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Historic posters tell of miners' hardships.

Byline: Tony Henderson Reporter

POSTERS have emerged which have survived for almost 200 years to reveal the colliery disasters and bitter strikes which afflicted pit communities in the North East. The historical collection, which provides an insight into the hardships and struggles of the region's colliers, have been acquired by Anthony Smithson, who runs the Keel Row bookshop in North Shields.

They include 25 handbills, which would have been handed out on the streets and broadsides - posters to be pasted on to walls and buildings.

Some detail pit disasters and appeals to help bereaved families while others have been issued by miners and colliery owners in the midst of long and desperate strikes which underline the unrest in the North East coalfields in the 1820-40s.

"They are a unique window on the struggles of miners. They are very ephemeral and it is unusual for them to survive but they were important enough to someone to have preserved them," said Anthony.

"It is like being handed a flyer on the street in Newcastle today and deciding to keep it for many years."

Anthony will be putting several of the posters up for sale at Durham Book Fair on Saturday at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, Crossgate Moor, from 10am-4pm when more than 40 booksellers will be attending.

One theatre bill from 1835 is for a charity night in Newcastle in aid of the dependants of miners killed in an explosion at Wallsend Colliery on June 18 of that year.

The disaster claimed the lives of 26 men and 75 boys, leaving 83 children orphaned.

The event features travelling showman, singer and Northumbrian piper Billy Purvis, a North East favourite at the time, a theatrical scene from Shakespeare's Richard III, comic songsters and musicians, a puppet show and a farce.

Anthony said: "Sadly disasters were a regular feature of mining life, and benefit concerts such as this were needed until pressure from humanitarians and the miners themselves forced changes to the law to make the industry safer."

Another poster, printed by W Fordyce of Dean Street in Newcastle, and signed 'Mediator', is addressed to the "coal owners and pitmen of the Tyne and the Wear."

It is an attempt to end the 1831 pit strike and proposes that delegates from the miners and the owners, together with six individuals unconnected with the coal trade, should meet to resolve the dispute, saying "unless some such mode is adopted for reconciliation the painful struggle may continue, threatening ruin to one class and starvation to the other". Anthony said: "Miners were employed under the bond system to work for a colliery for a year's term at a time, often under 200 years punitive and harsh conditions and in 1831 Thomas Hepburn founded a Union of Northumberland and Durham miners.

"At the end of the bond term, the miners put down their tools in a largely non-violent protest for better working practices and conditions. The mine owners eventually capitulated in the first major victory for unions in the coal trade, resulting in reforms including the reduction of working hours to 12 for boys."

Another poster from Newcastle printers T Dodds for miners during a strike in 1844 warns workers not to be lured by the promises of colliery owners seeking to hire men to replace striking pitmen. It warns that if the men listen to the "unprincipled tyrants" - the owners - they will be paid by tickets not money and will find it "next to impossible to earn bread for yourselves and families".

The owners retaliated by producing a poster revealing what they considered to be the good earnings of three miners at Cramlington colliery.

There are also posters from owners offering rewards for information on persons responsible for acts of sabotage at and thefts from collieries during strikes.

One offers a PS20 reward over an incident at Benwell colliery and another 100 guineas after a rope was cut at Cramlington pit. "This was a staggering amount of money to induce miners to turn in their pitmen workmates," said Anthony.

Another poster reprints a report from The Journal of January 30, 1836, of a disaster at Hetton Colliery, near Houghton-le-Spring, which killed 16 men.

It is like being handed a flyer on the street in Newcastle today and deciding to keep it for many yearsAnthony Smithson


Some of the pit posters which have survived for almost 200 years
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 10, 2018
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