A Serious Economic Hiatus in 1810?

Only 5 weeks on from starting this blog and I am going to break one of my “rules” that I will only publish one post a week. Here’s the second today.

I wanted to explain a teasing comment I made in the last paragraph of the previous post about the possible decline in mining activity in St Issells parish around 1810. The parish baptism register provides the evidence for this. Unusually for pre-1813 registers, it records fathers’ occupations for nearly all baptisms between 1798 and 1812 inclusive.

Click to enlarge

This chart compares baptisms for collier fathers against those with all other occupations for the years 1798 to 1820. The general trend suggests an equal split between colliers and other occupations over this period. There are two obvious exceptions to this rule: for 1809 and 1811 no collier baptisms were recorded. Moreover in 1810, there was only a handful. Closer analysis of the register shows that there were no collier baptisms between November 1808 and February 1812 apart from the 5 in 1810; 4 of these were in the last 2 months of that year. Fathers previously shown to have “collier” as their occupation were now “labourers”.

What is the explanation for this hiatus? There are two possible answers. The more obvious is that there was a change in the person recording the details in the register. It wasn’t the rector, Thomas Dalton; he remained in post throughout this period. However, rather than living in the parsonage close to the church, Dalton lived at Crunwear 6 miles away and employed a curate for local work. Maybe a new curate or parish clerk was responsible and simply preferred to use the term “labourer” instead of “collier”. In an area pock-marked with the detritus of mining activity, it is difficult to believe that a new curate would not have called a collier a collier!

An alternative explanation is the cessation of mining activity in the local pits for much of this period. Colliery accounts do survive for Moreton in the parish for 1810 and also for pits in Begelly so activity did not cease altogether. But, as the previous post shows, there were only 3 pubs in the parish at this time, compared with 7 around 1820 when there appears to have been more money around. This provides supporting evidence for my argument that the local industry was in trouble.

There’s a further point to add: on several later occasions during the 1800s local landowners paid colliers to repair roads during downturns in the local economy. In 1810 Lord Milford, owner of many of the pits in the local area, paid £15 to repair roads around Kingsmoor. Is this just a co-incidence or a necessary step to keep the locals from destitution and over-burdening the Poor Rate?

While neither explanation is water-tight, the second is my preferred option. Maybe a comparison with contemporary mining activity on both a regional and national basis will throw more light on what could just be a local problem. If I am right, I find it difficult to imagine the severe problems a 3 year stoppage would have wrought on the local community.

Comments are most welcome as always.

10 thoughts on “A Serious Economic Hiatus in 1810?

  1. Is there any evidence of extensive fires in St Issells Mines, these were frequent in other areas and the technology of the time made it impossible to put such fires out by any means other than capping the mine and allowing any fire to burn itself out.

    Depending on the gaseous nature of the coal mine it is possible that mines spontaneously combust if the incident occurred while no one was present then there would be no record of injury or accident but it would explain a general lack of colliers in the region.

    I realise this is entirely an hypothesis but its one of many, alternatives would be to look at weather records and harvest potential as the cross over between agriculture and mining was quite fuzzy at the time i believe.

  2. I should add that in the case of an underground fire 3 years closure would not be unreasonable to expect, there was such an event documented for a mine in Barnsley now in South Yorkshire in the 1860’s the fire broke out over a weekend there were not personal injuries and the mine had to be capped throwing 400 men out of work.

    I think it might be useful to also look at what was happening in the docks too given that this was the hight of the Napoleonic Wars, perhaps some colliers were pressed into military service or simply moved to other mines offering easier working conditions.

  3. As to the employment of colliers in the saundersfoot area in the early part of the 19th centuty whilst there were plenty of Bell Pit activity and smaller mines, none were employing a huge number of miners as did the later Bonvilles Court and the existing Moreton pit did. Miners were also a cross between agriculture and working the coal and during the summer would leave the pits to work the land then return in the winter months to coalming.
    As these collieries were subject to leases these could be surrended at any time or just became too difficult to operate because of conditions the Cambrian newspaper carried on the 14th October that a Colliery near Begelly was advertised for Let which points towards some downturn in its fortunes and fits in with the possible interuption in coal mining at this time.
    However a more probable cause was the coal duty imposed was making these pits unprofitable, during research into mining in this area I have not come across any reference to pits abandoned due to fire which could not be extinguished, although explosions occurred; flooding would seem to be the prime reason for cessation.
    In contrast in 1834 Mr W Williams of the Hean Castle Colliery was advertising in THE CAMBRIAN for 50 colliers

    • In my comments about the Begelly Colliery in which I stated that it was advertised in the Cambrian newspaper 14th Oct it was actually in the edition of the 19th October 1811 my appologies for my error.

  4. Interesting comments….

    On the face of it technical difficulties would seem to the cause of any hiatus. That these could cause long time stoppages is proven in a newspaper report in May 1818 confirming that 2 of Ld Milford’s pits had been at a standstill since the previous summer (so at least 8 months and counting). They were waiting for a new engine and the repair of an existing one. 100 men out of work – and still unemployed. This supports Gerry’s contention on flooding. I have not come across fire in pits stopping work for such a long time either.

    Barry’s comment on thinking about the Napoleonic Wars issues is aposite. Was the coal duty imposed during this period? If this hiatus did happen, we’d expect to spot extensive migrations in the 1851 census but really there’s not much evidence of this. I had hoped that Findmypast’s release of the Chelsea pensioner records for this period would give us some understanding of how many signed up for Wellington’s army at this time. But if you saw my previous post on these records you’ll know how difficult it is to get anything from them of use.

    Dr Davies’ welshmariners site is interesting. If you can get to grips with the index you’ll find several references to local men dying while serving in the RN – more than I’d expected. Whether they signed up due to poor local economic prospects at the time…

    Lastly, if I may beat my drum a bit louder on the pubs issue…the stoppage I referred above in 1817 only 3 pubs took out licences in the autumn of that year for the following year for St Issells parish; in 1819 7 took out licences. I am sure there’s a good economic indicator here for our area.

  5. Master and Servant Act 1823 (A Draconian piece of legislation)
    As this Act had serious implications for ordinary working folk in the 19th century it is perhaps a time to put the power wielded by the Gentry, Landowners and Coal and Ironmasters into context; perhaps an Act with this title actually stated perfectly and reinforced the class divide at this time.

    The Master and Servants Act was the culmination of a series of laws some which dated back to the 14th Century designed to regulate relations between employers and employees during the 18th and 19th Centuries, although heavily biased on the employers’ terms. It was instituted in 1823 and described its purpose as “for the better regulations of servants, labourers and working people”. In reality the law was designed to discipline employees and repress the ‘combination’ of workers in Trade unions.

    The law required the obedience and loyalty from servants to their contracted employer, with infringements of the contract punishable before a Court of Law, often with a jail sentence of up to 3 months hard labour

    A revised Master and Servant Act was passed in 1867, which supposedly limited imprisonment to “aggravated” breaches of contract (where injury to persons or property was likely to result), but it was clear that only workers were subject to its provisions

    It was used against workers organising for better conditions from its inception until well after the first Trade Union Act in 1871, which secured the legal status of trade unions. Up till then a trade union could be regarded as criminal, because of being “In restraint of trade”. Runaways, absconders and apprentices who did not fulfil their time were covered by this Act and even if a servant absented themselves for as little as one hour without permission, they could be hauled before the Court for redress by the employer.

    Between 1858 and 1875 on average 10,000 prosecutions a year took place under the Act in Britain. Ernest Jones, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, estimated “In one year alone 1864, the last return given, under the Master and Servants Act, 10,246 working men were imprisoned at the suit of their masters and not one master at the suit of the men!”.

    An example of the application this Act was that at Saundersfoot Petty Sessions in August 1864 a John Howells appeared before the magistrates Rev R. Buckby; H Sanders; Dr Dyster and Captain Child he was charged with leaving his service without due cause. His master offered to receive him back; But Howells being called on to pay costs ,he stated that he preferred to go to prison, and he was accordingly committed for two months!

    • Interesting post, Gerry.

      I’d come across a few entires in the Haverfordwest Gaol Index for colliers and ag labs for breach of contract but I hadn’t understood the historical context of the 2 Acts. My “hero” Capt Child was certainly not averse to using it as well to protect his rights.

      Did Howells get hard labour as well?

      • Unfortuantely the report of the Court case does not indicate whether Hard Labour was handed down, but it is likely that is was more than a certainty as the Act specified 3 months hard labour if convicted; it is to be hoped that the magistrates in offering Howells a choice, would exercise discretion; it is also somewhat anoying that Howells employers name was not reported.

  6. “Little John of Begelly”
    In answer to your “hero” James M. Child I relate the following story which seems at first little humorous then a little sad this is what drew my attention to it, in 1842 a John Edwards was born into a mining family living at Wooden, not an unusual event in itself. To follow him further; in the 1851 Census John was 8 years old and the family was living at Bush, Begelly and presumably John himself was like all other children of the day. However things were going to get more difficult for him, as he was not quite the same as the other children of his age.
    John was one of a household of 8 in the 1861 Census where he was age 19 and he is described in the occupation column of the Census form as a Scholar Dwarfe!
    So to check to see if this was a correct entry the Census of 1871 was searched, sure enough John Edwards was recorded as living at Daws Gate with his parents, he was now age 29, again in the occupation column of the Census form he was recorded as: A Dwarf ~ 3 feet 1 inch.!
    The 1881 Census records he is living at Lavereux, again with his parents, this time age 39 he has no occupation shown probably his lack of stature meant traditional labouring jobs were just not suitable.
    Although John Edwards must have been quite a local character, I have only found one reference to him, this involved a Court case at Saundersfoot Petty Sessions on 3rd June 1863 where he appeared before the Rev R Buckby, H Sanders and Dr Dyster; the report of the case was:
    John Edwards, a Dwarf 21 years of age, but scarcely bigger than a boy of 10, was charged with cruelty to a donkey. The defendant had dragged a newly foaled donkey which was in a dying condition, two or three hundred yards along the road by means of a rope tied to its hind leg. The poor creature was incapable of standing and was rescued from the defendant by the county police. Edwards was fined 1s with 5s 6d costs.
    Captain J. Child paid the fine! ~ What a generous fellow. John Edwards died in 1882 age 43

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