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Alarming Disturbance Amongst The Workmen on The North Midland Railway

Leeds Mercury – Saturday 13 October 1838

Alarming Disturbance Amongst The Workmen on The North Midland Railway Near Rotherham.

(From the Doncoaler’ Gazette, of yesterday.)

Between eleven and twelve o’clock on the forenoon of Wednesday taut, the peaceable inhabitants of Rotherham were suddenly alarmed by the report that a serious disturbance had taken place between two parties of men who were working on the North Midland Railway, and that a large party were assembled on Masbro’ Common, preparing for a desperate attack upon the town. In the course of a few minutes, every shop in the High-street was closed, and with the exception of perhaps one or two in some of the back streets, not a single shop was left without the shutters being put up and the door securely fastened.

The town at this time presented a very singular appearance, all the shops being closed and groups of people standing at every comer of the streets, of course magnifying the rumours into events of the most dire description. The following, as far as we can learn, are the facts of the case:

On the line of the railway In the neighbourhood from Darfield to Swinton a number of Irishmen are employed, against whom a jealousy had arisen on the part of the Englishmen, on account of the former working for a less rate of wages. On Wednesday morning, a dispute having arisen between one of each party, the Englishmen made common cause with their countrymen, and suddenly commenced an attack in a body at Darfield by driving every Irishman away whom they found at work on the line. This they did from that place to Swinton, at the same time pulling down and destroying the mud hovels which the poor fellows had erected for the temporary residence of themselves and their families. This cause was proceeded in until they came near Rotherham  when, the Irish beginning to gather courage as their forces increased, made their way over a number of fields, and broke down all the fences, with the materials of which they armed themselves in the best way they could, several of them being already possessed of spades and other weapons. They then made a show of resistance, and stood their ground, determined not to be driven away any further.

Fortunately, at this time, Mr. Stephenson, the contractor, with some of the directors, who happened that morning to be engaged in making a survey of some parts of the line, came between the parties. Mr. Stephenson placed himself before the Irishmen, and promised to protect them if they would put themselves under his care, and otherwise there is little doubt but a great number of lives would have been lost. The poor fellows at once agreed to follow him, and Mr. Stephenson then led them peaceably into Rotherham, where he placed them In the yard of the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway station in Westgate. Here he supplied them with a quantity of ale, and exhorted them to be peaceable, and they should be protected. Here the men, to the number of near 300, remained, apparently peaceably disposed, but loudly complaining of the injury which had been done by their enemies, and stating that two or three of their party had been killed already, and that they were of obliged to act In self defence. They were here visited by Henry Walker, Esq. of Clifton, who had been called from the Bible Society, where he had been presiding and also by Thos. Walker, Esq. of Ravenfield. These two gentlemen, (magistrates of the West-Riding) addressed them, and begged them to be quiet, assuring them, that in case of riot, they would assuredly find the law too strong for them.

The magistrates then proceeded on horseback to speak to the other party, whom they found assembled in large groups on different parts of the line to the number of about six hundred. They evinced a worse feeling than did the Irishmen, to whom they openly manifested a very bad spirit. In the meantime, the Rotherham troop of Yeomanry Cavalry had assembled on horseback in front of the Court-House, where they remained in readiness until the return of the magistrates, when they were dismissed. A detachment of about forty of the artillery arrived from Sheffield, with a field piece, a little before four o’clock, but returned without entering the town. A number of special constables were sworn in during the day, a party of whom, accompanied by some of the railway agents, under the superintendence of Mr. Bland, proceeded to the neighbourhood of Wath; the remainder were placed under the command of Womack, the police officer, and paraded the streets during the night. The Irishmen remained at their quarters at the railway station, and were properly provided for through the kindness of Mr. Stephenson. No further disturbance, however, of any moment, took place; and the town, after a scene of great commotion during the day, assumed its customary appearance, with the exception of being disturbed by the drunken brawls of some straggling parties of the railway men. It is but justice to add that every precaution was taken by the inhabitants of the town, as well as by the authorities, throughout the whole proceedings.

Further Particulars. – Thursday, Half-Past Three O’clock

The disturbance has again broken out more fearfully. The Englishmen appear determined not to allow the Irish to work. A large number of the former congregated this afternoon in front of the residence of Mr. Stephenson, and manifested a determination to pull down the house.

In consequence of this display of feeling, and for the purpose of maintaining the public tranquillity, a detachment of the artillery has arrived from Sheffield; and, with the assistance of the special constables, have succeeded in apprehending a number of ringleaders.

The riot act was then read by Henry Walker, Esq., of Clifton. The shops are all closed, and there is a total suspension of business. Whilst the Sheffield and Rotherham troops of yeomanry were on their way to join the regiment at Doncaster, on permanent duty, an express overtook them at Conisbro’, and they immediately returned. The express proceeded to Doncaster, with communications to Lord Wharncliffe, upon the subject; and Captain Glanville, the adjutant of the regiment, immediately proceeded to Rotherham, to render his assistance. The town is in a state of the greatest excitement and alarm. The troops are now parading the streets in all directions, and every exertion is being made to preserve the peace during the night.

6 o’clock – Through the exertions which have been used by the authorities, assisted by the mlitary, peace has been hitherto preserved. The Sheffield troops of yeomanry cavalry have left for Doncaster. The Rotherham troop remains, and is acting in concert with the artillery and the police force. All Is quiet at this moment; but the excitement and alarm which prevailed during the day has not wholly subsided. The Sheffield troops reached Doncaster at eight o’clock last night.

We (the Editors of the Leeds Mercury) understand that the presence of the Directors on the part of the line where the quarrel arose on Wednesday, (in the Course or their survey of the  line), was most providential; as their prudent and active exertion and foresight were the chief means of preventing a conflict that might have been almost as fatal as a military engagement.

After the English and Irish had been separated, the Directors put themselves in communication with the magistrates, with whom it was determined to take every precaution against the l renewal of the affray. A regular police force was sent for from London; numerous special constables have been sworn in: and every possible means will be taken to preserve the peace. It is to be hoped the workmen of both parties will see the folly and danger of quarrelling, and will in future work  peaceably together.

We have received the following communication from the North Midland Railway office:

North Midland Railway.

On Wednesday last In consequence of a dispute of a trivial nature, a great number of the English and Irish employed on the North Midland Railway between Darfield and Masbro,’ met at the latter place armed for a desperate conflict, bat through the persuasion and active interference of the Deputy Chairman and the Directors who were on the ground, aided by Mr. Stephenson, the contractor, and the agents on the line, the parties (amounting altogether to about 700) separated without coming into actual collision, although within two hundred yards of each other.

The English party was induced to follow the Directors along the line, nearly two miles, where they were again addressed by the deputy chairman, and promised to return to their own quarters and resume work peaceably on the following day. The Irish followed Mr. Stephenson to s Rotherham, where we learn that proper protection was afforded them. The Directors who had previously been in communication with the Rev. Henry Bowen Cooke (a magistrate resident at Darfield,) waited upon him on Wednesday evening, when arrangements were made which it Is hoped will prevent the repetition of those outrages.

We are sorry to state, however, that hostilities were threatened on the following day at Masbro, but through the active exertion of Earl Fitzwilliam, the Messieurs Walker, and other Magistrates in the neighbourhood, measures have been you taken to preserve the peace.