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This half term, join Beamish and the Silksworth Community to commemorate the 1891 Silksworth Evictions. You can get involved in reenactments and soak up the community spirit as the Pit Village, Colliery, Town and Tramway come together to remember the miners evicted by Lord Londonderry…
In November 1890 miners at Silksworth Colliery turned out on strike. There was a feeling amongst the miners who were part of the Union that the deputies at the Colliery were treated more favourably by the mine managers and owners if they didn’t join. Likewise the owners believed that the Union members bullied the deputies into joining. There had been an agreement a few years before that it should be a free choice. This dispute resulted in a strike by the miners. All attempts at negotiations between the sides failed.
The colliery and its houses were owned by Lord Londonderry. On hearing of the strike, and failed attempts to resolve it amicably, he ordered the eviction of the miners and their families from their houses.
Londonderry recruited men from Hartlepool to carry out the evictions, under the false pretence of “shifting timber”. These men were nicknamed “candymen” (after the rag and bone men who went around the streets collecting old furniture and would sometimes give a piece of candy to children) They were stationed at ‘Candy Hall’, a farm not far from the colliery, just outside of Silksworth village.
Every morning the candymen would walk into the village with a Police escort and into the rows of colliery houses to carry out the evictions.
Silksworth folk protested peacefully though not quietly, banging pots and pans, singing ‘Little Annie Rooney’, playing the fiddle and barricading their homes, with tactics like a dash of pepper sprinkled in the curtains or putting bricks in their chest of drawers. There are interesting stories about men being carried out in their armchairs and babies in cots but also of unlawful eviction of the wrong occupiers. The Strike Committee and their supporters wore blue rosettes.
Many candymen did “moonlight flits” after realising what their work actually involved and the negativity amongst the community towards them.
Crowds from Sunderland travelled up and gathered on rooftops to watch the spectacle. It was “quite the event!” There was only one violent incident, referred to as the “Charge of the Cops Brigade”. This was started by people travelling into Silksworth from Sunderland. They aggravated the Police by throwing stones. The Police retaliated with batons. Several people were taken to hospital with cuts and bruises.
Some of the evicted families went to stay with relatives, others were able to “set up camp” in the Independent Methodist Church or camp out on its grounds in the freezing February weather!
Fellow mining families from Ryhope and other collieries showed support and even marched their brass band to the pit with the miners when the strike ended. So many collieries came out in support that the mining industry in County Durham could very soon have been brought to a standstill.
Both sides began to reach a stalemate after four months. In March the two sides reached an agreement and the owners agreed to stop any aggressive policies and that deputies be free to choose which union they joined. Work was resumed at the collieries by the end of March 1891.
For information on all of the activities during half term at Beamish, and our extended half price winter discount, click here.