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The County Herald carried the following Headline article.

 

STEEL SMELTERS

WAR AT SHOTTON

EXCITING SCENES.

THE STATION BESIEGED.

DESPERATE FIGHTING.

TRAINS AND WORKMEN STONED.

WOMEN IN THE CONFLICT.

 

There were stirring and sensational times at Shotton on Friday when several desperate affrays which savoured of murderous onslaughts were made upon several individuals. On Thursday night, notwithstanding the vigilance of the police authorities and many workmen, the general situation was exceedingly critical when viewed from the aspect of quietude. Threats, violent language and menaces were prevalent since Wednesday night, and the police took all the necessary precautions available to cope with any emergency. For nearly a fortnight previously a contingent of the Flintshire Constabulary, under the control of Superintendent Yarnell Davies, had been housed in improvised "barracks" near the main entrance to the Steelworks and their surveillance day and night had been unremitting. With the exception of a few occasional "alarms" and intrusions of undesirable visitors, there was nothing calling for special notification, beyond the fact that the officers were becoming wearied of the monotonous situation. It was not long, however, before they were called to "active service."

The systematic picketing of the Queensferry, Shotton and Connah's Quay Railway stations on behalf of the "Rollers" Society did not apparently have the desired effect of stemming the tide of importation of steel workers from other districts to fill the vacancies created by the "Rollers" and their supporters who were "out" on strike against the new schedule of working. And the strikers engendered bitterness against the men who were employed, and the fact that the industry at the works was proceeding well minus their assistance. There is a large batch of "day workers" in Flint along with men who had been imported. For the purposes of molesting the workmen, the strikers, who had been prohibited by railway officials from assembling on the platforms of Shotton Station, walked to Queensferry Station on Thursday night where they booked a train, reaching Shotton prior to five o'clock. As the Flint workmen commenced to arrive from the Works to journey by this or a later train, the strikers made a bold front and interfered unduly with several of them. Some scuffling instantly ensued resolving into free fights. The police were in force on the platform, but they were powerless amongst the indiscriminate attacks, and their energies were directed to removing the strikers from the station. The combatants who fought on the edge of the platform rolled over onto the permanent way of the Chester and Holyhead Railway. The "Black Maria," which is the familiar designation of the Workmen's train from Flint arrived soon after five o'clock, and the Flint steelworkers speedily comprehending the position, and the fact that fellow workers were being mauled, hurried to their rescue. Fortunately however, some of the strikers who had received a little punishment were persuaded to quit the station premises. Stones picked up from the railway track and outside the station were thrown in various directions at men entering the station, and when the train for Flint departed it was evident a serious riot had been averted. This foretaste of an actual "labour war" inspired the workers with a keen watchfulness for subsequent events, because irrespective of the struggle on the platform vicious threats had been uttered.

Photo of a Picket Line outside the Works

A Picket line outside the Works. February 1910.

But shortly before one o'clock on Friday morning, under cover of the darkness, a body of ten who were strikers were observed stealthily making their way along the Sealand embankment of the river from the neighbourhood of Queensferry. This extraordinary event was regarded as an attack to be made on the Works or the men who were employed. They succeeded in approaching near the confines of the work. The "outpost" arrived before them, whereupon Mr. J. T. Macpherson, the Member of Parliament for Preston and the organiser of the Smelters' Union, who was in the works at the time, instantly stopped the whole of the work. The workers were greatly exasperated and men of the several departments seizing cudgels and other weapons gushed out of the works. It was an exodus executed with such promptitude that it foreboded disastrous consequences. Hundreds of men were in a few moments on the embankment, but when the strikers became aware of the impending results they hastily retreated to Queensferry. At half-past five of the same morning when the night men terminated their duties they were armed and prepared for any emergency or contingency; but all was then quiet, and they returned to their homes in Connah's Quay and Flint and adjacent towns.

Throughout the day there were declarations that "blood would be spilt in the evening." The strikers - at least those who were the most demonstrative and violently inclined - were conspicuous for sinister movements; and it was evident that the contending parties, both workers and strikers, were entertaining a revengeful attitude. In the course of the day the L & N.W. Railway Company's officials of the Chester and Holyhead Railway were communicated with; several of them arrived at Shotton Station; and in the afternoon Chief-Detective Inspector J. H. Perkins of the Exchange Station, Manchester, with a number of assistants, inclusive of railway constables, were in attendance to protect the interests of the Company. The Flintshire Constabulary on duty at the works was augmented, and just before five o'clock there was a small army of constables promenading on the platforms. Excitement was growing intense as a gang of strikers put in an appearance at the station gates clamouring for admission to the platform. Meanwhile men were approaching from the Great Central Railway Station and shortly a crowd assembled outside the station and on the path leading to the bottom of King Edward Street. The strikers and crowd were purposely awaiting the incoming "Black Maria" conveying the Flint workers for the night shift. These workers numbering nearly two hundred were more or less armed for their protection. They carried life preservers, bludgeons, iron bars and other ugly weapons, whilst one possessed what is known as a "hanker," which is used for chipping pieces of metal off the sheets. It was a formidable and dangerous looking article resembling the proportions of a large knife or sword.

As soon as the train was discerned some distance from the station the strikers surging on to the station gates made desperate attempts to break through the police cordon. There were loud cries of "Here she is," meaning the "Black Maria." Hereabouts the efforts of the whole of the police force and station officials were sorely tried and taxed to maintain order and thus prevent a disturbance. But all attempts at persuasiveness were futile. On alighting from the train the Flint workers witnessed the demonstrations of the strikers and then shouldering some of their weapons marched over the covered bridge to the platform near which the boisterous crowd had congregated. Some walked along the path toward the Great Central platform, and there was immediately a brisk skirmish. One man, said to be a strike leader, or who had taken a prominent part in previous proceedings, was met and received an exceedingly rough handling. When this was being administered a complete uproar arose from the platform. Men who were in an adjoining field below the Great Central station hurled stones at the Flint workers who, becoming enraged, wanted to attack the strikers who were at the station gates. After a stern and stubborn effort the police induced them to desist, and with "something in the wind" they departed in small detachments for other spheres. The police were rendered almost helpless in their duties in consequence of the repeated small "outbreaks."

There was, therefore, a brief cessation of hostilities, but it was apparent the whole neighbourhood was in a perturbed and tumultuous state, the worst fears being entertained for a renewal of the strife. These fears were truly verified at half past five o'clock when the day men were due to leave the works. Hundreds of men, who according to pre-arrangements, had furnished themselves with bludgeons of various sizes and descriptions, marched in military fashion from the works. It was an impressive sight as they passed over the Railway Bridge and crossing simultaneously, to enter Jubilee Street. The men were in battle array, and ready for any emergency that might be contemplated. The strikers gathering at the station, receiving information that the Flint workers would detach themselves from the main body of the "black-begrimed army," began to disperse to avoid a rear attack. In their attempts to escape effectually they were frustrated. Viewing the procession from a window at the railway station, the men seemed to occupy the main thoroughfare, and near the Station Hotel some of the strikers were attacked in a merciless fashion. This proceeding, the Flint contingent in warrior-like manner had practically cut off the retreat or escape of the "station" strikers, and as they arrived at the bottom of King Edward Street in their onward march to the station, stones were hurled at them by some persons. This was a sufficient signal of attack, and the men of Flint entered into the fray of retaliation with undaunted fury. The riot was then complete in every aspect and essential. It transpired that the strikers had also armed themselves with sticks, and improvised life preservers manufactured from piping filled with lead; and some of the men had pockets full of stones and pieces of brick. The strikers who had been lavishly vaunting their prowess were caught like rats in a trap, and thereupon they were compelled to defend themselves, whilst women whose voices had been loud in denunciation of the workmen as "blacklegs" were now imploring the officials to allow them entry to the station to escape from injuries. The fighting zone was principally confined to the open space at the end of King Edward Street. It was a "fair and square" pitched battle at close quarters, and the workmen managing to drive the strikers towards the narrow passage running parallel with the gable ends of the houses and the railway, the encounter was of a desperate and stubborn character.

In the general melee and mix up the bludgeons were used with freedom, regardless of consequences, and several of the combatants amongst the strikers fell stunned and helpless having sustained wounds on the head and face. The police then effected a rush from the station to the fighters, from whom they managed to wrench weapons. Indescribable confusion and consternation existed several minutes, during which ugly wrought weapons were thrown by the police over the spiked iron hurdles into the enclosure dividing the road from the railway. Dispersing a number of men, who had been injured, from the workmen who were practically unscathed and anxious to continue their aggressiveness, the police eventually persuaded many of the latter to proceed to the station only a few yards distant. Whilst they were accomplishing this the strikers, aided by women and children, picked up quantities of stones from the newly macadamised street and carried out a perfect fusillade in which the workmen again retaliated, and the wonder is that people were not fatally injured. The police were now under fire; they were pelted at by the scattered mob, and were necessarily obliged to perform a retiring movement. One or two of them were struck by stones and pieces of brickbats. The Flint contingent were left to put what appeared to be the coup de grace upon the battle, and they taught some a salutary lesson not to engage again in threats of violence or of derailing the "Black Maria." They returned, in the midst of a weak fire of missiles, cheering to the station platform where the "Black Maria" was standing ready to convey them to Flint.

Here there was breathless excitement amongst the officials and police to get the workmen aboard the train and when the men were all ensconced they crouched on to the seats. The train started on its journey, but as it was passing from the station the strikers, assisted by women gained a position of vantage nearer the railway, and poured forth another volley of stones at the carriages, demolishing windows; but luckily none of the men were injured. The strikers raised a parting cheer when the train had advanced some distance, as though they were signalising victory. The battle was only of about twenty minutes fierce duration; and within the next hour the whole district was becalmed, beyond excited groups of men and residents discussing the exciting incidents. The wounded had beforehand been removed to places of safety for surgical treatment, and later in the evening a few of those who had participated in the fight, or riots, were wearing bandages or plaster covering their injuries.

On Saturday morning the Flint contingent were determined to administer the quietus to the strikers who were threatening vengeance, and they specially journeyed by an early train to Shotton to afford all possible protection to their fellow workmen at the mills upon their leaving at 12.30. The men who thus arrived were fully armed with dangerous weapons, and they walked quietly desisting in any hostile demonstration, to the interior of the works."

Photo of the Tipping Furnace in 1910 The Tipping Furnace in 1910

 

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