Matthew Hayes was born at Pinxton, Derbyshire on 12 October 1824, the sixth of a family of thirteen children. He was baptised 25 November the same year at Pinxton. His father, John, like so many men in the area, was a coal miner. At the age of 5 Matthew moved with his family from Pinxton to Portland Row, Selston, as his father worked at the time in a colliery owned by the Butterley Company.
PHOTO: A photograph of Matthew Hayes in later life
In 1832, the family then moved to South Hetton, in County Durham, his father having been lured there by the promise of better wages and conditions, only to find that they were to replace local miners who had been on strike. Many families from the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields had fallen for the same story, and had not been told of the issues that faced them. They were vilified by the Durham miners, who had not only lost their jobs but also their houses to the new workers. It was in this difficult atmosphere that Matthew started work at the age of 8 years at Ellesmore Colliery, in the Durham coalfields. He was employed as a door trapper, opening and closing the air doors for the ganger and coal tubs. He was brutally treated by the Butties, who ran the mines on behalf of the managers and owners. It is thought that his treatment at Ellesmore Colliery had a lasting effect on him.
The family stayed in Durham for four years, until 1836, by which time two of Matthew’s siblings had died. The family returned to Selston and Matthew found work as a ganger at Pinxton No. 3 Colliery. His fortunes, however, did not seem to have changed, as the butty system was just as brutal in Derbyshire as it had been in Durham. He continued to work at this colliery until the miners’ strike of 1844. As he grew older, he gained a reputation as a fighter, and someone who would not be bullied. He also started to attend the Pinxton Wharf Methodist Chapel, where he learned to read and write. Methodism would play a vital role throughout his life, and he preached his first sermon at the chapel in 1843.
Matthew became somewhat of a miner’s leader and agitator for better conditions in the coal mines, and supported the strike of 1844, which lasted for thirteen weeks. The strike, however, ended in victory for the mine owners, and due to Matthew’s involvement he was blacklisted from the mines in the local area. This forced him to move further away, and he eventually found employment at Staveley, where, due to his conscientious work was soon made a deputy. He married Elizabeth Stocks at Staveley in 1845 and continued his work in the local Methodist church, becoming a much sort after preacher.
He eventually returned to Pinxton, and found work as a night deputy. A year later he was made under-manager of the mine. After witnessing a fatal accident at the colliery, Matthew, along with his brother Isaac, returned to Pinxton No 3 pit to work.
By 1849, the Wesleyan Methodist church was in turmoil regarding its future vision and the misappropriation of missionary funds, and which resulted in a split, forming the breakaway United Methodist Free Churches. Pinxton Wharf Wesleyan Chapel became the United Methodist Free Church, but the Somercotes Wesleyan church remained loyal to the founding members, and sold its chapel to the Church of England, which ultimately became the Church of St. Thomas. Matthew’s allegiance moved to the United Methodist Free Church.
At the time of the census taken in 1861, Matthew and his wife, together with their five children were living at Birchwood Lane, South Normanton.
In 1871, he was appointed under-manager at Birchwood Colliery, which was owned by Sir Charles Seely. The Seely family at the time had a local reputation for the support they gave to their workers and to local institutions. Matthew would work for the Seely’s for the rest of his life. His work at Birchwood included upholding the safety regulations which were by then written into Law, and he developed a close relationship with the Seely family through his work. Matthew moved to Birchwood, where he was living at the time of the 1881 census, and became a member of the Birchwood United Methodist Free Church, looking after both the physical and spiritual needs of his neighbours. Around 1887, he was injured at an accident at the colliery, and the owners offered him employment at their depot in Bobbers Mill, Nottingham, which entailed much lighter work, and which he accepted.
Entering old age, Matthew eventually felt that he could no longer continue, and resigned his position at Bobbers Mill, so that he could return to his friends and family at Birchwood. In recognition of the work that Matthew had done for the company, and of the close relationship that had developed, Charles Seely & Co. awarded him a pension equivalent to his normal salary for the rest of his life.
Returning to Birchwood, he continued preaching for as long as he could, and was well-known throughout the area. He suffered a stroke in the summer of 1897 and never fully recovered,. Matthew died on 21 January 1898 and was buried in the graveyard at the Birchwood Methodist Church.
His life and work was remembered in the biography by Matthew Wheeler published in 1899 and titled “The Collier’s Spurgeon or the Life of Matthew Hayes”.
An obituary was published in the Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald on Saturday 29 January 1898, which is transcribed in full below: “DEATH OF MR. MATTHEW HAYES OF BIRCHWOOD; After a lingering illness, the death occurred on Friday last of Mr. Matthew Hayes, a well-known Derbyshire local preacher., at his residence, Birchwood Lane, Alfreton. He had reached the advanced age of 73, and though he had exceeded the allotted span of three score years and ten, until the close of last summer, he always looked in the best of health. But, unfortunately at that time he received a slight stroke which also affected his mental faculties. About a month ago, Mr. Hayes was obliged to take to his bed, and ever since that time he has been more or less unconscious. During the past few days his condition reached a critical state, and it was seen that his end was imminent. Every attention was given to the deceased by Dr. Robson, of Somercotes and Dr. Halpin of South Normanton, but despite their care, he passed away as stated above. He leaves a widow, who is 75 years of age, two sons and four daughters, 32 grand-children and two great grand-children. Three of his brothers are still living in America, the oldest being the Rev. William Hayes, while another brother resides at Pinxton. By his death, a most eventful career has been terminated, and his removal will be an irreparable loss to Nonconformity, especially to that branch with which he was associated. He was born at Pinxton in October 1824, and at the early age of eight years commenced work at the pit. His experience at this stage of his life has been utilised by him in after years as the subject of addresses and lectures on many occasions. Mr. Hayes subsequently went to Birchwood to reside, and was made the undermanager of Birchwood Colliery, near Alfreton, belonging to Sir Charles Seely, whose name will ever be cherished by the deceased’s family for his kindness and generosity he always manifested towards the deceased. When he was past work, he was the recipient of a pension. Subsequently, the deceased was offered the post of manager, but declined the offer for private reasons. He resided at Birchwood for a long time, but about six years ago his health became very unsatisfactory, and he removed to Bobber’s Mill for a time in the hope that the change of residence might improve his condition. He, however, subsequently returned to Birchwood, the change having been efficacious. While at Bobber’s Mill he by no means spent an idle life as far as his religion was concerned, and his services as a preacher and lecturer were eagerly requisitioned. Though he was a Free Methodist, have been connected with that Connexion since its formation, he by no means limited has labours to that denomination. He was offered the ministry on several occasions, but this he declined, preferring to labour gratuitously as a local preacher.
The funeral took place last Sunday afternoon at the Birchwood Free Church, in which burying-ground, the mortal remains were deposited. Mr. J Bettison, of Somercotes, who is a local preacher, and connected with the same chapel as the deceased, performed the obsequies in a most impressive manner. The service was of a simple character. Crowds of people attended the ceremony to witness the last rites, and pay their respects to the deceased. In addition to the immediate relatives, a number of local preachers and other friends of the deceased also joined in the procession. Allusion was made to the deceased at last Sunday’s service at Birchwood Chapel.”
*The word “Spurgeon” used in relation to Matthew Hayes refers to a Baptist Minister named Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), who was influential among Christians of many denominations and was known as the “Prince of Preachers”.