1923 lock out
History has shown that Watson Smith, to give the then manager of the collieries his proper name, (Bully Smith) almost certainly meant well for both mines and miners, but at the time the colliers didn’t think so and his efforts to get them to change their ways led first to the strike or lock-out, depending on which side you stood, then to the Whitehaven riots.So the Whitehaven miners decided to see what they could do to raise some money themselves, or rather twenty-nine of them did. They formed a choir and after a few days practice, went on tour.
The tour took them all over North and West Cumberland and across into Northumberland and Durham, mostly on foot singing their hearts out, winning over support and earning a little money when the hat was passed around.
The story of Whitehaven’s twenty-nine wandering minstrels would have passed into local folklore as a mere memory had it not been for one James Michael Holiday, who was appointed official historian for the tour. The leather-bound diary which Jim kept, records in beautiful copperplate writing details of the miners’ tour which lasted nearly two months and resulted in donations given to the struggling miners being brought back to Whitehaven.
James Michael Holiday
We left Whitehaven twenty nine of us on the 12th of June and went by train to Workington and it was a wet day. We left our luggage and parcels in the Miners’ offices till night and then we went and sang around the streets, and at night gave a concert in the Hipperdome at the last house with the kind permission of the manager. We then went to the Miners offices and we were allocated for our beds for the night all of us got put up. On the 13th of June we left Workington by train to Maryport.
We sang around Maryport and then walked to Grasslott and Ellenborough and sang there and we all got put up for the night. On the 14th of June we went by bus to Cockermouth and walked to Papcastle, Broughton, Little Broughton and Brigham and sang around them all and we met Bob Rigg and he gave us all teas and we sang at Mr Williamson the tanner and he asked if there was any coalhewers among us and we said no so he said I am glad because I would not have supported you. Well we walked back to Cockermouth and all got put up for the night and Allison Mathers left us and Bob Farrer get a telegram to say his father had met an accident and he went back from Cockermouth on the 15th of June.
We left Cockermouth by bus for Silloth but we did not stop more than two hours in it there was no money so we decided to go to Aspatria a ten mile tramp so that did not suit some of them and Jack Gibson, H. Smith, W. Joyce, N. Morris, A. Cornish went back home. So we went on our way and reached Aspatria about six o’clock and we went up to a little village called Harristown and sang along the rows of houses and Joe Dryden made his first appeal for teas and lodgings and I might say we were all took by the hand and made like their own, and on the 16th of June we sang around the streets and met with good response and our tea at Saturday was paid for by the delegate and his chums and at night we gave a program outside of the picture house and it was well attended, and then we all went to Harristown to stay another night.
On Sunday the 17th of June was an idle day for us so we went to the Primitive Chapel to hear the children’s anniversary at morning, afternoon and night and a gentlemen gave our choir master pounds for the fund and the church folk were all wanting to take us for our teas so you see we had an idle day but it fetched good results and the two pounds was handed over to James Fearon, and I might say Tom Birkett left us at Aspatria on Saturday he was our advance agent, he said he could not stick it so he went home. On the Sunday night we all went back to Harristown and on the 18th of June we left Harristown and the good people of it and they were good to all of us.
We travelled to Blennerhassett Mr. Bell and the delegate came a little way with us and went, they had to leave as they broke down and went away crying like children. We sang around Blennerhassett, Baggrow, Fletcher town, Mealsgate, Bolton and on to wigton, another ten miles tramp.
We had our teas in Wigton and then went by train on to Carlisle and arrived in Carlisle at eight o’clock and Thompson Reed and Joe Dryden and I Fearon and one or two more went to an hostel to inspect some beds where we were to sleep so they reported to us all nice and clean, so we had to be in the hostel by ten o’clock or else we were locked out for the night. So we all gets in and gets undressed and into bed and we had not been in bed five minutes till the was a knocking at the door. Jim Kendall says are you there marrow, he says come and have a look at these. We had a look and the were bugs as big as blackberries. Well the next thing we heard was someone shouting are you there Shin, come and have a look at this. Well there was a bit of commotion and the fellows what slept there every night was shouting Get to hell out and let us sleep. Well we all went out carrying our shoes and clothes in our hands along streets looking for the trades hall. We had to knock Jack Wynne up but he thought nothing of that, so we had our first night in the Trades hall.
On the 19th of June we set off and sang around the streets of the city and all our meals were made by the womens section of the Labour Party and they done our washing and they were all very kind to us, we slept in the Trades hall again that night and W. Stephenson and Bob Farrer joined us and on the 21st of June we went by train to Brampton but we did not stop long in fact we could not buy bread in the spot, and while we were there a telegram came for Thompson Reed and he had to leave us to go home. We had a meeting in the public shelter house in the market and decided to carry on and proposed Will Stephenson to act in the choir masters place. We then walked a couple of miles to the station and got in the train for Haltwhistle we got in touch with the lenders of the union and half of us got beds and the other half slept in the scouts hall and the following day sang around and took collections at the pit and we met with a good response and on the 23rd of June we went by train to Prudhoe and had to change at Hexham. We had a look around and by that time it was train time.
We landed into Prudhoe and we had two collections at the pits and the delegate old Charlie Nesbitt showed us around the village and we started to sing. Joe Dryden made an appeal but the good people of Prudhoe made us all comfortable and some slept in Fred Watsons and others in the Miners Hall and on Sunday 24th of June we had a practice and at night we gave a concert in the Council field which was largely attented. Both Dryden and Fearon spoke on the Lock out, and then we finished and went to where we had to stay for the night.
On Monday the 25th of June we walked to Crawcrook and we all got put up for the week by Cumberland people and we made Crawcrook our centre for the week. We sang around Addison and on the 26th of June we walked to Stargate and Crookhill and our choirmaster joined us again, and in the afternoon we had a meeting and decided to go to Newcastle on Wednesday 27th of June to the pitmans derby. Well we went and we had four main places to sing at the Bigg Market, Old Haymarket, Byker Bank and Jesmond Hoppings but we done nothing smart only at the Bigg Market. We had our teas at Byker and then walked to the Bigg Market and sang again at night we left then for Carkcrook and on the 28th of June we done Ryton and Greenside. On the 29th of June we took collections at Addison, Emma Greenside, Spen and Clara Vale. On the 30th of June we walked to Chopwell and sang around the streets and Dryden made an appeal for the teas and met with success. At night we all walked back to Carkcook.
On the 1st of July we had a practice and on the 2nd of July we went by bus to Blaydon Empire with the kind permission of Ted Hinge the manager and we all got put up for the night. On the 3rd of July we walked to Winlaton and Bleach Green and Jack McGuiness gave us all our teas. We walked back to Blaydon and stayed the night, on the 4th of July we went by bus to Swallwell and Wickham and sang around the streets. Dryden made an appeal and all got put up for the night. 5th of July we went by bus and tram to Gateshead and the felling and sang around and Dryden made an appeal for teas and lodgings and some kind people gave us our teas outside on the green, we all got put up for the night. On the 6th of July we went by taxies to Usworth and we sang around and Dryden made an appeal for teas and lodgings and met with success. At night we went to Old Washington and met Mr. Plurs and gave a short programme at the I.L.P. headquarters. We then came up to New Washington. On the 7th of July we sang all around the Colliery rows and Springfield and on the 8th of July we had a practice and at night we gave a concert in the theatre at New Washington and one of the Cumberland Executive gave a short address telling the people in his tin pot way, he said Smith said he would starve the Bastards into work. Well the concert passed off all night and met with a good response .
On the 9th of July we left Unsworth for Birtley and walked all the way. We got to Birtley and came across Ben Oliver who let us put our luggage in his house and then we went on to Knibblesworth and on the road we met a man taking snap shots for a paper so he was delighted to take us. We then sang around the village and then Dryden made an appeal for tea and we all got tea and walked back to Birtley. We all got put up at Birtley for three nights. On the 10th of July we sung around the streets of Birtley and at night gave a concert on the green in front of the Council Houses and Dryden and Fearon both spoke on the conditons at Whitehaven.
On the 11th of July we walked to Ouston and sang the village, walked back to Birtley and had our teas in a big canteen. On the 12th of July we went by bus to Newfield and we sang around Pelton Fell and Dryden made an appeal and we all got put up for two nights. On the 13th of July we walked to Newton, Tysdale and Grange Villa and at Tysdale Dryden made an appeal for tea and we all got our teas then we walked back to Pelton Fell. On the 14th of July Hopkins and Kendall left us and we walked to Chester Le Street there were two collections at the Pit Fellton Fell and the South Pelew and we sang around Chester Le Street and Dryden and Fearon made an appeal for teas and lodgings, we all got teas and put up for two nights. On Sunday the 15th of July we just had a practice and on the 16th of July we walked to Lumley and sang there and sang at New lambton. Joe Dryden made an appeal for lodgings but met with a bad response, it was nearly midnight before we all got put up and if it had not been for Bob Burns of the Warriors Arms taking us in we should have had to sleep in the fields, well that passed over. On the 17th of July we walked to Skinny Row and sang and Dryden made another appeal for tea. We then walked on to Fence Houses, Newbottle and New Harrington on to Sunnyside, Dryden made an appeal at Sunnyside and we all got our teas and then walked on to Houghton Le Spring.
We met Fearon and he told us we had to all appear at a lodge meeting of the Houghton Miners. We all went and gave a short programme and Fearon and Dryden spoke on the situation at Whitehaven and we were all well received. We retired so as to let them discuss their business, and we were told to come back and they told us they had decided to sent a hundred pounds to Whitehaven and to give us two and six a man for ourselves, then Stephenson sung a solo and got a good applause. We all got put up for the night. On the 18th of July we had an idle day just a practice on the 19th of July it was raining and we just got a little singing around the streets. On the 20th of July we went by tram to Hetton Downs, Hetton Lines, Hetton Le Hole, and Easington. We took a collectior at the Pits, Hetton Downs and Hetton Lines we then sang around the streets and Dryden made an appeal for lodgings and tea. Some got put up and ten of us had to sleep in the Miners Hall. On the 21st of July we sang around and Stephenson had to leave us and went home se we still carried on and on the 22nd of July we had an idle day. On the 23rd of July we walked to Murton and sang around the streets and Fearon made an appeal for teas and lodgings and met with success, on the 24th of July we walked to Dawden and Seaham harbour and sang around the streets, we met plenty of Whitehaven people who were very good to us.
On the 25th of July we went to Ryhope by bus and Ben Bolton gave us all drinks as we were leaving and sang around the village and Joe Dryden made an appeal and met with success. On the 26th of July we went to Silksworth by tram and car and sang around the village and Dryden made an appeal for teas and lodgings and with success. On the 27th of July we left for Durham city and when we got there we had a practice for the Gala on Saturday then we set off to sing around Gilligate and came back to Durham City and Fearon and dryden were run off their feet looking for lodgings for us. Well some got put up and others had to sleep in a wash house.
On the 28th of July we all met at ten o’clock and proceeded with our banner down to the field taking collections on the way. We got into the field and had a pitch singing till the speakers started, we then had something to eat and then went on to No. 2 platform after Jack Jones and Frank Hodges had spoke and Stephenson and Hopkins joined us. We sang on both Dryden and Fearon made splendid speeches and then we went for tea standing outside waiting for our tea. Houghton Le Spring band and banner and lodge comes along and Tom Newton sees and he stops the band and the whole procession and he says give the whitehaven lads a tune they are fighting our battles and they gave us a tune, there was 200 banners and 180 bands, and then we gave three cheers and away they went and we went for our teas. After tea we sang outside the Town Hall and in one of the main streets and then finished for the night. Some went to Murton and the rest stopped in the city.
On the 29th of July we had a day of rest and went to see the great St. Hilda Band play in the park. On the 30th of July we were ready for leaving when a man came and took our photos at a big monument. After that we went by bus to Sherburn and Sherburn Hill, sang around the two villages and all got put up for the night. On the 31st of July we walked to Thornby and sang around and everything was provided for us. On the 1st of August we walked to Wheatley Hill and sang around and everything was provided for us there.
On the 2nd of August we walked to Wingate and it was a wet and very wild day, we sang a little at night some got put up and some slept in the Comrades club and the steward was a good sort, and on the 3rd of August we had a collection at Wingate Pit then walked on to Shotton Colliery. We sang around the village and all got put up for the night. On the 4th of August we walked to South Hetton and sang around the village and all got put up for two nights. On the 5th of August we had a days rest, heard Shotton Prize Band in a field and on the 6th of August had a meeting and it was decided to finish at the weekend and fulfill all our permits and contracts and then go home. Well Joe Dryden asked to be let go home that day and it was agreed to so we went to the station Joe was going one way and us the other, and Joe’s train came first and we sang comrades in arms as the train was going out and poor joe’s heart filled.
Well we went on to Trimdon, Trimdon Grange and sang around the villages and it was nearly midnight before we all got up and met with a poor response. On the 7th of August we walked through Old Trimdon to Fleshburn and sang around the village and met with a good response for being such a little place Fearons appeal had not been in vain. On the 8th of August we went by bus through Bishop, Middleton, Sedgefield, Farryhill, Broom and into Spennymoor. We had our dinners and then started to sing along the streets but alas we were getting no money and it was coming on to rain so we decided to have a meeting and we decided to go home at once. So we got a bus to Durham City from there we got taxis to Low Fell from there tram to Central Station, Newcastle, got the train to Carlisle and got the train from Carlisle to Whitehaven and landed in at eleven fifteen and that was the finish of our tour.