As a child growing up in outback Australia, I addressed my cards and letters to my grandma Gwen at “Tredegar”, Front Street, Glasshoughton, via Castleford, Yorkshire. When I asked my mum about this strange word she told me, “Tredegar is the name of grandma’s house”. I thought this was an odd name for a home, but if my mum elaborated on the reason behind it I do not remember.
About thirteen years ago my sister and I were listening to our mother José and her cousin Paul reminiscing on their family stories over dinner at a restaurant. Tales of rationing during the war; having to carry their gas masks to school; their granddad and uncles coming home from the colliery black from head to foot, coal dust everywhere; how the kids of today wouldn’t believe you if you told ’em. This was all sounding too much like Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen Sketch, and we told them so.
Well, this only encouraged them, and they told us the tale of their granddad Robert MATTICK who after marrying Mary PRICE in 1900, “walked all the way from Tredegar in Wales to Featherstone Colliery in Yorkshire to take up a position of Colliery Deputy”.
That’s a hard slog on foot, especially if you have to deal with temperamental English weather. The distance between Tredegar and Featherstone is about 250 km (156 miles), “as the crow flys”. The estimated road distance can be around 290 km to 315 km (180-195 miles) depending on the route taken.
Mum and her cousin Paul could not recall how Robert’s wife Mary arrived in Featherstone. Did she also walk, or did he send for her later and she made the journey by train?
The MATTICK family came from Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire before they moved to Monmouthshire in the mid-1800s. There were several large coal mines opening in and around Tredegar and Bedwelty at this time. The shafts of the New Tredegar Colliery were sunk in 1854 and Elliot‘s Colliery was sunk in 1888.
The mines were beset with geological problems, mainly landslips and flooding. Early in December 1875 a minor gas explosion occurred near to the coalface of New Tredegar, badly injuring two men. The mine shafts were inspected and found to be free of gas. However, the manager decided, as a precaution, that no men should enter the pit for at least 24 hours. His orders were disregarded and the next morning, under the instructions of the overman, the hewers descended the pit as usual. At 8.00 am a major explosion occurred and twenty men were killed instantaneously, with another two dying later from their injuries. The dead included six young boys who were working down the mine.
All the miners employed at the South Wales and Monmouthshire collieries received a 2½ per cent reduction in their wages on 1 September 1892. The reduction, affecting about 100,000 workers, was made because of the continued depression in the coal trade. The Welsh miners’ wages had been reduced 20 per cent, during the previous two years.
It was more than likely the depressed and dangerous state of the coal industry in Wales that induced Robert MATTICK to take the risk and relocate to West Yorkshire.
Coal had been mined at Featherstone since the 13th century. Ackton Hall and its Featherstone estates were sold in 1865 and from that time mining developments were rapid, and the population boomed. The new town of Featherstone was developed in the field near Ackton and provided the miners and their families with good quality housing and social services.
The Durham Mining Museum website has a list of mining occupations and describes the role of the Colliery Deputy in 1892:
The deputies go to work two hours before the hewers. Each deputy, during the absence of the back-overman, is responsible for the management of the district of the pit over which he is appointed. Their work also includes that of supporting the mine roof with props or wood, removing props from old workings, changing the air currents when necessary, and clearing away any sudden eruption of gas or fall of stone that might impede the work of the hewer, or in delegating these duties to others.
Robert worked as a deputy at the Featherstone Main Colliery and several other mines in the area including the Haigh Moor Mine and the Silkstone Pit at Flockton. In 1901, the average wage of the West Yorkshire miner (according to a writer in the Colliery Guardian) was £6,10s per calendar month; giving an average rate of £78 per annum. A colliery deputy would have received maybe a pound or two more per month.
It doesn’t sound like enough to support a growing family, but they weren’t so hard up as to live in a “shoe box in middle o’ road”. Robert secured a job as deputy at the new Glasshoughton Colliery near Castleford. In 1917 he paid a £50 deposit on a house and shop at Front Street, Glasshoughton. The family settled in and named their home “Tredegar” after the town in Wales.
So far this story has been about Welshmen not Yorkshiremen. Well, Robert and Mary had six children – four Yorkshire lads and two Yorkshire lasses:
- Laura (1901-1989) married Walter ALLSOPP and had one son: Paul ALLSOPP
- ‘Billy’ William Hugh (1903-1991) married Caroline BRADBURN and had two children: Patricia and Terry MATTICK
- ‘Bobby’ Robert (1904-1986) married Beatrice STARKEY and had two children: Mary and Billy MATTICK
- ‘Gwen’ Annie Gwendoline (1907-1992) married Frank ATKINSON and had one daughter: José Mattick ATKINSON
- ‘Jack’ John (1908-1983) served in WW2 and was briefly married to Sylvia MILLAR
- ‘Joe’ Joseph (1910-1985) married Lilian BURROWS and had two children: Megan and John MATTICK.
The above photo is of Robert and his four young sons. The family grew up in “Tredegar” house at Glasshoughton, they married and worked hard in the pits or in industries that supported the collieries in West Yorkshire. They were a close family and raised the next generation to be educated so they wouldn’t have to work down the mines.
Robert and Mary MATTICK were fine, upstanding folks – though not very tall in stature, as the photo below illustrates. Their son-in-law Frank was 6 feet tall, and seven-year-old José was already head-height with her grandparent’s chins.
My mother grew up in “Tredegar” house and was very close to her grandparents and her mother and father. She remembers being at school during WW2 and having to practice air-raid drills, and carry her gas mask around with her where ever she went. She used to tell us of the hard times of food rationing and how she would be lucky to get one orange a year – usually in her Christmas stocking. She remembers her grandma on her hands and knees each day, with a bucket of water and carbolic soap, scrubbing the coal dust off the front stoop.
Life was often hard, and some weeks they would have been glad of the price of a cup of tea. But you know they were happy in those days. And you try and tell the young people of today that – and they won’t believe you.
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Sources: Durham Mining Museum website; Welsh Coal Mines Website; Trove: The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, Thursday 29 September 1892; Australian Town and Country Journal, Saturday 5 January 1901; http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cmhrc/prints.htm#1870-75