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1535 - Coal Mining
The inhabitants of Houghton (Hoctun of Domesday Book) have long been connected with coal. A record of 1535 states that "Though here be plenti of wode, yet the people burne much yearth cole bycawse hit is plentifull and sold good chepe." While a record of 1570 refers to 'John Dee of Houghton a digger of cole'.
Deep mining as we know it only commenced in 1868 when the Wheldale Colliery was established. In 1869 the Merefield Colliery was sunk. Merefield later became the Glasshoughton Colliery. Fryston Colliery followed in the early 1870's and Fryston village was built to house the miners in 1890. Life was hard for the miners, coal strikes against cuts in wages, together with poor working conditions and pay took there toll, but the spirit of comradeship prevailed.
In 1893 troops were sent to the coalfield when a bitter strike led to unrest at Ackton Hall Colliery, Featherstone. The Riot Act was read there and two men - James Gibbs and James Duggan - were shot dead by soldiers. From October 1902 to January 1904, Fryston and Wheldale miners took part in a 68 week strike against a reduction in wages. Further major strikes occured in 1912 and 1921. The miners realised that coal was the life blood of the country and used this power whilst the mine owner, often with government backing, attempted to reduce their costs. The opening of pit head baths and clinics in the 1930's improved the lot of the coal miner, but the work was still dirty, dangerous and poorly paid. From 1850 to 1914 over 100,000 miners were reported as killed or injured and these figures did not cover every pit in the country.
The strikes of 1972 and 1974 saw a great improvement in coal miners wages. When the last great strike took place from 1984 to 1985 the, by now nationalise, coal board and the Thatcher government dismissed as rubbish claims that pits would be closed. When the strike ended the workforce stood at 138,500 and there were 169 pits in production. These figures have now shrunk to 8,125 and 18 respectively with more closures forecast for the future. Fryston closed in 1985, Glasshoughton closed in 1986 and Wheldale closed in 1987. Castleford now has no working coal mines.
A miner was leaving his home for his work,
When he heard his little child scream;
He went to his bedside, his little face white,
"Oh, Daddy, I've had such a dream;
I dreamt that I saw the pit all afire,
And men struggled hard for their lives;
The scene it then changed, and the top of the mine
Was surrounded by sweethearts and wives."
"Don't go down in the mine, Dad,
Dreams very often come true;
Daddy, you know it would break my heart
If anything happened to you;
Just go and tell my dream to your mates,
And as true as the stars that shine,
Something is going to happen today,
Dear Daddy, don't go down the mine!"
The miner, a man with a heart good and kind,
Stood by the side of his son;
He said, "It's my living, I can't stay away,
For duty, my lad, must be done."
The little one look'd up, and sadly he said,
"Oh, please stay today with me, Dad!"
But as the brave miner went forth, to his work,
He heard this appeal from his lad:
Whilst waiting his turn with the mates to descend,
He could not banish his fears,
He return'd home again to his wife and his child,
Those words seem'd to ring through his ears,
And, ere the day ended, the pit was on fire,
When a score of brave men lost their lives;
He thank'd God above for the dream his child had,
As once more the little one cries:
Lyrics as published by the Lawrence Wright Music Company, London, 1910
Copyright acknowledged.
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