Welcome to East Chinnock
Somerset Farm Trouble

Outside Weston House
Officers of the Somerset Constabulary were called out to keep the peace between the local farm-workers

Western Gazette Friday June 27th 1913

Stoke-under-Ham is experiencing a labour dispute of an uncommon nature in the West of England, and there’s a grave possibility that by Saturday all the agricultural labourers of the parish will leave their work. What this means in a district of dairy farms, where the hay harvest has barely commenced, can be imagined, and nothing but a settlement can prevent losses to both employers and men. The whole of the facts were ascertained by a Western Gazette representative, who spent the afternoon in the parish on one day this week, and interviewed all the parties concerned.

Men’s Demands

How the demands came to be made by the men was told by Mr. F. Thorpe, the manager of the local Co-operative Society, in the following words:-

On Whit-Monday the first idea occurred to me about a labourers’ movement. I was in the Institute where a large number of working men were there enjoying themselves and generally making themselves comfortable, when looking out of the window, I saw a cart in which was an oldish man wet through to the skin. I said “How is it we trade unionists don’t do something for these men, and to better their conditions?” The opportunity occurred rather quicker than I expected. The following week I went to Norton, and a Gladstone League meeting was asked to second a vote of thanks and I thought if the status of the men was raised and we got the men organised there would be no necessity for the Gladstone League. I saw Mr. Guppy, the president of the Glovers’ Union and Mr. G. Brice, another well-known trades unionist, and at that meeting after a discussion on the increased cost of living and the stationary wage paid to farm labourers in the village, it was resolved that the employers be approached with a view to an increase of wages. Instances were given of where substantial advances had been made. A Committee was appointed to draw up a scale of wages, and these were sent to the farmers in the parish.

The terms asked were :-

18s per week for the farm workers; 1s for Sunday work; 4d per hour for overtime, all wages to be paid in current cash, and as far as practicable on Friday evenings, so as to allow us to make necessary purchases for the coming week.

Farmers Replies

Mr G. Wakely replied that he would treat the cases individually, and was willing to meet the men, and was prepared for a settlement, but he wanted it settled by “practical men” – which, said Mr. Thorpe, “I took as a ‘dig’ at myself as a grocer.” Mr. W. Terrell, of North Street Farm, replied that no doubt the cost of living had gone up, and farm labourers were not well enough paid for their labour, but there were individual cases which made it impossible to pay a uniform wage. He was willing to give another 1s to those who did not receive 18s. a week.

These replies were not considered satisfactory, and from a subsequent meeting another letter was sent to the farmers. This read:-

Strike Threatened

At a meeting of farm workers held on Saturday, June 14th, your replies to our letter of 12th were submitted, and it was the opinion of the workers that the issue had been obscured by certain privileges, which vary considerably on each farm. To make the position clearer, it was unanimously decided to submit a new scale of wages as follows:-

    No.1, 18s per week cash and cider;
    No.2, 4d per hour Sunday labour;
    No.3, 4d per hour overtime after 6p.m.

These terms were endorsed at a Committee meeting held in the Council Schools on Tuesday, June 17th, by a Committee comprised of two men from each farm.

Your replies to Nos. 1, 2, and 3 are requested to be sent to me not later than June 21st. Failing a satisfactory settlement, notices to cease work will be handed in.

With the exception of Mr. Wakely, who replied that he adhered to his former decision, only one reply, said Mr. Thorpe, was received, and that from Mr. Mitchell, of East Stoke, who wrote as follows :-

An Offer To Treat

In my opinion the terms are unreasonable, as well as impracticable and unworkable, and if any of my men have grievances – which they have not intimated to me they have – I am prepared to meet them individually and discuss the matter with a view to a settlement, or, failing that, I am willing to submit to practical men, or men who thoroughly understand the agriculturalist and value his work. I consider that if the men cease work the result will be more detrimental to the majority of the employed than to the employer. I may also add, as an employer of labour for the past 28 years, it has always been my ambition to study the interests of my employees and can safely say I have done so to their satisfaction. Why this unpleasantness now, unless it is caused by those who know nothing about the circumstances?

Notices Handed In

Notices, said Mr. Thorpe, were handed in by the men on Saturday to cease work on the following Saturday. The Agricultural Labourers’ Union was approached, and on Monday evening Mr. Green, one of the executive, addressed a meeting, and the great majority of the labourers of the parish paid their ninepences and joined it. An organiser of the Union was to arrive during the week.

Position of The Men

“Supposing the men strike,” asked our representative, “who is going to assist them, for it is obvious they cannot draw strike pay immediately?”

Mr. Thorpe replied: “It is a big question. If they strike a Committee has been appointed to deal with any distress, because the men cannot have benefits. The Glovers’ Union have promised that they will stand by them man for man. Besides that we have offers from tradesmen and others who sympathise with the movement. Generally speaking, we may be able to give each man 10s – for the first week anyway.

Answering further questions, he said that it was urged for the men that wages were lower than in other places, and the rent of cottages was high because of the factories. Also that in estimating wages farmers included rent of cottages, cider, and potato ground, for which the men never saw the money. He also referred with satisfaction to a sermon on the subject of wages, preached on the previous Sunday by the Vicar in the Parish Church.

Vicar’s Views

The Rev. G. G. Monck, vicar of the parish, told our representative that he had offered to act as the mediator between the parties. The chief grievance of the men were that they lived in tied houses, for which the rent was deducted from their wages, and they got no holidays. Farmers said that it was impossible to give many of the men more, as many of them were over 60 and others physically incapable of much work. The majority of the farm workers in the parish were elderly men, and men who could not earn the higher wages on Ham Hill or the factories. The younger men had gone to Canada or sought work in other directions. As to the sermon preached in the church on Sunday, the Vicar said his main point was that when they talked of a living wage it did not mean that a man should only have enough to eat, but must have a standard of living, and that for every class had got to be higher. He had made it clear that he was not speaking personally or locally, but the question had to be thrashed out on its merits. The Vicar hoped for a settlement, and said he deprecated the importation of paid agitators.

Farmers Regret

Our representative then sought out the farmers mentioned, and succeeded in finding three, two being engaged busily with the hay. The first said that he honestly thought that they were being asked for more than they could reasonably pay. Referring to a mention of rises in other places, he said that at Petherton, men there had asked the employers in a reasonable way, and had been granted an increase of a shilling. If the men struck they would have to use more implements, and he had been promised help by other farmers, and would stick out till September 1st. He resented the fact that before the men asked for anything themselves he got a circular with demands. If he understood that substantial rises had been given in the district he would give up to 18s a week. Then again, the attitude of the men when asked were they prepared to settle was “I don’t know, but will do as the rest do.” Further than that they did not know much about it. When the first paper came he had gone to two men and told them that they should have 18s a week, and he had always paid for Sundays. It was impossible for him to pay by the hour, as he was not like a builder, who could see all his men at once.

Another farmer strongly resented the way he said the whole thing was “engineered”. It was a political dodge, the men knew nothing about it, for when they handed in their notices they confessed that they had no grievances. Had they any he would have endeavoured to come to an arrangement. He was willing to submit to arbitration by practical men, but had refused mediation by the Vicar.

Wages Already Raised

Mr. Mitchell, of East Stoke, only came to the farm at Michaelmas, after living at Templecombe for 28 years. A month or six weeks ago he gave two or three men an additional shilling a week, and also gave the same to those, who had not asked. He expressed his sorrow that the men had not come to him with their grievances, if they had any, but they never mentioned them to him, and he strongly objected to outside interference. He pointed out the impossibility of giving each man a fixed wage, and gave examples, his views in this direction being exactly those of the other farmers interviewed. He characterised the Vicar’s discourse as a Socialist address, and not a sermon. Asked as to the outlook, he said that he was prepared to make the best of it, although he had hardly started his haymaking. His views, he said, were expressed in the letter he had written.

Labourers to “Get Along Somehow”

Two typical labourers were also spoken to, and in both cases said they supposed they would leave their work. Neither would say they had anything against their employers, though one said they could do with more money though “able to rub along.” Asked how they expected to get along if the farmers refused to come to terms and brought in outside labour, they said they should “get along somehow.” Asked why they did not go and settle with the farmers, they said they would “stick together.” A sympathiser with their case made a point of the fact that the labourer rarely got a holiday, and on a dairy farm often worked for seven days a week.

Western Gazette Friday July 4th 1913
Somerset Farm Trouble
Union Branch Formed

A meeting of farm workers was held at the Duke of Cornwall Club-room on Friday, for the purpose of forming a branch of the National Union of Agricultural Labourers and Rural Workers for Stoke district – Mr. E. Guppy presided, and explained the objects of the meeting. –It was unanimously resolved to form a branch of the Union, and the officers and a committee were elected provisionally for six months, when another meeting would be held to elect officers and committee for the usual term. The following officers and Committee were appointed :-

President, Mr. Gilbert Banbury;
Vice-President, Mr. T. Trott;
Chairman of Committee, Mr. E. Guppy;
Treasurer, Mr. Geo. Brice;
Co-Secretaries, Messrs. E. Tanswell and F. Thorpe;
Committee, Messrs. A. E. Morgan, J. Gillett, G. Thorne, G. Boom, S. Palmer, J. Gaylard, T. Johnson, Toop, J. Brooks and T. Gale. –

The chairman concluded the proceedings by stating that if the dispute were not settled by Saturday that arrangements would be made to find financial support for the farm workers while on strike, and he believed that the public generally would liberally respond to any appeal made for help. Several joined the local branch of the Union, which now has a membership of 50.

Efforts for a Settlement

The Rev. E. Skilton returned home on holiday on Friday, and on hearing of the dispute promptly set to work to bring about a settlement by arbitration. He first of all interviewed the men’s appointed leaders, and obtained their approval of his wish to get the dispute settled without a strike if possible. He then interviewed each farmer, and secured their consent. He then drafted conditions on which an arbitrator should give his award, namely :-

(1) That the arbitrator must recognise that the men have a grievance;

(2) men to remain at work; and

(3) the award to be made retrospective, any increase pay to date from Saturday, June 28th;

(4) the award to be given by Thursday, July 3rd;

(5) failing a settlement the present notices to cease work hold good.

This was signed by every farmer, Mr. Skilton visiting each for the second time in one day.

A general meeting of the members of the local branch of the Union was called for the purpose of placing the proposal for settlement by arbitration before them. There was a large attendance at the meeting, which was held on Saturday evening in the Duke of Cornwall Club-room.

Mr. E. Guppy was in the chair, and explained why the meeting was called. He informed those present what Mr. Skilton had done in the matter. He said that he had considered the case in all its aspects, and he urged the members to consent to a settlement of the dispute in the way proposed.

The Rev. E. Skilton then addressed the meeting, and stated that he would not have taken the action which he had without first consulting their leaders. He had seen the farmers, and they had consented to a settlement in the way proposed. He desired the men present to understand that he had their interests at heart, it was perfectly certain that the farm workers should have more wages, and in the terms of reference to an arbitrator which he had drawn up some increase of wages must be given in the award, and in view of the sufferings which a prolonged struggle might involve, he urged the men to accept his proposal.

Messrs. Thorpe, A. E. Morgan, and G. Brice addressed the meeting, and each speaker endeavoured to impress on the members the desirability of settling the dispute peaceably rather than by a strike.

Men Against Arbitration

From the outset it was clear that there was a strong feeling amongst the men against the proposal to settle by arbitration. Considerable discussion took place, and opinion was much divided, consequently the meeting was adjourned till Sunday night.

In the parish there was a feeling amongst those whose sympathise with the labourers against a settlement by arbitration.

Farmers’ Terms

The feeling of the men against a settlement by arbitration was conveyed to the farmers by the Rev. E. Skilton late on Saturday night, and they then made the following offer to the men :-

I:- That they would agree to raise the wages of all men on their farms 2s per week.

Mr. Terrell raised his men 1s on the 21st, and he will raise them another 1s to make the 2s. Mr. Mitchell raised his men on May 24th 1s, he will raise his men another 1s to make the 2s.

II:- All overtime to be paid for at the rate of 4d per hour without cider; 3d with cider.

III:- The question of paying cash or kind will be gone into with the men at an early date, and if some arrangement acceptable to the men can be arrived at, such arrangement will start from Michaelmas.

IV:- Failing the acceptance of thoese terms the whole question to be put to arbitration.

Men’s Acceptance

This offer was laid before the men at a meeting held in the Duke of Cornwall Club-room on Sunday night. The chairman (Mr. E. Guppy) placed the farmers’ offer before the men, and after a long discussion, it was resolved to accept the employers’ offer if Sunday work was included as overtime, the rate of pay to be 4d per hour. The resolution was carried by a large majority. It was felt that the men had profited in getting the above terms from the farmers. The payment of overtime will be a gain, as hitherto they have received a lump sum at the end of the season. Now they will receive overtime pay at the end of each week.

The Agreement

The agreement between Messrs. Wakely, Terrell, Hebditch, and Mitchell, farmers of Stoke-under-Ham, and the men employed on their farm, is as follows:-

(I.) - We the undersigned, agree to raise the wages of all men employed on our farms 2s per week for each man, to commence from June 28th, 1913.

Note, - Mr. Terrell and Mr. Mitchell having already raised their men 1s, the first-mentioned on 21st June, 1913, and the second on the 24th June, 1913, undertake to raise all their men 1s per week each to make up the sum of 2s.

(II.) - We agree that all overtime be paid for at the rate of 4d per hour, or 3d per hour with cider, to commence from June 28th, 1913.

(III.) - We agree that the question of payment in cash or kind shall be gone into with the men at an early date, and if some arrangement acceptable to the men can be arrived at, such arrangement shall start from Michaelmas, 1913.

(IV.) - We agree that if any man be called upon to do Sunday labour, whose usual work does not involve such labour, and who has not engaged to do such work, then such a man shall be paid at the rate of 4d. per hour.

This was signed by all the farmers named, and on behalf of the men by the officers of their Union.

Reproduced by courtesy of the Western Gazette

The Agricultural Strike at East Chinnock

Western Gazette Friday July 4th 1913

The trouble has extended to East Chinnock, and the agricultural labourers having contended for some time that they were not well enough paid, the farmers were asked to give them a substantial increase. They offered a certain sum – 1s 6d a week – but this was refused and a strike resulted. A Western Gazette representative was informed on Wednesday that no labourer in East Chinnock was paid less than 12s per week, while the maximum was 15s.

Union Orders Ignored

It would seem that the men have acted contrary to Union orders, for at an open-air meeting held on Thursday last week it is understood that they were told by a speaker from Yeovil that if they asked for an increase in wages and it was refused they were to report it at the next meeting, but were not to give strike notice until they were ordered to do so by the Union. This advice they apparently have not followed.

The employers whose men came out on strike were: Messrs. A. Young, R. Young, P. J. Bugg, S. Poole, W. and G. Taylor, J. Andrews (a baker who owns a small portion of agricultural land), W. Pearce, G. Hallett, and G. Shire(builder, who had an employee working on some agricultural land). The men on strike numbered between 30 and 40, the majority being members of the Agricultural Labourers’ Union.

Men Leave Work

The men, our representative was informed, proceeded on Monday morning at the usual time to their places of occupation and straight way asked their employers for a substantial increase in their wages – from 2s 6d to 3s per week. This was refused by the farmers, who agreed to give them a rise of 1s 6d a week. This proved unsatisfactory to the men, who took up their baskets and came out on strike.

Strikers Procession

They then formed a procession and marched through the village, picking up on the way everyone they could find working on agricultural land. Some joined the ranks of their fellow workmen readily, while others showed a reluctance to strike. But in the end they were persuaded by the majority to fall in with the others.

Mangold Hoer “Picketed”

In their march the strikers came upon a man who was engaged in hoeing mangolds on piece work, and who apparently was not anxious to go on strike. They at once proceeded to where he was working and demanded that he should cease work. He at first refused to do so but soon found that his position was a difficult one. He was threatened that if he did not come out they would carry him away on a hurdle, and realising the impossibility of continuing his work he left with them.

Two men working on two different farms were offered what they considered a satisfactory wage and were willing to work, but were prevented from doing so by the strikers.

Farmers Do Their Haymaking

Having a small quantity of hay which he wished to get in, Mr. Albert Young requisitioned the services of the dairyman and his two sons. A large portion of the work had been carried out before the strikers heard of what was going on. They then went to a field and told Mr. Young that if he continued to employ the three men they would upset his wagon. The men therefore, were forced to cease work, and Mr. Young and his nephew finished the remainder of the work themselves.

The men next visited Mr. Robert Young’s field, where they saw his milkman assisting with the haymaking. They called upon him to cease work, which he did. The man, by some means, had been seen to put his flagon of cider in the hedge, and the strikers, it is said, helped themselves to the contents, and left a note saying that they had consumed it.

Some of the men during the afternoon were engaged in haymaking for other people in the parish who had no regular employees, and in the evening they held a meeting.

Pickets Outwitted

On Tuesday morning they again assembled, and made a perambulation of the parish to see that no-one was working; but it is stated that in one or two cases, in spite of the great vigilance they exercised, men were at work almost all day.

Shortly after six o’clock in the evening the strikers paid a visit to Longmead, a field in the occupation of Mr. P. J. Bugg, and here they saw a man named Cooper riding on a horse-rake, Mr. Bugg meanwhile having his tea. They entered the field and requested Cooper to leave off work, but Cooper replied that he should not do so upon their orders. He had, he said, no employ and no employer, and no-one paid him, and furthermore he was not an insured person. The men retorted that they would not leave the field until he left, whereupon Cooper said he should remain there as long as he felt inclined to do so. If he chose to work for one, two, or three hours a day for a friend he should do so. Mr. Bugg having finished his tea came up to Cooper and asked him to get off the rake, which he did. Turning to the strikers he ordered them out of the field and shut the gate, telling them it was after six o’clock, and they had no right on his premises. The men, however, remained in the roadway for some time, but Cooper did not leave the field.

Threat to Stop Milking

Later in the evening the men held another open-air meeting, at which they were ordered to give their employers six days notice that they would not do the milking if the strike continued over the period. It was also decided that the employers should be asked to meet a deputation at the Portman Arms on Wednesday evening.

The Strike Settled

On Wednesday evening Messrs. Albert and Robert Young, G. Hallett, P. J. Bugg, and W. Pearce met two representatives of the men and the Union official at the Portman Arms Hotel, with a view to an amicable settlement of the trouble. The farmers offered to give the men an increase of 2s. in their present wages, and in cases where money was preferred 1s 6d in the summer and 1s in the winter in lieu of beverages. In regard to hay-making and harvest money, the farmers offered 3d per hour overtime with cider or 4d per hour without cider, instead of the lump sum of 25s for cowmen and 35s for carters, which had hitherto been paid. The terms offered by the farmers were afterwards submitted to the men at a meeting held later in the evening. The terms were discussed and seemed to meet with general approval, and all the men, with the exception of one, returned to work yesterday (Thursday) morning.

So far the strike has not affected any of the labourers employed in Middle or West Chinnock.

Reproduced by courtesy of the Western Gazette

During the Lancashire trouble a strike of  farm workers took place in Somerset, at East  Chinnock. The trouble was mainly due to the  action of one of the farmers who sacked two Union  men and imported men from another district  to take their places. Great resentment was caused  by the drafting of large numbers of police into  the affected parish. The police were used to protect  the farmer and the " blackleg " labour, and even  to escort them to church. However, in the end,  the Union succeeded in coming to an agreement  with the employers, with the result that an advance  of 2s. per week for men and 1s. for lads was secured.  Other minor disputes took place in other counties  and districts, and, more or less, were settled on  advantageous terms to the men.

Source: Village Trade Unions in Two Centuries By Ernest Selley

The union movement was spread so far west as Somerset at the same time and one farmer of East Chinnock decided to nip it in the bud. He sacked two union men and brought in non-union men workers to take their places. Foolishly enough  a strong force of police was drafted into the parish to protect this “blackleg” labour, probably quite unnecessarily but much to the anger of the men. The police went so far as to see the non-union men and their employer to church. Negotiations led to an agreement with success for the union. Men got 2s. a week rise and lads 1s.

Source: From Tolpuddle to T.U.C.: a century of farm labourers'  Politics By George Edwin Fussell
Published by Windsor Press, 1948