Who Do You Think You Are?

‘Maria Was The Miners’ Heroine’

Richard Carr was delighted to discover that his 3x great grandmothe­r struck a significan­t blow for the rights of coal miners in north-east England, says Gail Dixon

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Richard Carr has vivid memories of the coal miners’ strike in the UK in the mid-1980s. “I grew up in a pit village in County Durham,” he reveals. “I remember food collection­s being held for the striking miners’ families, and throwing snowballs at the ‘scab buses’ that passed our school.”

Richard’s childhood experience­s echo an earlier episode in his family history, when a Durham mining community became the epicentre of a fight against oppression. The story revolves around his 3x great grandparen­ts Thomas Carr and Maria Young, who married in 1824. Thomas was a miner and worked at Friar’s Goose Colliery near Gateshead.

A year into his research into his tree, Richard ‘blitzed’ his ancestors’ names at the British Newspaper Archive website ( britishnew­spaperarch­ive.co.uk).

“I was elated to discover that Maria played a key role in a major incident in the early days of the colliers’ union.” Her fame arose in 1832 following a dramatic event that became known as the Battle of Friar’s Goose.

Unrest had been growing for years in the mining communitie­s of north-east England. Workers’ grievances centred mainly on pay, conditions and long shifts.

The owners of the collieries resented the burgeoning power of the unions, and refused to employ men who became members. Those who went on strike were starved into submission, and could be blackliste­d by other collieries.

Also, many coal miners lived in tied cottages owned by their employers, which was part of the exploitati­ve ‘bond’ system. If a man went on strike, he could be evicted to make way for a ‘blackleg’ worker. Entire families were made homeless.

In April 1832, a number of miners at Friar’s Goose refused to sign the bond and went on strike. The colliery owner recruited workers from Westmorela­nd, and ordered the striking miners to quit their homes by early May.

Thirty special constables were drafted in to force the evictions. But miners from other coalfields gathered and began hurling stones at the incoming strike-breakers.

The Carrs refused to leave the home they shared with their three children. “The constables tried to drag Maria out of the house. She said that she was ‘unwell’, and sat down. The officers had to carry her out on a chair, whereupon she perked up, removed a constable’s

cap, ‘Maria removed a constable’s air’ struck him and waved it in the

cap, struck him over the head and waved it in the air, shouting ‘The union forever!’ ”

Following Maria’s battle cry, a riot broke out and gunshots were fired by the constables. Over 40 arrests were made, including Maria who stood trial for riot and assault at the local assize court. She was acquitted, but other protesters were sentenced to imprisonme­nt with hard labour.

“The Battle of Friar’s Goose was so important that it was commemorat­ed in an etching, which shows Maria waving the constable’s cap in the air.

“Maria kickstarte­d a defining moment in the history of the miners’ union, which was in its infancy. This was the day that mine owners were finally served notice that the unfair system of bonding was unacceptab­le.”

The Carrs eventually settled 20 miles away in East Hetton, where fortunatel­y Thomas found more work as a miner. Sadly Maria died aged 42 in 1845, after giving birth to her seventh child.

“I’d like to tell Maria how proud I am of her,” Richard says. “Of all the relatives I’ve found so far, she is my favourite.”

 ??  ?? This 19th-century etching celebrates Richard’s forebear Maria Carr’s stand against the oppression colliery owners inflicted on mining families
This 19th-century etching celebrates Richard’s forebear Maria Carr’s stand against the oppression colliery owners inflicted on mining families
 ??  ?? RICHARD CARR is a former magazine editor living in County Durham. He has been researchin­g his family tree for three years
RICHARD CARR is a former magazine editor living in County Durham. He has been researchin­g his family tree for three years

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