Cumbria’s Great Pearl Rush

‘Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day.‘ (MFGB, 1926)

Miners during the 1926 General Strike

Miners during the 1926 General Strike

In May, 1926, there was a general strike across Britain. This was in response to  a move from coal mines to reduce miners’ wages by 10%-25%, whilst requiring them to work longer hours. In case readers are tempted to make comparisons with modern times, it’s important to realise that miners in 1920s Britain were poor to an extent we can barely comprehend. In 2006, Britons spent an average of 15% of their income on food; in the 1920s, this was closer to 40%. The strike officially lasted for a month, but many Cumbrian miners were unable to return to work until the following winter, and some never found employment again.

Some enterprising west Cumbrians found a way to cut a meagre path through disastrous times. The ‘pearl rush’ started when a London visitor to Ennerdale was noticed standing in the River Ehen, wearing waders and throwing pearl mussels onto the river bank. Continue reading