Mounted soldiers with drawn swords charging through a crowd of striking miners

Strikers routed by the Hussars at Howe Bridge
Source: Leigh Chronicle, 1881

The Battle of Howe Bridge took place on 4 February 1881 against the background of an acrimonious strike by 50,000 miners from pits on the Lancashire CoalfieldThe Lancashire and Cheshire Coalfield in North West England was one of the most important British coalfields. Its coal seams were formed from the vegetation of tropical swampy forests in the Carboniferous period more than 300 million years ago. that was characterised by mobs of miners picketing working pits. From 1 January 1881, Lancashire miners were striking The bitter and violent Lancashire miners' strike of 1881 lasted for seven weeks, but ended with no resolution. to protect their rights if they were injured while at work and for three weeks the strike was solid.[1]

The return to work by miners from Fletcher Burrow’sFletcher, Burrows & Company owned collieries and cotton mills in Atherton in northwest England. Gibfield, Howe Bridge and Chanters Collieries exploited the coal seams of the Middle Coal Measures in the Manchester Coalfield. Atherton pits after more than three weeks of union solidarity brought thousands of miners from Ince, Haydock, St. Helens, Wigan and Hindley to a mass meeting in Leigh on 28 January.[1] The Riot Act was read but the crowd headed towards the Fletcher Burrows’ pits at Howe Bridge followed by the Hussars and the police who decided to disperse the crowd.[2] Troopers charged into the strikers amid a hail of stones and flailed at the crowd with staffs, driving the men back towards the police.[3]

The Hussars drew their swords and charged and the mob was scattered in all directions. Soon after three o’clock some of the mob had re-assembled and headed towards the Howe Bridge pits where the shift had just ended. The row recommenced when a group of men leaving the Crombouke Pit were stoned and hailed as “knobsticks” and had to take shelter in nearby cottages. The police chased the mob with truncheons as did the Infantry who had arrived from Haydock.[4] The incident became known as the “Battle of Howe Bridge”.[5]

The Hussars’ victory led a local brassfounder to strike a commemorative medal inscribed “The Battle of Howe Bridge”[4] and a silvermounted riding whip was presented to the Hussars’ sergeant major when they left Leigh on 1 March.[6]

Citations



Bibliography


Challinor, R. (1972). The Lancashire and Cheshire Miners. Frank Graham.
Davies, A. (2004, March). The Battle of Howe Bridge 1881. Past Forward, (38), 8, 9, 10. Retrieved from https://www.wigan.gov.uk/Docs/PDF/Resident/Leisure/Museums-and-archives/archives/Past-Forward/pf38.pdf
Phillips, C. B., & Smith, J. H. (1982). Lancashire and Cheshire from AD 1540 Regional History of England (reprint). Routledge.