Friday, 28 February 2020

The 1926 General Strike and the Miners' Lockout in the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside

strike over pay and extending the right to vote.

The background to the 1926 General Strike (GS) was the national lock-out, on 1 May, of around 1.2 million miners who had refused to agree to the coal owners’ demands for reductions in pay and conditions. 

During WWI, the knowledge that private enterprise was unable to provide the products needed to keep the fires of war burning resulted in the government intervening in, including taking control of, several major industries. These included coal. 

Once the conflict ended, the Government skilfully handled the pressure it was under to nationalise the coal industry by setting up a Royal Commission, led by Mr Justice Sankey, that subsequently dismissed this proposal. 

Partly influenced by syndicalism, some in the trade union movement viewed the GS as an offensive instrument to attack the capitalist system. This, they hoped, would eventually lead to its overthrow and possible replacement by a new system – Communism – which was being put into practice following the 1917 Russian Revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union, the world’s first self-declared socialist state. The Communist Party of Great Britain was highly active throughout the 1926 GS and some party  members played leading roles.

In 1921, and with the coal industry set to be handed back to its owners, who were insisting on cutbacks in pay and conditions, the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) appealed to the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) and the Transport Workers’ Federation (TWF) to bring a general strike idea to life by joining them on strike. When the suggestion was rejected by both bodies the miners subsequently suffered a historic defeat on “Black Friday.” (15 April 1921) 

Britain’s coal exports continued to fall over the following years. In the summer of 1925, the coal owners informed the MFGB that coal was being produced at a loss and that they intended again to reduce pay and conditions dramatically while also reorganising the industry through a capital investment programme. Jobs would be lost. 

Conflict delayed 

When the MGFB refused to negotiate wage reductions or longer working hours, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) — which had taken on during that summer the co-ordinating role of the strike, ultimately successful, by a quarter of a million textile workers across West Yorkshire – brought together a meeting of unions representing various groups of transport workers such as the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU),  then headed by Ernest Bevin. 

Transport workers agreed to support the miners by imposing an embargo, stopping all movements of coal which was then the main means of power generation. On 31 July 1925, a co-ordinated strike of mine, railway and transport workers was due to begin. 

On midnight on 31 July 1925, however, Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative  government announced it was again establishing a Royal Commission to examine the problems of the coal industry. The Commission would provide its final report at the end of April the following year and, while it met, the government would provide the coal industry with a subsidy to cover the gap between the production and market price of coal. This labour movement “victory” on a Friday became popularly known as “Red Friday”. 

The Royal Commission, which did not contain anyone from the trade union and labour movement, simply pushed the problem into the following year. The coal owners were confident their views would be backed by the Commission, whose remit was “to inquire into and report upon the economic position of the Coal Industry and the conditions affecting it and to make any recommendations for the improvement thereof.” 

Meanwhile, the government updated the secretive emergency services organisation (the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies or OMS). Conservative groups also compiled registers of people willing to help run certain industries, such as the railways and buses, in the event of a major industrial dispute. 

In comparison, the trade unions, which were reluctant to give the TUC the power to control events, failed to back the MFGB’s appeal to several key unions (in metals, rail, coal and transport) to form an industrial alliance — waited patiently. 

Few plans for action were made for the event that the Commission overlooked the miners’ demands. This proved to be the case when the Commission’s report was issued in April 1926. Last minute government attempts to get the miners to agree to cuts in pay and conditions were rejected before the subsidy ended on Friday 30 April 1926. 

The miners’ are locked out 

Hundreds of thousands of miners were immediately locked out of their workplaces by the Mining Association (MA) which terminated all mineworkers’ contracts and stated they were seeking to “obtain liberty of action.” 

On May Day 1926, the TUC leadership organised a meeting at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London and established a negotiating committee to defend the miners with Bevin imploring everyone “to fight for the soul of labour and the salvation of the miners.” 

It was announced “no person in the first grade (these were in printing, iron and steel, heavy chemicals, construction, electricity and gas, railway, road transport and docks) must go to work at starting time on Tuesday morning, that is to say if a settlement has not been found.”  

A second line of workers in industries such as engineering, shipbuilding and textiles was held in reserve. Only the first two were subsequently called out on Wednesday 12 May, the day the GS was called off. 

Over the next two (2-3 May) days, the TUC Industrial Committee, established on 14 April to prepare concrete proposals for strike action, continued to negotiate with the government before the latter withdrew from discussions. In the Cabinet,, there was a right-wing group including the likes of Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, keen to take a strong line with labour. 

The scene was thus set for a historic battle when around one and three quarter million workers nationally took strike action at midnight on 3 May 1926 in solidarity with the locked-out miners. 

These workers included many members of Unite’s legacy unions and it is these that this article mainly concentrates on. There is, though, an unavoidable weakness in it as, sadly, the written materials or oral recordings produced by the trade union and labour movement during the strike are nothing like as extensive as those produced by the government or other public authorities. 

Later, too, the major trade union participants and leaders in the GS wrote or contributed little serious analysis about the events and there are very few major books on the subject, especially at regional level. 

The TUC, with Bevin at the forefront, had organised the Powers and Orders Committee to co-ordinate the activities of the various unions and a Food and Essential Services Committee was also formed to distribute food and maintain health services. 

The TUC, though, had no intention of making itself deeply unpopular by trying to restrict food supplies and, in fact, such were the growing numbers (around 100,000) enrolling with the pro-coal owners OMS that it could not have done so anyway, especially as the government could also call on over 200,000 second reserve policemen in England and Wales. In London, there were also around 50,000 special constables. On May 3, 1926, two battleships arrived in the Mersey and troops in steel helmets marched through the City. Warships were deployed to the River Tyne and to the Clyde.

One of many problems faced by unions was who was able to issue permits for the distribution of food. Numerous local rank and file Councils of Action, such as in Bradford, had sprung up spontaneously and were issuing permits before it was eventually agreed that only local transport committees, based upon transport unions, would have such powers. 

As the GS started, miners mounted picket lines at locked pit gates and right across the NEYH – around 150,000 were employed in the pits in Durham, 181,000 in Yorkshire and West Riding and 58,000 in Northumberland – there was no difficulty about gathering pickets to ensure that the strike was enforced. 

The miners were determined to protect jobs and conditions. Jack Lawson was the miners’ MP for Chester-le-Street in 1926. He later commented accurately that the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) “is an integral part of the life of the Northern miner; in truth, it is in the texture of his thought even when he is not conscious of it”. 

The DMA had been at the forefront of the fight for a shorter working day and Durham’s coalface workers (mainly hewers) worked between six and six and three-quarter hours. This was a tradition untouched since a district agreement of 1890 and their example had been important in convincing the Sankey Commission of the viability of a seven-hour day. 

Underground working ponies enjoyed a welcome break from the dark when they were brought out of the mines and fussed over and overfed by miners, who loved the animals. 

Hundreds of thousands enthusiastically back the General Strike call

The strike was enthusiastically backed by the overwhelming majority of trade unionists asked by their unions to take part and, to keep them informed, the TUC set up a Publicity Committee to counter government propaganda. There were no cases of grave disorder reported as the strike began and across the NEYH area the GS was received with calmness. Nevertheless, police were drafted to Durham from the West Riding, Lincolnshire, and Norfolk 
A TUC newspaper, the British Worker, went into production on Wednesday 5 May 1926. It was distributed by print workers through the trade unions and their dispatch riders. Circulation in London reached half a million but that failed to satisfy national demand. Other editions were produced, including in Leeds, where around 40,000 had responded immediately to the strike call, and Newcastle  where the trade union movement locally worked to set up its own central strike committee for a large part of Northumberland and Durham. This was no easy task as each union tended jealously to guard its independence. 

The joint strike committee in Newcastle consisted of 14 organisations, including Newcastle Trades Council and the TGWU. It published the Newcastle Workers’ Chronicle. It backed strikes by workers in the electricity supply industry aimed at cutting off electricity supplies to local industry. This, though, proved ineffective when scab labour was brought in and, while the strike did not last long enough for coal stocks to be exhausted, electricity still had to be rationed as was later the case when miners were on strike in the 1970s. 

In a sign that not all trade unions were supportive, Havelock Wilson, the unpopular leader of the National Union of Seamen (NUS) – which had voted not to back the strike – later dismissed local NUS organiser James Rogers for sitting on the joint strike committee in an “unofficial capacity.” 

In Darlington, around 1,000 members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union were on strike area along with over 3,000 men in seven local branches of the NUR plus numerous strikers who were members of ASLEF and the Railway Clerks’ Association. (the TSSA today)  The local Joint Transport Strike Committee, formed by the transport unions, was able to print a daily bulletin. 

In Hartlepool, about 5,000 were on strike with pickets attempting to block attempts to run vehicles which the local corporation generally operated. In Sunderland the paper mills had closed down, supporting the 4,000 miners at Wearmouth and Castletown collieries who were on strike. 

Tension and conflict with police 

In Middlesbrough, the Trades Council Secretary reported that 10,964 men were on strike with a further 3,250 blast furnace men unemployed as a result of the strike. The solidarity of workers considerably surpassed anything previous in the area. Tensions overspilled at one point when large, unorganised crowds of several thousand people attempted to stop a train in Middlesbrough on 6 May.  Police drew batons in an attempt to disperse them. 

There were also disturbances further down the coast in Hull where 25,000 plus had withdrawn their labour. Strike breakers were enrolled at the Hull City Hall on 7 May. A large crowd objected and, when the police charged at them using their batons, a fierce battle broke out. There were similar scenes the following day when tramcars were run by volunteers. Across the city, strike pay was distributed at the Trades and Labour Club in Kingston Square and Owen Hall in Baker Street. Large queues of workmen besieged both locations. 

Conflict with the police also took place in Newcastle and in Leeds, where a Workers’ Defence Corps was organised to provide for self-defence in the event of clashes with the police. Pickets had ensured that 100% were out on the railways and 98% on road transport. 

In South Yorkshire, Sheffield’s iron, steel and engineering firms, including Vickers, were closed as soon as the strike started at 0.01am on Tuesday 4 May 1926. The following day in Leeds, though, saw the first few trams being operated with stones thrown at the scabs driving them. Many tram windows were broken. 

Strikes by Typographical Association members at the daily Halifax Courier (HC) failed to prevent it – and its sister paper the Guardian Weekly – being published during the GS. Around 40 provincial papers were still published throughout the nine-day national strike. 

Although the HC opposed the GS, its publication throughout it has assisted analysis of it. The paper reported on 8 May 1926: “The response to the calls by the different unions to cease work has been general in this district; those so far affected, in addition to transport workers, (no trains were running) including printers, wire workers, plumbers and members of the Workers’ Union (which became part of the TGWU in 1929 - ed), embracing many occupations.” 

Ten thousand people attended a mass meeting in Halifax on Sunday 9 May 1926. Similar numbers turned out the same day in Bradford, where strikers had published their own paper The Bradford Worker, the three GS editions of which sold an impressive 26,500

In Bradford 90% of textile dyers had joined the strike action, printers in all sections were out and no trams were running. Two days later when a small skeleton service was attempted, Engineering Group instructions to powerhouse men at Valley Road, which generated the power for the trams, to stop production were enthusiastically supported. Without any power the trams again ground to a halt. 

Despite the crippling lack of preparation nationally and regionally across NEYH it is clear, even from the relatively limited information available, that members of all unions called upon to back the miners had rallied wholeheartedly to the cause. 

At the same time, there appeared to be no backtracking by the government in its own determination not to retreat. On this, they retained the backing of the coal owners and the capitalist class in general. Volunteers of varying levels of competence were also being increasingly used to replace strikers at workplaces such as the docks, buses, trams and on the railways.  Troops were also drafted in to ensure that the government was firmly in control of essential services. 

Any outbreaks of disorder had been contained and food supplies, protected in many cases by the police and army, were returning to normal with foodstuffs arriving at docks being unloaded and transported subsequently from there by strike breakers.

The government had also made contingency plans to introduce emergency legislation that would have made sympathetic (“secondary”) striking more difficult and was relentlessly promoting through its own mouthpiece, the British Gazette, the argument that the GS was a direct challenge not only to its own authority but to the constitutional order in general. 

TUC General Council fearful of the fight 

As the vast majority of the TUC General Council, which from the start had shown only lukewarm commitment to the GS, never had any revolutionary intentions, Government plans and charges helped pile pressure on them into seeking a settlement. 

NUR leader, Jimmy Thomas, in particular had never wanted to back the GS and had throughout the action sought to mislead the TUC General Council into believing that his ongoing semi-clandestine negotiations with Lord Samuel contained a compromise solution that the Government would support. This was not true. (Thomas said, on 13 May, in the House of Commons that ending the strike was needed before “It got out of hand.” )

With hundreds of thousands of workers from across many different industries and unions set to join in the strike action on Wednesday 12 May, the TUC General Council, unable to get the miners to agree to new reduced terms and conditions, caved in and immediately called off the strike without even receiving any guarantees from the government on such issues as victimisation. 


Subsequent pleas to employers, especially on the railways, for there to be no victimisation were disregarded. Some employers like the Manchester Guardian newspaper snapped up the opportunity to derecognise unions. The paper denounced trade unions as “instruments of industrial war....which when practised on a sufficiently large scale is almost indistinguishable from civil war.” Conflict with the State was inevitable it was stated. Other papers printed even worse things with the Daily Mirror comparing strikers to “a foreign foe in 1914.” 

In Hull, over 30,000 workers including railwaymen, printers, dockers and engineers remained on strike after 12 May in support of the reinstatement of 150 victimised tramway workers who had found their jobs taken by strike breakers.  At the Bradford textile company of Henry Ayrton and Co at Westbrook Mills, 15 trade union members were sacked when they attempted to return to their jobs.

Huge numbers of workers were disappointed at the strike being called off. The Sheffield Central Dispute Committee expressed its “keen dissatisfaction” and “pledge[d] its support to all trade unionists who are continuing the struggle”. 80,000 workers had been on strike in Sheffield and the committee continued to function for another 3-4 months, being mainly involved in seeking funding support for the miners.

Funds were needed (in fact the amounts, even though boosted by support from the Soviet Union, donated thereafter were much less than required) but it was only by sustained mass strike action that the miners could possibly have won. 

Urged on by the MA, the Government, with the support of the House of Lords, passed new legislation on 8 July providing for a temporary extension of hours on the basis of eight per day for miners. The mine owners announced new employment terms based on the 8-hour day. 


The miners were left to fight on alone. 

Joseph Foster, interviewed in April 2005, recalled events in Burnhope in 1926 , when he was 14, as “being a terrible time. I saw the worst of the strike. No clothes, no shoes, no food... families couldn’t make ends meet.

“Even today, I have a lot, a lot of sympathy for the poor old miners. I saw it all. I saw them… One chap lost his leg, Frankie Bennett. Billy Mordue, he was a good footballer, he lost from his ankle down there. They never had, they had nothing at all. They had, they had nothing to grasp on to. It was from one thing down and down and down all the time actually. You must remember they were out of work a long, long time.”

Interviewed in November 2004, Eveline Johnson of Trimdon Station, said that miners’ wives “managed the best way they could, and in every way they could you know. But there was soup kitchens of course.

“There was good camaraderie down there. They would do anything for each other. They all stuck together - the pitmen - down the pit. They worked for each other.” 

Foster remembered an incident in which a delivery van was tipped over by four striking miners, Ted Close, Harry Hobbs, Jim Hobbs and Frankie Armstrong who had all been left angry after they had been forced to dive out of the way when the van was earlier driven at them. The events led to soldiers being sent to Burnhope. “They were walking about with bayonets, with guns.” 

Large numbers of men previously associated with the armed forces were sent to reinforce the police across mining communities. In fact, violence largely ceased across most northern mining communities after the end of May until the late autumn, when a noticeable back-to-work movement naturally caused friction. 

Labour authorities provide practical relief

Considering the hardships being experienced this was fairly remarkable. It helped that many local authorities across NEYH were Labour-led as it meant they could instruct their Education Committees to commence school feeding arrangements and, in Durham, the County Council provided several million more free meals to school children than any other county in Britain. The estimated total cost was nearly £300,000. 

Jack Lawson: As on the former occasion [1921] there was one gleam of sunshine in the gloom of the 1926 lock-out. The bairns were fed in schools, and well fed, too . . . The County Council saw that nothing was lacking, and Peter Lee and his colleagues in the midst of all their troubles and anxieties had the satisfaction of knowing that they at least saved children from the carnage of industrial war.”  
Peter Lee, who began work as a miner at aged 10, was the chairman of Durham County Council and agent of the DMA. The town Peterlee is named after him, the only one named after a trade unionist in Britain. 
Where the local Poor Law Board of Guardians was controlled by Labour, it was also able to provide further practical relief aid to strikers and their dependents. “The most striking example of this was at Chester-le-Street, where 42,722 people out of a population of about 86,000 were receiving relief when numbers peaked at the beginning of July. Forty-seven of Chester-le-Street’s fifty-nine Guardians belonged to the Labour Party and thirty-nine were miners’ officials, miners, or miners’ wives.” (Hester Barron: The 1926 Miners’ Lockout)
However, now left to battle on alone, the miners were to be severely defeated. More miners took the heartbreaking decision to return to work and then the starvation levels meant the strike was called off in November. In Durham only ten thousand (equivalent to 5.7%) returned before the decision to end the strike was taken, this was the lowest percentage of any area. (In Yorkshire the figure was 35,500 and in Northumberland was 8,700)
Victimisation meant many miners remained unemployed, some permanently. Those back working were humiliatingly forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements. 
The miners’ leader, A.J. Cook, said of the TUC: “They threw away the chance of a victory greater than any British labour has ever won.”  This view was widely shared by sections of the trade union and labour movement at the time, although not by Ernest Bevin. 

The miners would never again trust the TUC. 

The Newcastle Workers' Chronicle commented: "Never in the history of workers' struggle – with one exception of the treachery of our leaders in 1914 – has there been such a calculated betrayal of working class interests"; the Council itself said: "To hell with the Constitution ... next time we must not be unprepared". 
Many miners felt betrayed and demoralised after 1926 and said “never again.” The bills had accumulated including for rents for the colliery houses the miners rented from their employers, who insisted on being paid before they would re-employ strikers. People for many years afterwards asked “Are you working?” rather than “How are you?”
Following the end of the GS, the Baldwin government passed the anti-trade union Disputes and Trade Union Act in 1927. This prohibited sympathetic strike action but, in practice, when workers were united it proved much less formidable than it sounded. 
The Act, which was to be swept away after WWII by the Attlee Labour Government, also forced trade unionists to opt in to paying the political levy, rather than opt out, to the Labour Party, whose leaders such as Ramsay MacDonald had not wanted a GS, causing the numbers affiliated to Labour to drop from 3.2 million to 2 million over the following two years. 

None of this prevented Labour, campaigning on the theme of “Labour and the Nation”, winning the most Parliamentary seats for the first time ever at the 1929 General Election, which was fought against a background of rising unemployment with the GS still fresh in voters’ minds. MacDonald was able to form a minority administration thanks to Liberal support. 


124,000 miners in Durham were reported in 1929 to have earned – altogether – a total of £16.3 million. This sum was dwarfed by just 543 people nationally whose incomes at the time totalled £55 million. 

Miners were earning 6 shillings and 6d a day (32.5p) and from which they paid 3 to 5 shillings (15-25p) a week in rates whilst some coal-royalty owners in the county were receiving £22,000 pounds annually and paid no rates in the area from which they derived their income. 

This grossly unfair distribution of wealth meant the working poor had little to spend on food and on goods and, as a result, businesses were also struggling for income. Sharing the national wealth would have been good for the whole economy. 

By January 1931, there were considerably fewer men and boys employed in the collieries of County Durham, just 118,000 compared with almost 170,000 (*) in 1924. Many youths in the county now had no work at all and the 1930s were to be a period of abject poverty and known to miners and their families as “The Hard Times”.

Nationally, on 12 January 1931, there were 1,878,456 wholly unemployed, 650,264 temporarily unemployed and 107,448 normally in casual employment, a total of 2,636,168, up by 1,159,907 since January 1930. 

December 1930 had witnessed one of the worst months for British exports for many years. The managing director of Ashington Colliery, Ridley Warham, reported how difficult it was to sell coal of all sizes with future prospects “not very cheerful.” 

With so many people out of work, unsurprisingly trade union membership fell dramatically as Britain entered the 1930s, a decade when a general industrial depression would grip the globe and lead to the rise of fascist regimes and eventually to the horrors of WWII. 


The 1926 Miners’ Lockout: Meanings of community  in the Durham coalfield - Hester Barron

Bradford Trades Council 1872 - 1972 100 YEARS

The General Strike in the North East - Anthony Mason 1970

Archives of Halifax Courier

The General Strike: Day by Day - Keith Laybourn

The General Strike - History Group of the Communist Party 1961 

Sources for the Study of the General Strike, 1926 - Sheffield City Library 

Hello, Are You Working? Memories of the Thirties in the North East of England by Keith Armstrong and Huw Beynon (eds) 

Hull History Centre Archives 

Durham Archives up to 1933 including the Coal Mining Oral history project DC/ALM 

Newcastle City Library Archives 1926 and 1929 

Newcastle University Special Collections 

  • This is the generally accepted figure but, speaking in January 1931, Mr J Oliver, director of the Co-operative Wholesale Society reported there had, in fact, been 200,000 men and boys employed in County Durham in 1924. The author believes the lower figure is more accurate.  

With thanks to Graeme Atkinson and Jim Fox for their advice and support on this work. 

Monday, 17 February 2020

RIP: Harry Gregg, a great man in my view

Harry Gregg’s death has let me feeling quite sad as he was a man who was always happy to be contacted for comment when I was writing an article about events to which he was connected. I was also delighted to meet him on 6 September 2018 when he made the long trip by car from Northern Ireland to Blackpool to unveil the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) plaque to goalkeeping great Frank Swift, who was tragically killed on 6 February 1958 in the Munich tragedy at which Harry was a hero who went back into the burning plane to rescue a number of passengers. 

I had asked Harry to do the unveiling as when I wrote a biography of Frank Swift he had been happy to be interviewed over the phone. By the time of his death, Frank was a journalist with the News of the World. He had criticised Harry, just recently arrived at Old Trafford for a world record fee of £23,500 from Doncaster Rovers, for spending too much time on his goalline. Frank had also criticised Harry’s failure to save the final goal in the Manchester United match against Red Star Belgrade that ended 3-3 on the day before Munich.

None of which mattered when Big Frank, possibly England’s greatest ever keeper, a giant of a man both on and off the field, was later laid to rest. Harry was there and he told me “when I say Frank was a wonderful character it is not because he always wrote nice things about me. It is easy to be a character and not have the ability, but Big Swiftie had ability and character. Put these two things together, what more could you want.” Harry could, of course, easily have been describing himself! 

After the funeral, Harry later made a trip out of respect to Frank to purchase a pair of goalkeeping gloves that the former Manchester City keeper had recommended. Sixty years later he made the trip to Blackpool to further honour Frank by unveiling a plaque on Revoe library that is close to where Frank Swift was born. Harry spoke with great passion with his strong accent often causing some confusion amongst the watching audience amongst which were a group of half a dozen Leeds fans. 

Prior to the ceremony at the library there had been a series of mural unveilings to Frank Swift and Jimmy Armfield at the Revoe Primary School they both attended at one time. The Armfield family unveiled a plaque to Jimmy. 

Before this part of the day started I was slightly thrown when one of the Leeds fans said who his group supported. Generally there is not a lot of love lost between Manchester and Leeds United. On enquiring why they were there I was told a few of them had met Harry on holiday a while back and he had totally enthralled them. They were big fans of Harry. The PFA had published some beautiful posters for the events in Blackpool on 6 September and these lads, and other fans, quickly took one or two to get them autographed. Frank was interviewed by Simon Mullock of the Sunday Mirror and the pair got on very well.

I had many years previously benefitted from Harry’s willingness to talk about his United appearances against Liverpool for a book I co-wrote on the history of matches between these two great Lancashire rivals. One game stood out; Manchester United 0 Liverpool 1 in November 1963. Harry had had his collar bone broken and in an era when there were no substitutes he pulled on a top and went back out to play centre forward. “I later got the biggest rollicking of my career.” He had defied the pleading of the orthopaedic surgeon Mr Glass and was afterwards told his collar bone could have pierced his neck or lung. He described how the on-field animosities in these games counted for nothing off it. He also described to me how goalkeeping was different in his days with much fewer punches and a general willingness to dive at the attacking forwards’ feet in an attempt to gather the ball. Today ‘keepers try to spread themselves in a star shape.

Harry also told me about his own battles to have his autobiography published and he, naturally, recommended I bought it. It was sound advice as for years I have told football fans that Harry’s Game: an autobiography is one of the best football books you’ll ever read. RIP Harry Gregg. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Will Yorkshire Water finally flush away the grouse shooters?

This was an article written late last year for the Landworker magazine and which was not published due to a lack of space. Hopefully a follow piece can be sorted out in 2020.

All photographs are copyright Mark Harvey of ID Photography, Sheffield. Many thanks to Mark for allowing me to use them. 

Yorkshire Water (YW), the biggest landowner in Yorkshire, faces pressure from local environmental and wildlife campaigners to stop leasing land for grouse shooting. Eleven parcels of land are  leased for the paltry annual sum of £70,000. If YW acts they will follow two large local landowners that have recently thrown grouse shooters off their land. 

Copyright Mark Harvey 

Grouse shooting is a barbaric activity where wealthy individuals defenceless birds. The practice facilitates wildlife destruction. And when wet, peaty blanket bog is burnt to create ideal conditions for grouse breeding then the water supply is polluted. There is also environmental degradation due to carbon loss plus increased chances of flooding downstream. Many Yorkshire close to grouse shooting estates have experienced severe flooding in recent times. 

Established five years ago, Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors is a voluntary group that believes the ‘moors are the jewel in our region’s crown and must be preserved in a way beneficial to wildlife, education, its users and the local economy.’ 

Spokesperson Luke Steele from Leeds has been active in the group from the start. “I grew up walking the local moors. I am sick of seeing the wildlife persecuted, the environment damaged and local communities suffering flooding and air pollution. Plus why should YW customers subsidise grouse shooters who by burning the moors are releasing pollutants that end up in the water supply and need removing at a considerable cost to make the water clean to drink. The costs must dwarf the £70,000 YW receive in return.”

Copyright Mark Harvey 

Visiting Haworth Moor, where a gamekeeper has been interviewed for animal cruelty after he was caught on camera tending to deadly traps where a young rabbit was discovered killed, it was apparent that much of its moorland had been burnt as the ground is black. Smoke plumes were frequently seen by local residents earlier this year. 

The leaseholders of YW’s land on Haworth Moor are the Walshaw Moor Estate (WME), who have not signed the voluntary agreements that former environment secretary Michael Gove was encouraging landowners to sign last year to promise not to burn the moors. 

WME, which is under EU investigation for damaging protected habitats on sites of special scientific investigation, belongs to wealthy retail owner Richard Bannister. 

In 2012 Bannister obtained £2.5 million of public money towards his estate where he charges a lot for a days shooting. “Depending on the shoot it can cost between two to ten thousand pounds per gun a day. City bankers and aristocrats use the moors as a playground, get sick pleasure from killing the grouse. They put nothing back into the local economy,” explains Steele. 

In fact, grouse shooting can cost some local communities. Research by Leeds University on the effects of moorland burning on ten Pennine Moors revealed it lowers the water table. Where burning takes place there are higher peak flows during heavy rain. Situated in the Upper Calder Valley and downstream of the WME, both Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd have suffered heavy flooding in recent years. Businesses were destroyed and jobs lost. Millions are being spent to bolster local flood defences. 

Also not safe when it comes to grouse shooting are wildlife. On a wooded area on Haworth Moor it was easy to find many snares including one containing a dead fox. Branches had been purposely rigged up to funnel animals into an area where food had been laid out close to snares.

Copyright Mark Harvey 

As we left the wood, which we had a legal right to access, we met one of the gamekeepers who was on quad bike at the front of which was his loaded shotgun. He was highly aggressive and sought to intimidate us. We were fine but “imagine if that was a local person out with their dog, I suspect they would have found that very unpleasant,” said Luke who explained that gamekeepers are under pressure to break the law by persecuting badgers and birds of prey, many of which mysteriously go missing when they take up breeding close to grouse shooting areas. 

Natural predators of grouse such as stoats, weasels and foxes are regarded as threats to the grouse shooting businesses and so must be eradicated even if it means mounting snares, legal or not.  “Gamekeepers like to set the moors up like a fortress and want to prevent any wildlife getting on to them,” explained Steele. 

According to Luke, many YW customers have sent postcards from his group asking the company to stop leasing its land for grouse shooting. He believes the company is being forced to take the issue very seriously and he reports, “YW staff, including many Unite members, have told us they are asking management to end the contracts. John Grogan, Labour MP for Keighley and Ilkley, has also written asking YW to act decisively. Bradford Borough Council and NG Bailey have recently terminated leasing contracts for grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor and Denton Moor respectively. We hope to see YW follow suit soon.” 

Luke Steele
Copyright Mark Harvey 

The Labour Party nationally has called for a review into driven grouse shooting with its environment spokeswoman Sue Hayman saying, “the costs of grouse shooting on our environment and wildlife needs to be properly weighed up against the benefit of land owners profiting from shooting parties. There are viable alternatives such as simulated shooting and wildlife tourism.” 

Sheffield Hallam CLP, Unite Community and Sheffield TUC have established an annual moorland walk to protest against the start of the grouse shooting season on August 12 on local moorland. Spokesperson Robert Howarth said, “we seek a ban on grouse shooting and the redirection of ineffective agricultural and land subsidies into a land fund which would help local authorities and other public bodies to become owners of our open spaces, encouraging re-wilding and a more diverse agriculture and husbandry. Young people could be encouraged into arable farming and husbandry.”