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Coal Mining In Gateshead II

John Pit - Felling
John Pit - Felling

Hepburn - later life
Forbidden mining work, Hepburn now had to resort to other employment and began to sell tea around the colliery districts. However this failed and eventually destitute and almost driven to starvation, he was given work as a Deputy at Felling colliery on condition that he had nothing more to do with the miners union. Despite this, he continued to be interested in politics and worked on behalf of the Chartists during 1838-9. At Felling, he became a lamp inspector and finally master-wasteman, until he was forced to give up work through ill health in 1859.

He continued to live in Felling until the last 3 months of his life when he moved to Newcastle to live with his son in law. He died on 9 December 1864 and is buried in Heworth churchyard. His gravestone bears the following inscription:

’This stone was erected by the miners of Northumberland and Durham and other friends to the memory of Thomas Hepburn, who died December 9th 1864 aged 69 years. He initiated the first great union of miners 1831 and conducted the strike of 1832, with great forbearance and ability. His life was spent in advocating shorter hours of labour, and extending education for miners.’

’The Miner’s Association of Great Britain’
In 1842 ’The Miner’s Association of Great Britain’ was formed. This sprang from the northern unions but support grew in other areas as tales of hardship and grievance began to spread. It was agreed that the miners of Northumberland and Durham should present a list of demands to the masters when they were due to sign their bond on 5 April - if their demands were not met, they would strike.

However, the masters refused to see the deputation. A huge open air meeting was held and strike action agreed which resulted in the closure of every pit in both counties. In May 1842, the miners publicised the terrible working conditions of young children, the injustice of the bond and the unjust fines systems. The familiar pattern of blacklegs, evictions and armed forces began again. The Marquis of Londonderry was particularly vindictive towards his mineworkers warning that he would effectively blacklist the shopkeepers, and tradesmen in Seaham if they gave credit to striking mineworkers. The strikers were not helped either by local magistrates, who closed the workhouse doors against their families leaving them to beg or starve.

In July, nearly four months after the strike started, miners held a large meeting on the Town Moor, Newcastle with a procession which marched through Gateshead and Newcastle. Bright banners were carried which included slogans such as
"Stand firm to your Union,
Brave sons of the mine,
And we’ll conquer the tyrants
Of Tees, Wear and Tyne"

Despite this brave front, the strike ended in August. Eventually the Mining Association lost support and folded.

In 1843 at Thornley Colliery when men came out on strike against their Bond conditions. 68 men were prosecuted and sentenced to jail. However they were later acquitted on a writ of habeas corpus (basically, unlawful imprisonment) - for the first time they had achieved the backing of the law.

The following year saw the great strike of 1844 which again resulted in defeat for the mineworkers. And once again, the coal owners brought in blacklegs from all over the country and began the process of evictions to make way for the newcomers. Soon, thousands of strikers and their families were forced to live in fields whilst their homes were full of the newcomers and the militia.

The final punishment was the introduction of a monthly bond which remained until 1864 when the annual bond was re-introduced. The bond was finally removed in 1872.

The way forward
Gradually, after a decade when little if any union activity took place, things began to change. Men realised that for action to be effective, it had to be properly organised nationally. Small pit unions grew into County Unions and they in turn became national bodies.

In 1862, the newspaper ’The British Miner’ appeared. This was described as ’devoted to the interests of the working miners of the United Kingdom’

In the same year, miners in Northumberland formed their own countywide union and in 1863 held a mass meeting at Blyth. This later became an annual event known as ’the Miner’s picnic’

The Durham Miners Union was formed on 20 November 1869 and their first annual Gala was held on 12 August 1871.








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Thomas Hepburn and the battle of Friars Goose





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