Before the lamps went out: The Somerset Coalfield on the eve of war, by Keith Trivett

Before the lamps went out: The Somerset Coalfield on the eve of war, by Keith Trivett
Published by the Radstock Museum in 2014, 22 pages. A5 size slim booklet (N7721)

From the preface: As we mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, Keith Trivett looks back to see how prepared the Somerset Coalfield was for what we now know as the First World War... Drawing on local newspapers, including The Somerset Guardian and Radstock Observer and the Somerset & Wiltshire Journal, Keith finds out how everyday life remained largely unaffected by the spectre of war for much of the spring and early summer.

From the first page: People living and working in the area bounded by the Somerset Coalfield had good reason to look forward in a mood of optimism as the calendar marked the start of a new year in January 1914. After several years marked by the closure of a number of collieries, there were signs of a more settled future for those who relied for their living on the wealth of "black gold" buried beneath the Mendip Hills. Long accustomed to alternating periods of comparative prosperity and hard­ship, by the early years ofthe twentieth century they saw output reach a healthy peak of 1,250,000 tons per annum. It showed no sign of declining, despite the closure of a number of pits including Greyfield Colliery in May 1911. The majority of workers made redundant at High Littleton later transferred their skills, along with much of the remaining colliery equipment, to the Duke of War­wick's expanding Burchills Colliery at nearby Clutton.

The closure of Huish Colliery in February 1912 was off-set by the prospects of additional out­put under new ownership at Bishop Sutton and the sinking of a new shaft, to a depth of 1494 feet, at Pensford. Elsewhere the management ofDunkerton Colliery had survived the embittered strike of their workforce in 1909. The pit was now producing 300 tons of coal a week, providing settled employment for some 700 men. Camerton enjoyed the improved transport arrangements offered by the Great Western Railway extension of a single track line from Hallatrow, allowing supplies of coal and other goods traffic to reach new markets through Limpley Stoke. Improvements to working conditions incorporated in the Mines Regulation Act of 1911 had prompted the setting up of rescue centres within ten miles of all collieries employing more than 100 men. A well equipped team was now based at Farrington Gurney.

The tragic accident at Norton Hill in April 1908, with the loss of ten men, was fading from memory although the families of those killed in the pit explosion continued to receive some financial compensation from the Relief Fund. Frank Beauchamp, the colliery owner, and man­agers at Norton Hill had been cleared of responsibility or any suggestion of negligence by the official inquiry and subsequent report to Parliament. Beauchamp continued to extend his business empire within the Coalfield, sometimes in partnership with his brother Louis, as at Farrington Gurney, Braysdown and the Radstock Coal & Wagon Company. However his long-held political ambitions had been quashed when he was rejected by the majority of voters at the General Elec­tion of 1910, when he stood as the Conservative Party candidate.

Sections in the slim booklet include the expanding co-operative society, the weekly news, football success, suffragettes, a difficult meeting for the council, the Cat and Mouse bill, a half compan of territorials, accidents at Dunkerton, the Irish question, Musketry firing at Wellow, the Paulton tornado, the miners outing, improved railway service, the Clutton flower show, and more!

The condition of the booklet is generally very good. The cover is clean and tidy, the staple spine is intact, and all pages are clean, intact, unblemished and tightly bound.