Letters on the Management of Shelton Mines - pages 8 and 9

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Description:Unrest at Shelton Mines

This booklet contains correspondence in the form of two letters between a mining agent at Shelton Mines and the mine owner's auditor of accounts.

The mining agent has come under fierce criticism through a series of printed materials distributed by union members.

He has been accused of paying his workers in Truck, inflating the prices of materials required by team leaders or charter masters, and not paying fair rates in line with the price of coal.

The accusers have insinuated that he has lined his own pockets and defrauded the mine owner.

Union members have chosen not to work as a protest and mining has ceased at the pit.

"I trust they will amply clear my character and conduct"

Meant for public consumption, the letters serve to clear the agent's name of accusations made by the miners' union.

The letters also act as an implicit warning to the union members as the agent asks the auditor what he should do.

Owners, Agents, Workers, Wages, Prices, Truck and Unions

The letters provide detailed information on the way the mines were worked and organised, the pay structure and the hierarchy within mining industry.

They also highlight attitudes towards the truck system and the miners' union.

The characters and their position at the mine

  • Viscount Granville - The owner of Shelton Mine.

  • H.D. Lowndes - Viscount Granville's auditor of accounts and author of one of the letters.

  • W. Forrester - Viscount Granville's mining agent at Shelton Mine and the author of the other letter. The boss at the pit. The man charged with overseeing the operation at the mine. He issued charters to;

  • Charter masters or Butties, who would then organise and work with teams to remove coal within a budget. If the charter master completed the charter within the agreed budget he kept the difference.
  • The example given in the letter shows that the charter master's team and materials comprised of;

  • "colliers, turns-men, banks-men, black-smith, engine-man, extra labour and beading"

  • Refuting the accusations with facts

    Forrester outlines his case against the accusations in his letter to Lowndes.

    He provides details of wages in relation to the prices of coal.

    He then goes on to explain how materials used for each charter were paid for and how the prices were fixed for these items.

    He points out that the charter masters were not obliged to buy the materials from the company.

    But their lack of capital meant they could not afford to buy essential materials such as wood for beams or candles for lighting.

    Forrester argues that if charter masters had not got the option of obtaining the materials from the company in advance, then the work would cease.

    He denies any part in paying the men in truck, a system of paying workers with goods from the company store or Tommy-Shop. This condition of employment was made illegal in 1831 through the Truck Act.

    After suggesting that he may have to hire miners from elsewhere he asks Lowndes for instructions on how to proceed.

    The official response

    Lowndes backs Forrester to the hilt.

    He goes on to describe the miners pay as "quite sufficient" quoting the relationship between coal prices and pay for the period in question.

    He states that, as far as he is concerned, Forrester has not entered into a system payment in truck and goes on to say that any agent doing so would never work for Viscount Granville again.

    He defends the practice of charging the charter masters for the materials to be used on the job. He states that because the charge is made within the charter, as long as that charter is within budget the charter master does not actually have to pay for anything. He also argues that this makes the charter master protect the materials from "waste or pilfering."

    Lowndes, in agreement with Forrester, identifies the charter masters as the troublemakers.

    I give you the following as general instructions

    Lowndes tells Forrester not to hire men from other areas "for the present" but concedes that if they do not come back to work he will have to.

    His advice is to "give the men ample time to repent their past conduct."

    However, he instructs Forrester only to re-employ men willing to sign a declaration that they have left the union.

    He tells him to demote any charter master wishing to return, to the rank of "common miner."

    Finally, he tells Forrester not to re-employ any worker who has "been particularly violent during the late turn-out."

    About this document

    This item was printed by Albutt Printers, Hanley. It was collected by local industrialist Enoch Wood and is now among the collections at Stoke-on-Trent Museums.