Postcard from Leeds


Ey Up Tom,

The colliers in Yorkshire are getting organised. The bosses don’t like it. 8000 of us marched through Leeds last week. The press are telling lies about our wages! Keep organising Tom!

Watch our for our lad Will Scargill – he tells it as it is 

Jonas Barraclough, John Midgley and William Scargill 

Flockton, West Riding of Yorkshire

1 December 1819

The Collier’ from George Walker’s Costumes of Yorkshire (1814). It’s the only image of a Yorkshire miner that we have from the early nineteenth century.

The colliers are fighting back in Yorkshire and the authorities don’t like it. Be prepared for them using everything at their disposal to stop you and your mates getting organised. Our standard of living has been eroded by widespread wage reductions across the coalfield and we’ve faced dramatic rises in the price of food. We’ve just got back from a public meeting in Barnsley. One of the local weavers, William Leake, explained to us how flour had risen from 1s. 6d. to 3s. per stone; potatoes from 3d. to 8d. per peck; and meal from 1s. 2d. to 2s. 6d. per stone. We can’t afford to live so we’ve organised and struck for higher wages. We want five shillings per day per man.

‘Evicted family’ sketch by Andrew Naylor 2020

Our trade union has been established since July. We have branches at most pits between Leeds and Barnsley. A few days ago we demonstrated our strength by a march through the centre of Leeds. Around 8,000 of us paraded through the streets accompanied by six bands of music. We collected in the East Parade and played Rule Britannia and God Save the King and then we quietly retired to the alehouse for a drink. Some of our members have already been prosecuted for their union activity.

John Margerison, a Flockton collier, has been committed to York Castle for three months for trying to get colliers to join our association. On the 23 November, twelve colliers from Wakefield were taken to the House of Correction for their union activity.  As they passed through Batley we assembled and led the procession with a band right to the House of Correction! It’s reported in the press that a woman, a Mrs Naylor, has died of fright. She thought our demonstration was the rising of the radicals! The radicals continue to organise around here but our members avoid mixing with them. Our trade union should be able to get what we want. All we ask is for a decent wage. 

The coal owners are trying to persuade the public through the local press that we shouldn’t complain about our wages. They’ve said we earn 1s. to 1s. 3d. per hour. Ludicrous! Their lies will fall on deaf ears. The public knows that our current wages aren’t enough to feed our families. 

Anyway, we continue to strike for 5s. per day. We’re confident that our union funds will allow us to hold out until well into the New Year. Keep organising Tom! Who knows what the new decade will bring?  

Joe Stanley

Joe Stanley

I’m currently working as an Associate Lecturer in History at Sheffield Hallam University and that I’ve recently completed a PhD on the Yorkshire miners 1786-1839. My mother’s family roots are in Dawley and many of my ancestors worked in the local pits. I’m certain that in February 1821 my ancestors would have resisted the wage reduction and stood alongside Tom Palin, William Bird and Thomas Gittins at Old Park on that fateful day. 

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