tried to catch a large bundle of bed clothing as it was thrown from the window and it sent him sprawling, while his helmet rolled in the dust.

Two other officers tugged and puffed under the weight of a heavy stone, jokingly carted indoors for their benefit.

The constables endured a lot of banter from the miners’ wives. “It’s the only hard work they’ve had to do for some time,” shouted one old woman while another expressed surprise at seeing policemen perspiring.

Arrangements were made for homeless families to camp out in around 25 bell tents lent by Clayton & Co. engineers of Leeds. Furniture was stored in chapels and school rooms.

Children were accommodated in the ballroom of the Kinsley Hotel, which was converted into a dormitory by landlord Thomas Elstone. A relief committee provided beds. Elstone also raised funds to feed them.

Further evictions took place on August 26, September 6 and on several days in October. More tents were erected and sanitary arrangements put in place.

During the eviction of Gorton Terrace residents a miner-musician, known as “Concertina Bob”, along with his son, gave a performance on the harp and concertina of Bill Bailey, The Lost Chord and Home, Sweet Home. During the latter rendition many wept.

The Rev R.H. Gilbert of St Helen’s Church, Hemsworth, appealed on September 14 for funds to feed the evicted children. Over the previous month he had provided 220 breakfast for them each week but his funds were quickly diminishing.

The sorry sight of the miners’ camp occupied by over 100 families attracted hundreds of visitors who walked, cycled or drove by in waggonettes. Scores of children lined the main road at the Hemsworth and Wragby ends and showers of pennies were tossed towards them.

Keir Hardie MP and Ben Turner, candidate for Dewsbury and president of the General Union of Weaver and Textile workers, were among the eminent visitors to the camp.

The Local Government Board refused relief to the majority of striking and evicted miners’ families. Consequently, they lived on the pay the men drew from their association, assisted by grants from other bodies, and cash collected from touring choirs and the like, known as “nipsey” money.

By mid October the Miners’ Federation had leased houses in Bets’s Rows and many evicted families moved into them. The 
rest found accommodation elsewhere.

The dispute continued until 1908 and during the intervening period the colliery changed ownership, the shafts were improved, surface plant installed, sidings put down and a model village built to house the workforce. The colliery finally closed in 1969.