A 75p booklet that was destined for the dustbin opens up a window on a world in which the death of a brother is covered up by a manager's lie
The exploitation of man by man,
That's the cause of the trouble,
That's where it began.
What should be done? We must be sure,
So get it read, it's Labour's Clause Four,
The means of production, we must control,
It's either that, or life on the dole.
lIKE many miners, Dick Beavis yearned for more than the pit and thirsted after learning. He studied poetry, attended nightclasses at Spennymoor Settlement, and, where practically all of his colleagues joined the Labour Party, he became a Communist.
Loading article content
He was barred out of most of Spennymoor’s pubs for selling the Daily Worker, he stood unsuccessfully three times as a councillor but for a long time he was an elected union official where he was as much a thorn in the flesh of the Labour hier- A Communist who A 75p booklet that was destined for the dustbin opens up a window on a achy as he was of the management.
And he also cared – for people and for pit ponies.
Although he died in 1995 aged 82, many people recognised his picture in Memories 67 and remembered that he was known as “Dickie” or “Squire”.
“He was a Communist through and through,” says his daughter, Margaret Hudson, who lives in Coxhoe. “He was well known, because he helped a lot of people with their problems in the pit.
“I wasn’t that interested, but I went to some amazing meetings with him.”
He told of his lifetime of agitation in a booklet published in 1980, called What Price Happiness. David Walsh in east Cleveland has kindly sent a dog-eared copy that was destined for his bin, and it makes fascinating reading about a long lost time.
Dick was born in 1913 in Spennymoor to Cockney parents – they’d moved north from London when his father had finished at sea. Dick remembered a childhood in which the fish cart and the “watercress man” called every week, and in which his mother kept a stone jar filled with barley and water in the oven.
“She made us drink it, because she said it was good for our kidneys,” he wrote. She also made him use blue mottle soap – “more for taking the skin off you than the dirt”.
Life was tough. “In those days people kept their own pigs, and they often had them killed in their back yards,” wrote Dick. “They would put a cabbage leaf down for it to eat, then hit in on the head with a wooden mallet, cut its throat, then roll it into the tin bath where hot water was poured over it and it was scraped clean. Us kids waited until we got its bladder, blew it up like a balloon, and that was our football for the day.”
Dick’s family also kept rabbits, for the pot, and guinea pigs, which were sold for 1s 6d to a man who sold them on to hospitals for medical students to practice on.
As the years roll by, you can feel Dick’s social conscience developing. His father was made redundant as a blacksmith’s striker at the Dean and Chapter Colliery in Ferryhill, his work being transferred to a specialist steelworks at Redcar.
Dick wrote: “After they closed the ovens in 1932, my dad never worked again. He just rotted away. The blacksmith was so depressed at being put out of work that he shot himself. Father, who had an allotment quite near the man’s house, heard the gun go off, never realising what it was. He remembered the time well enough. He said: “It was just before opening time.”
“If men have souls and hell exists then the souls of the men who closed all these things down should rot in hell forever.”
Dick went down the same pit at the age of 15. He was immediately struck by the plight of the underground ponies, whose backs were red raw from bumping the low ceilings.
“When the ponies were lamed, there were no humane killers,” he wrote. “Just the hammer or the pick. Then roll them over, saw their legs off and take them out. My heart used to bleed for them.”
In 1945, Dick’s brother Edward, a year older than him, was killed down Dean and Chapter. He was 33.
“As my brother was going along, some overhanging stone slipped out and pinned him down,” he wrote. “He lay there, in water, for about four hours before he was found. He died just after they got him out.
“At the inquest, the coroner asked the deputy: ‘When you examined this roadway, did you tap or jowl the roof and sides and find it safe?’ The deputy replied: ‘I did.’ “I visited the scene some time later. It was an old abandoned roadway linking two dips. It was used as a short cut. It was fit for neither man nor beast to travel along, with the seam being on the siddle, the overhanging stone from the high side looked like dropping” It was clear to Dick that the deputy had not tapped or jowled the roof. It was clear to Dick that the deputy had lied to the coroner over the cause of his brother’s death.
Dick attended politics nightclasses in Spennymoor where two fellow students were Ferryhill lads who’d been fighting for the left-wing International Brigade in Spain against General Franco.
He also was influenced by Bill Todd, a Communist union official who had his face on the Ferryhill pit banner.
“Bill was leading a demonstration and he was attacked by police,” wrote Dick. “It was a peaceful march and I’ve talked with some lads who were at the head of the banner.
All the parading police said: ‘That’s him there!’ And Billy Todd was struck down.
“They say it was from that blow – the repercussions afterwards – that he had died in 1946. They will always believe that it was that blow that led to his early death.”
In the 1950s, Dick took on, and beat, an old Labour stalwart and became Lodge Delegate.
He championed many miners’ causes, although he had to fight the Labour union apparatus as much as the bosses.
Dean and Chapter Colliery closed in 1966, and after a depressing period on the dole, he found work at Smart and Brown in Spennymoor.
He wrote his 75p booklet as Margaret Thatcher came to power. He concluded: “Today unemployment has revived.
The unthinkable has happened.
We have another Unemployment Centre in the town. I feel that this is a terrible situation. Have we learned nothing? Is it still to be two nations: the haves and the have nots?
“I keep remembering the old saying: ‘Rank is but a guinea stamp. A man’s a man for all that.’”