At the end of the 19th century there were two working mines in Featherstone, West Yorkshire.
One, Featherstone Main, was owned by John Shaw. The other, Acton Hall, was owned by Lord Masham. Together they employed more than 1000 men.
In July 1893 a fall in the price of coal led owners to stockpile output and “lock out” their workers.
In Featherstone workers were increasingly restless and on September 7 rumours spread that coal at Ackton Hall was being loaded onto wagons and then being transported to the owner’s mill in Bradford.
An angry crowd gathered outside the pit. There they confronted Mr Holiday (the pit manager) and a work gang that was actually loading the wagons.
Eventually the troops were called in. Three officers and 26 men arrived from the First Batallion of the South Staffordshire Regiment.
A local magistrate, Bernard Hartley JP, read the Riot Act.
When the crowd still didn’t disperse the troops were then ordered to fire warning shots.
The second volley of shots wounded eight people. Two –James Gibb, 22, and James Duggan, 25, died from their injuries.
Neither Gibb nor Duggan had been involved in the disturbances. Indeed, Gibb had been walking across nearby fields to see what was going on!
The subsequent furore about the deaths was such that the Home Secretary, HH Asquith, was forced to set up a parliamentary commission. The government did, quite begrudgingly, pay out £100 to the families of Gibb and Duggan but Asquith said the compensation didn’t imply any admission of responsibility.
As a result of the debacle though the Liberal Government lost much of its working class support. The ILP/Labour Party stepped into the void.
Cunninghame Graham spoke at the funerals and soon after Keir Hardie visited Featherstone.
The events in Featherstone have not been forgotten. This year sees the 120th anniversary and on September 7 a commemorative guided walk has been organised by members of the West Yorkshire Socialist Historians.
The walk starts in North Featherstone at 7pm.
If you would like to participate or would like more information please contact me on 07931927451.