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Miners and Measles

by Gordon Smith

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the twin miseries which afflicted Blyth in the Jubilee year of 1887. First of all there was the Miners’ Strike. When the general economic downturn produced a fall in the price of coal, the coal owners decided that the only course of action was to reduce the men’s wages by fifteen per cent.

Balloted in January, the men voted five to one in favour of the strike which affected everything in the town. Docks were idle, everyone in the glass works were laid off, even the Theatre Royal closed its doors.

‘Misery, starvation and hunger’ were the order of the day, according to the local newspaper Blyth News.

Blyth Cottage Hospital This plus a measles epidemic! ‘Scarcely a day seems to pass without infant mortalities’, it reported, attributing the high number of deaths to ‘the ill-nourished condition of many of the children’.

‘There were’, said the Blyth News, ‘probably two or three hundred cases of measles’ in the town and district, with Cowpen suffering particularly badly.

The miners were out seventeen weeks in the end, returning to a victory of a cut of some twelve per cent instead of the proposed fifteen. A bare month or so later, the same paper would chide the village for failing to enter ‘heartily and spontaneously’ into the Jubilee celebrations.

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