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Free miners and colliers: custom, the crown and trade unionism in the Forest of Dean, 1788-1886

By Chris Fisher

Abstract

This thesis examines the impact of social and economic\ud change on the practice of "free mining" in the Forest of\ud Dean between 1788 and 1886, asking how and why the free miners'\ud "rights" altered over that period and what the consequences\ud of their survival were for the development of trade unionism\ud among the Forest miners. The thesis is divided into three\ud parts. The first of them discusses the free miners' rights\ud and argues that they should be seen as part of a group of uses,\ud including commoning and the occupation of Crown land, which\ud its inhabitants made of the Forest in the eighteenth century.\ud These uses came under pressure between 1788 and 1841 from\ud reforms in central government and the intrusion of strangers\ud from outside the Forest into the mining industry. A series\ud of Acts of Parliament between 1838 and 1841 consolidated the\ud new order in the Forest but the bargaining which preceded\ud that legislation resulted in the preservation - though in\ud a diluted form - of the miners' rights and of commoning.\ud Part two asks whether the partial survival of these customs\ud acted as a socially conservative influence which might have\ud explained the relative weakness of trade unionism among\ud the Forest's colliers. It is argued that the instability\ud of union may be explained by reference to the organization\ud of the industry and its markets, to the method of work\ud organization in the pits, which created divisions among\ud the miners, and to the inadequacies of "national" miners'\ud unionism. Though it is not necessary to invoke the peculiar\ud local rights and customs to account for the weakness of unionism in Dean, Part three will contend that they remained important\ud to many foresters. Renewed pressure from the Crown and from\ud the large coalowners, on both the free miners and commoners,\ud and the resistance of the foresters to change, are examined.\ud The character of that resistance took colour from the assumptions\ud and rhetoric of the union and in turn reinforced and\ud helped to make successful, a campaign by the union for the\ud separate representation of the working men in the Parliament

Topics: HD, TN, DA
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:2467

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