Life and Labour – George Clifton Hughes, Part One

“Although wages had risen during the war, they had now flattened”

Although, George Clifton Hughes does not write about his own occupation in his memoir, he does write openly about labour within the town of Wrexham. The town is renowned in Britain for its mining culture, and particularly remembered for the Gresford Colliery Disaster which occurred on the 22nd September, 1934. Due a huge explosion, 266 men lost their lives which is still remembered in Wrexham today. The Liverpool Echo immediately reported on the disaster, and with access to  the British Newspaper archive, we are able to read the newspapers from that day, with headings reading; ‘The Scenes at the Wrexham Pit’ and sub headings such as ‘the huge crowd outside the colliery offices seeking news of relatives and friends.’

The Liverpool Echo report of the mining disaster

Hughes mentions Gresford within his writing along with other ‘colliers’ such as Hafod, Bersham and Vauxhall. With so much knowledge of the mining industry, it seems Hughes may have worked in the mines himself. Hughes has a passionate understanding of the treatment of the coal miners taking a socialist attitude towards the pay structure of the workers. Hughes can be very political in his language and the message that he is attempting to get across. He discusses the pay disparity of the miners by describing the ‘few miners on piece work’ (29) as those that could consider themselves the ‘lucky ones’. Hughes states that for the miners ‘coal fell easily’ (29) especially compared to the majority of the miners who earned ‘fifty shillings a week.’

“The Jaunty early morning pace contrasted sadly with the weary return hime after a hard day’s slog”

Hughes further exemplifies his political stances within the chapter ‘The Colliers’ describing some miners finding ‘employment outside the mines’. He is particularly sarcastic to those who made their way out of the mines by taking ‘executive positions through the instrumentality of politics.’ He was particularly scathing about one ‘late developer’ (30) whose arithmetic was ‘so atrocious that in common parlance he couldn’t give change for a shilling’. Hughes compares him negatively with a ‘shining light’ of local politics within Wrexham, a man of ‘undoubted talent’, and the ‘bastion of the local party’

Within local working class towns such as Wrexham, local politics is further challenged by austerity, council cuts and poverty. This was also the case during the writing of Hughes’ Memoir. Hughes elucidates the complexities and challenges of local politics, taking aim at the owner of Hafod Colliery ‘Dyke Dennis.’ Hughes portrays an image of the managed decline of the mining industry which goes on behind the back of the local workers in a time when ‘demand for coal slumped alarmingly.’ He describes the colliery management as ‘actually allocate the working period into two weeks of five days each and two of three days each, the short weeks qualifying the men for the supplementary benefit. At a time when national there was much bitterness between management and men, local people were not slow to appreciate that this apparently haphazard arrangement was astutely planned with Dyke Dennis’s blessing and encouragement.’  Hughes changes his tone when appreciating the community’s togetherness in times of austerity. The picture of togetherness is warming but the realities of the situation is a cold portrayal by Hughes and a heart-breaking situation for those involved.

Bibliography

British Library Newspaper. Liverpool Echo. ‘The Scenes at The Wrexham Pit Disaster.

G. Clifton Hughes. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4  2.426

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