Some strikes in Witham

Not comprehensive, just oddments

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Farmworkers, 19th century

See :

Arthur Brown, Poverty and Prosperity, etc


19 May 1876, Chelmsford Chronicle, page 2

‘Hatfield Peverel. A meeting was held at this place on Saturday the 6th instant, in connection with the NALU, when a large number of agricultural labourers assembled to hear an address by Mr Moxon, district secretary, who spoke for upwards of an hour and a half. Great attention was paid to the speaker, and all seemed greatly interested and wished Mr Moxon to pay another visit as soon as he could. A petition against the enclosure of commons was submitted to the meeting and adopted unanimously. A collection was also made in aid of those men who are on strike at Witham. At the close of the meeting several joined the union, and several others promised to join at the next contribution meeting’.


2 June 1876, Chelmsford Chronicle, page 6

‘Agricultural labourers’ strike at Witham, Essex.

The following correspondence is published in the Daily News. Sir, The Chelmsford Chronicle of yesterday sys there was a meeting on the 6th at Hatfield Peverel, in connection with the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, when a collection was made for the men on strike at Witham. I think it but just to myself and to the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, that the public should know how the strike came about. On the 25th of April I was asked to raise the wages from 14s. and 15s. per week to 15s. and 16s., and was told that my neighbours were willing to do so, if I would set the example. I told the men that as I had been so unwell for the last four months as to be unable to attend to business, I could not take the lead. On the 28th, pay day, I was again asked the advance, but again refused to take the lead, but said I should be willing to do as others did. On Saturday, the 29th, without giving me any notice, all the men except one absented themselves, so that there were eight horses with no-one to feed or work them, and a wheat stack partly threshed left uncovered. On Monday, 1st May, some of the men came for tools and wished to see me. I saw one (a horseman), he expressed his sorrow for what was done, but said as he belonged to the Union he was obliged, under threats, to leave. I asked him if they were acting under their own feelings or by the advice of the secretary of the union, and he said by the advice of the secretary to the Union. I offered him his place again, which I consider worth 16s. per week, as he is paid extra when drilling, but he said he dare not come unless I gave him the other 2d. per day. I have since received the enclosed letter, with rules, from Mr. Moxon, of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, and can only say that I wish rule eight had been applied; it appears to me a very just one.

Truly yours, Joseph Foster, Blunts Hall, Witham, May 20’.

‘Witham, Essex, May 6. Sir, In reply to yours now to hand I beg to inform you that the men did not leave your service through advice received from me, in fact they had left your service before I knew anything about it, which is contrary to the rules of the association. With regard to notice, the men say that they asked you for an advance of wages the week previous, which constitutes a week’s notice legally, as it gives an employer of labour to understand unless their demand is conceded to, their contract of service is at an end; therefore the case was laid before the committee, and although the men had broken the rules of the society the committee considered their demand a just and moderate one, and decided to support the men until they obtained an advance of 2d. per day or employment elsewhere. I am myself very much opposed to strikes, but what other alternative had the men left them? I can assure you that the men speak highly of you and would be very willing to return to their work again if the 2d. per day was given as asked, and I assure you if you can arrange, in an honest and straightforward manner, an amicable settlement to the dispute in question, I should be pleased to do so. Allow me to remain, yours respectfully.

James Moxon, District Secretary, ‘National Agricultural Labourers’ Union.

Mr Foster.’


18 April 1879, Essex Weekly News, page 6

‘Labourers’ Union. On Good Friday there was a gathering of members and friends at tea at the British School-room under the presidency of the Rev J Barton Dadd [Witham Congregational church] when the District Secretary (Mr Moxon), who is relinquishing his office on account of the recent action of Mr Arch, was presented with a valuable gold Albert chain. Effective addresses were delivered by the Chairman, Mr R W Dixon, Mr Hy Garrett, and others’.

22 June 1933

page 6 ‘Link with Joseph Arch. Death of Mr Abraham Whybrew at Witham

It is with regret that we record the death of Mr Abraham Whybrew, one of the oldest members of the Witham Peculiar People, by whose death a link with that great-hearted worker for the agricultural labourer, Joseph Arch, is severed.

Mr Whybrew, who was 83 years of age, had been ill for about a month. Heart trouble hastened the end, which came on Sunday.

Born in Rivenhall, Mr Whybrew was one of the real old school, beginning work on a farm at an early age. He was born in some cottages near Hoo Hall, at which farm he worked for many years. It was during the time he worked at the Hall that he heard Joseph Arch speak at Witham on topics concerning the agricultural worker.

Joseph Arch travelled all over East Anglia, advocating that the farm workers should band together in their efforts to obtain a fair wage. eventually he managed to found the Agricultural Workers Union, which still exists. Doubtless many of the older generation still remember him.

Mr Whybrew became keenly interested in the movement whilst still a young man, and he was one of the first members of the union in the district. Farm workers, in the end, came out on strike for more wages, which, it might be added, they eventually got, but Mr Whybrew himself never went back to the land.

Fifty six years ago he came to Witham, commencing work at the tanyard. he continued there until 1920, when he went into retirement.

For sixty five years he was a local preacher, ministering the gospel in many parts of Essex, including Rivenhall, Kelvedon, Witham and all the surrounding districts. Many times he conducted open-air meetings, which in those days were more popular than they are today.

In 1881 he married at Witham, living in Mill Lane, and later at Moat farm, Chipping Hill, for upwards of thirty years.

He was a widower, his wife predeceasing him by a number of years. For the past twelve years he had resided with his married daughter, Mrs Brock, of Braintree Road, his other daughter being Mrs H Shelley of Maldon Road. There are in all five sons, four of whom are elders of the Peculiar People in Essex. Two of them are at Witham, one at Southend, and one at Rochford.

Deceased had been a member of the Witham Peculiars ever since he came to the town, in which he later came to be such a well known character. Mr Whybrew was a man noted for his extraordinarily good memory, which was truly remarkable, It is expected that a large crowd will be present at the funeral, which takes place at Witham today (Thursday), the service at the peculiar Chapel being followed by the interment in All Saints Churchyard’.


Strike of pea sorters, Taber, Cullen and Co, 1891

Essex Weekly News, 3 April 1891, page 7

Essex County Chronicle, 10 April 1891, page 8

Essex Weekly News, 10 April 1891, page 7


National miners’ strike 1912

Witham Gas Co., 6 April 1912 (D/F 27/7/1)

Called ‘to consider the Coal supply owing to the Strike’, called by Finance Committee. Letter from Strafford Collieries, could not guarantee delivery of coal ‘as everything depended on result of Miners’ Ballot’. Manager said had 2 weeks supply. Agreed to obtain 50 tons ‘from Mr Oliver or elsewhere’ as soon as possible.

Witham Gas Co., 11 April 1912 (D/F 27/7/1)

Report on supply of coal. Telegrams from Messrs Myers Rose and Co offering coal at 36s per ton at Witham Station, and from Messrs Groves and Co, and Mr Oliver. Agreed to get 20 tons from Groves and if possible the 10 tons of Strafford nuts as well. Secretary and manager to use discretion for future. Decision on coal supply for year left over ‘owing to the present unsettled condition’.

Witham Gas Co., 9 May 1912 (D/F 27/7/1)

Report on what done re emergency coal supply. Bought various.


Threatened miners’ strike 1914

Witham Gas Co., 9 April 1914 (D/F 27/7/1)

‘The Secretary [J F Bawtree] reported that a short time since the manager had seen him and the Vice Chairman as to threatened Strike of Miners in Yorkshire and had ordered as much Coal as possible form the Strafford Collieries.’ Manager said 7 weeks stock. Strike now in progress. Proposed buy more at once.

Witham Gas Co., 7 May 1914 (D/F 27/7/1)

Defer coal tenders, because of uncertainty.


Strike at Witham Glove factory 1919 (Pinkham’s)

Essex County Chronicle, 28 February, page 6


Yesterday a strike occurred among the girls employed at Messrs Pinkham and Son’s Witham Glove Factory. About 40 girls – about two-thirds of the total employed – walked out of the factory at mid-day, and, dancing up the High Street, announced that they were on strike. The factory was not closed. The girls who came out were the glove-makers; the cutters remained at their work, and Mr Wm Pinkham, the managing directory, announced that he would carry on. Interviewed last evening by an Essex County Chronicle representative, Mr Bert Pinkham, who assists his father, said that the 40 girls who went on strike had made no application for an increase of wages; that the firm had always remedied any grievance when one was brought before them; and that the girls had never been harshly treated. “This,” continued Mr Pinkham, “is a serious business for our firm. Two months ago our girls joined the Workers’ Union, whereupon the wages of some of them began to fall. It had been stated that our girls received no war bonus. That was not true. We told the girls that we declined to discuss our business with the officials of the Workers’ Union, who want the unskilled girls earning 21s a week to receive an increase of 13s, and the skilled girls to receive an increase of 3s 6d. This morning five girls were paid off and the remaining glove-makers walked out of the factory. We are going to fight the Union”.

Essex County Chronicle, 7 March, page 5

‘WITHAM GLOVE STRIKE. Canon Galpin’s Offer to Mediate.

Canon Galpin, vicar of Witham, has taken an active interest in the strike of the work girls from Messrs Pinkham’s glove factory at Witham, and , after interviewing Mr W Pinkham, head of the factory, and also some of the girl strikers, he has offered to mediate.

“We do not want the strife of a strike in Witham parish”, said the Canon to a representative of the Essex County Chronicle, “we want peace and happiness. I saw Mr W Pinkham in order to ascertain his position in the matter, and I learnt from him that he is prepared to meet the girls and discuss with them any reasonable request they may make, but he will not meet the organisers of the Workers’ Union, nor allow them to dictate terms between him and his work girls. I have seen the girls on strike; and find that they do not care to meet Mr Pinkham to discuss these matters with him without the aid of the organisers of their Union, and so a deadlock has been reached. To overcome this deadlock I am willing, and have offered, to go with the work girls to meet Mr Pinkham when they discuss the business between them. Of course I should not represent either side; my one object is to bring the parties together. I am communicating the terms of my offer to the officials of the Workers’ Union at Chelmsford, and tit is for them to say whether they are willing that I should go instead of themselves with the girls for their interview with the employer. We had prayers at Witham Church last Sunday for the termination of the strike and the establishment of a speedy peace in Witham, which is all that I am concerned about, and it is to bring this about that I have taken action.”

Up to last evening we understand that Mr Pinkham had not accepted the offer of Canon Galpin to act as a mediator.

Upon the question of sticking to the Union in the dispute at issue, one of the Witham glove factory girls said to our representative, “I do not belong to the Union, but I came out on strike in sympathy with those girls who do. The Union reported that the girls employed at Messrs Pinkham’s factory at Barnstable are paid more money per dozen that the girls are paid at the Witham factory; also that the war bonus at Barnstable is 4d in the shilling, while at Witham it is 2d. We should never had heard of these alleged differences in rates of pay but for the Union to which some of the girls belong Although I do not belong to it, I am satisfied that the girls will stand by the Union over this”

Yesterday there was no fresh development. Some 23[?] girl glove workers are out, but there is a staff of cutters and others employed, and the factory is in operation. Collections made at other factories for the girls who are “out” amount to over £14.’

Essex County Chronicle, 14 March, page 5


Last evening, a public meeting, organised by the Workers’ Union officials, was held at Witham to explain the position of the girl glove makers out on strike from Messrs Pinkham’s factory there. Mr A Franklin of the National Union of Railwaymen, presided, and addresses were given by Lt P T Pollard, organiser of the Workers’ Union, Miss Florence Saward, the women’s organiser, and others. Miss Saward states that Canon Galpin, vicar of Witham, offered to arbitrate with Messrs Pinkham over the strike on condition that the Workers’ Union accepted him, because Mr Pinkham would not meet the officials of the Workers’ union. The Union accepted this offer of the Canon’s, but stipulated that their officials should also be present at the meeting, and this was the condition which Mr Pinkham refused’.

Essex County Chronicle, 21 March, page 2


On Saturday afternoon a public “demonstration” was held in the High Street, in support of the girls on strike. There was a gathering of three hundred people, and speeches were delivered from a wagonette by trade union officials. Two sailors[?] made a collection from the crowd and at neighbouring shops in aid of the strike girls’ fund. The proceedings were very orderly.

At the meeting “to explain the position”, Lieut. F[?] P[?] Pollard, of the Workers’ Union, said that body was determined to stand by the girls right through. They wanted the wages increased to the same standard as was paid at Messrs Pinkham’s factory at Barnstable. Messrs Pinkham refused to negotiate with him and Miss Saward, and next day they had a wire stating that the girls were out on strike because six of them had been dismissed. He (Mr Pollard) came to a meeting at Witham where Canon Galpin was and a kind of official reporter for Mr Pinkham or the police (laughter). He (Mr Pollard) had faced machine guns, and Mr Pinkham’s reporter would not put any fear into him (Uproar).

A cry was raised in the hall that “the reporter” was present, and a hunt took place through the crowd in the gallery to find him, there being cries of “chuck him out”.

Mr Pollard [???] that the Union was prepared to let Canon Galpin act as arbitrator, and he (Mr Pollard) was willing to stand down if the girls asked him to, but not otherwise. In the first fortnight upwards of £20[?] was subscribed by workers for the Witham strike fund, and they were prepared to go on.

Miss Saward said she asked for the Witham girls to receive the same pay as glove girls elsewhere. “If Mr Pinkham did not give in to the Union at Witham, they would ask the Executive to stop the work at Barnstaple”. (Loud applause)

Lieut. Pollard “I want to give Miss Saward warning that there is a gentleman taking shorthand notes, and he is in the gallery”.

There was again an excited search through the gallery.

Continuing, Miss Saward said she was invited by Mr Pinkham, and then he refused to negotiate. She had was absolutely staggered[?]. There had been no further invitation. The Union was determined to see the girls through.

Mr R Small, London, and Mr F Baker, Hatfield Peverel, also spoke’.

Essex Weekly News, 18 April, page 6

‘WITHAM. GLOVE FACTORY DISPUTE. In connection with the recent strike at the Witham Glove Factory, Mr Doughty, a representative of the Ministry of Labour, sat at the Church Hall on Monday to hear witnesses regarding the cause of the dispute. A number of persons were examined on the special point whether a certain employee of the Glove Company had been “victimised” and after a three-hours’ discussion the arbitrator gave his decision that there had been no “victimisation” on the part of the Company. He appealed, however, to Mr W Pinkham to give the employee another trial, which request that gentleman promised to consider’.


National miners? strike, 1919

Witham Gas Co., 28 July 1919 (D/F 27/7/1)

Letter from South Yorkshire Coal Supplies Committee, owing to strike no coal could be delivered. Urging strict economy. Notice to be sent out to consumers. Difficulty in fixing price of street lighting at present because of strike.


National Rail Strike, 1919

Essex Weekly News, 3 October 1919, pages 4 and 6

Essex Weekly News, 10 October 1919, pages 5


Farmworkers demo at Witham, 1920

Essex County Chronicle, 30 April 1920

page 3, see xerox on newspaper file.

‘Farm labourers’ protest at Witham. Will there be a General Strike ? Farmers’ Motor Cars and Profits considered. On Sunday afternoon a great public demonstration by the farm labourers and members of the Workers’ Union in Essex was held upon the Fairfield at Witham, in order to voice a county protest against a minimum wage of 42s 6d being fixed for the agricultural workers of Essex. Farm labourers arrived from all parts of Essex, the gathering being the largest held within living memory at Witham. Special trains were run from Braintree and Maldon, and numerous motor cars and motor ‘buses conveyed the workers from Chelmsford and the farm labourers from the more distant and remote parts of the county. A procession, nearly a mile long, was marshalled at the railway station, and passed through Witham town to the Fairfield, with bands playing and banners flying. At the head was carried the small banner of the Witham branch of the Workers’ Union, supported by Dr C F Knight, JP, and behind came the more elaborate banners and band of the Workers’ Union from Chelmsford, Braintree and other places.

It was estimated there were over ten thousand present. The weather generally was fine. Supt. L Fulcher (Braintree) was on duty with a large force of police, but the crowds were most orderly and wellbehaved throughout. The Fairfield was filled with the great concourse and speeches were delivered from two vans. The organisation of the demonstration was a great tribute to the ability of the officials of the Workers’ Union, and particularly to Mr George Dallas (Labour candidate for Maldon) and Mr P F Pollard, Chelmsford.

Mr J W Austin, Bishops Stortford, who presided, said the demonstration was held to prove to the farmers of Essex that the demand for a 50s a week wage was right, and that the labourers backed up the demand. It was said by some farmers that the men were satisfied with their present wages, and that only the agitators were making the demand to have the wages raised form 42s 6d to 50s, but that was not true. (“It is wicked”).

Labourers solid. That demonstration proved to the farmers of Essex, and of England, that the labourers were solid in their demands for higher wages. If the docker got 16s a day, why should not the farm labourer get a like amount ? In the past agricultural workers had been sweated, but now they were prepared to fight to a successful issue (Applause)

Mr P F Pollard informed the farm labourers that the workers of England were behind them in this struggle. The farmers of Essex had stated that the higher wages could not be paid, but the great profits made on farms were sufficient to show that the farmers were really in a position to pay much better wages. The membership of the Workers’ Union had largely increased among Essex farmworkers, and he appealed to those not already in the Union to come forward and join, so as to help in pressing the case forward. Miss Florence Sayward (Bocking) and Mr Jack Shingfield (Colchester) also spoke, the latter stating the he did not think the farmers would give way on this matter unless the labourers showed they were prepared to go forward and give the farmers a good hiding in any struggle that might ensue. At one farm in the county all the labourers told the farmer to do the work himself unless they were paid 50s a week. (“That’s the stuff to give ‘em.”) To offer 42s 6d a week was an insult to the intelligences and the stomachs of the farm labourers. (Laughter).

Essex to lead. The Workers’ Union was forged to fight. It was the largest individual Union in the country, and it could run a farm labourers’ strike out of income. (Applause). Essex was becoming one of the best organised rural counties in England, it had been pulled out of the mud, and they meant Essex to lead in the matter of agricultural wages. They were asking for the farm labourer – the man ho made all things possible – 50s a week wage (Applause).

Mr Jack Mills, MP for Dartford, delivered a moving speech, and stated that that gathering and the success of farm labourers’ organisations in Essex called up visions of Joseph Arch (Hear hear)

Mr George Dallas, Labour candidate for Maldon, said such a gathering as that had never been known in the history of Essex before. It was something of an earthquake. The Essex farmers would have to realise that their labourers were not slaves, and if they were wise after that meeting they would immediately make some offer to advance the wages from 42s 6d per week. The Workers’ Union were going to press forward for the higher wage. The Union put forward a wage of 50s a week, not because they believed that would be a fair wage – because it would not be a fair wage for the farm worker – but they thought an advance of 11s 6d a week would be a fair start for them. The 50s a week would certainly not satisfy the farm labourer long, and a little alter they would come back and ask for more (Applause).

A slow industry. Agriculture was a slow-moving industry, and could not adapt itself to great changes in a short time. When a 50s a week wage was asked for, it was absolutely refused, because the farmers said they could not afford to pay such wages; the farmer could not afford to pay more that 42s 6d ! (A voice: “Where do they get their motor cars from ?”) Mr Dallas: Oh, the Essex farmers get their motor cars out of the losses they make every year. (Laughter), Mr Dallas said if he thought the farmer could not pay higher wages he should realise they were up against a stone wall, but the Corn Production Act had increased the farmers’ profits by £200,000,000. He put those figures before the Wages Board the other day and was told they were only an estimate, but he replied that the figures were given by a member of the Government in the House of Commons, and of all the farmers and landlords present, not one challenged the statement of the Government.

Signs of prosperity. Every visible sign went to show that the farmer was very prosperous at the present time … [Agricultural Wages Board etc.] Mr Dallas moved a resolution that the meeting repudiated the minimum wage of 42s 6d and demanded that the Agricultural Wages Board should immediately put into operation a minimum wage of 50s and that the meeting pledged itself to use every possible method to enforce this demand.

Cr T Smith, Colchester, seconded, and Mr Selley[?] secretary to the Housing Committee, supported …

A Topsy Turvy World. Mr Jack Beard[?] president of the Workers’ Union, supported, and congratulated Messrs Pollard, Shingfield, and Austin, organisers in Essex of the Workers’ Union, on the splendid gathering they had held that day. …

The resolution was put simultaneously from each platform, and was carried unanimously, in a scene of tumultuous cheering’.


Braintree farmers and unemployed labourers. “The answer to the Witham demand for higher wages”. ‘ Meeting of Braintree Farmers Union. Labourers out of work. Farmers said would be more soon because farmers couldn’t pay the wages being demanded.


Also Essex Weekly News, 30 April 1920, page 6



Miners’ strike 1921

Witham Gas Co., 19 May 1921 (D/F 27/7/1)

Re coal supply, manager to get what can ‘during the present emergency due to the Coal Strike’.


Threatened rail strike, 1924

Witham Gas Co., 18 January 1924 (D/F 27/7/1)

Reference to ‘threatened Railway Strike’. Possibly be able to get some coal from Chelmsford.


General Strike, 1926

UDC, full Council 5 May 1926, page 363 (ERO D/UWi)

Volunteers. To enable all persons wishing to render service if called upon, it was decided to ask Captain L F Bevington to undertake this duty and attend at the Council Chamber to enrol volunteers. Notices to this effect be published in the town.

Essex Weekly News, 7 May 1926, page 7

Essex Weekly News, Weds 12 May 1926, page 1

Essex Weekly News, 14 May 1926, page 8

Essex Chronicle, 14 May 1926

Witham Gas Co., 12 June 1926 (D/F 27/7/1)

Manager had been to National Gas Co to consider manning of coal supply during Coal Strike. Coals offered were Silesian, Westphalian, and American at 50s to 52s per ton approx. Agreed manager to buy at once the 50 tons Durham coal offered and another 50 of Westphalian and more later if required.

Witham Gas Co., 3 August 1926 (D/F 27/7/1)

Letter from Urban District Council asking terms for street lamps. Agreed could not quote ‘under the present position of the Coal industry’ but would when ‘Emergency Regulations removed and normal supplies of coal resumed’ and expect to be able to offer same terms as last year.

Braintree and Witham Times, 12 January 1933

page 6 Retirement of Mr Jack Reynolds, for last 27 years was station foreman at Witham. Came after Mr J Doole who was killed by Cromer Express crash. Mr Reynolds born in Thorpe le Soken. During national railwaymen’s strike in 1925 [sic] he was ‘the only uniformed man to remain on duty at Witham station. For this, and as a recognition from the season ticket holders and also the townspeople, he was presented with a china cabinet and a silver teapot’. He married a Miss Knowler of Little Bentley. Their one daughter is Mrs W Ardley of the Avenue. Mr Reynolds has served five station masters. Ie. Messrs Cole, Lethers, Simmonds, Horlick and at present Mr A G Hancock.

Crittall’s ‘The men at Crittalls had no wish to strike and had no grievances against the firm, but nevertheless they had to down tools when the general call came. They, however, made as few difficulties as possible, and accepted the continuation of work at Witham which, because it was engaged on work for slum clearance and housing schemes, it was agreed should not be affected by the dispute’ (ERO T/Z 67, page 143).



Crittall, various (also see General Strike, 1926)

October 1929 onwards

World financial crash and beginning of five years problems for Crittall with Depression. Some discharged, put on short time, and wages falling below supposed minimum of piece work system. Short strike at Braintree and other ‘small sectional disputes from time to time’. (ERO T/Z 67, page 147)


Vote for strike by AEU but last minute concessions averted stoppage (ERO T/Z 67, page 149)

April 1936

Problems with Amalgamated Engineering Union that had been around for some year causing ‘second and last serious strike in the Company’s history’, mainly because maintenance workers at Braintree failed to get a rise. Toolroom at Silver End in support. Lasted four weeks. Meetings addressed by Union heads. The other two Unions didn’t support it. Settlement reached in May and increase of 1d an hour and new agreement (ERO T/Z 67, page 150)

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