The Row Between the Cages

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This story explores how the song connects to various historical collections and online datasets.

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One photograph of coal miners exiting the mine titled 'Miners help the coal crisis'. Caption on back reads: 'The first cage full of men who answered the call for more coal come up from the coal face after the first Sat, shift at the Sandhole Pit at Winton Lancs'.

Object Number: 1983-5236/43055

Source: https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co8802267/daily-herald-photograph-volunteer-coal-miners-photographic-print

The Row Between the Cages
[by Tommy Armstrong]

Tommy Armstrong lived through the heyday of the Durham Coalfield (1848-1920) and was widely regarded as one of the first radical working class poets. His song, The Row Between the Cages, depicts a fight between two pit cages which took the miners down the shaft to the Brockwell seam at a local colliery, the old cage being determined to show the new one that he is still capable of doing his job just as well as the new improved “youngster”. A.L. Lloyd described this song as a “symbolic epic” which stands as an isolated masterpiece amongst British mining songs.

Photograph: Daily Herald Photograph: Volunteer coal miners One photograph of coal miners exiting the mine titled 'Miners help the coal crisis'. Caption on back reads: 'The first cage full of men who answered the call for more coal come up from the coal face after the first Sat, shift at the Sandhole Pit at Winton Lancs'. OBJECT NUMBER: 1983-5236/43055 Source: https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co8802267/daily-herald-photograph-volunteer-coal-miners-photographic-print

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Cover of the 1978 edition of Lloyd's "Come all ye bold miners".

The song was published in A. L. Lloyd's anthology of miners' songs, titled: "Come All Ye Bold Miners: Ballads & Songs of the Coalfields". The first edition of the anthology was published in 1952. A revised and updated edition was published in 1978.

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Picture of Tommy Armstrong. Taken from Polisses & Candymen - The Complete Works of Tommy Armstrong, ed. Ross Forbes, (DUL ref L+828.4 ARM).

The lyrics of the song have survived in several versions. Lloyd's anthology preserved the original dialect.

The Row Between the Cages

One mornen wen aw went ta wark, th'seet wis most exsiten.
Aw ard a noise en luckt aroond, en we de ye think wis fiten?
Aw stud amaisd en at thim gaisd, te see thim in such raiges,
For aw nivor seed e row like that between th' Brockwil caiges.

Wor aud caige sais: "Cum over th' gaits, becaws it's mei intenshin
To let th' see wethor too or me is th' best invenshin."
Th' neuin been raised, teuk off his clais, then at it thae went dabbin;
Th' blud wis runnen doon th' skeets an past th' weimin's cabin.

Wor aud caige sais: "Let's heh me clais; thoo thwot thit thoo cud flae me,
But if aw'd been is young is thoo, aw's certain aw cud pae thee."
Th' patent knockt hees ankel off, en th' buaith ad cutten fuaices.
Th' shifters rapt three for te ride, so th' buaith went te thor plaices.

Wen gannen up en doon th' shaft, th' paitint caige did threetin
For te tuaik wor audin's life if thae stopt it meeten.
Wor aud caige bawld oot is thae passt: "Thoo nasty dorty paitint,
Rub thee ies eguain th' skeets -aw think too's ardly wakinit."

Th' patint te wor aud caige sais: "Altho aw be a strangoer,
Aw kin work me wark is weel is thoo, an free th' men freh daingor.
Noo, if th' rope shub brick we me, aud skinny jaws, just watch us-
Thoo'll see me clag on te th' skeets, for aw's full e springs en catches."

Wor aud caige te th' paitint sais: "Aw warned thoo think thoo's clivor
Becaws thi'v polished thoo we paint, but thoo'l not last for ivor.
The paint on thoo 'ill wer awae, an then thoo's lost thei beuty;
Th' nivor painted me at aal, en still aw've deun my deuty."

Th' braiksmin browt thim buaith te bank, th' mischeef for te sattil,
Thae fit frae five o'clock te six, en th' paitint won th' battle.
It teuk th' braiksmin half e shift te clag thim up wi plaistors.
Wor aud caige sent hees noatece in, but just te vex th' maistors.

www.traditionalmusic.co.uk

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Music video of "The Row Between the Cages" from the Mining Review Year 11 No.1.

The publication of Lloyd's anthology coincided with the folk song revival in the UK, which made the songs it included more popular. The National Coal Board's monthly newsreel, The Mining Review created a series of video recordings of selected songs from the anthology. The Row Between the Cages (see above) featured in the Year 11 No. 1 edition of the newsreel.

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The Row Between the Cages performed by Bob Fox and Stu Luckley.

Since being featured in the Songs of the Coalfields several people have recorded performances of it. Check out this performance by Bob Fox and Stu Luckley.

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The Row Between the Cages · Thomas Allen · David Haslam

Songs of Northumbria #2

℗ 2008 Mawson and Wareham (music) LTD

Released on: 2008-02-20

Composer: David Haslam
Orchestra: The Northern Sinfonia and Chorus
Music Publisher: Mawson and Wareham (Music) LTD

Even an orchestral version of the song exists now.

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Sign, coal mining, "Winding times no. 1 and 2 pits..".

DETAILS
CATEGORY:Coal Mining
COLLECTION:Lancashire Coal Mining Collection
OBJECT NUMBER:Y2002.19.572
MEASUREMENTS:undefined
TYPE:sign
CREDIT:Gift of Salford Museum and Art Gallery

Source: https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co8412476/sign-coal-mining-sign

Although the text of the song is an anthropomorphism of the cages used at mines and collieries, the importance of cages of objects is demonstrated by the several relevant items that survive in museum collections. See for example this sign (from the collections of the Science Museum) informing the miners about the winding times of the cage.

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Illustration of Harper's Safety Cage published in the Transactions of the Mining Institute. Source: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924096414200&view=1up&seq=172

The design and construction of safe cages preoccupied nineteenth-century mining engineers. The Transactions of The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers still preserves various papers and discussions about the cage designs. You can read a transcription of the relevant volume of the Transactions here: https://mininginstitute.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/NEIMME%20Vol%2016.pdf

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Safety cage for mines constructed by Messrs. Turner, Grey, and Brydon, of Barrow-in-Furness. Source: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Engineering_1870/10/21

The journal Engineering also featured descriptions and designs of safety cages. Here's an illustration featured in one of their issues from 1870.

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