BEYOND 1919: BETTER TIMES?
There was a short lived economic boom in 1919 but the reality was that Britain’s economy was in a terrible plight:
- Russia’s repudiation of All Tsarist debt and its nationalisation of all foreign investments (in both cases the vast majority were British)
- The impact of reparations imposed on Germany resulted in so many German ships and liners being transferred to British, French and American flags that domestic and export demand for new ships from Britain no longer existed. Similarly export markets for British coal shrunk by millions of tons as German coal headed for France as a result of reparations.
- Rival nations had benefited from British industry being pre-occupied with the war effort and their manufacturing industries found markets previously dominated by Britain – ferocious competition was led by America and Japan and British engineering and textile firms suffered.
In September 1920, the vicar reported:
“..we are threatened with much suffering this winter through shortage of work but if we are visited with the calamity of a great strike there is no telling to what this suffering may attain…”
27 October 1920: The Evenwood Comrades Hut was opened amid concern that there was to be a miners’ strike.
11 November 1920: The Cenotaph in London was unveiled by King George V and the funeral of the Unknown Warrior took place. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
8 December 1920: The official opening of the Comrades Hall occurred. Mr. J.R. Lowson acting on behalf of his uncle Mr. H. Lowson performed the opening, Mr. G.S. Robinson D.C. presided and the speakers were Capt. Appleby and Mr. G.B. Wilson.
The economic situation continued to be bleak. In November 1920, total unemployment stood at 500,000 but within 3 months the figure had doubled and by June 1921 it had doubled again to 2,000,000. Two thirds of the male unemployed were ex-servicemen and “ex-gratia” payments of twenty nine shillings a week to unemployed ex-soldiers came to an end in March 1921. For many of those returning home to a land fit for heroes:
“the greatest indignity was having to watch their children line up at soup kitchens.”
The Evenwood area suffered the same as elsewhere. The pits were closed from October to November 1920 due to industrial action and from April to July 1921 as a result of a lockout. In Evenwood, the Salvation Army’s Commander Moyle and his wife played a major part in organising the Soup Kitchen in the Comrades Hall which offered some measure of relief by providing meals to the destitute. Rev. R.E. Ragg wrote in the Parish Magazine:
“The unhappy deadlock in the mining world is disturbing us all and causing much anxiety. Already there are close upon 2 million men out of work and in very many of their cases, families are suffering for want of food and fuel. An aged invalid told me that she prays that this trouble may speedily end every time she awakes in the night. Your vicar constantly does the same and prayed for weeks beforehand that the deadlock might be averted.” May 1921.
“The mining deadlock continues and the want and suffering entailed, increases daily. In our own parish sacrifice and much downright hard work is being performed to lesson hardship and privation. It has been decided to put in operation, “the Feeding of the School Children Act” probably beginning Sat. 4th June when both breakfast and dinner will have to be prepared and provided. We hope that all those who have worked so nobly hitherto will continue at their post and that numbers of other workers will offer their services. This Act only meets the needs of children from 5 to 14 yrs. But efforts are being put forth to help others also who are really in need.” June 1921
20 June 1921: Amidst this social turmoil, the Memorial to the Men of Evenwood, Ramshaw and Lands was unveiled in Evenwood Cemetery. There was a vast crowd. Mr. T. Heslop, (formerly the Randolph Colliery manager then Chief Agent to the North Bitchburn Coal Company Ltd. and former District and Parish Councillor) was the chairman of the fund raising committee and addressed the gathering. Colonel Dowling who had 27 years knowledge of the Evenwood Volunteers performed the ceremony and spoke of the sacrifice of these brave men. Evenwood Band played “Dead March in Saul” and “The Last Post”. The Comrades of the Great War, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were well represented. Those who returned must have wondered, “What was it all for?”
Rev. R.E. Ragg wrote more of the struggles:
“The great industrial struggle still goes on…feeding of the children continues.” July 1921
Commander Moyles and his wife received the vicars’ thanks on behalf of a grateful community.
“We have seen Mr. & Mrs. Moyles strenuous and self denying labours in feeding children during the mining deadlock and I feel that we cannot sufficiently thank them for their efforts. The preparation and serving of the meals entailed a very large amount of hard work on a considerable number of people who have served well our parishioners….It was with a great feeling of relief that the meeting on 27th June…had resulted in a settlement of the deadlock…our 2 collieries have been quicker to make a start than most in the county…8000 Durham miners permanently unemployed through the definite closing of pits.” August 1921.
The economic situation fluctuated from bad to worse to bad over the next decade and it affected all aspects of community life, even sport as the headline of 20 June 1925 illustrates:
“Wear Valley League suspends activities – the result of trade depression”
Resignations were received from teams at Butterknowle and Evenwood Town. Locally, in 1925 colliery closures occurred such as Marsfield (Butterknowle) Colliery and New Copley Colliery, to the west of Cockfield which closed after 57 years in operation. Then from May to November 1926 the National Stoppage in the coal industry repeated the worst effects of 1921. Rev. W. Richardson wrote in the Parish Magazine:
“Our village, being in the centre of the mining industry is particularly affected and we shall rejoice when a final settlement is arrived at. A settlement which we hope will be just and lasting.” May 1926.
“At the time of writing things are still the same and there seems little hope. But surely this cannot last, a way out of this deadlock must be found unless disaster on a large scale overtakes us.” June 1926.
“Another month and no settlement, surely things cannot go on like this much longer, the tangle must be unravelled some time. If only we could get a just and lasting agreement then we could begin to rebuild the ruins and get back to progress, prosperity and happiness for which we most earnestly hope and pray.” July 1926.
“The events of 1926 were tragic and ruinous and we turn eagerly to something better, may 1927 bring improvements and happiness to all.” December 1926.
In 1926 St. Helens Colliery closed. In 1927, there were more local closures – Quarry Drift (Butterknowle) Collieries, Carterthorne and West Carterthorne Collieries, which in 1914 was managed by Mr. G. Bradford, father of the “Fighting Bradfords”. From May 1927 to December 1928, Randolph Colliery was closed. Further extracts from the Parish Magazine read:
“Our sympathy goes out to the men who are out of employment and to mothers who have such a struggle to make ends meet and bring up their children and feed and clothe their families.” June 1927
“Several of our members are leaving the district for other fields of work and we are left the poorer. We wish them happiness, success and prosperity.” August 1927
“I am thankful to be able to record progress and continued interest in our church life despite the depression that lies over the whole district.” June 1928
The hardship of the post Great War era must have been almost unbearable for many families. Those women who had to raise their children without their husbands must have relied on strong family support to survive.