Home Industry and Commerce Mining New Order For Miners – Opening of Houghton Main Canteen

New Order For Miners – Opening of Houghton Main Canteen

December 1942

South Yorkshire Times – Saturday 26 December 1942

New Order For Miners

Opening of Houghton Main Canteen

The idea that Government rehabilitation schemes for the mining industry now being implemented by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, should be looked upon not as a war-time expedient but measures for the permanent benefit of ,mining and those engaged in it was put forward by Mr. Tom Smith. M.P.. Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Fuel and Power when he opened a pithead canteen at Houghton Main on Saturday.

He referred to the appointment of Medical Officers to supervise the health and well-being of mine workers and mentioned that Gleneagles, perhaps the fines hotel in the country, had offered a hundred beds for the treatmen and rehabilitation of mine workers.

“I never thought that would come about.” he said, “but when you come to think about it who is entitled to better treatment?”

Mr Smith also mentioned that despite the ceaseless drive for increased output the rate of accident in mine had decreased this year as compared with last. At the conclusion of the ceremony. Mr. John Hill, President of the Houghton Main branch of the Y.M.A. presented Mr. Smith with a case of pipes from Houghton Main workmen as a souvenir of the occasion.

Cost £10,000

The canteen has been erected on a site formerly occupied by a row of single-storey cottages opposite the colliery offices. It has cost about £10,000 for building and equipment and has been provided under the Miners’ Welfare Scheme. Mr. W. A. Bates. District Welfare Officer was present at the opening. The canteen is attractively appointed and provides a flexible service of full meals for the company’s 2300 employees, at the rate of 300 at a sitting. It is the 32nd pithead canteen to be opened in South Yorkshire and will bring the total number of miners thus catererd for in the area to 44,000.

Introducing Mr T. Smith, Mr. J. Brass, managing director, and Chairman of the South Yorkshire Coalowners’ Association said to get “output” they had to have “input” and he therefore hoped the canteen would be well used. Thanks to the facilities afforded by the Ministry of Food, they could perhaps make better use there of the available food and therefore it would take some of the onus off the housewife. He mentioned that in addition to providing tea for all present after the opening the Colliery Company would give tickets for a free meal to all workmen who turned up on Monday, the meals being taken day by day as convenient.

Mr. Brass said he had never said a word in public or in private on the subject of absenteeism or output at Houghton Main. As a matter of fact if there was such a thing as satisfaction at the present time they were as satisfied as they reasonably could be at Houghton Main, But satisfaction was not sufficient. They had all to put forward a little extra, and they hoped the canteen would enable them to do it. Mr. Brass offered apologies for the absence of General Sir Joseph Laycock. K.C.M.G., Bawtry, chairman of the Company, whohe said had had a serious operation. Mr. W. Paling. M.P and Mr. J. A. Hall, Yorkshire Miners, President.

One of the Best.

Mr T Smith described the canteen as one of the finest he had ever seen and went on to say that as his early life in mining was spent in that district—for years he walked from Hemingfield to Darfield Main before there were ‘buses —he had some affection for the Wombwell area and South Yorkshire generally. He said the Government recognised a long while ago that in the heavy industries the workers could not 154 expected to give maximum output unless they were reasonably well fed. As to taking meals down the pit in hot containers, he said he had three such meals and then told a meeting in the committee room of the House of Commons that he would not mind having a meal like that if he was a dataller. (Laughter.)

He said, I should not like to have a meal of that description and then get coal again.” (Laughter.) Ultimately that scheme dropped through. Yorkshire led the way the provision of pithead canteens of 73 collieries in South Yorkshire, employing more than fifty men each, that was the 32nd to provide flexible services of meals. In addition, 33 were operating snack and snap services, and of that number 28 were developing into flexible services. Houghton Main canteen was the 178th in the country to be opened for a full service of meals and 289 were in course of erection or preparation. When these canteens were open they would provide a full meals service for more than half the workers in the industry. In total, food services were in operation or preparation for feeding 97 per cent of the workers in the industry in one way or another.

Facilities Not Fully Used.

Mr. Smith said then were some people in the House of Commons who doubted whether mine workers wanted canteens at collieries. Some felt it would have been better to have given the housewife additional meat etc. Now he was leased to say there was scarcely a district in the country that was not clamouring for the facilities. Mr. Smith said he wanted to say that in the mining industry they had never been able fully to realise that they had got what they had been asking for. One of the most lamentable things about some of the canteens serving full meals far better and far larger than were served in some of the hotels of London—was that they were not being patronised sufficiently. The food they got was excellent and was entirely “off the ration.” It was put there so that the mine workers were assured of at least one substantial meal a day. When after all that agitation they only got 33 per cent. availing themselves of the facilities it was not very encouraging

Mr. Smith said: “I want to see mining take its rightful place in the national economy.” He said he had got fed up with the representation of mining as something sordid. They were as good as any other class of people if no better. He wanted to see the workers in the industry recognised for the part they were playing in producing that which was vital not only in war but in peace time as well. (Applause.) Coal was the very basis of production where munitions were concerned and it would enable them to blast their way to victory. Now they had gone over to the offensive it would perhaps bring victory sooner than appeared likely a matter of twelve months ago. The Government had the right not only to conserve manpower, but to give those engaged in the mining industry a fair crack of the whip, and from the standpoint of wages, which were always relatively low, they had done not so badly.


Mr. Smith went on to the subject of accidents, and said the latest figures revealed a not unpleasant analysis. With all the rush for production there was no increase in the accident rate Up to the 5th of December this year the number of killed was 805, as against 880 for the same period last year, that figure including 50 who lost their lives in an explosion. Non-fatal accidents numbered 2573 this year as against 2754. In the fourth year of the war those figures were gratifying but he personally thought the rate was too high yet. Mr. Smith said they might take it that the new Minister of Fuel and Power who was doing a remarkably good job, would do nothing that would prejudice safety in the industry. As a matter of fact they were studying methods of making life in the pit a little less precarious. They had prepared a scheme and obtained Government consent for it, under which there would be a Medical Officer for each region, with an additional one at headquarters. The duty of the Medical Officer would be, first to see that first aid facilities at all collieries were kept up to date, secondly to keep his eye on occupational disease and take whatever remedial action was necessary. It would be part of his job not merely to improve the health services at the pits, but the health of the mining communities as a whole. Referring to the various schemes of rehabilitation. Mr. Smith said these should not be looked upon merely as a war time measure but something for the permanent good or the industry of the men engaged in it. He said he had never seen better treatment and happier men than in the new rehabilitation centre at Mansfield. In one case 94 per cent. of the men who had been treated went back to their original work. If they could get those centres going for every mining district in the country they would get something of permanent value to the industry.

Mr. Smith said that in a very strenuous four months the new Ministry of Fuel and Power had been able to get things of permanent benefit and at the same time had arrested the decline in output. In the first month they were faced with strikes, and at one time they had 34 strikes on the disputes list. At one pit the boys struck because they were not getting as much as the men and at another the men struck because they were not getting as much as the boys. (Laughter.)

They had in fact improved output considerably. but they had not yet reached the target figure of 4,173,200 tons, which he very much regretted. He was very pleased to hear that at Houghton Main absenteeism was below the average

If they wanted increased output it was no use constantly nagging the men. Mining was one of those hard and harassing industries which could not be run on an absolutely hundred per cent. attendance basis.

Mr. Smith went on to show that absenteeism was no new problem in the industry. As long ago as 1641 it was set down in a Scottish Parliament that “the mine workers do lie in their beds to the great offence of God and the prejudice of the mine master”—(laughter)—and a penalty was prescribed of 20s. for every day the miner failed to turn up. At a mine at Bothwell in 1816 a bonus of 4s. a week was given to every man who worked a full week of six days. It had the desired effect. Mr. Smith said that in that respect there were difficulties known only to those who knew the industry, but if they were to get maximum output it was essential that every individual must have regard to his responsibilities and the serious times they were living in.

Poposing a vote of thanks to Mr. Smith. Mr. T. W. Illsley. J.P. secretary of the Houghton Main branch of the Y.M.A., and a member of the Y.M.A. Executive, referred to him as “one of the most respected men in their party and in the Government of the day.” Mr. T. F. S. Brass seconded the resolution.

Mr. J. Hill said the pit production committee at Houghton Main had had a wonderful response from the men. It spoke for itself that they had not had to take a single case to court. (Applause).

Mr. J. Brass paid tribute to Mr. Bates for the Assistance he had given them with the canteen scheme.