Strikes and Court Cases

14 August 1894

Fife Miners Charged With Intimidation - In Fife and Kinross yesterday interest was centred in Dunfermline Sheriff Court, where eight miners belonging to Lumphinnans, Cowdenbeath, were brought before Sheriff Gillespie and charged with intimidating non-union men. Fourteen people were originally apprehended in connection with the disturbance, but it appears that the charge has been departed from in the case of six. The eight people placed in the dock yesterday were James Mitchell, sen. (54), James Mitchell jun. (18), Joseph Mitchell (14), James Japp jun. (26), William Hunter (23), John Young (18), Alex. Young (16), and David Hamil (15). The libel set forth that on 20th July last, on the road leading to No. 1 pit Lumphinnans, the accused did with a view to compel James Horsburgh, John Howden, sen., John Howden, jun., John Ferries, David Gilles, sen., David Gilles, jun., and Henry Pow, all miners, to abstain from working in No. 1 pit, use violence to and intimidate them by calling after and jeering at them, by throwing turf, stones, and tin cans and other missiles, and did assault and beat them, contrary to the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, section 7th, sub-section 1. The accused tendered a plea of not guilty, and were defended by Mr Macbeth, Dunfermline. Mr James M'Farlane prosecuted. The Court-room was crowded, and hundreds of miners who could not find admittance were turned away.

James Horsburgh, who was the first witness called, said that he happened to be a non-unionist, and on the 19th July he found his cupboard empty. He consequently returned to work on the 20th. On getting up the pit he found crowds of people standing on the road leading to the village from the pit. Showers of turf and slag came about his ears on going up the road. He was denounced as a "blackneb,” and after being struck with a brick, was thrown on to the gound. He was a good deal hurt. In cross-examination, witness declared that he did not come out on strike - "he came out for his holidays."

Mr Macbeth - A month was a long holiday for a miner, (Laughter).

John Horsburgh, jun., son of the previous witness, said he had seen his father thrown on to the ground, and had heard one of the prisoners threaten to duck him in the pond. George Cochrane, miner, Lumphinnans, said that among the things thrown at the non-union men was a zinc pail. Horsburgh during the course of the disturbance was seized hold of by two men, and had his arms pinned for a time. He had seen Horsburgh get two distinct blows on the face while his arms were pinned. Thomas Borland, manager, Lumphinnans Colliery, deponed that about two hundred and fifty people had collected at a point near the pit when the non union men got up the shaft. The men who had been at work were literally pelted, with turf and slag. Horsburgh, in particular, who was bringing up the rear, was badly treated. He would certainly have considered himself justified in using a pick handle had he been subjected, to such treatment as that meted out to Horsburgh. The boys of the village were in the front of the crowd. As soon as Horsburgh showed opposition the boys fell back and came up to the men. John Howden said that them was hardly a minute he was not struck while the pelting with turf was going on. The "thing was like the charge of the Light Brigade" - they could neither advance nor retire.

Mr MacBeth - I thought that the Light Brigade advanced.

Witness - Yes; but at what cost? (Laughter.)

A large number of witnesses were examined for the defence. They stated that the young boys of the village had gone to the pit, and had met the non-unionists with some booing as they came up the shaft. Some pieces of turf might have been thrown. Two of the non-unionists had lost their temper with the lads, and had begun to use their pick handles freely. James Horsburgh, sen., had run after a boy brandishing a pick handle, and two of the. men in the crowd had stepped forward and tried to get the pick out of his hands.

On the proof closing, after a sederunt of seven hours, the Sheriff said he would adjourn until the following day. [Glasgow Herald 15 August 1894]

19 August 1927

Twelve Months For Miner - Fife Pit Manager Attacked - Sentence of twelve months imprisonment was imposed at Dunfermline Sheriff Court yesterday on David Chapman, described as a prisoner at Dunfermline, who pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with assault upon John Monaghan, colliery manager, New Middleton, Kelty. The charge was that on 5th August, at the vacant piece of ground between the engine-house and the stair leading to the pithead at No. 11 pit, Lumphinnans Colliery, of the Fife Coal Company (Ltd.), accused assaulted Monaghan by striking him on the head with an iron bolt weighing 3 1/2 lb., and knocked him down, and while Monaghan lay on the ground he threw the iron bolt at him, which struck him on the mouth, all to the effusion of blood and serious injury of his person. The Procurator-Fiscal explained that, as a result of the shaft at the pit having been wrecked, the workers were thrown idle, but that it was necessary to keep one ostler on duty for the ponies. The manager kept on the day-shift ostler, and accused, being the night-shift ostler, was suspended. On the afternoon of 5th August accused came to the manager's office, and in conversation expressed his annoyance that he could not be re-started until the 7th. He left the office, and the manager followed shortly after. When the manager was walking toward the stair leading to the pithead, accused rushed after him and struck him from behind with the iron bolt on the head. The manager fell to the ground, and was again struck by accused with the bolt. Two other workers came to the manager's assistance, but accused shook himself free from them, and threw the bolt at the manager, striking him on the mouth. Then he said to the manager, "You can thank God these two men were here, because I would have done you in." Turning to the two workers, he remarked, "Thank God you're here, for I would have killed him." Monaghan's injuries consisted of a cut an inch long on the top of the head, a lacerated wound behind the left ear, and a cut at the left side of the mouth. An agent stated that accused, who was 53 years of age, had served at Gallipoli during the war and had contracted rheumatic fever. Since his discharge he had been under doctor's orders on several occasions, owing to pains in the head. Previously these pains had never caused him to become violent, but they had caused him on many occasions to become extremely nervous and excited. Sheriff Fenton, passing sentence, said that the accused had pleaded guilty to a very serious assault. Striking a man on the head with a bolt of the weight described in the charge might well have landed the striker in Court under a different charge from this. Looking at the fact that this apparently was a deliberate assault, he could not pronounce any sentence less than one of twelve months' imprisonment. [Scotsman 20 August 1927]

25 September 1929

Fife Pit Agitation - Coal Company's Action - Sequel To A Strike - The hearing of evidence for the complainers, the Fife Coal Company (Ltd.), took place in the Dunfermline Sheriff Court yesterday in connection with a petition at their instance, for the removal from the position of checkweighers at Nos. 11 and 12 pits, Lumphinnans Colliery, of Alexander Moffat and Abraham Moffat, both residing at Viewfield Terrace Lumphinnans. The complaint was a sequel to a "lightning" strike which took place at the colliery at the end of September. It was charged against respondents that on the morning of Wednesday 25th September, they addressed a meeting of workmen or persons employed at the colliery; advised or induced the fore-shift workmen, to the number of 300, or thereby, to desist from working; caused a stoppage of work at the colliery, and impeded or interrupted the working of the colliery, and interfered with the workmen and the management thereof, to the detriment of the coal owners, contrary to Section 13 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1887.

Seething Mass of Discontent - It was elicited in the evidence that, following a meeting with representatives of the complainers and the men, at which a proposal by the men that the co-operative system of working the conveyer runs should be introduced in favour of the contracting system was turned down, the respondents addressed a meeting of the workers at the colliery between five and six o'clock on the following morning. In course of his speech Alexander Moffat was stated to have declared that the coalfield was a seething mass of discontent, and expressed the hope that the men would "go over the hill" (desist from working that morning) in support of those men who desired to have the co-operative system introduced. As a result of the meeting, only about twenty men descended the pit, and the others went home. Against Abraham Moffat is was stated that he told the men that if they did not make a stand there would be more sweat and more blood on the coal. Sheriff Umpherston found that in each instance the complainers had made a prime facie case, and in terms of the Act, he called upon respondents to show cause why they should not be removed. For that purpose, his Lordship adjourned the case till Monday, 28th October. [Scotsman 23 October 1929]