My grandfather was a coal miner all his life. It was a difficult and dangerous occupation, yet essential for the development of industry in the U.K. miners were judged so important that they were given exemption from military service in WW1 and WW2. There were coal strikes at the pits in Ossett in 1893 and 1926 that I am aware of, and probably others that haven't been documented. Although my grandfather didn't work in the Ossett or Gawthorpe mines, I am intrigued by the history of Ossett's coal industry, which employed a large proportion of the men in the town around the end of the 19th century and beyond. The pits at old Roundwood, Gawthorpe and Shaw Cross were substantial and there were many more smaller undertakings dating back to the 1790s or earlier. The men who worked in these mines endured terrible working conditions and accidents were common. Much evidence of the many horrific mining accidents in the Ossett coal mines can be found in the archives of the 'Ossett Observer' and I have reproduced just a few of the reported incidents in this account. There were many more.
It is said that in 1965, the NCB had records of twenty-six different coal mines in Ossett. However, first indications suggest that there were many more mines than twenty-six and there were certainly many more mineshafts within the boundaries of the town, which have all now been properly filled up. The old colliery workings at Low Laithes came to national prominence in March 1973 when it was found that a build-up of water in the old workings at the abandoned 19th century pits caused the terrible disaster at Lofthouse Colliery when seven men lost their lives from a huge inrush of water and sludge. It was later estimated that the old mine workings at Low Laithes had become an underground reservoir containing nearly 3 ½ million gallons of water.
Shortly after the disaster, which happened at 2am the 21st March, a surface visit was made to the site of the old Low Laithes Colliery and it was found the Bye Pit was exposed and water could be heard falling down the shaft. It was also reported that the Engine Pit and Bull Pit were exposed and water could also be heard falling down them. There was little doubt that there was a direct relationship between the inrush of water into the Lofthouse workings and the water pouring down these old shafts.
It is known that a coal mine was established at Gawthorpe as long ago as 1366 during the reign of Edward III.
Above: Westfield Colliery circa 1880. Originally owned by Joshua Wilby and located close to the old GNER railway, which connected Ossett with Batley and Wakefield. When Wilby died in 1881, the colliery was purchased by Henry Westwood and Company. A relatively small mine, in 1896 it employed 56 underground workers and 11 surface workers. The manager was Mr. J. Simpkin and the under-manager, Mr. J. Wilkinson.
Smithson's New Park Colliery, Low Laithes
In 1743, James Fenton leased land to extract coal belonging to the Earl of Cardigan in the area surrounding Bushy Beck, near Low Laithes in the townships of Ossett-cum-Gawthorpe, Alverthorpe and West Ardsley. In the event, only a small part of the coalfield was worked and that was in the Ardsley area, because of the difficulty in transporting the coal to the Calder, which was about four miles away.
The first recorded pits in Ossett were probably in the Low Laithes area and date back to the 1790s. Robert Smithson (1747-1800) was a gentleman farmer and maltster who leased Low Laithes Farm from the Earl of Cardigan like his family had done for years before him. Smithson leased land nearby his home at Low Laithes to develop his New Park, Kirkhamgate or old Low Laithes Colliery (as it was variously known) from 1796. In 1798, he and his Wakefield associate, cloth merchant John Charnock (1752-1811), opened their version of New Park colliery and 'Smithson's Tram Road' connecting it with the Calder and Hebble Navigation at Thornes Wharfe, Wakefield. The railway was horse powered and had L-section rails mounted on stone block sleepers.
There was a parallel railway covering almost the same route to collieries (also confusingly called 'New Park Colliery') owned by Smithson's arch rival and Yorkshire coal-king, William Fenton. Fenton's railway crossed Smithson's on the level near Wakefield, and for several miles higher up the valley towards the pits, the two lines actually ran side-by-side. Fenton's railway was powered by bullocks rather than horses.
Robert Smithson died in 1800, and it is said that his early death was partly as a result of the bitter business rivalry with William Fenton, which continued after his death. For a few years, Smithson's collieries and tramway were run by a consortium of trustees headed by Smithson's well-to-do cousin William Smithson (1750-1830) of Ledston Hall and later Heath; his own brother Joshua Smithson and his brother-in-law Thomas Preston of Halifax. In 1818, Robert Smithson's farm and malt business (valued then at £8,906) was bequeathed to his son, also Robert. A three-quarter share in Smithson's collieries and tramway (and the debts due to them) was passed to Smithson's youngest son Joshua Smithson (1791-1867) who continued with the coal business under difficult circumstances until he failed financially in 1850.
During the early years, the relatively small numbers of colliers working in Smithson's pits can be illustrated in the case of Ossett-cum-Gawthorpe by the use of the poor rate assessments as a basis for rating of the number of colliery face workers. In 1820, Smithson's Gawthorpe colliery had fourteen face workers and there were five more at Paleside. By 1823, this had risen to eighteen at Gawthorpe and seven at Paleside.
In 1833, there was a prolonged strike at Smithson's colliery in Ossett. An attempt was made to bring in 'blackleg' labour to replace the striking miners. Joshua Smithson described the plan as a "complete turn-out of colliers". The 'blackleg' labour force was provided with houses and even bedding. Many of the men brought their wives and families to the area. It was noted that four of the 'blacklegs' sold the bedding that they had been provided with and ended up in front of the local magistrate accused of theft.
At the Bye Pit at Low Laithes, Ossett, records show that in 1844, four coal miners, who were aged between 60 and 70 years, earned on average, a weekly wage of £1-1s-3d each. However, at Bye Pit No. 5, seventeen colliers earned up to £1-5s-6d for an eight hour day. For this, they had to fill twenty corves (coal wagons) a day with coal. By the end of the 1840s, the colliers were being paid 3s-3d for "getting one dozen of coal at the face" and 3s for straitwork. Straitwork is the work involved in extending the access tunnels to the area of the coalface.
Fatal Colliery Explosion at Low Laithes - December 3rd 1859
Smithson's colliery had a low fatality rate, although in 1859 when the Low Laithes colliery business had been bought by Benjamin Roberts, there was a fatal accident at Bull Pit and this was recorded as follows:
"Mr. Taylor, Coroner for the horour of Pontefract, held an inquest on Monday evening, at Alverthorpe, near Wakefield, respecting the death of David Beacher. On the 28th November 1859. Beacher and another man, named Brown, were working together at a bank in the Bull Pit of the Low Laithes Colliery, belonging to Mr. Benjamin Roberts, under the direction of John Noble, the steward. Noble told the men to get the coal until they got to the old works ; but he gave no orders about lamps, and they worked with naked candles. Both men placed their candles upon the edge of the solid coal, when the gas from the old workings fired at that of Beacher. The two men were badly burned but Beacher most severely. A third person, a burrier, was also burned. Beacher died from his injuries on Saturday morning last. Verdict - Accidentally burned."
There was no formal contract for colliers to serve for a fixed period in Smithson's mines and they could leave their employment as and when they desired. Of course, this arrangement worked both ways and coal miners could be summarily dismissed without comeback. These were the days before Unions were established.
Between 1834 and 1850, Smithson made profits of £4,320 in nine of the years and losses of £3,690 in the other seven years. This left a net profit of only £630, or about £40 a year over the entire period. Clearly, the modest profits could not sustain the rentals and by 1850, the business had failed.
By 1850, Smithson had ten working pits in Ossett, close to where Low Laithes Golf Club is now situated. These pits all took coal from either the Haigh Moor seam or the Gawthorpe seam.
Ossett Coal Mines
The first recorded instances of coal workings in Ossett date back to the 13th and 14th century after woodland was cleared and coal was beginning to be used as fuel. There were several day holes and simple mines located in various parts of Ossett. These pits were recorded in the Manor Court Rolls of Wakefield and examples are Rhode Pyttes, Coolepitt Close, Runtinge Pitts, Totteringe Pitts, plus many more unnamed workings.
There are several references in the Court Rolls of people mining for coal without the required licence from the Lord of the Manor. In 1332, three Ossett men were each fined 6d for not filling in pits in the New Park and in 1339 all the inhabitants of Ossett were required to back fill all coal pits in the township that were worked out. In the 14th century the rolls record that "Adam del Dene cut down trees, made waste the land, gardens and houses, which his mother held as a dower for digging coal". Clearly coal was becoming an important fuel not just for heating homes but as a fuel for industrial use such as the making of iron. Ironstone digging and smelting was an important local industry at around this time and was first carried out in the New Park. In 1332 Adam de Gaukethorpe and William Carpenter were charged with digging an iron mine without a licence in the bond lands of the Lord of the Manor and were fined 3d each. John Sonman paid the Lord of the Manor 12d for a licence to dig a mine in Gawthorpe for stones to be used for iron smelting.
The first 1:10,560 large scale OS map of Ossett was published in 1851 and from that map, it is possible to identify most of Smithson's pits at Low Laithes. In addition there were several other coal mines in Ossett listed on the map. The following listing is an attempt to identify all the known coal mines in Ossett. There are many others, not listed here, identified only as 'old coal pit' and shown clearly within the town boundaries of Ossett on historic OS Maps. Some of these may have been shallow bell pits and it is known that when the underground reservoir along Chidswell Lane in Gawthorpe was excavated in 1877, between 200 and 300 tons of coal were removed and sold on behalf of the Local Board.
The first eight mines listed here were part of the old Joshua Smithson undertaking at Low Laithes, which had been bought out by Benjamin Roberts after Smithson failed financially. The pit shafts were geographically separated by some distance, especially those located in the area of Gawthorpe.
1. Engine Pit(No. 1), Low Laithes - 35 yards to the Haigh Moor seam, owned by J. Roberts from 1850.
2. Bye Pit(No. 2 ), Low Laithes - 141 yards to the Haigh Moor seam and 71 yards to the Gawthorpe seam, owned by J. Roberts from 1850.
3. Barron's Pit (No. 6), Low Laithes - 120 yards to the Haigh Moor seam and 50 yards to the Gawthorpe seam, owned by J. Roberts from 1850.
4. Barron's Pit (No. 4 ), Low Laithes - 55 yards to the Gawthorpe seam, owned by J. Roberts from 1850.
5. Bull Pit (No. 7), Low Laithes - 140 yards to the Haigh Moor seam, owned by J. Roberts from 1850.
6. Lower Park Farm, Gawthorpe - 120 yards to the Haigh Moor seam, owned by J. Roberts from 1850.
7. Lodge Hill, Gawthorpe (Nos. 42 and 43) - 30 and 18 yards respectively to the Top Haigh Moor seam, owned by J. Roberts from 1850.
8. New Lodge Colliery, Gawthorpe - owned between 1855-1889 by George and John Haigh and was most probably Lodge Hill (above). In 1874, the manager of the colliery, William Haigh and two under-managers, John and Isaac Oates were prosecuted at Dewsbury Petty Sessions for offences brought by the government inspector of mines, Mr. Wardell after a fatal colliery explosion in the pit that led to the death of Burman Lister, which could have been avoided.
"FATAL COLLIERY EXPLOSION 1 - On Saturday evening, a hurrier, named Burman Lister, of Ossett Street Side, near Dewsbury, died from the effects of an explosion of firedamp at the Gawthorpe Colliery on the previous afternoon. Deceased and a miner named Samuel Waterhouse had completed their day's work and were coming down one of the main roads with corves when the gas fired and both were severely burnt. Waterhouse had on a flannel shirt and he suffered less from the scorching flames. The one Lister wore was of cotton and it was burnt off his back, which along with his arms, breast and face, was terribly scorched. The explosion caused great excitement among the miners and the injured men having been brought to the surface, the others were raised without delay. Lister died, as above stated, on Saturday evening. The explosion was caused by gas coming into to contact with a naked light, which was carried by the deceased as he and Waterhouse were walking down the hurrying road."
"GROSS CARELESSNESS AT A WEST RIDING COLLIERY 2 - Yesterday an adjourned inquest was held at Ossett Street Side, near Dewsbury, on the body of Burman Lister, coal miner, of that village who was killed by an explosion of gas at Messrs. Haigh's colliery, Gawthorpe on the 4th inst. Mr. Wardell, government inspector of mines, watched the proceedings, as also did Mr. Pickard, secretary of the West Riding Miners' Association. Evidence was given that on the 4th inst., about half-past one, the deceased and another youth named Waterhouse came along the main air-road with lighted candles, they having ceased work for the day. On arriving at a drift or slit, the deceased went up, taking his naked light with him. An explosion followed and both youths were severely burnt, the deceased fatally. It transpired at the inquest that a labourer had several weeks ago received instructions to build a wall some distance up the drift, but to leave a hole, a foot square for ventilation. This he did, but about ten days before the accident he filled up the hole with dry bricks, not knowing, he told the jury, that he was doing anything wrong. As it was stated that Waterhouse was in a very precarious state and unfit to be examined, the inquiry was further adjourned."
"THE LATE FATAL COLLIERY EXPLOSION AT GAWTHORPE 3 - Yesterday, the adjourned inquest was held on the body of Burman Lister, hurrier, who died on September 5th from injuries he received the previous day at Gawthorpe Colliery, through an explosion of fire-damp. From the evidence, it appeared that the deceased and a young man named Waterhouse were coming down the hurrying road and when opposite a disused working they both stopped and Waterhouse began to dress himself, having previously stuck a lighted candle in some clay on the corve. Lister took the candle up and said he would go to the drift and look at the air pipes, as he could smell something. His companion told him to keep the candle down. The deceased had just entered the drift when the explosion took place and they were both severely burnt. The jury recorded a verdict of "Accidental Death."
"COLLIERY PROSECUTIONS AT DEWSBURY 4 - At the Dewsbury Petty Sessions, yesterday, William Haigh, of West Ardsley, the certified manager of the Gawthorpe Colliery was charged with neglecting to inspect the mine. John and Isaac Oates, underviewers, were summoned for - the one for neglecting to enter in a book kept for the purpose, the state of the mine and the other with neglecting to fence off a drift in which there was an accumulation of inflammable gas and with neglecting to exhibit a danger signal there. Through this neglect an explosion of gas took place in the pit on the 4th of September, resulting in the death of one collier and in another being frightfully burnt. Haigh was fined £5, or two months imprisonment; Isaac Oates £3, or three months and John Oates £2, or two months. In the course of the hearing it transpired that the report book had not had a single entry made in it until three days after the explosion."
Burman Lister was just 16 years of age when he died. Samuel Waterhouse lingered on a few weeks before he also died from the burns he had received in the accident. The five pound fine that William Haigh, the colliery manager received is the equivalent of about £360 today on the basis of RPI inflation. Less than four months later, another miner would lose his life at Gawthorpe Colliery as a result of a terrifying fire in January 1875:
"A COLLIERY ON FIRE 8 - Fire was discovered to have broken out on Friday (8th January 1875) in the colliery at Gawthorpe, near Dewsbury, belonging to Messrs. J. and G. Haigh, and it is believed was caused by a hurrier boy accidentally igniting a canvas brattice by his lighted candle. Seventy men and boys were in the mine at the time and great alarm was occasioned, as the flames spread to a quantity of wood and then set fire to the face of the coal. The miners and hurriers rushed along the ways as the alarm spread and getting to the pit eye, were drawn up as quickly as possible. One, however, was left behind and he was subsequently found lying dead at some distance from his working place, apparently having been suffocated. His name was Richard Oldroyd, aged 39, and he leaves a widow and children. One of the miners that had got to know that a fire was raging, called to Oldroyd as he ran past his working place, but the deceased was rather deaf, and it is supposed he did not hear the warning cry of his fellow worker, and was not made aware of the danger until he felt the suffocating gas. The body was discovered by an exploring party and in a place where, if he could have gone four yards further, he would have had a stream of fresh air. The progress of the flames was arrested in the course of the day by stoppings being built and there is reason to believe that the fire has been extinguished."
In the 'Ossett Observer' 24th November 1888, the following piece was printed concerning a colliery strike and it gives us an idea of the size of the colliery and the attitude of the owners to their workforce:
"The miners employed at Messrs G & J Haigh's Gawthorpe Colliery, about 30 in number, recently went on strike for a 10% advance in wages. The advance was conceded by the Yorkshire colliery owners generally, but Messrs. Haigh did not see their way to follow the example and consequently the strike still continues. Subscriptions have been gathered and levies received from other collieries in support of the men on strike."
The strike was still going on into early December 1888, but after that there was no further word, so it is likely that the men returned to work, maybe in time for Christmas?
9. Wheatley's Colliery, Shepherd Hill, Flushdyke. In 1831, a Wakefield barrister and land speculator, Thomas Foljambe (1775-1851) purchased land at Hagg's Lane, near to Woollin's Roundwood mine, which he rented to another Wakefield man, Samuel Rhodes, for the purpose of mining for coal. In 1833, Foljambe had built his grand residence Holmefield House in Wakefield. Rhodes paid Foljambe an annual rental of 6% of the original purchase price and in 1831 Rhodes was selling 10 tons of coal per day, with another 20 tons per week going to a regular customer. Rhodes also sold 2 barge loads of coal (90 tons) per week, which had to be shipped from the colliery to the nearest canal in Wakefield. Rhodes died in early 1838 and by 1839, his widow had gone bankrupt. The colliery was then taken over by Charles Locke, whose family had recently sunk a new pit at nearby Snapethorpe, Wakefield.
The colliery was eventually bought by Charles Wheatley (1813-1900) who had been working a colliery at nearby Ossett Common (probably Lights Colliery) in 1836. Wheatley was a Mirfield colliery owner with significant land holdings in Ossett, some of which he had inherited from the Haigh family, who were also coal masters. In 1851, Wheatley had 110 men and 140 boys working in his coal mines. The Ossett colliery at Shepherd Hill was likely to be a relatively small undertaking and may even have been a day hole, which was simply a drift mine dug into the side of a hill. Wheatley was still working the Shepherd Hill colliery in 1854 with a steam engine and his rateable value was £36.
Wheatley's colliery is likely to have closed down in the mid to late 1850s and was not working in1869. Wheatley was by then operating the Hagg Wood and Whitley Wood day holes in Dewsbury; the Bradley and Helm coal mines in Huddersfield and the Ledgard Bridge and Calder Day Holes at Mirfield. The latter mine, with an entrance on the bank of the canal close to Greenwood Lock, was driven into the hillside below Sands House, Wheatley's opulent Mirfield residence. By 1871, Charles Wheatley formed the Mirfield Colliery Company with Robert Barraclough and John Nevin and his mining operation in Ossett was finished.
10. Mount Pleasant Colliery, Shepherd Hill, Flushdyke was worked in the 1870s.
11. Love Lane Colliery, Love Lane, Pildacre.
12. Greaves Colliery, off Bridle Lane, Gawthorpe. Owned between 1855-1872 by Wilson and Co. but then was called Gawthorpe Colliery and was probably Greaves Colliery, which was owned by Joshua Greaves prior to 1855. The pit finally closed 1872.
13. Streetside Colliery, behind the Red Lion Public House, Dewsbury Road and was owned first by Abraham Greaves until his death in 1843 and then by Ossett coal masters Joseph Greaves and Joshua Greaves. The colliery had four face workers in 1836.
14. Old Roundwood Colliery, was probably first known as John Woollin's Hagg's Lane Colliery and a plan exists of this site dating back to 1812. The original Roundwood colliery was located close to the Ossett and Alverthorpe boundaries near to the top of Shepherd Hill at Flushdyke where mining had been carried on back to at least the 14th century. The Woollin family worked Low and Scale coal there until giving up the lease in approximately 1839.
The colliery at Roundwood first established in 1847 by Terry, Dawson and Greaves was said by John Oldroyd Greaves to be "a very small affair at the top of Flushdyke Hill about one mile to the north of the later Roundwood colliery." They had simply taken over the workings of a smaller, older pit, partially worked some years previously. The older pit was most likely Woollin's pit, closed in 1839.
In 1847, Wakefield mining engineer, John Oldroyd Greaves (1824-1916), the son of Ossett coal master Abraham Greaves (1794-1842) founded the Old Roundwood colliery with two other investors in the name of Terry, Dawson and Greaves. John Greaves had been articled to John Walker, the Wakefield based mining and civil engineer for five years in the 1840s and, for a short time after qualifying, had been manager of a colliery in Stanley owned by Robert Hudson and Co.
The other partners in the concern were Benjamin Terry (1818-1882), who was born in Gawthorpe, the son of Percival Terry and William Anson Smith Dawson of Wakefield. Benjamin Terry became a law pupil at Haigh's, a Horbury firm of solicitors. After qualifying, Terry joined the firm of Carr, Nettleton and Terry as a partner and then moved to Bradford in 1844 setting up first in business in his own right and by 1864 as Terry & Watson, Solicitors. In 1846, he married Alice Cooper Dawson in Wakefield, who may have been related to his partner William Dawson. Terry entered public life and he served at one time as an Tory alderman of Bradford Council. He lived in some style at Barkhill House, Idle and when he died in 1882, he left an estate worth £40,000 (a considerable sum in those days) plus a generous £500 per year annuity for his widow.
Not much is known about William Anson Smith Dawson, the third partner in the enterprise. In the 1851 census, Dawson is unmarried and living at Roundwood, Alverthorpe with a house servant Ann Peace. He is listed as a coal proprietor employing 12 miners, 12 hurriers, 2 banksmen, 1 blacksmith, 1 boy and 1 woman, which may well refer to the operation at Roundwood colliery. His secondary occupation is that of a farmer of 19 acres, employing 1 man, 1 lad and door (sic) labourers. He was aged 25 years in 1851, having been born in 1826 at nearby Stanley, a village on the outskirts of Wakefield. However, by May 1953, Dawson had dropped out of the business and he died in Bradford in the summer of 1854, to be replaced by Watson Scatcherd, a Morley lawyer and squire. The three partners each putting up a sum of £500. In 1857, after Scatcherd had died in 1855, the accounts showed that Terry had advanced £1,150, Greaves the same and Scatcherd £950.
When Scatcherd died, the business was carried on as Terry, Greaves and Co. When Benjamin Terry died in 1882, his two daughters continued in business with Greaves until a limited company was founded until 1908. Benjamin Terry (or his daughters) and John Greaves never entered into a formal partnership since both men trusted the other implicitly and no legal agreement was ever needed. Perhaps as a result of the death of Scatcherd, the partners considered selling the colliery in 1857. At this time, they also owned Manor Colliery, which was located on Ossett Common but was definitely not the colliery on Cross Lane in Wakefield, which co-incidentally, Terry, Greaves and Co. did purchase much later.
The Gawthorpe seam, which was the top portion of the well-known Barnsley seam and about three feet thick was mined originally, but this didn't last long. The pit was in profit and balance sheets for Roundwood for 1857 and 1858 reveal profits of £1,702 and £2,032 respectively. However, if they were to continue, some serious decisions had to be made. Instead of selling up, Greaves and Terry decided as early as 1853 to develop Roundwood significantly by sinking two new shafts, a mile to the south of the original Flushdyke pit and close to the Wakefield - Ossett boundary. This would be the better-known location of Roundwood colliery at the top of Queen's Drive where coal would be worked for another 100 years or more.
The second significant decision was to establish a railway link to Roundwood and an agreement was made in July 1860 with the Bradford, Wakefield and Leeds Railway to build a mineral railway link to the Ossett Branch so that coal could be transported from Roundwood to more distant markets. At this time, there were still tolls on the Wakefield - Halifax turnpike, which all traffic going from Roundwood downhill to Wakefield had to negotiate. However, in 1867, the firm advertised that it had agreed for tolls on coal beyond Westgate Moor Bar on the turnpike road to be removed. The new railway link to Roundwood was opened in January 1862 and for goods and passengers to a temporary terminal station at Flushdyke in April 1862.
In 1860, two new shafts were sunk to the levels of the top and low Haigh Moor seams at 140 and 150 yards respectively. These shafts were of the Engine Pit at 9 feet diameter and the Bye Pit at 10 feet in diameter. Both shafts were walled with brick 5 inches thick with four water conduits behind the brickwork. The Engine Pit was sunk five yards below the bottom of the coal to form a sump and the Bye shaft was widened to 13ft at the bottom.
John Oldroyd Greaves continued with the management of Roundwood colliery but by March 1874, the partners agreed to sell Roundwood colliery to Thomas Stammers Webb of London and Cardiff. There had been a period of prosperity in the coal industry prior to 1874, but from 1874 there was a period of continued depression. Webb agreed to take a 5-year lease on Roundwood, with power to take on a 31-year lease for £35,000, the vendors agreeing to work the colliery and pay any profits to Webb if he had first paid an initial £1,000 to them. Webb formed a new company, The Consolidated Collieries Co. Ltd. with a proposed capital of £180,000 in £10 shares. The plan was for the company to take over three collieries - the New Forest Colliery in Neath, Glamorgan and the Bush Colliery, near Cardiff were the other two. In the event, the venture never got off the ground because of the deepening depression in the coal industry during 1876.
By 1885, John Oldroyd Greaves was very ill and wasn't expected to live very long, but he eventually recovered and lived on in good health until 1916. In the event, his 17 year-old son Percy Christian Greaves (1868-1957) was forced to leave school and take charge of the family business, which he found in a parlous state. Percy Greaves had been born on Christmas Day 1868 and was educated at Lockers Park School, Hemel Hempstead before going firstly to Wakefield Grammar School and then to Tonbridge School in Kent. Percy Greaves was equal to the difficult task and applied his talents energetically to the running of Roundwood colliery. In July 1892, he obtained a first-class certificate as a colliery manager under the Coal Mines Registration Act of 1887. At the time he was living at 69, Westgate, Wakefield with his parents.
In 1889, Percy Greaves was responsible for the sinking of the new upcast shaft to a depth of 200 yards to the Silkstone seam. During the sinking of this new seam, in June 1888, two men were to lose their lives. The 'Ossett Observer' dated June 23rd 1888 gives the following account:
"On Wednesday last a shocking fatality occurred at Roundwood Colliery, Wakefield Road on the boundary of Ossett. At present the Haigh Moor seam of coal is being worked, at a depth of 160 yards from the surface; but the proprietors of the colliery, Messrs. Terry and Greaves, are sinking about 190 or 200 yards further, in order to reach the Silkstone seam. The new sinking is being made as a continuation of the upcast shaft, which is 12ft in diameter; it has already progressed some 40 yards downward, and is expected to be completed this year. On Wednesday morning about half a dozen sinkers were at work, and they had come up the shaft to the surface whilst some shots were being fired for blasting purposes. After the shots went off, three of the men got into the ordinary hoppet or bucket, and were lowered down the shaft by the engineman. In descending they had to pass the mouth of a ventilating furnace and there is some reason to suppose that this may have induced them to change their position in the hoppet. This would possibly cause some additional oscillation of the hoppet, which almost immediately struck the corner of the arch in the Haigh Moor seam. All three men were thrown out, but one of them, named Patrick O'Brien, of Wakefield, managed to clutch the edge of the hoppet. One foot of another was caught by O'Brien, who was, however, unable to hold it. Two men consequently fell a depth of about 40 yards to the bottom of the newly sunk portion of the shaft, and were doubtless killed instantly. O'Brien, however, reached the bottom in safety. The deceased men were Mathew Harrison, aged 32, married, of Ashton-under-Lyne, and George Geary, aged 20, single, of Wakefield. Harrison had only commenced working at the colliery the previous day."
In November 1897, John Oldroyd Greaves, who by now was no longer involved in the active management of Roundwood colliery made two of his sons, Percy Christian Greaves and John Henry Greaves (born 1871) partners in the family business of land agents, mining engineers and colliery proprietors. Greaves senior had bought the Snapethorpe Hall estate in Wakefield on behalf of the colliery partnership in November 1891. Meanwhile, Percy Greaves, despite his tender years, was able to take the running of the family business in his stride and he soon became one of the leading mining experts in northern England. Percy Greaves' obituary that appeared in the "The Times" newspaper on Friday, 25th October 1957 says this of him:
"comparatively few days passed when he was not to be seen at the pit-head or down the shaft of one of his own collieries or one of those of the many people who readily consulted him as, perhaps, the best known mining engineer in the north. His pride in his own pits was unbounded. He knew the men and their problems personally. He was at the forefront in the introduction of new methods, making for safety and efficiency, and it was his proud boast, evoking the sincere admiration of his many friends that, from 1886 until the nationalization of the mines (1947), none of the groups of collieries under his control had ever suffered a single strike apart from the national strikes, which affected the whole country."
By 1896, the manager of Roundwood was Mr. F. Flint, and the under-manager was Mr. H. Farrant. There were 619 underground workers and 129 surface workers. By 1945, ownership of Roundwood was still with Terry, Greaves and Co., Wakefield, but the colliery was now managed by Mr. H. H. Burton with two under-managers. Mr. H. Newell and Mr. J. Morley. There were now 521 underground workers and 120 surface workers.
Above: Picture of Old Roundwood Colliery from the early 1900s. The building on the right-hand side of the picture is a brickworks. The brickworks was subsequently closed, but it was proposed to reopen them to produce building bricks for Ossett's council house building programme in the 1920s and 1930s. In the event, this never happened and bricks were sourced elsewhere.
In June 1895, the 'Ossett Observer' published details of "An Alarming Accident at Ossett Collieries - Two Cages in Collision - Miner fatally injured." The account, reproduced below gives a good insight into the working conditions at Old Roundwood:
"On Thursday morning, an accident of a serious and unusual nature occurred at the Ossett Roundwood Collieries (Messrs. Terry, Greaves and Co.) There are three seams of coal, worked by means of three separate shafts. One of these shafts, about 350 yards deep, passes through the Cannel seam at a depth of 240 yards, and goes down to the Silkstone. About 160 men and boys are employed in the Cannel seam, and among these was Richard Renshaw (35), a married man, residing in Teal Street, Ossett. Renshaw was a hanger-on in the Silkstone seam, and about quarter past six o'clock in the morning, he was ascending in one of the cages, a two-decker, to the Silkstone "landing". The cages are guided by "thimbles" working on wire conductors of 1.5 inches in diameter. Through some unexplained cause, the ascending cage came into contact with the brickwork at the side of the shaft, and almost immediately afterwards collided with the descending cage. Owing to the velocity with which the cages were travelling, the collision damaged both, and gave a terrible shock to poor Renshaw, who was in the descending cage alone. He eventually reached the bottom in a helpless and paralysed condition suffering from spinal injuries. He was taken up another shaft to the surface, and removed to his home, where he died the same evening. Work in the Cannel seam had to be suspended for two days."
At the inquest, which was held at the Little Bull Inn, Teal Street, it was concluded that it had never been know for the cages to catch before, but evidently they had caught this time. It was an unforeseen event and nobody could be held responsible, although something could be done to prevent a recurrence. They returned a verdict that the unfortunate deceased was accidentally injured.
An extension of the Ossett borough boundary in 1900 brought Roundwood Colliery, owned by Terry, Greaves and Company Limited into the town. Mining ceased at this pit in April 1966.
Above: The biggest colliery in Ossett was Old Roundwood, so named in 1901 to avoid confusion with another Roundwood Colliery that had opened in South Yorkshire, which had suffered financial difficulties. Roundwood was opened in 1847 and finally closed in 1966. Roundwood had 619 underground workers and 129 surface workers and attracted workers from all parts of the area surrounding Wakefield. Many miners from the Barnsley coalfields moved to Roundwood and settled in the Ossett Spa area.
Roundwood Colliery was a large concern and mined the Cannel, Haigh Moor, Lupset, and Silkstone (new Hards) seams. It was noted in the 'Ossett Observer' dated 20th March 1948 that the following accident occurred at Old Roundwood:
"Twelve miners at Old Roundwood Colliery were injured, including two men with broken legs, when the cage taking them down to the Silkstone Seam for the night shift got out of control for the last 40ft of the descent and crashed into the sump boards. The engine winder had fainted at the controls in the engine house."
Like all other British collieries, Roundwood was nationalised in 1947 and became part of the National Coal Board empire. Old Roundwood colliery was finally closed in April 1966.
Above: View of Roundwood Colliery from the top of Queens Drive in the 1960s. After the pit was demolished, what is now the Holiday Inn was built on part of the old pit site
15. Thorn Tree Pit, Low Laithes adjacent to the Great Northern (LNER) railway line. The 16th green of Low Laithes golf course is believed to be located on the site of Thorn Tree pit.
16. Dewsbury Lane was opened before 1856 and closed in 1877. Owned between 1856-1870 by W. Hallas and between 1862-1876 by W. Gartside. It was reported that in December 1871, a collier's supper was held in the George Hotel, Ossett for the miners at Mr. Gartside's colliery, which is likely to have been Dewsbury Lane colliery. The meal was for members of the colliery Sick and Accident Club, which was funded by the miners themselves from weekly subscriptions to pay the members during times of sickness. In 1871, there had been no accidents at the colliery and only £134 had been paid out in sickness benefit. The managers of the colliery, Messrs. T. Westwood and J. Wilkinson were praised by the men for their work at the colliery. Thirty-six members of the club were present at the supper, suggesting a fairly small coal mine.
17. Field Lane Colliery, Gawthorpe near to the Flying Horse public house. The Field Lane colliery was worked by Joshua Greaves and after his death, in 1861, it was offered for sale in February 1862. The advertisement in 1862 mentioned that the colliery was powered by a steam engine and that there was a 3ft seam of coal at a depth of 30 yards with three leases - two expiring in 1877 and one in 1881. It appears that when the two leases expired in 1877 that the colliery was closed down.
Some more details about Field Lane Colliery following a particularly suspicious accident resulting in the death of 19 year-old Richard Broad:5
"WANTON OUTRAGE NEAR DEWSBURY - A MAN KILLED: On Thursday night last, an inquest was held at the Shoulder of Mutton Inn, Gawthorpe, before Mr. Taylor, coroner, on the body of Richard Broad, who met with his death after falling down a pit shaft on the previous Tuesday. Mr. Morton, the Government inspector of mines, was in attendance and watched the case, in consequence of the pit rope having been maliciously cut.
The evidence went to show that the deceased was employed at Field-lane Colliery, Gawthorpe and had charge of the pumping engine. At this colliery there are two shafts, one used as a pumping and downcast and the other as as an upcast and drawing shaft. The only apparatus for reaching the bottom of the former is a windlass and a rope an inch and a quarter in diameter, and when men wish to go to the bottom, they attach a man-loop to the end of the rope. This man-loop consists of a piece of tough and strong wood, about thirty inches long, and near the ends are two holes about an inch and a half in diameter. Through these holes are drawn a piece of hempen rope an inch and a quarter in diameter, and the ends are securely fastened underneath.
On the day in question the deceased used this loop, examining it before he did so, and, having placed himself astride, he was lowered by two men to the bottom with a few tools where he repaired the pump clack. Having finished his work, he gave the signal for ascending, and was raised to within half a yard of the platform, when the rope of the man-loop gave way at once close to both holes, and he was precipitated to the bottom. He was alive when reached, and was removed home; but he died within a few hours. Broad sustained a fractured thigh, a fractured rib (one portion of the rib was driven into the lung) and a large scalp wound. Dr. Thornton, Church St,, Dewsbury and Mr Greenwood, Surgeon, Ossett attended.
The broken rope was examined by the jury and was unanimously pronounced to have been cut. It ought to have borne half a ton without danger. The deceased was a small, spare youth of nineteen years of age. An open verdict was returned. In the meantime the police are making active inquiries in the matter. No person was criminated by the evidence offered to the inquest."
18. Ossett, owned by Messrs Haigh - but as yet unidentified.
19. Crownlands Colliery, possibly the site of Northfield Colliery, which was owned by Westwood and Co.
20. West Field, owned by Joshua Wilby when it was opened in 1863. The colliery closed in 1908. In 1896, the owner was Westwood and Co., Ossett. Manager: J. Simpkin, Under-Manager: J. Wilkinson. In 1896 there were 56 underground workers and 11 surface workers. West Field colliery mined the Beeston, Middleton and Haigh Moor seams.
21. Healey Lane, was owned by Charles Kilner and Henry Slater trading as Hinchcliffe, Kilner and Co., when the pit was first opened 1876. However, their partnership was dissolved in June 1886. Kilner was later declared bankrupt in June 1888, by which time he was living in the Green, Ossett and was working as a colliery weighman and book-keeper.
By 1896 the owners were John Wilby and Edward Mortimer, both of Ossett. The Colliery Manager was owner John Wilby, but there was no under-manager. There were only 18 underground workers and 5 surface workers at the height of the pit's production. The Yorkshire Sheet 247.08 Ossett (SW) & Combs 1905 map (O.S. reprint from 1890) by Alan Godfrey clearly shows a pit near the bottom of Healey Lane with a day hole linked by tramline to a series of buildings, which may have had pit shafts. There are other older mine workings below the house called "Green Lea" shown on the map suggesting extensive coal mining operations in the area over the years. The colliery closed in 1899.
22. Ox Close, was owned in 1880 by the Flockton Coal Co. Limited. Ox Close opened in 1873 and closed in 1881. The pit was sunk between 1873 and 1878. The owners between 1873-1875 were Whitworth and Co. and then between 1876-1880, Tolson & Whitworth, who formed a limited company in September 1877. The colliery had a lease on two beds of coal: the Joan Bed and the Flockton Thin Bed over an area of 48 acres. 11
The pit was not yet operational in 1877 as this excerpt taken from the "Ossett Observer" on the 11th August 1877 reporting an accident to a miner shows:
"On Tuesday evening last, shortly after 5 o'clock, a rather serious accident occurred at the new coal pit being opened out by Messrs. Whitworth & Co. in Runting Lane. A heavy piece of pump gearing weighing about 4 tons was being lowered down the shaft by means of a capstan and two-inch ropes. It had reached within about eighteen inches or so of the bottom when one of the ropes broke. Two men who were at the bottom fortunately got out of the way. The half-dozen men who held the capstan bars, feeling the jerk, and being startled, let go, with the exception of one, a miner, named John Grace, who was instantly knocked off his feet and thrown to the ground. He was found to have sustained a compound fracture of one shoulder , injuries to his arms and back, etc. On his removal to his house at Ossett Common in a cab he was attended by Mr. J.G. Wiseman, surgeon, and is, as we hear, progressing as well as can be expected. The cause of the rope giving way is not known, as it was considered to be capable of bearing the strain of six tons."
Ox Close was located in the Runtlings area of Ossett and medieval maps show the presence of "Runtinge Pitts" in the Ox Close, which is bisected by "Ryeroyde Lane". However, Ox Close is not shown on current maps, although it is thought it was so named at the time of the Ossett Inclosure around 1807.
23. Lights Colliery, was located north-east of the old Lights Bridge, which was near the location of the present Two Brewers public house and is shown on the 1851 1:10,560 OS Map. Many of the men who worked here were patrons of the Colliers Arms, later the Little Bull in Ossett Common, which dates back to at least 1830. The Wakefield Manor Rolls for 1709 refer to a small colliery at Ossett Lights and between 1712 and 1752, the colliery was operated there by Joseph Naylor.
Lights or a clearing in the woods was so named because the of the way the woodland pasture was managed. Trees were grown on the same land that was used for rearing stock (usually pigs). The branches of the trees were cut and used for fuel, fencing or building. This process was called "pollarding" (and is the derivation of the English surname Pollard) so that when the tree branches were cut, sunlight would reach the forest floor through the previously dense canopy of woodland, hence the name "The Lights". Ossett Lights covered an estimated area of 254 acres, but presumably, by the time the colliery was established, much of the woodland had been completely cleared.
24. Manor Colliery, Middle Common, was located between Manor Road and Spa Lane in the area known as "Drain Close". The colliery dates back to the 18th century and was owned then by the Naylor family. Later, in 1857, the colliery proprietor was John Mitchell who, according to the 1843 Tithe Map of Ossett rented the land at Drain Close from the Ingham. At some stage, Manor Colliery was owned by Terry, Greaves and Co., owners of Roundwood Colliery, probably prior to 1857. Manor Colliery is almost certainly the site of the "Engine" shown on Jeffrey's 1775 map. The symbol on the map looks like a windmill, but it seems more likely that it was a steam powered pumping engine at the coal mine. The local press13 and 14 in 1857 describes a fatal accident at the colliery, which gives us some indication of the scale of operations:
"A MAN KILLED BY FALLING DOWN A COAL PIT SHAFT"
"Mr. Taylor, coroner for the town of Pontefract, held an inquest, on Saturday last at the Weaver's Arms, Ossett, on the body of Joseph Rushworth, blacksmith, 46 years of age. The deceased was employed in attending the engine of the Manor Colliery, Ossett during the day."
(NOTE: Manor Colliery is given as located in Middle Common, Ossett and in the ownership of colliery proprietor John Mitchell in the Leeds Mercury report of the same accident on 22nd December 1857).
"Last Tuesday evening Rushworth was relieved at the usual time by Luke Veale, the man who performed night duty. Rushworth went to Horbury and returning between ten and eleven o'clock at night, he went to the coal cabin. At that time he was tipsy. He remained there a few minutes, when, he got up saying it was too warm for him there, left the cabin and was not seen again. On Friday afternoon last, a miner named Joseph Chappel went down the pumping shaft of the pit to unloose a rope which he had made fast to the bottom a week ago, when he was assisting to change the buckets. When he got about forty yards down the shaft, he saw the body of Rushworth suspended by a stay, his head and legs resting on the plank. The body was mutilated, the legs broken, and the jaw-bone crushed in. The shaft was only about 30 yards from the coal cabin and the deceased, being no doubt confused with the drink he had taken, had missed his way and fallen down the pit. Verdict -found dead with fractures."
25. Park Lane, Ossett was opened in 1862 and closed 1885. Owners between 1862-1874 were Cliffe and Co. then between 1876-1885, G & J Haigh. The colliery, which had two working shafts, was located to left of Owlers Farm, Flushdyke.
26. Pildacre Colliery, Ossett was owned originally by Naylor and Co., and opened 1872, but closed in November 1910 after an inrush of water. By 1896 owners were John Naylor and Co., Ossett. Manager: S. Broadbent and Under-Manager: J. Mann. There were 232 underground workers and 25 surface workers in 1896. Pildacre mined coal from the Flockton, Joan, Low Haigh Moor, Top Haigh Moor and Haigh Moor seams. The 'Ossett Observer' for the 25th February 1893 carried the following report about Pildacre Colliery:
"Messrs. John Naylor and Co. Ltd. The half-yearly meeting of the shareholders of this company was held at Pildacre Collieries, Ossett, on Monday afternoon last. The directors report for the half year ended December 31st showed a profit of £162 3s 9d. The Chairman, Mr. Edwin Mitchell J.P. in moving the adoption of the report, said that the directors had continued the policy of developing and improving the efficiency of the colliery plant and workings, and were now in a position to produce about 1,500 tons of coal per week from the Joan and Flockton beds. Since the beginning of August last they had incurred considerable expense in opening out the Cannel seam at Pildacre, which was of a very fine quality and satisfactory thickness; next winter they hoped to send out a respectable quantity of Cannel, the price of which was much higher than black coal. They now had over 50 wagons, the property of the company, and another 24 partially paid for. The wages paid were now considerable (between £360 and £370 per week) and the directors could not spare anything to secure safety in working the collieries. A man's life was of more consequence than a dividend. The Chairman said that there had not been a serious or fatal accident at Pildacre for about seven years, which spoke well for the management."
27. New Low Laithes, owned by the Low Laithes Colliery Co. Ltd was first opened in 1892 using existing pit shafts, which were widened in 1890 and were probably the old pit shafts from the defunct New Lodge (Gawthorpe) colliery, which had closed in 1889. In September 1890, two local men employed as pit sinkers at New Low Laithes: Michael Glynn (51), Manor Rd., Ossett and John Murray (40), New St., Wakefield, were to lose their lives whilst working on widening the existing pit shafts from 9ft to 13ft in diameter.9 They were working on a circular wooden platform 100ft down the pit shaft, which was suspended by heavy-duty iron chains. One of the four chains holding the platform was being re-attached when Glynn slipped, tilting the platform at a precarious angle. Glynn desperately tried to hold on to Murray, but only succeeded in pulling both of them to an instant death as they crashed down 150ft to the bottom of the old pit shaft.
Above: Rare picture of Low Laithes Colliery circa 1920 looking north. The house on the horizon is thought to be Low Laithes villa.
Low Laithes Colliery was located to the west of Low Laithes Farm, and east of the village of Gawthorpe, a few hundred yards along Gawthorpe Lane, which leads to Kirkhamgate and Bushy Beck. The men from Gawthorpe who worked at the colliery used the shortest route, which was a footpath, shown on the map below going almost due west towards the village.
Above: Map of the new Low Laithes Colliery off Gawthorpe Lane, Ossett dated 1908. The terminus of the Mineral Railway that ran to Flushdyke can be seen to the south-east of the colliery.
In 1894 the site was shared with a brickworks. In 1896, the manager was A.B. Blakeley with the under-manager at the time C Copley. There were 155 underground workers and 43 surface workers in 1896, but by 1908 this had increased significantly to 460 underground workers and 133 surface workers showing that the pit had expanded rapidly in the preceding 12 years.
Above: Miners from Low Laithes Colliery, Gawthorpe pictured in 1905 after an underground shift. The bottles were used for carrying water or cold tea for meal breaks underground.
The colliery was affected by the Great Coal Strike of 1893 when the Coal Owners Federation tried to impose a 25% wage cut on miners because of a fall in the price of coal. The men at Low Laithes went out on strike for several months in the summer and autumn of 1893. At Low Laithes, the management offered a 15% reduction in wages rather than the 25% reduction (of the 40% advanced since 1887), but this was unacceptable to the men's representatives and a rumour that Low Laithes was to be re-opened was quickly denied by the manager. On the 17th November 1893, a settlement was arrived at on basis of the old rate of wages being paid until at least the 1st February 1894, with a Conciliation Board to follow in at least one year. Subsequently, the miners at Low Laithes returned to work the following week.
Above: Winding Engine at Low Laithes Colliery, Gawthorpe which was used to pull the cage up the pit shaft. The man operating the controls is thought to be the manager Mr. David Arnold West.
In 1908, the colliery was still managed by Mr. A.B. Blakeley, followed in 1915 by Mr. David Arnold West, a mining engineer born in 1875 at nearby Birstall. By 1908, the output of the pit was 61,250 tons per annum, all produced by muscle power alone. Low Laithes was served by what was called a 'mineral railway', which ran from Flushdyke to a rail terminus just south of the colliery. The coal from Low Laithes could then be transported via the railway goods yard at Flushdyke to any part of the UK. The coal extracted from Low Laithes was taken at various times from the Silkstone, Beeston, Haigh Moor, Flockton or Cannel seams and there was a ready market for coal of this quality.
Above: The winding engine house at Low Laithes Colliery with the water softener and steam accumulator circa 1920.
The New Low Laithes Colliery, now owned by W. and E.H. Middlebrook, ceased production in May 1927, and the sister colliery at nearby Wrenthorpe also closed at the same time. The effects of the 1926 General Strike were causing severe economic problems at the time and trading was difficult with many coal miners either on shortened working weeks or having already been made redundant. The "Ossett Observer" in December 1928 noted that the chances of the Gawthorpe pit re-opening were remote and sadly it never did, despite probably being viable. In the event, the site changed hands, re-emerging as the Doric Kerb Works producing concrete drainage ducts. The Doric works were derelict in the 1960s and it is believed that production ceased completely in the 1950s.
28. Northfield, Ossett opened in 1896 and closed in 1917. The colliery was owned in 1896 by C. Newsome, and in 1899 by Shaw's Linfit Lane Coal Co. By 1917, Northfield was owned by the Northfield Colliery Co. Ltd. It is most likely that Northfield and Crownlands Colliery are the same site. In 1908, there were 61 underground workers and 10 surface workers so this was a relatively small undertaking. The manager in 1908 was Mr. S. Broadbent.
29. Shaw Cross, Owl Lane on the Ossett - Dewsbury border, was owned by C. B. Crawshaw and Warburton and first opened in 1903 and closed in 1968. In 1896, the manager was G.F. Blacher and the under-manager was P. Winstanley. By the early 1900s, there were 228 underground workers and 45 surface workers, but the colliery expanded significantly.
Above: Shaw Cross Colliery as seen from Owl Lane, Ossett. The pit baths were on the opposite side of Owl Lane.
Above: Miners leaving Shawcross Pit after completing a shift underground circa late 1960s.
30. Storrs Hill, Ossett, close to the Weavers Arms, was owned by W. Wilcock and was opened in 1901 and closed in 1908. The pit was not working between 1904-1908.
31. Longlands, Ossett was first opened in 1910 and abandoned in May 1923. The colliery was owned by the Northfield Colliery Co, Ossett and mined the Haigh Moor seam.
32. Greatfield Colliery, was opened in 1913 and closed September 1954. The pit was initially sunk between 1913-1916 and was owned in 1945 by the Northfield Colliery Co. Ltd., Ossett with manager: A.W. Thompson and no under manager. In 1945 there were 49 underground workers and 11 surface workers. In 1947, the colliery was nationalised and came under NCB ownership.
Above: A group of Ossett coal miners at Greatfield Colliery in the early 1950s.
Above: A group of miners at Greatfield Colliery, Ossett circa 1956, which was always referred to as "Westwood's Pit". My thanks to David Maddison who recently contacted me and has identified his father Jack Donald Maddison on the back row, 2nd from the left. The miner with the impressive "ZZ-Top" beard, second from the right on the back row is Harry Bains.
33. Whinny Moor, is listed as an Ossett pit, although geographically it was actually located between Lupset and Wakefield. The colliery was first opened in 1869 and abandoned in June 1913. The owners between 1869-1873 were Hargreaves, Naylor and Co. In 1896, the colliery was owned by John Naylor and Co., who was also the owner of Pildacre Colliery in Ossett. In 1896, the manager of Whinny Moor Colliery was S. Broadbent with the under-manager being J. Hudson. There were 37 underground workers and 7 surface workers.
Collieries adjacent to Ossett
Many Ossett and Gawthorpe men worked at the pits just outside the town boundaries and the nearest four pits are as follows:
1. Chickenley Heath, Dewsbury, was leased by Joshua Greaves in 1854. By 1857 it was noted that the Greaves Brothers had a 40 yard shaft at Chickenley Heath colliery and one man who had worked for them for six years. In 1861, after the death of Joshua Greaves, the lease of coal at Chickenley Heath was assigned to Gawthorpe butcher and farmer Joseph Terry and two others, most probably the Greaves brothers. In July 1862, the local press10 had a notice that the partnership of John Henry Greaves and Charles Howard Greaves, trading as Greaves Brothers and Co., at Chickenley Heath was being dissolved and that from the 31st March 1862, the business would be carried on by John Henry Greaves alone. Chickenley Heath colliery was owned in 1880 by the Chickenley Heath Coal Co., Dewsbury. In 1896, the manager was Mr. A.B. Blakeley and the under-manager was Mr. M. Rayner. There were 122 underground workers and 12 surface workers at this time.
2. Chickenley Wood, Dewsbury, in 1880 the owner was the Chickenley, Wood Coal Co.
3. Chidswell, Dewsbury, In 1880 and 1896, the owners were C. Crawshaw and Warburton, Dewsbury. The manager in 1896 was Mr. G.F. Blacher and the under-manager was Mr. P. Winstanley with 248 underground workers and 17 surface workers. Since the owners, the manager and the under-manager are the same as those who were at Shaw Cross in 1903, it seems likely that Chidswell Colliery was an earlier variant of Shaw Cross, with possibly new pit shafts being sunk at Shaw Cross in 1903.
In March 1888, the local press12 carried a report describing a fatal accident at the pit, which was described then as being located in Leeds Road, Ossett:
"FATAL EXPLOSION AT OSSETT COLLIERY
An inquest was held at Ossett yesterday by Mr. T. Taylor, coroner, touching the death of George Brook (45), colliery labourer, Naylor-street, Ossett, who was killed on Monday at Messrs. Crawshaw and Warburton's collieries, Leeds-road. Mr. F.N. Wardell, H.M. Inspector of Mines watched the proceedings. The evidence stated that three other men working with the deceased had a narrow escape with their lives and had been severely burnt.
Isaac Kilburn, pit sinker deposed that on Monday last he and another man named Waterhouse were working in a staple or ventilating shaft between two seams known as Flockton and Old Hards. They were widening the shaft and stood on a scaffolding fixed therein. After they had been working for between two and three hours with naked candles and without noticing anything unusual, gas came up the shaft, and there was a violent explosion. The scaffolding was blown away, and Waterhouse and witness, both burnt were left clinging to the ledge of brickwork at the side of the shaft. The deceased and another man, who were working a jack-roll or windlass at the top of the shaft were also scorched, and the planking on which they stood was displaced, causing the deceased to fall down the shaft. When assistance came, Brook was quite dead.
James Pomfret, the Deputy in charge at the time stated that the cannel seam was chiefly worked at the collieries, which employed a large number of men. Next, below this was the Flockton seam, in which the deceased was at the time of the explosion and lowest of all, the Old Hards, which was being newly opened out. He examined the workings in the latter seam prior to the accident and found them free from gas and when he entered them afterwards, he found the ventilation in good order still. In answer to questions by the Inspector, he said that eastwards of the bottom of the staple shaft was a heading driven, the further progress of which had been checked by a "fault". When he examined that part of the workings on Monday morning, he did not go up to the fault, because part of the header was standing nearly up to the roof in water, but he examined the the edge of the water with his safety lamp and found no trace of gas, a good current of air coming over the water.
The jury returned a verdict of "accidentally killed". He leaves a widow and a large family."
4. Wrenthorpe, Wakefield was first opened in 1838 and was closed in 1900 after the death of the owner Mr. W.T. Marriot of Sandal Grange, Wakefield. Before then and as late as 1885, the colliery was in the ownership of D. Micklethwaite and Company. In 1896 the manager was Mr. T.W. Embleton and the under-manager was Mr. W. Wood. There were 103 underground workers and 35 surface workers. In 1905, the colliery was bought by the Low Laithes Colliery Co. Ltd, who were operating their pit at Gawthorpe. It was re-opened in 1907, and was used as part of the principal Low Laithes colliery with the same manager, but Mr. D.A. West was the under-manager at Wrenthorpe. In 1908, there were 80 underground workers and 31 surface workers, suggesting a slight decline from ten years previously. Wrenthorpe colliery had a branch line to the nearby main Leeds-London railway to transport coal to distribution centres and larger customers. Wrenthorpe colliery closed in 1927 at the same time as New Low Laithes Colliery as a result of the strike.
Above: Wrenthorpe Colliery complete with an Upholsters Shop. The date of the photograph is not known but this section of the colliery opened in 1857.
As an example of the prevailing conditions, there was a report in the 'Ossett Observer' in June 1912 of a pit deputy being killed at Wrenthorpe pit, part of the Low Laithes Colliery:
"William Henry Hayes (56), colliery deputy of Dewsbury Road, Ossett met his death as a result of an accident in the Wrenthorpe part of Low Laithes colliery. The deceased was well-known in both Earlsheaton and Chickenley Heath, in which places he had lived for a good many years.
Ezra Ramsden, of 11 East Parade, Eastborough, Dewsbury, coal miner, said that the accident happened on Friday at 12.30 p.m. In a few more minutes he would have finished the job of filling up a "gob." There had been a fall of roof three or four days before in the Silkstone seam, and deceased, who was assisting to remove the dirt, was working about half a yard from the witness. Suddenly, a stone fell down on the deceased, who was sitting on his right foot and leg and was in the act of using his shovel. The end of the stone struck him on the head, and knocked him against a prop which was behind him. He was still upright when witness pulled him out. The stone was not on him. He said "Pull me out Ezra" and he (witness) said "Tha is out." There was no bleeding, but deceased appeared helpless. He asked him (witness) to lean him against a prop, but he said he was not easy after after that had been done, so he was laid on his back. Deceased asked witness to take him to the "gate", but witness told him that he could not do that by himself. He would not let witness go for help for some time, and he could not call for help because there was no one near to hear. Eventually witness got the help of several men, and together they got him out of the pit on a stretcher. He was quite helpless all the time. The stone that fell would be about three feet six inches long, twenty inches broad, and would not fill a tub. One end hardly fell fourteen inches, because it "reared." The roof was a yard high.
Tamar Hayes, of Pickersgill Street, Dewsbury Road, Ossett, widow of the deceased said that her husband was an old servant of the company and had worked at Wrenthorpe for about five years. He left home at about 4.15 a.m. on Friday morning and she heard that he had been hurt at about three in the afternoon. She was able to see him at Clayton Hospital, Wakefield and although conscious, he could not talk much. She was there when he died on Saturday afternoon.
Dr. Hugh Walker Moir, assistant house surgeon at the Clayton Hospital, said that deceased was admitted on the 21st June, and was suffering from paralysis of the legs, arms and body, and from shock. He was quite conscious and quite helpless. The case was hopeless from the commencement. He rallied from the shock, but gradually sank and died at 12.15 on the following day. The cause of death was fracture of the fourth vertebra of the spine.
Mr. D.A. West, the manager of Wrenthorpe colliery, said that the deceased had been at Wrenthorpe for three years and had worked for the company for forty-five years. He had never worked anywhere else. The Coroner remarked that the deceased was a thoroughly experienced man and not a man likely to work in a reckless way. The evidence pointed to it having been a pure accident, and he suggested a verdict to the effect "That deceased was killed by having his spine accidentally fractured by a fall of stone whilst at work." The jury agreed.
The 1893 Ossett Coal Strike6
In 1893, the price that mine owners could get for their coal dropped significantly. Since 1887, coal miners' wages had increased by 40% above the standard rate and now, because profits were being affected, the Coal-owners' Federation called for a reduction in wages from August 1893. The mine owners wanted to pay only 15% above the standard rate, i.e. an effective reduction in wages of 25%. When the Coal-owners' Federation presented their revised pay offer to the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, not surprisingly, the proposal was turned down flat and the Miners' Federation then asked its members to withdraw their labour from the end of July 1893. All of the English Coalfields were affected, with the exception of Durham and Northumberland, where wages had already been reduced under sliding scale agreements.
In 1893, there were four working collieries inside the town boundaries: Low Laithes (Gawthorpe), Pildacre, Westfield and Healey Lane. Just outside the Ossett boundary, but always regarded as an Ossett coal mine, was Roundwood Colliery, which was easily the biggest of the local pits, and on record as employing 619 underground workers, with another 129 surface workers (1896 figures). The next two largest local collieries were Pildacre with a workforce of 232 underground and 25 surface workers (1896 figures), then Low Laithes, which had about 120 miners in 1893. Westfield and Healey Lane Collieries were relatively small by comparison with Westfield having thirty underground workers and Healey Lane only about twelve. Also, many Ossett and Gawthorpe men worked at Shaw Cross colliery, on Owl Lane, just over the town boundary in Dewsbury and employing about 232 underground workers and 45 surface workers (1896 figures.) Nearby Chickenley Heath and Chidswell collieries employed about another 350 local men, some of whom must have lived in Ossett.
Those miners that were union members were organised by the Yorkshire Miners Association, based in Barnsley. Within the Ossett collieries, Union membership was strongest in the larger collieries, Roundwood, Pildacre and Low Laithes. Work had ceased at Low Laithes and Roundwood by the end of July in line with the recommendation made by the Miners Federation, and at Pildacre soon afterwards. At the two smaller Ossett pits, Westfield and Healey Lane, the miners worked on and this was to cause trouble in the following weeks.
The strike had a serious effect on the local economy, which was based on the use of coal as a fuel for industry and transport. On Saturday, 12th August, the Great Northern Railway cancelled the majority of its passenger trains, from the following Monday, which ran between Ossett, Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. The "Ossett Observer" noted that the short notice that was given had caused the maximum inconvenience to travellers. Worse was to come, and further cancellations followed in September.
Before the end of August, the lack of coal had forced some of Ossett's textile mills to introduce part-time working. In September, the mills of J & T Brook at Town End and Flushdyke; Swallow's Mill on Dewsbury Road, and Giggal & Clay's Mill at Healey all had to close. The Ossett Gas Company was also affected by the lack of coal and in November, it increased the price of gas from 2s 9d to 3s 0d per 1,000 cubic feet because of the rise in coal prices.
Local mill owners tried to keep their businesses going by buying coal from the Durham coalfield and some paid up to triple the normal price. Unfortunately, the coal deliveries were delayed because the North-Eastern Railway was unable to cope with the increase in demand for coal from the still operational Durham and Northumberland coalfields. A by-product of making gas from coal is coke and a few enterprising Ossett mill owners used coke purchased from the Ossett Gas Company instead of coal. Unfortunately, by the end of August all the coke stocks had been used up.
Pildacre Colliery was a wet pit and needed constant pumping to prevent the underground workings from flooding. Pildacre's manager, Mr. S. Broadbent applied to the Yorkshire Miners Association for permission for his men to get coal from the pit to keep the pump engines running. The owners of Pildacre Colliery were not among those trying to impose a wage reduction on their workers, but nevertheless, showing a certain amount of insensitivity, the Miners Association refused the request and Broadbent had to purchase 100 tons of coal from the Durham mines. Pildacre was potentially the worst affected of all the Ossett mines because of the flooding, but conditions deteriorated in all the other local collieries during the strike.
Ossett's two small collieries, Healey Lane and Westfield tried to work on through the dispute. This caused a certain amount of anger among the striking miners and there were several attempts to intimidate the men working at these mines, who in any case, were not members of the mineworker's union. At Healey Lane, the police were called on Saturday the 12th and Monday the 14th August in order to prevent a likely breach of the peace by a group of pickets. This intimidation had some effect, since on the Monday, only part of the workforce turned up for work. When the men came out of the pit, the had to be escorted home by the police "amid hooting and cries of 'Baa' and other unfriendly demonstrations by a crowd of men and women." As a result, the men did not return to work on the Tuesday. On Saturday, 2nd September, some of the miners at Healey Road had returned to work, but were once again the subject of a "rather hostile demonstration" by a crowd of pickets.
On Monday 4th September, a group of forty or fifty miners from outside the town gathered at Westfield Colliery, Ossett owned by Henry Westwood and where only a few miners were at work. Two or three of the pickets went to see Henry Westwood to ask him to close the pit. Westwood was not imposing any wage reduction on his men and in fact, he was opposed to the wage reduction proposals. Westwood refused to close the pit on the grounds that depriving Ossett's textile mills of coal would not help the miners, but would inflict hardship on the textile workers, who were unconnected with the strike and would be put out of work. This did not meet the approval of the pickets and one of them suggested that they "should fetch the blacklegs out of the pit and throw the corves down the shaft." Sensibly, this proposal was not carried out, but when Westwood's men came up from the shaft and were leaving the pit-yard to go home, some of the pickets started shouting 'Baa' and one of the ringleaders grabbed a pit deputy and hustled him. Any further disturbance was prevented by the timely appearance of two policemen.
Riot at Chidswell
On Thursday 7th September 1893 at the height of the coal miners strike, it was reported in the Ossett Observer that a serious encounter took place at Chidswell on the Ossett boundary "a mob of between 2 and 3,000 men was marching in the direction of Ossett. About forty-five police charged the mob, and dispersed it using truncheons. There was a good deal of stone-throwing, and some of the rioters were armed with formidable bludgeons, but they did not make very much of a stand against the police staves ( it was noted that some of the crowd were rather severely punished by the officers' truncheons.) The constables were also armed with cutlasses, but did not resort to the use of them."
Westfield Colliery in Ossett was the true objective of the Chidswell rioters, but Henry Westwood, the owner of Westfield Colliery had learned of the planned attack earlier in the day and had withdrawn his men from the pit. Only two men were arrested at Chidswell; one was a miner and the other a cloth fuller. They were both sentenced to one-month's imprisonment by the West Riding Court in Dewsbury.
Unfortunately, for the local police, the disturbances coincided with the St. Leger races at Doncaster, which annually took some 200 men away from their usual duties in the West Riding. When Ossett came under threat, there was only one policeman in the town. Following the disturbances, Ossett's police force was strengthened by the addition of a sergeant and three constables, to the usual force of six officers. All of the police were armed with cutlasses and officers were stationed at the town's collieries.
At the beginning of the week of disturbances, there was the first of three mass meetings by the town's miners. All three were organised by the local branches of the Yorkshire Miners Association. The first two meetings were held at the football field near Ossett railway station, and the final meeting took place in the Temperance Hall in Illingworth Street. At the first meeting, which was held on the evening of Monday 4th September, a resolution expressing continued support for the strike was passed by the 800 to 1,000 men present. Although one of the speakers, Mr G.R. Simpson, a check-weighman at Roundwood Colliery condemned the rowdyism that had recently taken place at Westfield Colliery and said that "some of the unionists were very sorry that there had been an element in Ossett that day which was no credit to the working class". Another of the speakers, the Reverend B. Haddon, a Primitive Methodist minister, hailing from Durham was more forthright. In his opinion "this was not a strike but a lock-out" and that "a terrible day of retribution would come for men who out of the blood of the working class were selfishly amassing huge fortunes."
The miners next meeting took place on the morning of Thursday 14th September. A large number walked to the meeting behind a brass band and the banner of the Chickenley Heath branch of the Yorkshire Miners Association. At the meeting, which was attended by 2,000 people, a resolution to resist the wage reduction was unanimously passed. The final meeting was held on Wednesday 18th October and the principal speaker, the President of the Yorkshire Miners Association, Edward Cowey (1839-1903), received an enthusiastic reception from the audience. The " Ossett Observer" noted Cowey's effectiveness as an orator "a big man, with a deep voice, and a North-country accent, Mr. Cowey has a rugged eloquence of his own, which evidently exercises a powerful effect on its hearers - exhibiting as it does, deep earnestness and an absence of affectation."
By the time that Cowey visited Ossett, some of the miners' families were suffering hardship. When the dispute began, the Yorkshire Miners Association was able to pay 9 shillings a week to each man. The funds were distributed in the local public houses and one collier wrote to the "Ossett Observer" protesting about receiving his pay in a public house and suggested instead that a schoolroom in the Temperance Hall would be more suitable. In the third week of September 1893, the Association's fund ran out. The last strike pay, amounting to 7 shillings a week for each man, was issued on Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd September.
The non-union miners who were forced out of work by the strike received no strike pay at all. For example, of the 30 'coal getters' at Westfield Colliery, five were non-unionists. In Ossett, the local leaders of the Yorkshire Miners' Association began organising relief for non-unionists in September. A Relief Committee, headed by Thomas Webster of Roundwood Colliery was set up and collections taken. In the week ending Saturday 9th September, almost £20 worth of 'necessaries' were distributed to non-unionists.
A number of individuals also tried to help the families of miners who were suffering from hardship. Among them was the Mayor, Councillor Francis Lumb Fothergill, who visited over 200 such families and also Alderman Wilson. Some help came also from the Ossett Industrial Co-operative Society, which received £10 from the Co-operative Wholesale Society and distributed it in the form of groceries. The congregation at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Dewsbury Road raised £5 9s 8d in a collection, while the parishioners in North Ossett raised enough funds to provide thirty boys with breakfast at Gawthorpe Church School.
A meeting for those groups interested in helping provide relief for the miners was called in the Temperance Hall on Wednesday 11th October 1893 and this resulted in the formation of a Relief Sub-Committee of the Borough Council and the opening of a subscription list. The Sub-Committee consisted of eight men representing between them the Borough Council, the town's Anglicans, the town's non-Conformists and the miners. By Saturday, 14th October, the Sub-Committee had raised £48 1s 6d. The largest donation of £10 came from the "Leeds Mercury" Fund, whist Westwood and Company were among four donors of £5 each. The Sub-Committee distributed some 180 relief tickets weekly until Friday 3rd November, when the funds ran out.
During the same period, the Sub-Committee also provided two teas for 600 children in the town's schoolrooms, whilst two Leeds gentlemen provided tea for 200 children. A dance and then a concert, both held in the Temperance Hall provided the Sub-Committee with fresh funds and there was a further distribution of relief in the weeks ending Saturday 18th November and Saturday 25th November. Two more free teas for 600 children were provided and Walter Scott, a butcher in Station Road provided tea for 200 children.
By the 25th November, the strike had finally come to an end. It lasted so long because neither side was willing to compromise. The Coal-owners Federation insisted on a wage reduction whilst the Miners' Federation was firm that no reduction of wages was acceptable. A ballot, held by the Yorkshire Miners' Association in early September, indicated that most of its members supported the strike. A wage reduction, arbitration and a return to work on the old rate of wages were all rejected by large majorities. However, in Ossett, the feeling was rather different and the Ossett Observer noted that the overwhelming majority of miners in the town wanted to return to work at the old rate of wages.
Back to Work
The attitude of the Yorkshire miners changed as their strike fund ran out later in the month. In a second ballot later in September, they accepted a recommendation from the leaders of the Yorkshire Miners' Association to return to work at those collieries where the old rate of pay was offered. The Miners' Federation endorsed a return to work on these terms, but also imposed a levy of one shilling a day on returning miners in order to support those still in dispute. Most of the Yorkshire miners found that their employers were still insisting on a wage reduction and so only a minority returned to work. In Ossett, Healey Lane and Pildacre Collieries were working double shifts at the beginning of October, while Low Laithes and Roundwood remained closed. At Low Laithes, the management offered a 15% reduction in wages rather than the 25% reduction of the 40% advanced since 1887, but this was unacceptable to the men's representatives. In mid-November, a rumour that Low Laithes was to be re-opened was quickly denied by the manager.
The dispute was finally brought to an end by the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, who appointed the Foreign Secretary, Lord Rosebery as a mediator between the two sides. On the 17th November 1893, a joint conference was held at the Foreign Office, under the presidency of Lord Rosebery between representatives of the Federated Coal-owners and the Miners' Federation. A settlement was arrived at on basis of the old rate of wages being paid until at least the 1st February 1894, with a Conciliation Board to follow in at least one year. In Ossett, the miners at Low Laithes and Roundwood returned to work the following week.
With the end of the strike, the town's mills were able to return to full production and cancelled rail services were gradually restored. Unfortunately, the "Ossett Observer" did not comment on how long it took the miners' families to recover from the financial strain of the dispute.
J.J. Smith (1897-1965)
My maternal grandfather, Joseph John Smith worked nearly all his life as a coal hewer in the Yorkshire pits. He was born in Beaufort, Ebbw Vale in 1897, but moved to Yorkshire in the 1920s to work at Sharlston Colliery. Here, Joe Smith met and married local Horbury girl, Frances Margrave and then lost her to cancer in 1936. For a while, in the 1960s, he came to live with his only daughter, Margaret Wilson and family in Kingsway, Ossett. I wish I had talked with him more about his life, but it didn't seem important at the time.
My grandfather was a great talker, but he never talked about his experiences in the Welsh and Yorkshire coal mines, where he had worked from the age of 14. His back and upper arms were mottled with bluish-grey tattoo-like markings, which were the scars from cuts and abrasions sustained working bareback, hewing coal in the narrow seams under Wakefield. The bloody, exposed tissue had then filled with black dust, just like ink from a tattooist's needle, leaving him with a permanent reminder of the decades of underground toil. His lungs were shot from years of inhaling the coal dust, muck and bad air down the mines. I can hear his hacking, wheezing cough now. Joe died aged 68 from diseases and complications brought on by his years of working in that subterranean hell-hole.
Miner's Death 1869 - Inquest at the Little Bull, Ossett Common
Mr Taylor, honor and county coroner held an inquest at the Little Bull Inn, Ossett Common over the body of a coal miner, Joseph Crabtree, aged 30. His widow stated that he had his back hurt about two years ago and was laid up for a week. On Friday 27th August 1869 he had left home at 5 o'clock in the morning to go to his work at Messrs. Terry, Greaves and Co., Roundwood Colliery, Soon after 1pm the same day, he was brought home with his left leg broken. Mr. Kemp from Wakefield attended him and Mr. Lawson Tait also acted to set his leg.
Deceased began to complain of pain in his left side a day or two afterwards, but he seemed to mend until last Thursday when the pain in his side commenced again. He died on Wednesday morning about half past two. Mr. Lawson Tait, Wakefield surgeon said that he visited the deceased about a fortnight ago and found that he had fractured his left leg and thigh. The leg was in position and appeared to be going on well. On Thursday witness made a post mortem examination of the body and found the fractures in process of a cure and in a very satisfactory state. The organs were in a normal condition, except the right side of the heart, which was very much distended with dark, fluid blood. The pulmonary artery was entirely stopped with a hard clot of blood. The clot would cause death by suffocation. It had no direct communication with his injury. It must have been in existence for several days or possibly weeks. Weakness from injury or illness would be likely to cause disease.
Jacob Page of Alverthorpe, coal miner, a fellow worker of the deceased's said that about 11 o'clock in the morning of the 27th August, the deceased's hurrier fetched him and he went to his bank, He found the deceased sitting about two feet from the face with about 3 or 4 hundredweight of coal and rock on his left leg and helped free the deceased by moving the coal. A row of props were set to within four feet of the face. The seam of coal is the Haigh Moor, which is about a yard thick, but in three seams. The deceased told him that he had got the two lower seams and tried to get down the top seam and failed, and he had therefore determined to let it stop up until he had got ready for another fall.
Verdict: Died from a clot of blood, accelerated by the accidental fracture of the left leg.
From the 'Ossett Observer'18th September 1869
Fatal Accident to a Hurrier at Roundwood Colliery - 1877
On Tuesday the 2nd inst., a Horbury lad named Wilson Baines was at his work as a hurrier at the Roundwood Colliery, when a mass of stone from the pit roof fell on him inflicting various injuries to his head. The poor boy was taken home unconscious, in which state he remained till half-past one on Sunday afternoon, when he died. Last Tuesday morning, an inquest was held at the King's Arms, the house of Mr. S. Hall, before Mr. T. Taylor and a respectable jury of whom Mr. Thomas Mitchell was foreman. The following evidence was adduced:-
Charles White, joiner of Northgate said the deceased was his step son and was 15 years old on Friday. He was a hurrier and the son of the late Mr. T. Baines, rag dealer. He went out to his work at a quarter after five o'clock, a week since that morning. He had worked in a pit going on for four years. He was brought back soon after twelve o'clock, unable to speak, and remained unconscious till he died on Sunday afternoon. He received frequent attention, both from Messrs. Kemp and Son, surgeons of Wakefield and from Mr. B. Kemp from Horbury.
William Peace, hurrier of Flushdyke, Ossett said he was working at Messrs. Terry, Greaves & Co.'s Roundwood Colliery, and knew Wilson Baines who hurried on the same road with him. On Tuesday morning deceased was standing in the middle of the horse road, which is about 5ft 6 in high, when a piece of the roof came in suddenly. Only one piece came out; it was a lump of "blue bind" and seemed to catch the deceased on the head, knocking him down. He raised an alarm, and his father came to the spot.
Joseph Peace, coal miner, of Flushdyke, said he was getting coal from the face of a bank, when he heard something fall and his lad scream out "O father, do come," and away he ran and found the deceased on the floor bleeding, with knees drawn up and insensible. He was in a new road which he (witness) helped to drive. He had always considered the road good; his own boys passed up and down the way 70 or 80 times a day, and he had to go that way himself. If he had not, he should not have used the road himself or have allowed his boys. Where the accident occurred, the road was about 8 or 9ft wide. Deceased was bleeding about the head. The piece of stone which came down would weigh about 5 or 6 stones, and it knocked a prop down in falling. Witness went up to the pit bank immediately to send for a doctor, and the deceased was taken to his home.
A verdict of accidental death was returned.
From the 'Ossett Observer' October 13th 1877
Sep 18th 1880: A Chidswell collier with the nickname “Wild Jack” had made a bet that he would “worry a live hedgehog with his teeth, his hands being tied behind him”, also that he would go through other similar performances, in a field behind the Royal Oak, Owl Lane. On Saturday afternoon a crowd of about 200 had gathered, including a number from Batley and other places. A man was also in attendance with a bag containing the hedgehog. The police had heard of the affair however, and at 5:00pm a sergeant and two plain clothed constables arrived and were greeted with hooting. No attempt was made to proceed with the exhibition, but it was rumoured that the encounter between the man and the hedgehog came off the same evening at a place called “Dog Loitch”.
Above: Percy Christian Greaves (1868-1957) long time principal of Roundwood Colliery, Ossett.
Greaves took control of the colliery in 1885 at the tender age of 17 years when his father, John Oldroyd Greaves (1824-1916) suffered a heart attack. Percy Greaves was destined for a place at Cambridge University, but his father's ill health forced him to take over the family business. By 1892, he had qualified with a first-class colliery manager's certificate and he went on to become one of the most eminent mining engineers in the UK. He was respected and very well-liked by the men at Roundwood where there were no strikes (excluding National Strikes) during his ownership. Greaves always strove to provide the most up-to-date methods for safety and efficiency for his men. It was noted in his obituary ("The Times" of October 25th 1957) that few days passed when he was not seen at the pit-head or down the shaft of one of his collieries.
Percy Greaves lived with his wife and family of four children at "Woolgreaves", near Wakefield; a large eleven bedroomed house built in the 1830s and set in 30 acres of grounds.
Miners summoned for leaving work - 1888
At the West Riding Court, Dewsbury, George Cawthorne, Richard Foy and John Richardson were summoned for unlawfully absenting themselves from their employment at Pildacre Colliery, Ossett early in July 1888. Foy did not appear. Mr. T.L. Chadwick appearing for Messrs. John Naylor and Co. Ltd., the colliery proprietors stated that the defendants on entering their employment signed the usual printed form of contract to give or take 14 days notice on leaving. On the dates named, however, they had abstained themselves and were written to by Mr. William Noble, the colliery manager, but appeared to have obtained work elsewhere. Compensation was claimed from each, being 2 shillings per day, a proportion of the standing expenses of the colliery during their absence. Foy was asked to pay £2, Richardson £1 14s and Cawthorne £1 12s. Richardson was allowed two weeks to pay and the others two months.
From the 'Ossett Observer'12th August 1880
Aug 16th 1890: A day hole is to be opened from the Runtlings Lane colliery of Messrs Westwood & Co. to Healey. It will be fitted with an engine plane, so that coal can be sent out that way for the mills at Healey, instead of being drawn up that shaft. The object is to save the expense of carting coal down into the valley.
Unusual Fuels - 1893
During the coal strike in Ossett in 1893, the textile mills in the town were starved of coal and many had to close. Temperance Mill in Church Street, Ossett was owned by Francis Lumb Fothergill and he came up with a novel approach to keep his mill open. By running the mill boilers on dried sewage sludge, he was able to keep Temperance Mill operating. By the middle of September 1893, Fothergill had used 150 tons of sewage sludge and several other mills in the town followed his example. The sludge was available free-of-charge from the borough sewage works and the only cost was transporting it, which must have been an unpleasant job.
Another approach was to burn rag dust saturated with old engine oil and John William Smith, the owner of Healey Old Mill, Ossett managed to keep his mill operating through the strike using this method.
Fire at Roundwood Pit - 1893
The 'Ossett Observer' noted in March 1893 that a fire had occurred earlier in the year in the Silkstone pit at Roundwood colliery. The owners of the colliery, Terry, Greaves and Co. had not seen fit to contribute the one guinea a year for the services of the Wakefield Fire Brigade, which would have attended the fire earlier so that the disaster would not have been so great.
Also on the 7th September 1893, on the same day as as the riot at Chidswell, at nearby Ackton Hall colliery in Featherstone, two men lost their lives, after soldiers opened fire on a large crowd of people. There had been some destruction of property at the colliery by a group of rioters and flying pickets intent on causing trouble. By the late afternoon 3 officers and 26 men from the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment had been called in, and the local magistrate read the Riot Act. Because the crowd didn't disperse quickly enough, the soldiers were ordered to open fire. Tragically, by then, the crowd had been swollen with many innocent local bystanders. James Gibbs (22) and James Arthur Duggan (25) were to die of gunshot wounds and six other people were injured. Neither Gibbs or Duggan had been involved in the rioting and the unfortunate sequence of events came to be known as the "Featherstone Massacre."
Alarming Explosion at Ossett Colliery - 1895
A serious accident occurred in one of the coal seams worked by the Low Laithes Colliery Company Limited, at Gawthorpe, Ossett. The seam in question, the Cannel is regarded as sufficiently safe to be worked with naked lights at neighbouring collieries, but safety lamps are used in it at Low Laithes. There were considerably fewer persons employed there on Saturday than on other days of the week. Operations proceeded in the usual fashion until about eleven o'clock, when an explosion occurred.
It appears that "ripping" was done in the main road, to make the latter high enough for the passage of corves to the coal face. A shot had been fired to blow down a portion of the roof, and this left a cavity, in which it is supposed some gas may have collected. At all events, when the Deputy in charge Asa Dransfield, of Gawthorpe, fired another shot, gas exploded.
Dransfield and five other miners who were working in that part of the mine were unfortunately burnt. As soon as possible they were drawn to the surface. Dr. Mill (Messrs. Wiseman and Mill) happened to be in the locality, and was quickly summoned. The colliery surgeon, Mr. Oates, of Dewsbury arrived later. Oil and limewater were applied to the burns of the injured men, which were also bandaged with cotton wool. Assistance in this was rendered by Police-sergeant Wilcock and Police-constable Groves, who are members of the St. John Ambulance Association. Under the direction of Dr. Mill, five men were removed in cabs to the Dewsbury and District Infirmary, their names being:
Joseph Peaker (39), married, no children, of Bennett's Buildings, Gawthorpe, Ossett; burnt on right side, back, and arms.
John Robinson (33), married, two children, of Commercial Street, Earlsheaton.; burnt on back, shoulder, face, and arms.
Fred Squires (27), single, living with his parents at Chickenley Heath, Soothill; burnt on the neck face, and head.
Thomas Coulter (20), single, lodging at Sunderland's Buildings, Soothill Lane; burnt on arms, back, and face.
Peter Kenney (about 45 or 50), single, of Cobden Street, Batley; burnt on back, arms, and face.
Asa Dransfield, the deputy, who was badly burnt on his arms, etc. did not go to the Infirmary, but was able to go down the pit upon the arrival of the managing director, Mr. A.B. Blakeley of Dewsbury, and explain how the accident had occurred. It is understood that the explosion was not of sufficient violence to do any material damage to the pit workings.
Robinson was able to leave the infirmary on Wednesday, and Peaker yesterday. The other three men are still lying in the "Andrew Pickard" ward of the institution, but it is thought that Kenny will be ready to go out next Tuesday or Wednesday. Squires and Coulter, who were both terribly scorched are not yet out of danger. Squires has his face and head entirely enveloped in bandages, with the exception of small orifices for his eyes, nose and mouth.
From the 'Ossett Observer' July 13th 1895
Above: The engine in the Power House at Low Laithes Colliery, Gawthorpe which was used to generate electricity
Fatal Accident at Shaw Cross Colliery - 1897
A lad named Joseph Jennings, 14 years of age, son of Allen Jennings, coal miner, Chidswell was fatally injured at Shaw Cross Colliery belonging to Messrs. Crawshaw and Warburton.
The deceased's mother, Mrs. Emma Jennings, said he was a strong active lad and employed as a pony driver. He left home at 5.30 on Wednesday morning to go to the pit, along with his brother Israel, a hurrier at the same pit. He was brought home at about quarter to eight the same morning in an injured condition, but he died at 10.30 that night. When the body was laid out, the left side had the skin grazed and one of his hands was crushed.
Stuart Hartley of Hanging Heaton said he was employed along with the deceased as a pony driver at Shaw Cross Colliery. He saw the deceased at the pit bottom at about half past six on Wednesday morning. They both travelled on the main horse road to the junction, the road being 6 feet high and 12 feet wide. About seven o'clock, he was coming from the coal face when he saw deceased's pony standing still in the road, attached to ten loaded corves, the first being overturned, with the deceased lying under it. Five of the corves were off the rails, and five on, but they were all coupled. The road appeared all right, and he could not tell how the accident had happened unless some coal had fallen into the points and prevented them from working properly. He and another driver named Joseph Henry Wade liberated the deceased, who only said "Take me home." Witness had worked on the same road and had found nothing out of order. They found the deceased about five yards from the points. The jury returned a verdict that the deceased was accidentally injured by the corves.
From the 'Ossett Observer' September 4th 1897
After the coal strike in 1893, Ossett artist Mark Senior received a commission from a group of local mill owners to paint a portrait of Henry Westwood, the owner of Westfield Colliery in Ossett.
Above: 1893 portrait of Ossett mine owner Henry Westwood, J.P. painted by Mark Senior.
Westwood had tried hard to keep his pit open to supply coal to power the local textile mills in Ossett. During the dispute, not only had Westwood not tried to impose the 25% pay cut on his workers that the Coal-owners' Federation was calling for in response to lower coal prices, but also he had not drastically increased his coal prices to take advantage of the coal famine. In recognition of his services, local mill owners subscribed for his portrait to be painted and it was presented to him in January 1894. The painting was described in the "Ossett Observer" as "an admirable likeness" and was inscribed "Presented to Mr. Henry Westwood J.P. by a few friends, as a mark of respect and in grateful recognition of the generous assistance rendered by his firm to the trade of Ossett during the memorable coal strike of 1893." Westwood's business partner, in Westwood and Co. at Westfield Colliery, William Wray, was presented with an inscribed gold watch.
Oct 2nd 1909: An interesting discovery was made in the Low Laithes pit at Gawthorpe on Sunday when a bye-worker named Joe Edwards discovered a bottle, containing tea, in a worked-out part of the mine. Edwards, along with four other men, was making his way up No.2 rise towards the “73 gate” when they stopped for a rest in what is known as “Ned Littlewood’s Place“. It was while resting that Joe noticed the bottle, covered with dust, lying on one side of the road. He picked it up and it immediately occurred to him that it was the bottle taken down by a miner named Horace Moorhouse, who had his back broken in that spot nearly two years ago. Near at hand they also found Moorehouse’s “snap“. Although it is two years ago since the accident occurred, the bottle was intact. Shale had fallen from the roof around the bottle but had not touched it. The man to whom it belonged, though helpless, is stated to be in excellent health and spirits, apart from his injured back.
Colliery Death at Low Laithes 1921
Alexander Isaacs (40), a colliery contractor was severely injured in an explosion following a misfired shot whilst working in the Low Laithes Colliery Co Ltd at Wrenthorpe (Wakefield). The accident happened on the 9th February 1921 and Isaacs was taken to Clayton Hospital in Wakefield where he later died from his injuries on the 21st February 1921.
Tragic Death 1926
Redfern Kaye, the underground manager at Whitwood Colliery, near Castleford agreed to allow a group of students from Leeds University to go underground on February 16th 1926. His daughters Gladys and Mary went with him. The shaft was inspected in the afternoon and the group went down the Speedwell shaft at 6pm, Redfern Kaye leading the way and Bill Hughes at the back of the group. Mary was in front of him. The roof caved in and Mary was trapped under a huge timber roof support. She was killed outright. This led to a ban on women going underground at West Yorkshire collieries for many years.
Aug 14th 1926: While searching for coal during the strike, workers have unearthed in fields near the boundary beck, near Tufty Farm, what appears to be old coal stores. In field after field on the bottom side it was found that underneath about a foot of soil was a layer of small coal, varying in depth from one to two feet, and partitioned off every four or so by a narrow barrier of solid clay. At some time or other beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant, the turf and subsoil have been removed, clay walls constructed at intervals of four feet, the intervening space filled with coal, and the soil & turf then restored. The theory put forward is that long ago – well over 100 years ago, it is thought – coal was worked extensively in this locality, and as it was used mostly for domestic purposes, the small coal, or slack, was practically valueless, and was disposed of in this way, either to level up undulating land, or to avoid the creation of unsightly spoil heaps. This would entail much labour, but labour was cheap in those days. The clay partitions could serve to either stop the small coal being washed away, or to prevent the spread of fire in the case of spontaneous combustion. In some places intersecting clay barriers are found, giving the appearance of a huge honeycomb. Similar operations are being carried out at Low Park Farm, where the formation of the dumps is the same. Here the coal is being got between two and two and a half feet thick. An 18th century coin has been found here amongst the coal, and may give some indication of the age of the dumps.
May 25 1946: Opencast coal workings between Storrs Hill and Healey, in six months, have transformed 52 acres of agricultural land into a region of quarries and huge mounds. Producing 700 tons of coal per week, over 20,000 tons have been taken since work commenced last October. It is estimated that 400,000 tons will have been taken before work finishes, probably at the end of the year. The site is between Storrs Hill Road and Healey gasworks. Two coal seams, each 3 feet thick, are being worked. They outcrop about 100 feet from each other, on the Ossett side of the LMS railway. Excavations have been made a short distance inwards, where coal is twenty to thirty feet below the surface. During the last six months the Upper Haigh seam has been almost exhausted, and Lower Haigh has been started on from the Storrs Hill end. Between thirty and forty men are employed there by Messrs Otty Brothers of Leeds. Old underground pit workings have been exposed by the work. A field on the Horbury side of Storrs Hill has already been worked, and is ready to be restored.