Matthew Hayes: Undermanager at Birchwood Colliery

Matthew Hayes was once a well-known figure in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire throughout the last half of the nineteenth century. He was best known for his style of Methodist preaching that appealed to the local working classes, especially those from mining backgrounds. It helped that Matthew was born into a coal mining family in Pinxton on 12th of October 1824, so he knew of the struggles faced by the families at that time. It is possible this compassion came from his early years, when his father, John, moved his wife and children to County Durham on the promise of better wages and working conditions.

Image from Wheeler, M., Life of Matthew Hayes “The Colliers’ Spurgeon” (1899), D3239/15

In his adult life he too would go into the mining profession and would eventually become the undermanager at Birchwood Colliery. Before then though, his father had moved the family to County Durham on the promise of better wages and conditions. They lived there between 1832 and 1836, before moving back to Derbyshire. Whilst in Durham, the family would have been looked down upon as the colliery owners had lured miners from around the country to work there under false pretences. These miners were actually employed to replace local miners who had gone on strike. This meant that the local miners had no employment, and had also been kicked out of their houses, which were provide by the colliery companies.

Matthew started working aged 8 as a door trapper. This job involved opening the doors underground to let tubs through. Unlike later in the nineteenth century, the miners were not directly employed by the coal mine owners, but were instead by a contractor, known as a Butty. These Butties wanted maximum coal production as their own wages depended on how many tons were produced. It was these Butties that Matthew later claimed had a long-lasting effect on him and his beliefs, mainly because of the physical beatings and bullying he received from them. When he was older, he became an advocate and leader in strikes for better working conditions for miners. This, alongside witnessing fatal accidents, fuelled his desire to make Methodism applicable to those in the mining communities.

In 1871, he was appointed Undermanager at Birchwood Colliery in Somercotes, a role which enacted safety at the pit. It was obvious that he was a trusted manager and did his job well, especially as he was given a large pension in recognition for his work. The Seely family who owned the colliery were well-known for their kind treatment of their employees. They often helped individual families in the area and set up charitable institutions. A row of terraced houses on Nottingham Road in Somercotes, opposite the Medical Centre, is still called Seely Terrace. Matthew had finally found an employer who aligned with his own beliefs, which is why he spent the rest of his working life with their company. Even after an accident, they offered him lighter work at their depot at Bobber’s Mill in Nottingham.

Image from Wheeler, M., Life of Matthew Hayes “The Colliers’ Spurgeon” (1899), D3239/15

After taking up lighter work, Matthew found the time to preach around the Methodist Circuit in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. He became a local celebrity for it and was highly sought-after. He promised to help spread the gospel to working class people for as long as he was physically able. His emphasis was on hard work, charity and kindness being the core of working-class Christianity. It’s also rather apt this his first sermon was given at Pinxton Wharf Chapel, back in his birthplace.

Sadly in 1897, he suffered a stroke which he never entirely recovered from. It took this to stop his ministry, but even after his death in January 1898, he was praised for his efforts on bringing Christ to the masses in the area. His Christian endeavours were long praised, alongside his empathy for the hard life that many colliery families faced. He is buried at Birchwood Methodist Church, one of many that he had preached in during his later life.


‘Matthew Hayes (1824-1898)- The Colliers’ Spurgeon’,

‘Undermanagers Names,

Wheeler, M., Life of Matthew Hayes “The Colliers’ Spurgeon” (1899), D3239/15

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

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