Cornwall's biggest China Clay strike marked 100 years on

China Clay workers around the time of the strike
Image caption Several companies were responsible for the 70 pits leading to variations in pay and conditions

An eight hour working day incorporating a one hour lunch break may be regarded as the norm for today's workers, but 100 years ago such conditions did not exist in Cornwall's China Clay industry.

Imerys is the company most associated with the industry today, but a century ago there were several small companies running about 70 pits in the mid Cornwall area. As a result there were big differences in workers' pay and conditions.

As workers from the various pits compared notes on their weekly pay packet, many grew angry at the variety of wages being paid, leading to the China Clay strike of 1913.

It started after one firm, Carne Stents based in Trewoon in mid Cornwall, went back on a promise to pay wages fortnightly, according to a new book called The 1913 China Clay Strike, written by Nigel Costley, the Regional Secretary of the TUC.

For about three months 5,000 china clay workers stood firm on their calls for a pay increase of five shillings more a week, and for their wages to be paid fortnightly, not once a month.

Most of the companies initially refused the calls, leading to a strike which overwhelmed the local police force.

Image caption Officers from the Glamorgan police force were brought in during the strike

Not all workers wanted to strike, since some companies were already meeting the demands.

Their refusal to strike led to many angry confrontations between workers and strikers.

The dispute made the national newspapers when 100 hundred officers from the Glamorgan police force were brought in to bolster the police presence.

They had previously been involved in coal strikes in Wales.

Additional officers were also brought in from Bristol and Devon.

Baton charge

In one demonstration, near Bugle, one of the Welsh police officer tried to move on one of the women pickets. She fell and the crowd rushed at the police.

Jenny Moore, from the China Clay History Society, said: "Strikers and their families met in Bugle. They wanted to get the workers from the nearby Wheal Hope to join them.

"To get there they had to go up a narrow lane with high banks on either side. The Glamorgan police were ahead of them.

"Without warning the Glamorgan police baton charged the crowd. There were a lot of injuries."

Image caption Police officers were drafted in from Glamorgan, Bristol and Devon

According to Wheal Martyn, from Cornwall's China Clay Museum in St Austell, as the strikers were running out of money they sold lots of their family treasures along with bicycles, pianos, pots and pans.

The situation came to a head when one of the strike's leaders, Howard Vincent, shot PC William Collett from Lostwithiel in the leg.

This incident shocked the strikers, who were already thinking about ending the strike.

Although they went back to work without a deal, within weeks the clay firms started to agree to the workers' demands.

Mr Costley said: "This was Cornwall's biggest strike, involving the whole community.

"Employers took a hard line to stop workers organising and joining a union, but it backfired, energising the labour movement in the county and setting in train 100 years of good employment relations."

Stocker's Copper, a BBC film made in the 1970's, tells the story of the strike and the involvement of the Glamorgan police.

An exhibition marking the centenary will be on display at the Wheal Martyn China Clay museum in St Austell throughout the summer.

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