Between the Wars: Lockouts, Strikes and Depressions

 

The coal industry in the inter-war years was marked by lockouts, strikes and economic depression. There was a short economic boom after the armistice of 1918 but this was followed by a slump in 1920-1, at the same time as a major lockout in the mining industry. The area had something of a reputation in the 1921 lockout. Most men came out and stayed out but coal was still being produced. This was brought to popular and regional attention when a convoy of lorries filled with local coal was overturned by angry locked-out miners as it tried to reach Sheffield’s steelworks.

The 1926 strike witnessed marches and confrontations in Kiveton Park, as remembered by several older men, who drew interesting comparisons with events in the 1970s and 1984-5. In 1926, a wedge was driven between Kiveton Park and Waleswood Collieries, it is told, when Waleswood apparently joined the Spencer Union, set up as a Nottinghamshire-based alternative alternative to the striking Miners’ Federation of Great Britain and its Yorkshire constituent, the Yorkshire Mineworkers’ Association (YMA) under Herbert Smith.

According to stories passed down through generations, a vote was taken at Kiveton Park, reflecting the wishes of both managers and men, that no man from Waleswood would ever be allowed to work at Kiveton Park again, something that was to have repercussions after the Second World War. We have no record of whether this vote actually took place but Kiveton was certainly a centre of union activity, aptly demonstrated when the pit stood to after the death of John Chapman, widely-respected union official. However, despite high-density unionism at the pit, Kiveton Park Colliery was still the first Yorkshire pit to return to work, something that was to be repeated in 1985.

In both 1921 and 1926, and indeed later on in the century, one of the most difficult things was to get by. Almost to a man, and despite the stigma attached to it in normal times, it seems that Kiveton was reliant on outdoor relief, ‘the parish’, as was almost every other mining community in Britain. There was fund-raising activity too, the picture here was probably taken of a parade to raise money in the very early 1920s, possibly for victims of the Russian Famine but most probably for miners’ children during the 1921 lockout. The owners of the Waleswood Hotel gave extended credit to locked-out miners in 1921, becoming almost a soup kitchen, and, according to a story passed down through their family, ripped up the credit notes when the dispute finished, so the men didn’t have to pay them back. Coal picking was popular and outcropping was extended. A document on this page was given us by the Brabbs family - the accounts for an outcropping operation in Wales in late 1926.

The strike gave men enforced leisure time too. Some wiled away their days on the streets, such as those shown here relaxing in the sunshine behind the New Rows.

There wasn’t always enough work to go around in Kiveton during the depths of the 1930s depression. Interestingly, an anecdote about the pit hooter has been passed through the generations, rather than memories of the harsh social conditions that short-time and unemployment meant. The hooter went at 7.00pm and/or 7.30pm depending on whether there was work in the Hazel or the Barnsley the next day. Not having work meant very different things depending on whether you had family to support. Younger men weren’t particularly bothered and some even celebrated not having to go to work!

There was no labour exchange in Kiveton Park, because there was little need for one in a village so dependent on a single industry – there were no other industries for men’s labour to be exchanged to. But, unemployment benefit had to be paid somewhere and the St. John’s Rooms were provided. Men waited at strict times and in organised queues to draw their ‘dole’. If you look closely you can still see where they waited, leaning on the stonework. ‘If you got you get into the wrong queue, you had to go to the back of the right one,’ remembers Eddie Ashton who had to sign on just once, laid off temporarily from his work at Waleswood Colliery.

A story has been passed down, that the man responsible for taking lads on at Kiveton pit during the depression was a strict chapel man, like most senior figures in the Colliery. One lad just couldn’t get taken on, no matter how hard he tried, until a mate suggested he should try coming to chapel the following Sunday. The next day there was suddenly work for him.

The depression had other effects in the village. As mentioned above, it was already tough for many families, with mothers and wives working hard to get families through hard times, but this was made all the more worse when a man’s work was repeatedly interrupted. Various survival mechanisms were called upon to get a family through. Women took in more work when possible, perhaps laundry or sewing. Men worked their allotments harder than ever. Children also helped, in one case fetching beer from the Beerhoff for the Pit Manager’s family and giving the tip to their mother.

Despite the economic insecurities of several of these years, Kiveton pit in particular was doing very well and in 1929 the most men ever were employed by Kiveton Park Collieries. Important steps were taken towards modernising the pit, with the first cautious introduction of coal cutters and a series of conveyors. These were just the first significant moves away from hand-got coal but things were further transformed as time went on. More than any other time, the Pit Offices were manned by a group of men almost all from what were now established Kiveton families – they are shown here.

It’s ironic in many respects, but despite disputes and depression, the inter-war years were actually a time of steady expansion and consolidation of communities, institutions and facilities, particularly in Kiveton Park. New housing was built along Wales Road, what is known as the Limetree Estate. 1929 also saw the building of Kiveton Bridge Station, before which local people had had to walk to either Waleswood or down to Kiveton Park Station at Dog Kennels. The carnivals were large. A great deal of money was raised for Sheffield hospitals when men and women dressed up in weird and wonderful costumes. Fairs and church events attracted hundreds if not thousands. The co-ops were fully established but the famous family shops that many associate with ‘the old Kiveton’ were doing well. The Regal Cinema was in its heyday with the transition to ‘talkies’ in the late 1920s.