Taken from the London Daily News – Thursday 26 May 1892, the cause of the problems in Cleveland are a strike by Durham miners in 1892 which impacted demand for ironstone as the blast furnaces had no coal supply.
Famine-Stricken Cleveland. A Tour Underground (from our special correspondent)
Skelton Park Ironstone Mine, owned by Messrs. Bell Brothers, the well-known iron and steel workers, is situated near the three Skeltons mining villages by the Cleveland hills. The villages of Brotton, Lingdale, and Upleatham are in its neighbourhood. The ascents above the mine command one of the finest views of hill, valley, woodland, and the sea to be found in northern England. However, my destination was the under-world. Skelton Park mine – near to which by the way was sunk the first ironstone mine shaft in the region some half a century ago – is the only mine in Cleveland in which work has been continued during this period of distress, and I was desirous of seeing the miners at work. After a walk around the workshops, engine room and offices ‘at bank’ – that is to say on the surface of mother earth – and having exchanged our hats for thick leather helmets, shaped somewhat like a skullcap, with a peak behind, and having provided ourselves each with a lantern and a staff, we -the manager of the mine, the general secretary of the Miners’ association, and myself – walking into the iron cage that was suspended with its steel rope over the pits mouth. Nine miners came in after us, each with his lantern. ‘All Clear?’ ‘Aye’ – a click, a thud, and off we go through 384 feet of shale, clay and rock in twenty-one seconds.
Our cage touches with the lightness of a feather on the floor of the under-world. Here we stand in a sort of Oxford-circus. Not, of course, that there is a roar and turmoil of an Oxford-circus of the upper world or a ray of its light – for there are only a few people about, and these few might pass for will-o’-the-wisps. We see nothing of them but their lanterns flitting about. I compare the spot to a circus of the upper world because long roads branch off from it. A walk along the road of which this spot is the centre is as long a walk from Holborn-viaduct to Marble-arch, but as yet I cannot see ten yards either way. I must wait awhile to ‘get my eyesight’ as the miners have it; and we rest a few minutes in a recess of the main road. Now let us set forth on our walk through these mile-long pitch dark streets. Airy streets and wide they are in this part, at least. The air is purer than you get in many a quarter of London, for it is pumped in here through all these miles of main roads and side alleys at the rate of 132,000 cubic feet every minute. For floor to ceiling there is a distance of about 10 feet. The width of the road is almost the same. Floors, walls, and ceilings are solid stone – ironstone. It looks greenish grey under the light of our lanterns. One examining it carefully will distinguish minute shining specs of metal. A sudden loud roar comes thundering out of nothing. We stand aside in a recess and in a few seconds a long train of trucks laden with the ore rushes past, Of course there are street-railways here below. They branch off in twenty different directions. By and by we hear the voice of a small boy screaming out of nothing. The came the heavy thud – that of horses’ feet; then the horse himself, a chestnut Goliath, upon whose shiny coat a lamp shimmered as he stamped past. Goliath was drawing a string of wagons. There are fifty horses below here, all of the stout and strong as the finest beasts ever seen with Pickfords’ vans or brewers’ drays. Their stables are models of order and comfort.
As the Skelton Park mine is working only half or third time, the horses, like their two legged mates, are idle most of their time. Some of them have been sent out for a day or two into the open air, down to the seaside at Saltburn. Now as far as food, liquor and lodgings are concerned, the Skelton horse may well feel content with his life in the under-world. But if he were a colt, lively, sensible and fond of fun, one might imagine his surprised delight at finding himself all of a sudden, on a bright summers day, on those four or five miles of glorious compact sand between the Saltburn cliffs and Redcar. It ought to take some time to recapture that colt if he were at all a shrewd colt, and a colt of spirit. But let us proceed on our way. Here we are, I reflect, inside a Banbury cheese of ironstone – a cheese measuring 1,200 acres by the Messrs. Bell Brothers map, and we human beings are the microscopic mites crawling through the passages which swarms of mites before our day bored their way through with infinite labour. There are it is said , miles of main streets, side streets and alleys inside this twelve hundred acre cheese of ironstone – the outer crust whereof is hundreds of feet thick, Streets branch off to right of us and to the left. The beam of my lantern turning around like the spoke of a horizontal wheel, penetrates a little distance down this or that road and beyond there is nothing but pitch darkness. There are inside this 1,200 acre cheese of ironstone great colonnades of wooden pillars, often with the most curious of decorative draperies. The wooden pillars and cross-beams over their tops have been put in wherever there has been a risk of the roof giving way. In some places the pillars are closer together than the poles of young trees in the most closely packed plantation. The decorative drapery, what is it? I am not enough of a naturalist to be able to tell you, but one of my companions tell me it is a kind of fungus gradually deposited from the moisture which oozes through the rock. It is as white as snow. Hanging in large sweeping folds from the roof beams or draping the pillars, it produces under the light of our lamps the most strangely beautiful effects. “I wonder where we are now” I remarked, after we had walked about and talked and lounged through another half mile. “I’ll soon tell you that” replied one of our guides, and we presently were stopped by him at a street crossing. Taking his bearings north, south, east and west and pointing over his head with his forefinger, “We are” said he “right under the gateway of Skelton Castle.” Skelton Castle is the residence of rich old Squire Wharton, the lord of the soil and of all that is beneath it. Over our heads is that stupendous crust of rock, and upon that again squats Skelton Castle, and inside Skelton Castle is the fortunate gentleman who levies fat toll upon all that the human mites grub out of the 1,200-acre cheese.
But it is time to see the grubbers at work. We reach “the face” – that is to say, the part where the hewers and blasters of rock are at work. In some places the holes for the blasting powder are drilled by hand, an extremely slow process. For others the boring is done by drills which are set in motion by compressed air – for the transmission of this air there are seven miles of pipes down here. How shall I describe this ferocious implement? Imagine a three, four or five foot spiral or screw-shaped steel tooth ending in two sharp fangs. This spiral tooth does not bite precisely in the same way as the tooth of a beast or a man does. It turns about in a screw fashion, with inconceivable velocity. When one sees its twin fangs applied to the solid rock one almost fancies that the thing is alive. Why does it as dart out a snaky, flickering tongue to lick its victim coaxingly, appetisingly, before beginning business? Ye spirits of this under-world, what a fiendish screech! The glittering little fangs that, as it were, trifled with their food, have in the twinkling of an eye disappeared into solid rock, and round with the inconceivable speed spins the spiral tooth, snarling, screaming and screeching like to split ones ears. In sixty seconds that devils tooth runs a four-foot hole into the hard ironstone. After it has driven six holes into the face of the rock over a space of about ten feet from floor to ceiling, the steel fiend is dragged off somewhere. Then the miner begins to charge the six holes. Into each he thrust with a long ramrod a number of cartridges. The he applies a fuse into each hole. The fuse is a thin pencil-shaped and short preparation of paper, ending in a thin fibre coated with sulphur. The miner prepares to light the sulphur fibre. And what so we do? We bolt around into the next street round the corner and the miner runs after us. “Ho–Ho-Ho-Hoy!” he calls out in a loud sing-song note. That is the warning cry, and whosoever being within the distance hears it makes himself scarce, as the saying is. Have you ever heard a hundred-ton Woolwich infant clearing its throat? If you have then you can imagine what the boom and long echoing growl was like when charge number one exploding shivered ten tons of solid ironstone, and tossed the fragments over the path. Five more explosions followed. Each time the miner came running round our corner; each time he uttered his warning “Ho–Ho-Ho-Hoy!” and each time it felt as if the 1,200 acres of rock shook and trembled with each successive explosion. The powder grew denser in the roadway, so that when the miner came running up after his last shot, all I could make out of him was his lantern. And now goodbye to the blasting miner, and to that diabolical thing with the shining fangs.
The Messrs. Bell still find work for about four hundred of their miners, but only on two or three days a week. Until the time of distressful idleness began they used to pay 5,150/. every week in wages. They now pay only 1,043/ So that, in round numbers, four thousands pounds a week have been withdrawn from the circulation of these mining villages. At the Skelton Park Mine there is an excellent system of relief for the workmen’s families. In this, the tenth week of the distress 5,365 persons have been helped. Soup, bread, coffee, tea, coals and beef are among the things distributed. At the present moment the managers list shows that 146 families, representing 874 persons are relieved every day at the mine. Only a balance of twenty pounds remains, and now those persons who have held out during the ten weeks are coming in reluctantly asking for help. They are doing it in every mining village in Cleveland, and indeed, over the whole distressed region, including Stockton, Hartlepool, Darlington, and Middlesbrough. I told you ten days ago that this would happen.
We have forwarded a 5/. Note which ‘Sunshine’ sends us in aid of the distress funds and requests us to acknowledge, to the Mayor of Middlesbrough.