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The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter I

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CHAPTER I. THE YORKSHIRE COALFIELD

PART I

The largest unworked area of coal deposits in the United Kingdom, and the one which presents the greatest modern developments, is that of South and West Yorkshire. These deposits, which are confined practically to the West Riding, with a tendency to develop eastward, extend from a few miles north of Leeds to the southern limit of the county, and there merge into the coalfields of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. This coalfield is larger than those of Durham, Northumberland, Lancashire and Cumberland collectively, and than the whole of the deposits in Scotland and Ireland; whilst in Wales it is only surpassed by South Wales and Monmouthshire unitedly. At the present rate of output the quantity available at a depth not exceeding 4,000 feet will not become exhausted for more than 300 years.

The actual figures are as follows:

  Estimated tons
Yorkshire 19,138,006,395
Wales and Monmouthshire 26,470,996,579
Durham and Northumberland 10,780,741,987
Cumberland and Lancashire 5,766,216,532
Scotland and Ireland 15,855,924,356[1]

Geologically, the Yorkshire coalfield is related to that of Lancashire. But Yorkshire coal has its own well-defined characteristics, though these vary to such a degree that the general field, divided into West and South Yorkshire, has some fifty different seams. The former has thirty-one distinct seams of coal, with about one-third of the total output, having Wakefield as the trade centre; the latter has nineteen seams, with two-thirds of the output, which is mostly centred for market purposes round Barnsley. The principal seams now being worked are the following:

West Yorkshire South Yorkshire
Woodmoor Shafton
Warren House Barnsley Bed
Haigh Moor Swallow Wood
Flockton Parkgate
Middleton Main or Silkstone Thorncliffe
Beeston Silkstone
Stanley Main Lidgett

These seams include every variety of house, gas, steam, coking and manufacturing coal. All seams, however, have their local variations, so that the virtues of one seam may disappear in one district and reappear in another. Thus, the Swallow Wood coal of South Yorkshire is only workable in the neighbourhood of Rotherham, and is there a good steam coal. Going north it merges into the Haigh Moor seam, where it appears as a high-class house and gas coal. Broadly speaking, the distinctive features of West Yorkshire fields are house and manufacturing coal, and of South Yorkshire, steam, house and gas coal. In West Yorkshire the depth of present workings is generally less over the whole area than in South Yorkshire. The dip of the strata declines strongly towards the east. The most important among the deeper workings of the Barnsley bed seam run from 800 to 840 yards down, a depth which is about the limit of convenient working. Borings made some six miles east of any existing workings have, however, proved the seam to be of good quality at a depth of 1,016 yards, and the Thorne Colliery is opening out at a depth of 916 yards. The thickness of the workable seams varies from 9 ft. in the Barnsley bed to 1 ft. 9 in. in the "Cat" coal.

The special qualities of the coal found in particular localities have largely influenced the development of the metallurgical industries carried on in its neighbourhood. The great reputation, for instance, of Low Moor iron is said to be partly attributable to the character of the coal used in its manufacture. In Sheffield, too, the steel-maker uses by preference certain seams of coal for his Siemens furnace, and chooses coke derived from the coal of other seams in making crucible steel.

Coal has probably been worked and used in Yorkshire as long as anywhere else in the British Isles. The frequent occurrence of coal and iron deposits together gave rise in that area to a remote metallurgical industry, of which history affords no trace, but which is evidenced to-day by the presence of furnace slag and coal ashes in the remains of Roman and pre-Roman operations. There are, however, records of the working of coal at Silkstone, near Barnsley, and near Rotherham in the thirteenth century. A field called Netherhalge which contained a coal mine was leased by Thomas de Schefeld to Esmond Fitzwilliam in the fourteenth century. There are numerous historic references to the working of coal near Sheffield during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. No accurate records of the extent of working and consumption of coal in Yorkshire exist prior to 1870; but it is doubtful if, say, in 1850 the quantity of coal raised in Yorkshire exceeded 3,000,000 tons per annum. The shallow workings were from the western outcrop, and have extended eastward as mining engineering became capable of dealing with deep sinking. But the modern coalfield, though greatly developed in recent years, is really of a respectable age. It has given rise to most of the great industries now existing in the county and around it. Thirty-four per cent of the output comes from pits that are over fifty years old, and fifty-five per cent from pits that are more than twenty-five years old. The period from 1850 to 1870, however, witnessed the development of the heavy metallurgical industries of modern Yorkshire, demanding an almost unlimited supply of fuel, which demand has always been met by a more than equal supply. The growth of the coal output of Yorkshire in each decade since 1870 is seen in the following table, in which it is compared with that of Durham, formerly the largest unit coal producer in the United Kingdom:

Reports of H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines
Year Yorkshire (Tons) Durham (Tons)
1870 11,545,400 21,773,275
1880 17,473,806 28,063,346
1890 22,338,886 30,265,241
1900 28,250,679 34,800,749
1910 38,300,600 39,431,598
1920 36,166,444 30,818,241
1925 45,808,800 31,253,300

The number of separate colliery owners in the whole Yorkshire area is about 150, of whom ninety are in West and sixty in South Yorkshire, owning amongst them 350 pits. In this total are included pits raising from only 100 tons to others raising 5,000 tons a day. All the principal colliery undertakings are now worked by limited companies. The number of hands employed in the Yorkshire coal mines in 1904 was about 108,000, but this total included those employed in ironstone mines, clay pits and the like, who amounted probably to some I5,000. In 1925, however, the number of persons engaged in the Yorkshire coal mines was 184,000, of whom 149,000 were occupied below the surface and 35,000 above ground. Though the colliery undertakings of West Yorkshire are generally of lesser magnitude than those of South Yorkshire, there are in the two areas sixteen undertakings each employing over 3,000 hands, in the following order. The names of their Chairman or Managing Directors are added in the case of Public Companies.

  • South Kirby, 8,764
  • United Steel Co, Mr. A. O. Peech, 7,491
  • Airedale, Major J. H. Peake, 6,753
  • Carlton Main, Mr. Philip K. Wake, 6,700
  • Dalton Main, Mr. A. Blenkinsop, 4,930
  • Newton, Chambers and Co, Mr. Newton Drew, 4,471
  • Denaby and Cadeby, Major J. Leslie, D.S.O., M.C., 4470
  • Barber, Walker and Co, Major Thomas B. Barber, 4,344
  • J. &. J. Charlesworth, Mr. J. E. Charlesworth, 4,280
  • John Brown and Co, Mr. A. Blenkinsop, 4,062
  • Brodsworth, Mr. William Humble, 4,052
  • New Monckton, 4,079
  • Manvers Main, Mr. A. T. Thomson, 3,751
  • Fitzwilliam Collieries, Earl Fitzwilliam (proprietor), 3,732
  • Hickleton Main, Mr. Robert Armitage, 3,610
  • Yorkshire Main, Sir W. Bird, 3,500.

Of these, many are capable in times of brisk demand of raising each over 1,000,000 tons of coal per annum.

Twenty-nine first-class collieries have been established in Yorkshire during the last twenty-three years, and in normal periods are in full work, with heavy outputs. It may be noted that as these deep pits are much more costly to sink and equip than the so-called "shallow" pits, it takes in their case at least 1,000,000 tons of annual output at a profit of one shilling per ton to provide a moderate return on capital outlay, which, with colliery plant, wagons, houses, etc., amounts to not less than £1,000,000.

Few collieries in Yorkshire are without coke ovens. The coal raised is of excellent coking quality, and not less than 3,000,000 tons of coke a year are produced, of which fully 2,000,000 tons come from South Yorkshire. Of late years great extensions of coke ovens have been accompanied by the erection of by-product plants, most of which are of German or Belgian origin. No new colliery producing coking coal is now considered complete without such an auxiliary plant, from which considerable profits are made in normal times.

The modern coke oven was introduced to this country by the late Henri Simon in conjunction with M. F. Carves, both French engineers, and founders of the Simon-Carves firm in Manchester. The first plant was erected in 1869, and though it took some years to accustom the blast-furnace owners to the use of this coke, the patent oven has now entirely superseded the old beehive oven with its wasteful methods of combustion. Beehive coke, however, was beyond all question good, and for three hundred years the one source of metallurgical fuel in this country. The introduction of the patent oven was facilitated by a deferred payment system, which was generally adopted by colliery owners. Other types of ovens came into the market, such as the Coppee, the Otto, the Simplex and the Kopper, all based on the same general principle. Perhaps the most important development of the oven was the installation of what is known as the Bye-Product Plant, by which the gases which formerly were wasted in the air were secured and used for the production of such of the chemical components of the gases as are of commercial value. Sulphate of ammonia, tar and pitch are the three chief products, but these can, by the multiplication of refining apparatus, be made to produce a very great number of derivative substances applied to pharmaceutical and other purposes. Most collieries, however, are content with turning out the first three only, but a large number carry distillation far enough to produce benzol, which has a ready sale through a selling combine called the National Benzole Association. Sulphate of ammonia is all sold through a selling agency called the British Sulphate of Ammonia Federation. This fertiliser is now used all over the world, but its price has recently fallen, owing to German competition and to the production of nitrates from atmospheric air, a process which is being introduced into this country by Brunner, Mond and Co at their Synthetic Ammonia Works near Stockton-on-Tees. This firm is proposing to undertake the selling of the sulphate through a subsidiary company called Nitram, now merged with other undertakings in the great amalgamation known as Imperial Chemical Industries, in conjunction with its own nitrogen products. The tar is now familiar to all users of roads, and commands a good market, while the pitch goes to Belgium, the Netherlands and France for making up with coal dust what is known as briquettes, or patent fuel.

There is often more profit in its bye-products than in the coke itself, which is the primary material produced. In 1917, there were altogether in Yorkshire twenty-four coke-oven and bye-product plants, with 2,226 ovens of the Simons and the Kopper types. In 1924, the numbers rose to thirty-eight and 2,357, respectively. The amount of ammonia products manufactured in all districts of the United Kingdom has risen from 7,849 tons in 1899, 82,886 tons in 1909, 144,367 tons in 1919 to 201,607 tons in 1925. In the last total, however, the production of iron works, producer-gas plants, and synthetic ammonia works is included. The bye-product installations at work and in course of erection in South Yorkshire at the present time exceed forty in number.

PART II

The coalfield in the Yorkshire area is in constant process of development, and new sinkings are continually being made. Among the most important since 1900 are those of the Dalton Main Co, under the Managing Directorship of Mr. A. Blenkinsop, controlled by John Brown and Co, and the Dinnington Main Co, controlled under the Managing Directorship of Mr. William B. M. Jackson, by the Sheepbridge Iron and Coal Co — which has also sunk the Maltby Main Colliery and the Rossington Main Colliery, near Doncaster, and, jointly with the Staveley Coal and Iron Co, the Firbeck Main Colliery.

Yorkshire Amalgamated Collieries

Since the passing of the Mining Industries Act, 1926, which, in pursuance of the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry (1925), gave facilities for the amalgamation of collieries, a group company has been formed called the Yorkshire Amalgamated Collieries, with a capital of £5,000,000, for the purpose of acquiring by exchange and holding the shares of the Denaby and Cadeby Main collieries, and those of the Dinnington, Maltby and Rossington companies. This amalgamation has been approved by the Court of the Railway and Canal Commission. The Chairman is the writer of these pages, and the Directors who represent the constituent companies in proportion to the agreed relative value of each are, Mr. W. H. McConnel, Mr. W. B. M. Jackson, Sir Charles Ellis, G.B.E., K.C.B., the Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Norman, Bart., Major J. Leslie, D.S.O., M.C., Mr. Frederick J. Dundas, Mr. Kenneth R. Pelly, Mr. Harold Peake and Lt.-Col. Hugh Stobart. The new company will probably have an initial yearly output of well over 4,000,000 tons, mostly from the Barnsley hard coal seam. The Yorkshire Main, Brodsworth, Bullcroft, Hickleton and Markham Main collieries form a separate group, and are referred to on a later page.

The Thorne Colliery was sunk by Pease and Partners, the Hatfield Colliery by a group of Derbyshire coal-owners, the Elsecar and new Stubbin group of collieries by Earl Fitzwilliam (himself a large royalty owner in the county, and not afraid to risk working his own coal), and the Bentley Colliery, together with the Harworth Colliery, by Barber, Walker and Co. Each of these collieries is designed to produce 1,000,000 tons of coal per annum.

Carlton Main Colliery Co

Another important combination is that of the Carlton Main Colliery Co under the Managing Directorship of Mr. James J. Addy. It has absorbed the Grimthorpe, the Frickley, the South Elmsall, the Hodroyd and the Hatfield Main Collieries in Yorkshire, and a two-thirds share in the Llay Main Colliery, the largest in Denbighshire. These have an aggregate output of 4,000,000 tons a year and an ample capacity for an increase. The South Kirby, Featherstone and Hemsworth Collieries, with a share capital of £900,000 and £450,000 debentures, have the Earl of Lindsay as Chairman.

Upton Colliery Co

The Cortonwood Collieries Co and Bolckow, Vaughan and Co are joint owners of the Upton Colliery Co, under the Chairmanship of the Hon. Henry D. McLaren, C.B.E., which has in June 1927 reached, at a depth of 711 yards, the Barnsley Bed coal seam, with a thickness of 9 ft. 6 in. Mr. Frank H. Pochin and the Hon. Roland Kitson, respectively Chairman of the Cortonwood Co. and of Bolckow, Vaughan and Co., are among the Directors of the Company.

Unless a sufficient expansion of the iron and steel industries and export trade should absorb this great output, many of the older pits, with their higher costs and lower outputs, must suffer. New sinkings direct from the surface are not, however, the only evidences of development. As its first seams become exhausted, the life of a colliery may be almost indefinitely extended by sinking to lower levels or working upper seams. Such new workings have been made at most old collieries — as, for instance, the Aldwarke Main, the Cortonwood, the Oaks, the Wombwell, Manvers Main, Mitchell Main and Tinsley Park. Others doubtless will follow as the upper seams become worked out. The adoption by consumers of mechanical stoking, improved furnaces, fire-bars and the like has resulted in increased attention being devoted to the better sorting, screening and preparation of coal. Washing and separating installations on the Baum, the Lurig and similar systems have been made, and others are in progress at many of the large collieries. Considerable economies are being effected by their use. Coal-getting by machinery, owing to differences in the mechanical conditions of coal seams and to other circumstances, and also to a plentiful supply of efficient hand labour, is not yet in general use.

As to the amount of capital engaged and the net return to the investor, reliable figures are not available, as most of the collieries are either in private hands or represented by companies whose shares are not publicly quoted. But on a safe basis of one ton of output to every £1 of capital, which is practically the modern calculation, the former cannot be less than £45,000,000, and the profits over an average of years must be fairly good. The shares of those companies which are dealt in on the Sheffield Stock Exchange have stood, with one or two exceptions, until the trade depression of the last two years, at a premium. Special circumstances in the form of coal of exceptional thickness and good "floors" and "roofs" have made some collieries very prosperous undertakings. On the other hand, the absence of favourable conditions of this kind has led in many cases to disappointing results.

A number of these collieries are connected with iron and steel works. Aldwarke Main, Rotherham Main and Silverwood belong to John Brown and Co, of Atlas Works, Sheffield. The United Steel Co owns the Rothervale group. There has been a distinct tendency of late to form combinations for selling purposes and management, including the purchase of all stores, an arrangement which effects economies in administration. An important selling association has been recently formed between the Silverwood, Aldwarke and Rotherham Main Collieries, the Rothervale Collieries and the Tinsley Park Colliery Co. Sir Charles Ellis, G.B.E., K.C.B., is Chairman, and Mr. Benton Jones and Mr. J. H. Laverick are Directors of this trading union of large gas, steam and house coal-producing pits, turning out several million tons a year.

The Doncaster Colliery Association combines for business purposes, under Mr. William Humble, the Managing Director, five of the best collieries in South Yorkshire, viz., Brodsworth, Bullcroft, Hickleton, Yorkshire Main and Markham Main, with an annual output of over 5,000,000 tons. This union is principally controlled by representatives of the Staveley Iron and Coal Co, and was organised by the late Sir Arthur Markham, M.P., and the late Charles P. Markham, Chairman of that Company. Many other collieries are, if not formally amalgamated, closely connected with one another, and new combinations will doubtless be organised, stimulated by the report of the Mining Industries Commission, above referred to, and by the remission in the case of collieries amalgamating under the new Mining Industries Act of all stamp duty on registration of capital or on the conveyance of shares or property.

The interests of the men, most of whom belong to the Miners' Federation, so far as it can be said still to exist, the Union that till now has dominated the British coal trade, and in favour of whose policy and management until the last two or three years much that is good can be said — are not only guarded by the Mines Regulation Acts, but also provided for by the coal-owner and his officials, who work the existing regulations. Safety lamps of the best type are used, the pit discipline is good, and the use of explosives is limited. Yorkshire coal is well known for its fiery character, but in no coalfield are accidents to men from explosions so rare. Every care is given to the comfort and safety of the miners. Wages vary according to the seam of coal and conditions of work. They are usually arranged with the men and union officials at the various pits, and are probably among the highest in the kingdom. The actual miner may earn in good, and even in poor times at present rates in the very best seams fully £1 per day. In the inferior seams his wages run from 12s. per day upwards. The next men underground earn on an average 10s. per day. The surface men, including mechanics, earn from 8s. to 10s. per day.

Yorkshire colliers as a class are attractive men, socially disposed and found of congregating at public "demonstrations," football and cricket matches, rabbit coursing or shooting matches. The Doncaster Races, for example, would make a poor show without them. Away from work they are well and plainly dressed, with a loose, coloured silk kerchief round the neck instead of a collar. Where the miner has a piece of land, he cultivates it well, both as a kitchen and a flower garden. He is fond of good food and plenty of it, and usually has a liberal table for his family as well as for himself. He is sober, steady and attentive to his work. The habitual loser of time when the pit is working is an exception, but absentees without reasonable cause probably average 15 per cent of the miners every month. He is not fond of books, and prefers to hear the newspaper read to him, either by his wife or others, to reading it himself. He has respect for religion, but is not a regular church or chapel goer. He is fairly thrifty. The Penny Bank, now established in nearly every Yorkshire village, is entrusted with a large part of the miners' savings, to be used either for holiday outings or for the rainy day. Co-operative societies are very widely spread in South Yorkshire, and it is mostly to these that the remainder of his economies finds its way.

Most of the older collieries are near the larger towns, such as Rotherham, Wakefield and Sheffield, and the country villages, which offer housing accommodation for the miners employed in these pits. After the War, however, and following upon the establishment of the newer deep collieries, which were for the most part sunk in virgin territory several miles away from the existing centres of population, the housing problem became acute. The local authorities availed themselves of legislative powers to borrow money and build houses, and public utility societies have also been formed for the same purpose. This, however, was found to be far from sufficient to meet the position, and the writer of these pages, assisted by the Rt. Hon. Sir John Tudor Walters, organised the Industrial Housing Association, which, in conjunction with the Public Works Loan Board, and with the support of the Ministry of Health and the Mines Department, entered into contracts on a large scale with most of the first-class newer collieries in Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, and some in South Wales, for the erection of miners' houses.

Any colliery company of good financial standing was eligible as a shareholder of the Association, subscribing a nominal amount of capital sufficient to cover half the cost of all the houses which it contracted with the Association to build, and appointing a Director on the Board to represent its interests. On these shares 10 per cent only was paid, and the balance for the construction of the houses, secured by the uncalled capital, was found as to 75 per cent by the Public Works Loan Board at a low rate of interest, and as to 15 per cent on a second mortgage from an insurance society.

The houses, which cost between £450 and £500 each, including roads, sewers and all outlay, are built in what are called garden villages, and constructed of the best materials. Each house is fitted with a bath, electric light and water drainage, and provided with garden plots and excellent roads. Some are four-roomed and others six-roomed, according to the requirements of the miners. Co-operative stores, churches, chapels, schools, cinemas and institutes also were built in connection with these villages by the colliery companies concerned, who took from the Association leases of the houses they desired their workmen to occupy, at a rent which provided for a sinking fund, so that at the end of thirty years the houses would become the absolute property of the companies themselves.

Some twelve thousand of these houses have been built, and it need hardly be said that the miners in these districts are better housed and better supplied with all that contributes to a healthy and comfortable life than the average working man in other parts of the country. In some of the villages near the collieries, hot water is supplied from the waste heat of the pits by day and night to every house, and as the miner gets as much coal as he wishes at a nominal price, his life, provided he remains in continuous work, is from every point of view a fortunate one.

No profits are earned by the Industrial Housing Association, and therefore no dividends are paid. The resources of the organisation are utilised solely for the benefit of the miners, and, of course, indirectly for that of the collieries concerned. As no colliery can succeed without a full output and sufficient men to man the pit, it may be said that the prosperity of many of these newer pits is largely due to the effective work of the Industrial Housing Association.

As all these houses, which average only eight to the acre, have gardens attached to them, the miner has every opportunity of indulging his taste for growing flowers and vegetables, and the local cottagers' shows afford him an incentive to grow really good produce. Motor omnibuses ply regularly between these villages and the towns, and every miner's family expects to have a holiday, for a few days at all events, at Blackpool, Scarborough or some of the nearer seaside places on the east and west coasts, at least once a year. The miner is able, too, to participate in the charabanc excursions which now run from every centre in South Yorkshire round places of interest in England and Wales. Children's playgrounds and sports fields for men are freely provided.

An important measure designed for the still further betterment of the miners' circumstances is what is known as the Miners' Welfare Fund, which was established by Act of Parliament in 1921. This fund is provided by a contribution of one penny per ton on all the coal raised in the United Kingdom, levied on mine and royalty owners alike, and devoted exclusively to the benefit of the men. It is administered by a joint committee composed equally of mine owners and miners, and in normal times has an income of over £1,000,000 annually. In 1926, the contributions to the fund had attained a total of £3,784,541, of which £1,201,617, at that date, remained unexpended.

It is worthy of note that during the long strike of 1926 the miners, for the first time in the history of these trade disturbances, showed an intelligent interest in the preservation of the property, on which, as they well knew, they must ultimately depend for their livelihood. So far from evincing any disposition to injure the pits, they arranged with the owners to allow what are called "safety" men to maintain the "roads" and "faces" in a good condition, provided no coal was worked for other than pit purposes. The behaviour of the men on strike was in all respects exemplary. Here and there, no doubt, the hooligan appeared on the scene, but his presence was not welcomed or even tolerated, and it may be stated that the men maintained the position fairly from their point of view and without any attempt to injure the property of the owners. As, however, it requires about two hundred and fifty men, when no coal is being worked, to maintain a pit in good condition, it is obvious that a very heavy expense fell upon the mine owners during the strike, and the financial position of these concerns was materially affected.

It is not exactly known how the men on strike contrived to live as they did during the period when they stopped their work. They and their families appeared, on the whole, well fed, well clothed and in no sense destitute. The Miners' Federation provided at first a small sum each week, and the miners paid no rent, but the Federation funds soon became exhausted. In cases of real destitution, however, a married man received help from the Guardians — not accorded, however, to the unmarried man — and the children were fed by local institutions. Without doubt a good deal of money had been saved and hoarded by these men, which helped to keep things going while they were out of work. The local banks, as was the case in the strike of 1921, received during the strike large numbers of sovereigns in gold, which had evidently been saved by the miners and hidden in their homes in case of emergency.

The general outlook of the Yorkshire coal trade to-day, apart from labour troubles, is hopeful. Its future, however, largely depends on the prosperity of home industries, and on its exports to other countries. Fully 80 to 90 per cent of Yorkshire production has, up to the present, been consumed in this country in manufactures, gas works and for household purposes, railways and coking. A large proportion goes to inland gas companies, and to London for household purposes, and a smaller but important proportion for export from Hull, Immingham, Goole and Grimsby, usually known as the Humber ports. But in late years the quantity exported has become less in comparison with the coal absorbed by the home markets, even though it competes with best Welsh coal in quality and price. The quantities of coal officially returned as exported from the Humber ports between 1870 and 1925, as compared with the north-eastern ports from which Durham and Northumberland export their coal, are as follows:

Year Humber Ports (Tons) North-eastern Ports (Tons)
1870 505,139 5,239,281
1880 1,275,790 7,066,299
1890 2,230,088 8,946,960
1900 4,126,616 13,135,559
1910 6,598,145 18,981,423
1915 3,791,392 14,132,040
1920 470,233 7,508,854
1925 3,708,872 16,976,175

The year 1900 showed a remarkable extension in the north-eastern coal exports, shared, in a lesser degree, by those of Yorkshire. The coal exports from the north-eastern ports, however, ceased almost altogether during part of 1926, whilst those of Yorkshire became so small as to be practically negligible. This state of things has continued to prevail in 1927. Railway rates have been pushed up to a point which has killed the Yorkshire export trade, in which cheaply borne foreign coal is a keen competitor. For the moment the inland markets alone remain. So far from the rise in rates having increased the railway revenue, it has in the case of Yorkshire stopped the full working of the pits and extinguished much of the revenue altogether.

Yorkshire coal, taking it all round, is second to none. Its best hard steam coal has a calorific value equal to that of best Newcastle, and almost equal to the best Welsh coal. Its gas coal is superior to any other in the country for illuminating power. It is bought in Paris and other Continental cities and by South America. It ranks high for coke. Unfortunately most of the Yorkshire collieries are situated at least forty miles from the coast. A handsome profit, in consequence, has been realised in normal times by the South Wales, Durham and Northumberland pits selling at the same pit prices as Yorkshire, simply through the difference in their railway rates, which are lower than those the Yorkshire collieries are obliged to pay. Handicapped by his geographical position, the Yorkshire coal-owner is doing his utmost to compete, by more scientific working, with larger output per pit and reduced overhead and under-ground charges. It is hardly to be expected, however, that any expansion of local consumption in Yorkshire will continue in a ratio equal to the enlarging capacity of supply. The only possible outlet for increased production in the Yorkshire coalfields is increased facility of export, and in that direction the door is by no means closed.

It must be borne in mind that trade union demands and consequent disputes have always played a prominent part in the coal industry, resulting frequently in stoppage of work, costing the miner large sums in loss of wages, besides depriving the coal-owner of his income and raising against him his overhead charges, which have to be borne whether his pit is at work or not. These intermittent labour disturbances have been accompanied or followed by both legislative and departmental interference with the course of mining operations. In Appendices will be found a record of the number and duration of strikes and wages agreements between the years 1868 and 1926, with a statement of the chief mining disputes between 1890 and 1926, the number of men affected, and the aggregate number of days lost through these contentions. It is hardly going too far to say that if during the time of idleness full wages had been earned, and handed, instead of being totally lost, to the Miners' Federation, that body could have bought as many shares in colliery companies as would have secured to it the virtual control of the coal industry of the United Kingdom.

How other industries have suffered through the closing of coal pits may be realised to some extent by the amount of fuel they require for their operation. The engineering trade utilised in 1925 some 2,000,000 tons of iron and steel, consuming in their application 2,000,000 tons of coal for power generation. These 2,000,000 tons of iron and steel involved a consumption of at least 6,500,000 tons of coal at the iron and steel works, or 8,500,000 tons of coal by these trades alone. In shipbuilding, a cargo-boat of 8,000 tons consumes 10,000 tons of coal in the steel used in its construction. At sea our shipping consumes 20,000,000 tons of coal a year in bunkers; and our exports of coal, on which the prosperity of the whole country largely depends, amount in normal periods to 80,000,000 tons annually. It is not difficult to realise, from these examples, the losses the country encounters when colliery outputs are suspended for half a year.

Among the Appendices will be found:

  • (A) the total output of coal for the United Kingdom, according to districts, in periods from 1913 to 1925;
  • (B) the average weekly earnings of all persons employed at coal mines in Great Britain from i886 to 1925, together with the index numbers of their earnings and comparative figures of other trades;
  • (C) the average weekly earnings of all persons employed at coal mines in Great Britain in September 1925;
  • (D) the principal Mining Disputes from 1890 to 1926;
  • (E) a record of wages agreements and strikes since 1868;
  • (F) a record of the legislative, trades union and governmental interference with the economic development of the coal industry since 1913;
  • (G) the coal exports from the United Kingdom and from the three main exporting centres separately from 1911 to 1925;
  • (H) the average selling value at pit of coal raised and exported from the United Kingdom with declared values aboard ship;
  • (I) the monthly market prices at pit of the Yorkshire hard coal and of the house coal known as "Derby Brights," from 1921 to 1925.

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Sources of Information

  1. For full details as to the coal reserves of the country and all matters relating to colliery working and the disposal of its products the reader is referred to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry (1925).