Tuesday 17th September 1963, the colliers on 8s face in the Savile Park seam (Beeston) had been involved in a deployment manning dispute where backshift preparation work attracted a reduced fallback rate of 60s/shift They decided to resolve this by having a ‘sit in ‘ strike, in this case a ‘stay down’ strike.
Flash disputes were not uncommon in the pits and certainly weren’t new to this team, although the usual source of disagreement was pay and the amount of manager’s allowance included in the contract, or more to the point the lack of it. This was a contractual system that would appear to be designed for dispute and disharmony, it was a contract based on a pricing system emanating from the heady days of nationalisation. Acceptable rates of pay could not be achieved without a top up of what was known as Managers Allowance. It was much the same throughout the coalfield and efforts to resolve such matters incurred a disproportionate amount of time of Managers and Branch Officials.
This controversy had been simmering for some time and the team as a whole had earlier descended on the NUM HQ at Barnsley to see Yorkshire NUM President Sam Bullough, himself a Methley man in an attempt to arrive at a resolution.
The action taken on that fateful September day was certainly not anticipated. The first we heard was that they were staying down until the matter was resolved and the expectancy was that it would soon be ironed out and the men would be in the baths and getting changed by 5pm. NO, the Branch (NUM) couldn’t make any headway and the Manager also made no progress from the opposite aspect.
The men had taken additional food in preparation, local Ian Brownridge had gone armed with 34 sandwiches, trouble was they were all consumed before the end of the first shift.
Here we were arranging sandwiches and tea to go down the pit, night approached and the likely negotiators were at home frantically making phone calls to achieve a resolution early the next day. Chargeman Jimmy Gee knew that they were there certainly there for the next 12 hours and the group agreed with him to stick it out.
By now arrangements were being put in hand to provide food and drink (sorry lads beer’s contraband) and a regular supply of pork pies and ham sandwiches from Hilda Ombler in the canteen along with fish and chips which went down the shaft and up the road to our happy band of strikers. Accepted wisdom now was that the men would be out after 24 hours – surely they would want a fag and a pint! NO, they were still sticking it out and nowhere near agreement.
By now the local and national press had got hold of a good story and the three reporters at the pit entrance had declined the many offers of ‘the full story’ down at the Bay Horse from other miners leaving work They now had to rely on the various press releases from the NCB and NUM Barnsley – and that is not what they wanted.
The negotiators expecting the men to be ready to fold up had still made little progress. Underground, the strikers were into the second day and by now it was beginning to drag although they had shifted to the pit bottom. Whiling the time away with the Telegraph Crossword? No, three card brag and Hank Jansen were the order of the day, some had even snatched a few hours sleep on the straw in the underground stables. Johnny Bull and George Aveyard played a 16 hour marathon domino competition – the winner taking a bag of buns.
Bram Russell and George Wainwright worked tirelessly to get the men back out, (this was probably where the term shuttle diplomacy was coined). The matter had now been brought to the attention of the national officials of the NCB and the NUM and people were beginning to ask questions although I don’t think that it got as far as the Woolsack. The dispute had now gone well into the third day, when without warning the men were coming out, straight into the pit head baths and on to the Bay Horse for some daylight and ale.
The local NUM claimed credit for the breakthrough as did the NUM at Barnsley, Colliery Management also claimed credit as did their Area Management jointly using words like ‘full and frank discussions’ and ‘a good spirit of understanding’.
But they were all wrong. You see, Jimmy Gee brought the men out, he knew that Cliff Orange’s wife was in confinement – he’d always known it and it is my guess the Jimmy Gee knew all the time how long the ‘stay down’ strike would last.
Men Involved (*local men)
Jimmy Gee Kenny Ball* George Buckton
Major Thornton Alan Beards* George Aveyard
Danny Thornton Les Merrill Cliff Orange
Ken Brown Billy Carter* Cliff Parton
Mark Walker Peter Bell* Jack Reading
Rowley Astbury Ian Brownridge* Johnny Bull
Article Bill Thackray with assistance from Peter Bell
15th July 2004 Today I received the following e-mail from Billy Carter’s daughter in Australia.
I have just been showing my parents (Billy and Maureen Carter ) who now live in Australia this Methley site. My father has said that there is one name missing from the list of men involved in the staydown strike and that is his elder brother Alan Carter.
Also if it is of any interest to you Alan sailed on the HMS Vanguard during the Royal Tour to South Africa when the Queen was just a Princess. He was only one of two Yorkshiremen to be selected to serve aboard the ship.
Gillian Hockley (Carter)
PS. Dad said to say G’day to everyone from sunny Sydney……….