Mexborough & Swinton Times – Friday 14 April 1933
Colliery Definitely Closed Down
Quota Question : Mines Minister’s View
Pit Will Resume If Given Enough Tonnage
Public Anxiety About Gas Supply
Despite the general impression that the closing of Mitchell Main Colliery is definite and final, the last words gathered by a “South Yorkshire Times” representative express a note of hopefulness. In Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Ernest Brown (Secretary for Mines) stated that the colliery company had declared that even if they were granted an increased quota indicated by the arbitrator they would not be prepared to re-open the colliery.
Yesterday, a member of our staff discussed this point with chief officials of the colliery, who described this statement as “absolutely wrong,” and added, “It we get the quota we are asking for the colliery will restart at once.”
Minister and Company’s Quota
In the House of Commons on Tuesday Mr. Smithers (Chislehurst), asked if the Minister would inquire into the general position at Mitchell Main Colliery, particularly with regard to its quota allocation. Mr. E. Brown (Secretary for Mines), said he had seen representatives of the management, of the workmen, and of Wombwell Urban District Council. He pointed out that the colliery company own two pits, Mitchell Main and Darfield Main. He was informed that the company proposed in the future to produce the whole of their permitted output from Darfield Main, as being a more economic unit than Mitchell Main.
On March 22nd an independent arbitrator declined to grant any increased standard tonnage to the company in respect of these two pits. His award left one point to the decision of the courts, but the colliery company declared that even if they were successful on this point and were granted the increase the arbitrator indicated should be given, they would not be prepared to re-open the colliery.
Mr. Smithers: Does the Department realise that the quota system is restricting the business of the colliery industry, and is generally helping to kill the trade of this country
Mr. Brown: The Department are not likely to realise that seeing that, with all its disadvantages, the majority of those connected with the trade, both the owners’ side and the mens’ side, take an entirely different point of view.
Mr. Grundy (Rother Valley): Is the Secretary for Mines aware that the Mitchell Main Colliery have no intention of having their quota supplied by Darfield Colliery? Secondly, is he aware that the urban Council of Wombwell trust for their supply of gas to the Mitchell Main Colliery. Thirdly, is he aware that a local glass works employing several hundred men will have to shut down in the event of this colliery being stopped?
Mr. Brown: I am aware of those things. I am also aware that this particular termination of gas contract will cause a good deal of difficulty in Wombwell, but the colliery, as the House will understand, has carried on for over two years under the quota system and has even been able to sell quota. Since 1st January, 1931, the undertaking on balance have sold nearly 20,000 tons of quota so that the House will realise that there is a very great gulf between propaganda and truth.
Mr. Hirst (Wentworth): Is the hon. gentleman aware that at one time when they sold part of their quota, which amounted to 7,000 tons in 1931 and 1932. it was due to the fact that the seam had run out, and they had to drive two pairs of drifts down in order to get at the Silkstone seam, and that that , developing colliery ought to have the quota altered from what it is at the present time? Is he aware that they also sold 7,000 tons of their quota and had to buy 8,000 tons?
Mr. Brown: I am aware of those facts and I am also aware of the fact that when there was a dispute as recently as last August at Darfield Main, the owner himself admitted that up to that time he had had no quota difficulties about which to complain. The complaint was a dispute about the proportion of dirt in the total output.
Mr. Grundy: Is the Secretary for Mines aware that the Mitchell Main quota has been reduced by 20 per cent., while the area production is only reduced by 13 per cent.?
Mr. Brown: I would advise the hon. Member to quote those figures with reserve.
Mr. Grundy: I quote them absolutely confidently. There is no reserve about them.
Care and Maintenance.
On Sunday morning a mass meeting of the Mitchell Main branch of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association was held at the Reform Club, Wombwell, and branch officials who had interviewed the management could only report that there was very little indication of any hopeful turn. A number of the employees worked their last shift on Saturday and the last man to leave the mine came off duty on Monday evening, many of them bringing their tools with them. During the rest of the week only deputies and maintenance staff have been employed. On the store room door was exhibited a notice saying, “Anyone ordered to work will do so on day-to-day contract.”
The task of withdrawing the ponies commenced on Tuesday morning, some twenty of them being turned out to graze on the pasture adjoining Netherwood Hall. One or two were transferred to Darfield Main. Remaining in the mine are some thirty ponies and according to a statement by the agent these will be used for drawing off the timber if the extra quota allowance is not granted and the mine has to be closed definitely.
The ponies when given their liberty displayed boundless joy. They frisked like lambs, rolled on the grass, and ran impromptu races. Two of them were so excited that they rushed into Garland’s pond and had to be hauled up the muddy bank. Yesterday scores of people visited Netherwood Road to watch the animals playing. Pit boys who were able to identify the ponies spoke to them in familiar language and stroked their beads affectionately. In the field was “Tiger,” the smallest pony in the mine. Although less than four feet high he is the “veteran” of the party and has been under- ground 21 years.
The Gas Supply: Public Anxiety.
Apart from the distress that will ensue from the closing of the mine, there is a good deal of apprehension regarding the gas supply. The township is supplied from the Mitchell Main by-product plant and from Wombwell it is distributed to Darfield, Great Houghton and Little Houghton. It was stated at Wombwell Town Hall yesterday that the colliery company have given formal notice of their intention to discontinue the supply from April 20th. This aspect of the situation was discussed at a special meeting of the gas committee of the Wombwell U.D.C on Tuesday night, and following the ordinary monthly meeting of the Council the matter was referred to private deliberation, notwithstanding that several members voted in favour of a discussion in public.
Our representative was informed that the situation “bristles with difficulties.”
The stoppage has Wailed in a rush of work at Wombwell Employment Exchange and extra staff has been taken on. The claims were accepted on Monday and Tuesday. It was not expected that there will be any question about eligibility, but in most cases the rule about six “waiting days” will have to be observed. This applies when claimants have not signed on for sixty days.
The men who were off work on account of the recent fire should be eligible immediately. Recently Mitchell Main has been working good time and on that account most of the employees will be eligible for the maximum benefit of 56 days inside twelve months. The benefits are at the rate of 15s. 3d. per man, 8s. for a wife, and 2s. for each dependent child per week.
Of the fifteen hundred thrown out some 400 will make their claims at Barnsley, and a few at Hoyland. It is the custom for men to sign at the exchange nearest their homes and the majority of those living at Stairfoot will go to Barnsley,.
The employees of the by-product work numbering about 100, have received 14 days’ notice which does not expire until the middle of next week. Most of the officials also are under notice. The situation is being watched carefully by the Wombwell Chamber of Trade and a special meeting has been called for next Tuesday at which the stoppage will be discussed. Two representatives of the Chamber, Mr. E. S. Wroe (Presiden)t and Mr. E. Law (secretary), visited London last weekend and had conversations with Mr. G. H. Hirst, M.P. and others regarding the effect of the stoppage on the trade of the district.
Interviewed by our representative, Mr. Wroe said that according to their estimate the shutting down of the colliery would mean a reduction of £800 a week in the spending capacity of the community in Wombwell. There was a possibility, however, that the effect would not be so bad as anticipated. The earnings of workers at Darfield Main would be proportionately increased and the amount distributed in unemployment benefits would go a long way toward making the deficit.