Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Skelton Park Pit

Joseph Toyn 1838-1924, president of the Cleveland Miners’ Association

Out on my bike today, so I thought I would pop in to Skelton Park Pit to see how the Cleveland Mining Heritage Society are getting on with preserving the surface remains of the old ironstone mine. I thought Tuesdays were their days.

But alas, no one around, and as it’s all on private land, next to a working farm and with no Public Right of way passing through it, I avoided too close a look. However it is precisely for these reasons that the many buildings have escaped being demolished or simply trashed by the generations of local teenagers. The buildings are now considered to be the most complete and best preserved of the Cleveland ironstone mines.

I recently came across an interview with Joseph Toyn published in the Northern Echo on the 6 Oct. 18961“JOSEPH TOYN.” Northern Echo, 6 Oct. 1896. British Library Newspapers, link-gale-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/BA3200261876/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=0ea6985a. Accessed 27 June 2021.. Toyn had been the president and agent of the Cleveland Miners’ Association for 21 years, and the interview gives interesting insights into the union activities of the Cleveland ironstone mines. I make no apology for transcribing it in full.

Skelton Park Pit opened in 1872, the year after the Association was formed. I do not know if Toyn actually worked here as a miner, but he joined the Skelton Lodge that year so it’s possible. In any case, living in Skelton he would certainly have visited Park Pit after being appointed appointed president and agent of the Association in 1876.


It was a pleasant office to interview Mr Joseph Toyn, the president and agent of the Cleveland Miners’ Association. His frank and courteous attitude towards the press has resulted in a personal friendship (which has certainly not been to the disadvantage of the association) between himself and many members of the journalistic profession. Quite recently Mr Toyn attained his majority as president of the association, and this afforded a very fitting opportunity for an interview, which was readily granted. The miners are talking of doing something in the way of commemorating the occasion in some permanent way, and they should do so because Mr Toyn’s career in the trades union movement is probably unique. To be the president of a union for 21 years, during which the sagacity of its leaders has averted anything like a serious or protracted suspension of work, is something to be extremely proud of, and to effect the reforms and the improvements which have been witnessed during the past two decades by the Cleveland miners is fair cause for self-congratulation.

When I asked Mr Toyn for an account of his early history it was soon apparent that he was one of those who by his inborn intelligence, and with no thanks to the educational system of his day, had raised himself to the position which he occupies to-day as the leader of a considerable body of men.

I was born, Mr Toyn said, at Tattershall, in Lincolnshire, on September 28th, 1838, so that I am just 58 years of age. The only schooling I got was between the age of 5½ and 6½ years, and I walked a mile and a half for the sole result of learning to make pothooks, I commenced to work when I was 6½ years, scaring birds off the crops, and continued to work on a farm until I was 14 years of age for 7d a day though I had to look after the cattle on a Sunday for nothing. One Sunday morning the farmer came to me and told me he wanted me to go to Horncastle, nine miles distant, with a sample of wheat. I induced a youth whom I knew to go with me, and when we got to the far end and delivered the sample the merchant gave me 3d and we changed a penny and divided the money between us. The next day the master asked me if the merchant had paid me, and I told him he had given me 3d. The master then gave me other 3d to make the day’s pay up, and so it took two gentlemen to give me 6d for walking 18 miles!

And then after your farming experience?

Well, from 14 to 17½ years of age I was a boat-lad on the canals and rivers with my uncle. We used to go out of Lincolnshire into Yorkshire to Barnsley for coals, and then take them back and retail them. It took us a fortnight to do the voyage. We went up the River Witham and the Torksay Dyke into the Trent to Kidby, and then along the Kidby Canal and the Don.

And what was the inducement to come to Cleveland?

Forty years ago last April I heard it was a district where plenty of money could be made. My stepfather and mother were living at the Iron Houses, about three and a half miles from Guisbrough, and the ironstone mines were being opened out, so I determined to come. At that time the greenstone used to be calcined at the mine instead of at the furnace as at present, and my stepfather was a “clamper ” at Eston. My first start was to drive a horse in Normanby Mine, commonly known as Jackson’s Bank, for which I received 2s 9d a day. There was then no union in existence, nor were the mineowners organised. After two or three years I commenced mining – all hand drilling – and shortly there formed was a small union started at Normanby, but one of the officials could not distinguish between the common fund and his own, and the inevitable occurred. Another was started at Guisbrough, which also came to grief. Meetings were held at Cross Keys, addressed by “Teetotal Sammy,” and at Guisbrough, where Millar, of West Yorkshire, was the chief speaker, but no stable union was formed until the present association came into existence through the instrumentality of Joseph Shepherd and others. This was in 1871, and the Cleveland Miners’ Association, with varying fortunes, has gone on to the present time. When the union was started the contribution was 4d per week per member, and we did not then send members to convalescent homes and infirmaries. Now the contribution is 3d per week, and all members who are recommended by the doctor are sent to an infirmary or convalescent home at the cost of the association. It would be impossible to work any association on the same terms for a less subscription, and the late Mr Macdonald and Mr Burt used to say they did not agenda know how we did it.

And how long were you a working miner, Mr Toyn?

I worked in the mines for about 20 years, and for twelve months was an overman, but gave up the job of my own accord. Shortly after the commencement of the association I joined No. 4 (Skelton) Lodge, and was appointed delegate soon after I joined. I remained in some kind of office all the time, until in 1875 I was elected president of the association. This was an unpaid office, and I was still getting stone until 1876, when I was appointed president and agent of the association. In this office I succeeded Thomas Green, who is still getting stone at Eston. Green was at one time overman at Boosbeck, but the mine worked out and he had to go back to the face.

At the time of the formation of the union what was the tonnage rate?

I believe it was 11d.

And what was the first move as the result of forming the association?

I fancy the first move we made was to secure the eight hours shift, and this was granted by the owners, who were not even then organised. We decided that we would only work eight hours, the masters conceded the point. They put more horses and waggons on, and the system worked very satisfactorily. At one time the masters put in a claim to withdraw the eight hours, but the opposition from the men was so strong that they did not press it.

And how long did it take to establish the union?

Oh, they came in pretty fast, and it was not long before we had 6,000 members. After we got the eight hours we got three advances amounting to 5d per ton, bringing the rate up to 1s 4d. Then in 1874 the owners asked for a reduction, but we would not agree to it. We were on strike for six weeks, and then the funds went and we had to go in at 2d per ton reduction. By the successive arbitrations of Sir Rupert Kettle, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, and Serjeant Wheeler our tonnage rate in 1879 had been reduced to 9½d.

Is that the lowest it has ever been?

Yes. We then agreed to a sliding scale, and continued that until 1889, when the men declared that the sliding scale basis was not high enough, and that the scale did not move quick enough in a rising market. A large majority of the men who voted decided to abolish the scale, and ever since they have been opposed to sliding scales and arbitration.

And that brings us to the Joint Committee?

Yes, the mineowners were not very long in organising after we did. We had a lot of local grievances that we could not get rectified, and we went in for a policy of restricting the output. Then we had a meeting with the mineowners, and it was agreed to form a joint committee of employers and employés to regulate all local questions, and that Joint Committee is in existence up to the present time. It has worked fairly well. All cases in dispute before the Joint Committee, if not settled, are referred to an umpire, whose decision is final and binding on both parties for three months.

And since then you have extended your borders?

Well, it was in 1880 that we admitted the Weardale limestone quarrymen into the union, because they are interested in the same trade, but they have a separate joint committee, which meets at Darlington. Nevertheless all the advances or reductions made in Cleveland operate in Weardale.

Since 1889 how have things gone on in relation to wages?

Since 1889 we have met the owners from time to time and settled by conciliation, and we have had considerably better rates than the sliding scale would have given us.

I may take it that as far as could be reasonably expected the Joint Committee has worked amicably?

Yes, I think we may say that no one is on better terms with the employers than we are. We have left the Miners’ National Union because it only deals with legislative matters, but we are associated with the Miners’ Federation, and we have been represented at the Trades Union Congress for the past 20 years. We have also been represented at the International Congresses in Belgium and France.

And what is the result of your organisation?

The union has brought about some wonderful changes. When I first came the datal men, both above and below ground, only received 8 per cent. advance when the miners and deputies received 10 per cent., but we succeeded in persuading the owners under the second sliding scale to make all the men alike. We succeeded in getting a 54 hours week for the outside datal men, and in getting a weekly instead of a fortnightly pay. Through the efforts of the association there has been an improvement in the ventilation of the mines and in the precautions taken against accident, the price of powder has been reduced, and the conditions of labour and the rate of wages generally improved.

A year or two ago the association was rather impoverished through its generosity towards other unions?

Yes, the strike in Lincolnshire cost £1,000, and we sent £1,000 to the Scotch blastfurnacemen, and whilst the Durham strike was on we were innocent victims. Mr Hobbs and myself during that period of idleness begged between £2,000 and £3,000 independent of trades union help. But now we are prosecuting a vigorous campaign throughout Cleveland, and the association is gaining considerably in strength. We are improving every day both in numbers and in funds. Morally we are stronger than ever before.

Some time ago Mr Toyn suffered from a severe illness, and I was sorry to hear at the close of the interview that he had not yet quite shaken off its ill-effects. Many hundreds will join me in the hope that he may shortly be again in the enjoyment of robust health.

Joseph Toyn served as a Poor Law guardian for 19 years, and in 1906 was appointed a magistrate for the North Riding. “Perhaps the public honour that he himself valued most was his appointment in 1911 as an original member of the Advisory Committee for Cleveland2I think this is the Advisory Committee for the Cleveland Parliamentary Division; see http://skeltonincleveland.com/wp-content/uploads/Skelton1916.html#:~:text=Advisory%20Committee%20for%20the%20Cleveland%20Parliamentary%20Division.” He died on Sunday 27 January 1924 at the age of 853“A Trade Unionist Of The Old School.” Times, 29 Jan. 1924, p. 14. The Times Digital Archive, link-gale- com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/CS235607613/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=4c0f77e8. Accessed 27 June 2021..

  • 1
    “JOSEPH TOYN.” Northern Echo, 6 Oct. 1896. British Library Newspapers, link-gale-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/BA3200261876/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=0ea6985a. Accessed 27 June 2021.
  • 2
    I think this is the Advisory Committee for the Cleveland Parliamentary Division; see http://skeltonincleveland.com/wp-content/uploads/Skelton1916.html#:~:text=Advisory%20Committee%20for%20the%20Cleveland%20Parliamentary%20Division
  • 3
    “A Trade Unionist Of The Old School.” Times, 29 Jan. 1924, p. 14. The Times Digital Archive, link-gale- com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/CS235607613/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=4c0f77e8. Accessed 27 June 2021.





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