The history of Haswell

The Miners Bond.

Until 1872 all of the miners of Northumberland, Cumberland and Durham were employed under the Bond system. By the terms of the bond they were obliged to submit to various fines and conditions and to work continuously at one colliery for a whole year. After agreeing to the bond a miner was to consider himself the servant of the owners at all times whether they could find him work or not. No minimum wage, long working hours, sometimes paid in tokens which had to be spent in the mine owners shop. Often required to pay for their own work tools.

After 1809 the annual Bond was usually entered into on/about April 5th when a colliery official would read out the rate of pay and the conditions available at the pit to the assembled workers and would-be workers. Those who signed up were given a 'bounty' (the sum of 1 2s is mentioned in a 1766 Pitman's Bond for Bushblades Colliery) to start work. The first few to sign up were given extra money which was usually enough incentive to 'encourage' the rest of the poverty-striken workforce to 'make their mark'.

If a miner broke the bond he could be fined or, for more serious misdemeanours, face trial and imprisonment. If he went on strike in an attempt to improve conditions the law was usually against him. If he attempted to unionise he was intimidated or dismissed and put on a county-wide black list.

This annual termination of the bonding enabled the mine owners to pick and choose from the available workforce, discarding any troublemakers in the process. The bonding was also the only time in the year when a miner and his family could lawfully move on from one pit village to another in search of better pay, conditions or housing and a new life. Many families moved from pit village to pit village every year.

Following years of dispute and unrest the 'Great Strike of 1844' saw the miners crushed once more and their union destroyed. The mine owners introduced a monthly bond as a punishment and this remained in place for the next eighteen years. The intention was to enable the owners to take immediate action in dealing with any troublemakers but eventually it was recognised that the new arrangement actually benefited the miners as it gave them a greater freedom of movement. The owners could no longer guarantee a stable working force when families could move on every month without notice. At the end of 1863 the owners collectively advised their workforces that the annual bond would be reintroduced with effect from the following April 5. Disunited and without a union the miners were obliged to accept. The Bond survived for eight more years until 1872.