Tyne & Wear

Silksworth evictions remembered

Crowds watching eviction Image copyright Beamish, the Living Museum of the North
Image caption The men carrying out the evictions were guarded by police

One hundred and twenty five years ago the owner of a County Durham mine chose an extreme way of dealing with strike action - he evicted the miners from their homes.

On 19 February 1891 a group of men barged into a small terraced house in the mining town of Silksworth.

Amid the jeers of a watching crowd, they carted out the furniture and dumped it unceremoniously on the pavement. The Silksworth evictions had begun.

Image copyright Beamish, the Living Museum of the North
Image caption Crowds gathered to watch as evicted miners' belongings were dumped in the street, or loaded onto carts

The workers at Silksworth Colliery had been on strike since the previous November in a dispute over union membership.

Although there was supposed to be a free choice over whether or not to join the Durham Miners Association, many miners suspected that those who refused to join "enjoyed special management favour".

There were also counter-claims of bullying to persuade people to sign up.

After attempts at negotiation broke down, the men had walked out.

Image copyright Beamish, the Living Museum of the North
Image caption Some of those turned out of their homes went to stay with family or friends

Those on strike would have lived with the threat of eviction, as their homes belonged to the mine owner Lord Londonderry, who took rent directly from the workers' wages.

And this threat became a reality after Lord Londonderry recruited a team of men from Hartlepool.

Some were led to believe they would be moving timber, and left once they realised they were to act as bailiffs.

Known as "candymen" after the rag and bone men who sometimes gave sweets out to children, the men had to be housed in a nearby farm and escorted into Silksworth under police guard, due to the strength of public feeling.

Image copyright Beamish, the Living Museum of the North
Image caption Spectators crowded onto the rooftops while the evictions, such as this one in Quarry Street, took place

Once the evictions were under way, crowds gathered - with many travelling from nearby mining towns to lend their support to the strikers. There were noisy protests, with singing and the banging of pots and pans.

There were attempts to hamper the evictions, with reports of people sprinkling pepper on to curtains - to make the bailiffs sneeze - hiding bricks in furniture to make it too heavy to move, or putting soap on the front step to make it slippery.

Some of the men refused to leave their armchairs and had to be carried out in them.

There was only one incident of violence, when people who had travelled into Silksworth from Sunderland threw stones at police, who retaliated with batons, in what became known as "the charge of the cops brigade".

Image copyright Beamish, the Living Museum of the North
Image caption Some evicted miners camped out in the Methodist church hall, or in makeshift shelters in its grounds

Those turned out of their homes had the option of trying to find a place in the already overcrowded homes of families or friends, or camping out in the local Methodist church hall.

Some even created makeshift shelters in the church grounds, despite the bitter weather.

A total of 155 warrants for eviction were issued, but by the beginning of March agreement was reached between both sides.

Work resumed at the colliery, and miners returned to their homes.

Pictures of the evictions can be viewed at the People's Collection of Beamish, the Living Museum of the North.

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