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Portraits of 19th Century Lancashire Miners Leaders

R Smethnrst
issue number: : 
11
1985

William Pickard, J.P. 1821-1887 | George Pickard 1823-1900 | Joseph Booth 1834-1874 | Robert Lewis 1833-1880

William Pickard

William Pickard at the time of his death in 18871 was described by C. M. Percy in a tribute at the Wigan Mining and Mechanical School as “the beau-ideal of a Miners Agent, eloquent, shrewd, determined and fair. Take him all in all, we shall seldom look upon his like again”2. What kind of man fitted this remarkable description?

William Pickard was born above a shoemakers shop in Curzon Street, Burnley, on the 10th February, 1821, the eldest son of George Pickard a cotton spinner and Hannah (nee Fairclough) 3. Early in life he had the misfortune to lose his father. Ultimately his mother and her young family, after some perambulation about the county, settled in Aspull Moor near Wigan. In 1926 his mother met and remarried John Johnson, a coalminer, at Wigan All Saints Church4. At the age of eight William began his employment in the coalmines as a drawer in the seven feet mine at the Patcroft Colliery, Blackrod, under the hand of a mines agent, Mr. Peace. The colliery was one of a group of collieries owned by Earl of Crawford and Balcarres of Haigh Hall, a prominent land and coal owner in the Wigan District. Having worked for several years in the position, he gained employment as a hewer at Mr. Ashall’s pit at the top of Scholes district of Wigan, a colliery which later became connected with the Wigan & Whiston Coal Co.6. It was during his employment at this colliery that he first became connected with a miners union in

18387.

In common with other miners, William’s experience was gained from working at several collieries in the Wigan district. His next move was to the pits of Ellam and Taylor at Standish Lower Ground which employed in 1842:-8

  Adults 13-18years old Under 13
Males 97 23 25
Females 42 13 5

He later moved to Messrs. Taylors pits at Shevington. These pits were in fact worked as a partnership between Richard Almond, Bromhill Clerk and John Taylor under the title Almond Taylor & Co. of Shevington & Pemberton9. Pickard told the Royal Com mission on Accidents in 1881 “at Shevington, we used two lamps, 1 got my wife to take the hot lamp out and leave it out to be cooled in a current of air, I was working at a stop ping place where 1 have had to have the lamp red hot and have had to work several hours together - it makes me shudder to think what I have gone through”10. In 1842 an Act of Parliament passed laws forbidding the use of female labour in the pits and much hardship was felt by the families of the women and girls stopped as a result. Pic kard told the Select Committee on Mines in 1866: “In 1842 when the law was passed preventing women going down the mine, I know that in the mine where I worked and my mistress with me, it had a very painful effect coming on so sudden, we would have wished to have let them have two years for it to take effect. The stoppage drove women to evil courses”11.

William later made yet another move to Rylands Colliery at Mesnes, Wigan, worked by Gidlow & Swinley Coal & Cannel Co., where he worked under John Cross a nephew of the Rylands Cotton Spinners & Manufacturers, who was manager. He left the pit either by victimisation or a result of the Trades depression of that year and took up employment as a contract sinker for the Ince Hall Coal & Cannel Co. at their Britannia Pit which stood immediately behind the Britannia Inn on Warrington Road, Ince. and gained further valuable mining experience 12.

During the 1840’s William and his brother George developed interest in the Wesleyan Methodist Movement and became regular attenders at the Chapel in Wigan. In 1842 at Wigan Parish Church he married his mistress Jane Dennett, the daughter of Henry Dennett coal miner. Both at the time of their marriage were illiterate but both attended Sunday School classes run by the Wigan Methodist and both learnt to read and write13. They were both subscribers to the building of the Standishgate Methodist Chapel and in time William became a teacher of fellow miners at the Sunday School His interest in trades union also flourished under the ranter preachers who were members of the Union like David Swallow, but in particular under the influence of his father in-law Henry Dennett who became Lancashire Miners agent and lecturer for the Miners Association of Great Britain and Ireland which was established in 1842. By 1846 there were 6,000 members in Lancashire and by 1848 William Pickard was acting as treasurer of the Wigan District14.

In 1848 he left the pit to become a porter. He later admitted that he “left the pit because of grievences the poor colliery had, he could generally get a good days wage but there were grievances, the difficulties, the dangers and the deprivations which he

experienced and though he was getting 24/—d. a week, in the pit, he left it to drag a truck through the streets for 14/—d. per week and he would do it again”15

He began to work for William Altham a grocer and tea dealer in Standishgate, Wigan, and gained valuable insight into the grocery business whilst continuing to seek and obtain Sinking Contracts16. Later he was employed by Thomas Lester a wholesale corn dealer of Millgate, Wigan. Mr. Lester had such confidence in William’s ability and integ­ rity that he left him almost in control of the business. Later when Mr. Lester opened a shop in Scholes17, William Pickard opened one of his own in Manchester Road, Ince. Now working for himself, he managed by prudence and frugality to save sufficient capital to put himself into the business of a timber merchant, making window frames, doors and selling firewood from premises in Warrington Road, Ince18. John Holmes the first treasurer of the Coal, Lime and Ironstone Miners Association recalled in some reminiscences, that Pickard was “keeping a little shop while working in the pit” and “dealing in firewood until he became knowm as a dealer in boards and planks while he was assisting in the West Yorkshire strike in 1858”19. This business opportunity ultimately led him into work as a building contractor, building houses and schools including several chapels on the Wesleyan Circuit20. All these efforts established him as a respectable member of the community. It didn’t however stop him from continuing to assist the min­ ers in their struggles in West Yorkshire, Wigan and Ashton-under-Lyne in 1858. Along with his brother George he played an active role in the Wigan Union of Miners from 1858-1861 as trustee and treasurer of the Association21.

When the Wigan Miners Provident Benefit Society was formed in August 1862 as the effects of the cotton famine in Lancashire eased, he assisted the campaigns to recruit the colliers from all pits in the Wigan district. He became a trustee and guarantor for their finance. Some three months after the Society was established he was invited to be the Miners Agent for Wigan, Aspull, Standish, Pemberton and Ashton-in-Makerfield, a position he was to hold for the next 20 years. In 1863 he became a member of the National Association of Coal, Lime and Ironstone Miners of Great Britain. He continued to be a member of the Council throughout the turbulent years of the 1860’s and consistent supporter of Alex MacDonald, the President of the Association. In 1864 he was appointed Treasurer of the newly created Miners’ National Association. He attempted to keep his business activities divorced from his activities with the union correspondence for his business was addressed to Anderton Terrace, Ince Green Lane, Ince, whilst trades union matters were addressed to 228 Ince Green Lane, Ince, Nr. Wigan. Examination of the local rate books of the Ince Local board revealed that they were one and the same address22.

William Pickard was regarded as a leader with moderate views which he often expressed in opposition to the rank and file leadership. He was against strike action of any nature. During the 1868 strike in Wigan he counselled against a strike over the proposed 15% reduction. He was in conflict with his own membership throughout the dispute, which turned out to be one of the most violent clashes between capital and labour ever seen in Wigan23. He advised arbitration for the ending of the strike, which the men refused to countenance and which the employers equally refused. The dispute remained totally outside his control, he was strongly suspected of having been bribed by the employers and even his friend Alex MacDonald, President of the Miners’ National Association, could do little to persuade the men. He was part of an inner council of people who met at the home of Lord Elcho with Alex MacDonald and John Lancaster, Chairman of the Wigan Coal & Iron Co., to promote arbitration amongst the colliers for the settlement of disputes24.

During the late 1860’s he built up a reputation for fearless rescue work at many of the colliery disasters which were all too frequent during that period. He attended as many inquests on behalf of his members as the mines inspector on behalf of the Government. He was present at such large disasters in other areas such as Oaks (Barnsley), Femdale (Rhondda) and Blantyre (Scotland). He was prominent in the campaigns for the relief of widows and orphans which were the resultant features of such disasters and was one of the founders with Canon Bridgeman, Vicar of Wigan, George L. Campbell and Alfred Hewlett (Secretary of the Wigan Coal & Iron Co.) in 1872 of the Lancashire & Cheshire Miners’ Permanent Relief Fund, which he served as Vice-President and member of the Board of Management from 1872-1887. It was a joint venture with the employers and the employees of the companies who participated in the scheme and earned Pickard a great deal of respect from his opponents for his tireless efforts to encourage the men to pay into the scheme25.

Early in 1866 Pickard suffered the sad loss of his wife Jane who died of gastroenteritis at the age of 4726 and some five months later he fortuitously remarried fellow Wesleyan Sarah Melling the eldest daughter of William Melling a former partner in the Haigh foundry who upon the breaking up of the firm in 1856 commenced the Ince Forge Co. with his partners27. In 1868 William Melling supported William Pickard’s nomination by the miners to fight the General Election as a Liberal candidate for Wigan but Pickard with­ drew in favour of John Lancaster the chairman of the Wigan Coal & Iron Co. with whom he had just concluded perhaps the most ferocious miners strike in Wigan and earned himself the condemnation of being a traitor to the cause of working class Labour candidates28. In 1870 William Pickard announced that he had entered into a partnership with his brothers-in-law Isaac and Zaccheus Melling to work the Snapes Colliery, West Leigh, under the title of Melling Brothers Colliery Proprietors. Pickard indicated to 1872 Commission on the scarcity and dearness of coal that he was a shareholder in the Wigan Coal & Iron Co., having 5 £100 shares but failed to indicate his other interests29. Throughout the 1870’s Pickard had managed to retain a foothold in both the miners National Association as treasurer and in the more militant Amalgamated Association of Miners whose executive was rank and file dominated. Only after the death of Luke Walkden, the treasurer, in 1874 did William Pickard obtain a position in the Union. Pickard did however fight the 1874 General Election as the Labour candidate sponsored by the Amalgamated Association of Miners and the Labour Representation Committee polling some 1,134 votes against both Liberal and Conservative candidates. He was castigated by his Liberal friends who accused him of having split the vote and allowed the Conservatives to win the seat30.

William Pickard contiued to act as agent for the miners of Aspull, Wigan, Standish. Pemberton throughout the depression of the coal trade in late 1870’s - participating in several attempts to unify the disorganised state of the local Miners’ Union. He was forced to recommend to his members cuts in wage levels which were unpopular as the depression bit in. By 1879 the unions were but a fifth of their former membership. Many of the strikes were not of his choosing and many others he averted by the advocacy of sound commonsense. He made strenuous efforts to avert the clash with the employers at the end of 1880 and through his actions aroused another storm of indignation against himself. He was the only Miners Agent to recommend the Employers’ Liability Act to his members, and for a time there was a cloud over him. He resigned as agent and took employment as a salesman for Mr. Diggle a colliery proprietor of West Leigh and was moderately successful31.

In 1884 the miners of Standish invited him to reorganise their district which left the Wigan Miners and he again became Agent for the Standish men32. In 1885 he was appointed by the Lord Chancellor to be the second working class Justice of the Peace for Lancashire33. He was a Govenor and Teacher at the Wigan Mining and Mechanical School and a Vice-President of the Wigan Cricket Club for which he had an ardent passion34. He was a Mason and member of Antiquary Lodge of Wigan No. 17835. He died on 21st October, 1887, after a short illness which followed a paralytic stroke at his residence at Park View, Bridgeman Terrace, Wigan36. He was buried at Wigan Cemetery on the 24th October, 1887. Many tributes were paid to him and the size of the funeral was testimony to the respect the miners and the community had for him. A subscription fund was established to which 35,000 miners in the industry contributed and a memorial was erected over his grave in Wigan Cemetery in 188937.

Letters of Administration were granted to his wife Sarah, the effects being £4,134 16s. 6d. net38.

Footnotes


  1. Wigan Observer 22.10.1887.

    Wigan Examiner 22.10.1887.

    Labour Tribune 29.10.1887.

    J. Saville & J. Bellamy Dictionary of Labour biography, Vol. 1.

  2. Wigan Examiner P 28.10.1887.

  3. Saville & Bellamy were incorrect in their assumption that he had been born at Aspull Moor, Wigan - Pickard himself gives us the clue Burnley Gazette 26.7.1873 “I am a native of Burnley born 53 years ago in Curzon Street” - see also Burnley Gazette 2.8.1873. Bishops Transcript St. Peter’s Parish Church, (Lancs. Record Office).

  4. Marriage Register All Saints Parish Church, Wigan, 3.7.1826.

  5. Wigan Observer 29.10.1887.

  6. ibid.

  7. Raymond Challinor Lancashire & Cheshire Miners Association Newcastle 1973 - P.245.

  8. 1842 Royal Commission on Women and Children in Mines.

  9. Wigan Observer 29.10.1887.

  10. Select Committee on Accidents in Mines 1881. Q7080.

  11. Select Committee on Mines 1866. Q1725.

  12. Wigan Observer 29.10.1887.

  13. Manage Registers Wigan Parish Church 3.7.1842. Census Returns (Wigan) HO 107 2199. Leigh St., Wigan.

  14. See Raymond Challoner & Brian Ripley A Trades Union in the Age Chartism London. 1969.

    See John B. Smethurst Lancashire and the Miners’ Association of Great Britain & Ireland 1842-1848. Transaction and Lecture of the Eccles & District History Society 1968. Reprinted 1978.

  15. Wigan Examiner 5.9.1862.

  16. Directories of Wigan 1852, 1853.

  17. Directories of Wigan 1852, 1853.

    Wigan Observer 29.10.1887.

  18. Wigan Observer 26.11.1887.

  19. ibid.

  20. Wigan Record Office DDX/EL 102/11, 102/12

    UD/IN 1868-1873.

    Plans deposited by William Pickard to the Ince Local Board.

  21. John B. Smethurst Thomas Halliday and the Miner. M. A. Thesis Warwick University 1981.

  22. Directories of Wigan 1868-1873.

    Wigan Record Office UD/IN 4/1.

    Census for Ince-in-Makerfield Schedule 18-1871.

  23. See Evidence of William Pickard Royal Commission on Trades Unions and Associations 5th May, 1868.

  24. Smethurst Thesis op. cit.

  25. Lancashire & Cheshire Miners Permanent Relief. Minutes of meeting by kind permission of the Secretary. 1874-1887.

  26. Wigan Record Office. Cemetery Records Wigan Book No. 885.

  27. Marriage Register Standishgate Methodist Chapel by kind permission of Deacon.

  28. Wigan Examiner 7.8.1868.

    9-1868.

    Wigan Observer 7.8.1868.

    Wigan Record Office MMP 469/216-315 (“Remember 1868”).

  29. Select Committee on Scarcity and Dearness of Coal 1873. Q4008.

  30. Smethurst Thesis op. cit.

  31. Wigan Observer 19.4.1881 and 16.10.1883.

    Colliery Guardian 22.4.1881.

  32. Wigan Observer 28.8.1881.

  33. ibid. 20.6.1885.

    Wigan Examiner 16.6.1885 and 20.6.1885.

  34. Wigan Examiner Cricket Club Tribute 29.10.1887.

    Wigan Library Mechanics Institute WLC 6553/W6. W51/M4.

  35. See Funeral details Wigan Examiner 26.10.1887.

    List of 32 members of Masonic Lodge who attended the Funeral of their colleague.

  36. Wigan Examiner 21.10.1887.

  37. See inscription on monument Wigan Cemetery.

    “Erected by Voluntary Contributions of 35,000 workers in Collieries in this district in recognition of distinguished services for a quarter of a century toward the amelioration of the mining population of the United Kingdom”.

  38. Probate Registry Liverpool 16.1.1888.

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George Pickard

George Pickard was bom in 1823 at Manchester, the 2nd son of George Pickard a Jen- ney Spinner and his wife Hannah (nee Fairclough)1. His father died shortly after his birth in 1825 and his mother ultimately settled in Aspull Moor where she met and remarried a Collier John Johnson at All Saints Parish Church, Wigan on the 3rd July 18262.

George like brother William, was put to work as a drawer at the the age of eight at John Pit, Standish Lower Ground, Wigan. He later working as a collier at Ashall’s Pit, Scholes, Wigan3. It seems probable that like his brother and other members of the family he was a member of the Wigan District of the Lancashire Colliers Union and the Min­ ers Association of Great Britain and Ireland during the 1840’s. He was a Wesleyan Methodist and must have known Henry Dennett and the other Methodist Leaders of the Wigan District.

On 30th August 1847 he married Sarah Hayes, a reeler and daughter of William Hayes a fellow Methodist at the Standishgate Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Wigan, being described as a Coal Miner4.

He was actively campaigning and speaking in support of trades unionism amongs the Colliers in 1858 and was possibly a member of the Committee of the Wigan Miners bet­ ween 1858-18605. In the midst of the depression in the Coal Trade brought on by the Lancashire Cotton Famine, he lost his wife Sarah on the 19th June 1862 being interred in Wigan Cemetery6. In September 1862 he was prominent in the agitation which brought about the formation of the Wigan Miners Provident Benefit Society being active upon the Committees7. In 1864 he was appointed Miners Agent for St. Helens following the sacking of Henry Davidson. At the end of the year he too lost his job as Agent to the St. Helens District for having supported Alexander MacDonald in the ballot at Operative Miners Association Conference in November 1864 against the mandate of the St. Helens District left the Miners National Association to become which members of the short lived Practical Miners Association8. In 1866 he became the Miners Agent for the Haydock District which broke away from St. Helens and attended most of the Confer­ ences of the Miners National Association between 1864-1868, serving on the National Council of the Association9.

Following the collapse of the Haydock & St. Helens Districts after the 1868 strike which encompassed the whole of West Lancashire, he remarried a widow, Hanah Scholes of Park Road, St. Helens and established himself in business as Post Master at Warrington Road Post Office, Ince, Nr. Wigan10. During the summer of 1869 he was active in the campaign for support of the Conference of Lancashire Miners and was elected Vice President of the Amalgamated Association of Miners 1869-7011. He was employed as a Missionary Agent in North & South Staffordshire and was responsible for the re-establishment of unionism amongst the Staffordshire men. As the Association progressed in strength, it was missionaries of his calibre who had done the spade work. In 1872 he was appointed the Miners Agent for the newly created District of Cannock Chase where he had been responsible for much of the recruitment. With this permanent post he moved his family to Hednesford/12.

In 1873/4 during the Burnley Miners dispute with the Hargreaves Co. - where the use of Cornish scab labour prevailed - he was dispatched to Cornwall and was responsible for the recruitment of the Comishmen into the Amalgamated Association of Miners in October 1873 - but the Tin Miners had little in common with the Coal Miners13.

The Cannock Chase District remained loyal the Amalgamated Association of Miners to the bitter end and following the demise George Pickard remained as Agent until he too succumbed in 1879 - when it was revived in 1882 he lent a hand in recruitment but was replaced as Agent by Albert Stanley. By this time he was in business in Station Road, Hednesford where he remained until 1898/9.

He returned to live at Leyland Mill, Haigh where he died on the 21st June 1900 being described as a retired General Labourer14.

Footnotes


  1. Bishops Transcripts (Christian & Baptistual Records). St. Peters, Burnley (Lanes Record Office).

  2. Marriage Register. All Saints Parish Church, Wigan. 3rd July 1826.

  3. Bolton Chronicle 17th August 1864.

  4. Entry 190. Registration District of Wigan. Sub District Wigan. County of Lancaster. 30th August 1847. George Pickard to Sarah Hayes.

  5. Wigan Observer. May 8th 1858.

  6. Entry No. 143. Registration District of Wigan. Sub District Wigan. County of Lancaster. 29th June 1862. Sarah Pickard. Wife of George Pickard. Collier.

  7. Wigan Observer. August 1862 - December 1862.

  8. Bolton Chronicle. 19th November 1864.

  9. J. B. Smethurst Thomas Halliday and The Miners M. A. Thesis, Warwick University. 1981. P.262.

  10. Entry 69. Registration District of Prescot. Sub District Prescot in County of Lancaster. 28th February 1866. H. O. 107. Census for Ince.

  11. Bolton Chronicle. 9th October 1869.

    Wrexham Advertiser. 25th April 1870.

    Wigan Observer. 8th January 1870.

  12. Potteries Examiner. 28th September 1872.
    Bolton Chronicle.

  13. Smethurst Thesis, op. cit. Chapter 8. P.374.

  14. Entry No. 385. Registration District of Wigan. Sub Division of Aspull in the County of Lancaster. 21st June 1900. Leyland Mill, Haigh Road. George Pickard. General Labourer, retired. Wigan Observer. 28th June 1900.

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Joseph Booth

Joseph Booth was bom on the 12th November 1834 at Lower Town End, Holmfirth, Yorkshire, the eldest of five children of John and Mary Booth, Handloom Weavers1. His early life was spent with his grandparents until the age of nine due to the families domestic circumstances. He maintained in late life that whist economic distress of the Hand- loom Weaving Communitiy had considerable effect upon the families destitution much of its poverty was self inflicted. His father being an habitual drinker2.

He commenced work in the New Mills pit close to his home at the age of nine and con­ tinued to work there until fourteen years old, when he returned to his parents home and took up Handloom Weaving which he personally detested.

On the 9th February 1853 he crossed the Pennines to live with two uncles in Rockford Street, Hyde. He immediately commenced work at the Lakes Pit, Hyde and when established set up home with his mother and the youngest child in the same street.

On the 28th March 1855 he married Hannah Platt at Stockport Parish Church and went to live in George Street, Hyde. It was about this time that he became involved in Primitive Methodism and became an active participant in the affairs of the Heavity Brow Methodist Chapel, Hyde and a well respected member of the community3.

He continued to work at various collieries in North East Cheshire. From March 1864 he accepted a post at Brightside Colliery at Attercliffe Moor, Sheffield, returning to Hyde to work at the Broadstairs Pit, Hyde in the later part of 1866. In the period of his absence the Ashton-under-Lyne Miners Association had been formed in 1865, principally through the efforts of Allen Tetlow, and Booth became on active member of the union. He gave evidence before the Select Committee on Mines in 18664.

Being an ardent teatotaller and a believer in thrift and self help. He established himself in a china shop in Catherine Street, Hyde ably assisted by His wife Hannah in April 1868. He became an active Liberal and campaigned for the Liberal candidates in Stalybridge & Ashton in the 1868 election. It was in the same year that he was appointed the Miners Agent for Ashton-under-Lyne, Hyde & Dukinfield Districts but in effect covering most of the area of South East Lancashire & North East Cheshire5.

He was one of the leaders who participated in the foundation meetings & conferences of the Amalgamated Association of Miners, being elected as Secretary of the Association during its formative period. Along with Halliday, Rosbottom and Rowe he formed the deputation to the Miners National Association Conference calling for a fusion of the two unions in January 18706. However he lost the position of Secretary in a ballot with John Worrall and under the rules of the Amalgamated Association of Miners was unable to stand for the Executive Committee, it being a rank and file members position. Being a full time agent he was forced to stand on the bye lines of the Association. The defeat and lack of opportunity to participate had a considerable effect upon Booth and he ulti­ mately led the Ashton-under-Lyne, Hyde & Dukinfield District to seceed from the Amal­ gamated Association in September 18707. They joined the Miners National Association in November 1870 and he elected to the National Council of that body until 18748.

He died suddenly in February 1874 at New Mills Colliery, Derbyshire whilst paying out the Cheigh waggon. No will or letters of Administration have been found.

Footnotes


  1. Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter. 14th February 1874.

    Potteries Examiner. 21st February 1874.

    Tamworth Miners Examiner. 21st February 1874.

  2. J. B. Smethurst, Thomas Halliday and the Miners. M. A. Thesis Warwick Diversity. P. 262.

  3. Bishops Transcripts. Cheshire Record Office.

  4. Evidence Select Committee in Mines 1866. P. 138.

  5. Ashton Reporter. April 1868.

  6. Bolton Chronicle. 9th October 1869.

    Wigan Observer. 8th January 1870.

  7. Beehive. October 8th 1870.

  8. Beehive. November 25th 1871.

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Robert Lewis

Robert Lewis was born at Mold, Flintshire, North Wales, the son of Jacob Lewis, Collier in 1833. Little is known of his early life save that he had worked for Mr. Lancaster at Mostyn Colliery during the early 1850’s.

On the 9th July 1854 he married Marg Hughes daughter of Thomas Hughes at Mold Parish Church1 and went to live at Avonddu, Mold, where their first son John was born2. By 1858 they had moved to Wigan and were residing at Sally’s Gap, near Rock Farm, Ince3 and at Warrington Road, Ince in 18614.

He was know to have worked during the period at Mr. Lancasters, Ince Hall Coal & Co., Patricroft Colliery close to Ince station in Ince Green Lane. When the Wigan Miners Provident Benefit Society was formed5 in 1862 he became a member and forced his way into prominence as Branch Secretary of one of its Lodges6, became active upon the Committee and in 1868 was known to have been treasurer of the Wigan District7.

He was one of the Wigan Delegates to the foundation meeting of the Amalgamated Association of Miners on 7th July 1869 and was elected to the Steering Committee with Thomas Halliday, George Pickard, John Worrall, John Morris, Jones Beech and Thomas Topping8. It was particularly fitting and perhaps fortuitous for the Committee that Robert Lewis was a fluent Welsh speaker - he was given the job of recruitment in his native North Wales. In his first report to the Executive Committee he stated “I went to Mold where organisation was comparatively unknown, I found, that the town was full of military and could not get a room, nor could I find anyone who would print bills. After the Trial of the Mold rioters I was successful in getting a meeting at Brymbo, nine hundred attended and I was happy to report that North Wales would unite with them”. As a result the Executive Committee appointed him as their agent for North Wales9. He was appointed as an agent of the Amalgamated Association of Miners who paid his salary.

Lewis contiued to perambulate the County as the Executive Committee required assistance with organisation in North Wales, Staffordshire and South Wales.

In 1871 he took up an appointment as the Miners Agent for the St. Helens & Haydock District of the Amalgamated Association of Miners, a post which had seen little con­ tinuity of Agents. Davidson, Rhymer, Pickard had all in turn been Agents. He brought to the district a great degree of stability10. He was a quiet but forceful speaker and had been an able lieutenant to Wm. Pickard and Tom Halliday. He attended all of the Amal­ gamated Association of Miners conferences between 1869-1874 and was a fine con­ tributor to the debates.

In March 1873 his wife Mary died at the young age of 39 at their home in Warrington Road, Ince, but it was not long before he remarried11. In July 1873 he married Alice Rose, a twice widowed Provision’s Dealer of Sims Lane, Ashton in Makerfield with a young family.12

He was an ardent supporter of Wm. Pickard’s campaign for election as a Labour Can­ didate in the 1874 General Election for Wigan. Addressing many meetings and acting as Pickard’s Election Agent amongst the Miners he established the first links with the Labour Candidate in Wigan that the Lewis family were to enjoy for many years.13

With decline in the coal market in 1874 the miners of the St. Helens District in common with other districts found themselves in defence of wages against a proposed reduction of 10%. With the funds of the Amalgamated Association of Miners stretched to the utmost Halliday advised caution and of the acceptance of a negotiated reduction. The St. Helens men however wanted no such reduction and strongly censured the Executive of the Amalgamated Association of Miners and Halliday in particular for hav­ ing opened the negotiations with the masters and instructed the Agent Robert Lewis and delegate to secede from the Amalgamated Association of Miners conference at Birmingham14.

So against the advice of the leadership the St. Helens men struck against the reduc­ tion. Arising out of the strike on the 23rd October, Lewis together with James Tatlock, an official of the St. Helens District, were arrested and charged “with causing unlawful riotous assembley” at the Rams Pit of Rickard, Evans & Co., Haydock, together with 1,500 other person’s. They were committed to the Kirkdale Quarter Sessions. Both men maintained that the real object of their arrest had been to put down the strike. It was found that far from encouraging riotous assembly, Lewis had cautioned the men on several occasions. All that had been intended was a parade from St. Helens to Haydock to a meeting at Blackbrook School Rooms to elect a deputation to the masters. Both men were aquitted being found not guilty by the jury after one hours’ debate15.

The St. Helens men however lost the issue with a reduction by the St. Helens Masters of 15% following the collapse of the Amalgamated Association of Miners and merger into the newly created Miners National Union. Robert Lewis contiued as the Agent for the St. Helens District - he participated in the formation of the Lancashire & Cheshire Miners Unions in 1876 - and spoke in favour of all Lodges becoming part of the New Union16.

In 1879 he was invited to assist in the reorganisation of the North Staffordshire Miners and was active in the newly created Federation of Miners Associations in 1880 particu­ larly in North Stafford, Longton and Burslem. It was widely reported that he had accepted an offer to be the North Staffordshire Miners Agent but it is unclear as to his acceptance.

After an Address of a meeting at Silverdale on the 10th of November 1880 he proceeded to make his way to St. Helens. He died at Booth Brow, Ashton in Makerfield the same evening. “He had been ailing for some time” but “had stuck manfully to the post”17. The Staffordshire Daily Sentinel commented “His loss will be much felt amongst miners generally and his place not easily filled. He was ever an ardent and temperate advocate of the rights of the working man”18.

His personal estate was valued at under £40 and letters of administration were granted to his wife Alice19.

Footnotes


  1. Bishops Transcript. Clywdd Record Office, Harworden.

  2. Entry No. 255. Registration District of Holywell. Sub District of Mold County of Flint. 13th February 1855. Avonddu John, son of Robert Lewis and Mary, nee Hughes. Coal Miner. 5th March 1855. E. J. Hughes Registration.

  3. Entry No. 13. Registration District Wigan. Sub District of Hindley. County of Lancaster. 27th January 1859. Sally’s Gap, Nr. Rock Form, Ince. Mary Elizabeth Daughter of Robert Lewis & Mary formerly Hughes. Coal Miner. 27th February 1859. John Griffin Registration.

  4. R. G. 9. 1861 Census. Ince. Page 37. Entry 93.

  5. Wigan Observer.

  6. Wigan Examiner. 10th January 1870.

  7. Bolton Chronicle. 10th January 1870.

  8. Bolton Chronicle. 31st July 1869.

  9. Bolton Chronicle. 28th August 1869.

  10. Wigan Examiner. 3rd March 1871.

  11. Entry 159. Registration District of Wigan. Sub District Hindley. 26th March 1873.

  12. Entry 165. Registration District of Wigan. Sub District Wigan. St. Oswalds Chapel. County of Lancaster. 7th July 1873.

  13. Wigan Observer. 28th January 1874.

  14. Bolton Journal. 10th October 1874.

    17th October 1874.

  15. Liverpool Mercury. 9th November 1874.

  16. Wigan Examiner. 22nd September 1876.

  17. Wigan Observer. 20th November 1876.

  18. Staffordshire Daily Sentinel. 15th November 1880.

  19. Letter of Administration. Granted at Liverpool. 14th January 1881. Personal estate under £40. Robert Lewis late of Summer Lane Ends, Ashton in Makerfield. Lanes Collier who died 10th November 1880 at Summers Lane Ends was granted to Alice Lewis of Summer Lane Ends. Widow of the relict.

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