Manslaughter charge for lighting candle in local coal pit

Yorkshire Gazette
Tuesday 30 August 1836

FATAL EXPLOSION OF FIRE DAMP AT A COLLIERY NEAR WAKEFIELD

On Saturday last an explosion of inflammable air took place in Bull Pit, at Kirkhamgate, about two miles to the west of Wakefield, which occasioned a serious loss of life and other damage. Although the accident was serious enough, in point of fact, the accounts, as they reached Wakefield were much exaggerated, and excited intense interest. It was recently reported that ten men had been killed, and twice as many scorched, many of whom were not expected to recover. On inquiry, it was found that, at the moment the explosion took place, there were about twenty men and boys in the pit, three of whom were killed, and the remainder, with the exception of two, more or less scorched. Up to Monday night no other death had occurred, but several of the unfortunate creatures were reported to be in a very precarious state.

John Pickford, aged 17, William Brooke, aged 10, and William Broadhead, aged 9, were the persons who lost their lives. Amongst the other sufferers the following were seriously hurt – David Broadhead, Thomas Brooke, George Lumb, Charles Hartley, David Hartley, Thomas Becher, Benjamin Scott, James Bedford, George Broadhead, and Edward Throit.

The Bull Pit belongs to Messrs Smithson and Co. On Sunday, Thomas Lee, jun. Esq, empanelled a jury, in order to inquire into the cause of the death of John Pickford. The jury came, to the conclusion that the poor fellow lost his life in consequence of the incautious use of a candle at one of the “banks” by a pitman. On Monday evening at six o’clock, a second inquest was held the house of Mr Percival Brooke, innkeeper, of Kirkhamgate, before Mr Lee and a very respectable and attentive jury, on view of the bodies of the two boys, when additional evidence was adduced, and the inquiry was adjourned till Thursday, at Potovens, when after a protracted and minute investigation and the examination of Mr Walsh[?] surgeon, and particularly Benjamin Scott, a lad who was working at the same time in the same place with Benjamin [sic] Bedford, the man who took the candle which caused the explosion and after hearing Bedford’s voluntary statement, the Jury returned a verdict of “Manslaughter against James Bedford”. Two of the sufferers are expected not to recover.

James Bedford was found not guilty at the York Spring Assizes in March of the following year.

Striking miners opencast coal protest

In the early 1990s as many deep coal mines were being closed, opencast coal workings at Kirkhamgate and off Jerry Clay Lane whipped up controversy. Something similar was happening in the 1920s, just a month after the General Strike when the coal miners hadn’t gone back to work.

Opencast sites in the area were being used to produce coal during the national miners’ strike. Local unemployed men were coerced into working at these sites or they forfeited their dole money. And opencast work paid a much lower rate than a typical coal miner’s wage.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Thursday 24 June 1926

OUTCROP SCENES
Wakefield Demonstration

Another demonstration by miners in the Wakefield district against day hole and outcrop coal workers was made yesterday at Kirkhamgate, a village three miles out of the city. Miners on strike turned up several thousand strong, and paraded past each working headed by a brass band. The day hole workers, however, were missing for the time being, and the demonstration was a peaceful affair.

After the march round, the miners gathered in the old quarry on Lindle Hill, and were addressed Mr Walter Dyson JP and Mr Tom Smith, ex-MP for Pontefract [and later MP for Normanton]. Mr Dyson, in opening the meeting, said they objected strongly to the working of day holes, not that the amount of so-called coal produced was of any great consequence, but they stood out against the principle the thing, and protested also against the Government affording the men police protection. The Labour Exchanges were sending men to day-hole work under the classification of “navvying” and such men were practically compelled to take up the work or lose the dole.

Wrenthorpe Colliery 10: false hopes in desperate times

Within six months of closure of Wrenthorpe Colliery – and two months after it had failed to sell at auction as a going concern – hopes were raised that the pit might be reopened. The horrors of the dole was so awful that miners were prepared to forego a proportion of  their wages until the pit was self-supporting.

Ironically, the article even states the colliery would be capable of producing coal well beyond the year 2000.

Leeds Mercury
Monday 22 October 1928

WRENTHORPE PIT MAY RE-OPEN
WAKEFIELD DISTRESS
COLLIERS GUARANTEE FUNDS FROM THEIR WAGES

(From Our Own Correspondent)
WAKEFIELD, Sunday.

The closing of the Wrenthorpe Colliery at Wakefield has caused much distress in the district, but there are hopes that it will be re-opened soon.

A sub-committee, which was appointed to inquire into the possibility re-opening the colliery, report that they can see no reason whatever why the colliery should not be able to carry on, and produce from 5,000 to 8,000 tons of good quality coal per week, at economic rates, for at least a further fifty to eighty years. The conditions at the moment are such that in two or three weeks’ time from 1,000 to 12,000 tons per shift could be wound on the second or third day.

Workmen’s Guarantee

Providing the necessary working capital can be found, the sub-committee have a unanimous resolution from the general body of workmen, guaranteeing contributions from their wages until the pit becomes self-supporting.

The sub-committee state that they are fully aware of the fact that much of this coal could at some future time be got by neighbouring collieries, but they state that this would not help the 1,000 Wrenthorpe workers and their dependants, many of whom are now becoming destitute.

Sadly, any such recommendations came to nothing and by January 1929, colliery equipment is being dismantled for auction.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Wednesday 23 January 1929

DISMANTLING WRENTHORPE, GAWTHORPE. and SOOTHILL WOOD COLLIERIES and COKE OVENS

The unique opportunity occurs to purchase first class, up-to-date Colliery Plant, Electrical Plant, and general Power Plant, from the above pits astonishingly low prices. Several Brand New Items, including steam-driven Winding Engine, 34in. r 66in., and electric-driven Compressor, 2.500 cu. ft. Ask for Catalogue.
GEO. COHEN, SONS, and CO., LTD.,
11, INDEPENDENT BUILDINGS, FARGATE, SHEFFIELD.

Mining accident deaths: lockjaw

Accidents down the pit resulting in deaths from lockjaw (tetanus) were not uncommon. Here are two from the mid-19th century, relating to miners from Potovens.

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 19 August 1848

DEATH FROM LOCKJAW

On Monday last, Mr Lee, coroner, held inquest at the Royal Oak Inn, Potovens, near Wakefield, on the body of Benjamin Scott. Deceased was a coal miner employed at Messrs Burnley’s pits in Wakefield, and the 14th ult. he was filling his corf when a quantity of coal fell upon him from the roof, and broke his leg. He was attended by Mr Statter, but lock-jaw took place on the following Wednesday, and he died on the ensuing Sunday. Verdict, “Accidentally killed”.

Leeds Times
Saturday 26 January 1856

FATAL COAL-PIT ACCIDENT

An accident befel a boy named Henry Nottingham, on Thursday, the 3rd inst. He was a hurrier in the Haigh Moor Pit, Stanley. On the day in question, when getting off the “rolley”, which he was driving along the road to the pit shaft, a portion of the wheel caught his clothes and threw him under the “rolley”, breaking his thigh, and otherwise injuring him. He has since died of lock-jaw. An inquest was held on the body on Tuesday, at the Royal Oak Inn, Potovens, before T Taylor, Esq, when a verdict in accordance with the facts stated was returned.

Wrenthorpe Colliery 8: closure and unemployment

After 80 years the pit’s productive life comes to an end.

Aberdeen Press and Journal
Saturday 23 June 1928

Work is to cease at the Wrenthorpe Pit, Wakefield, next Thursday, and 1,000 men and boys will be thrown out of work.

Its impact on the local economy is massive.

Leeds Mercury
Monday 2 July 1928

DEPRESSION AMONG MINERS
5,500 PERSONS ON THE LIVE REGISTER AT WAKEFIELD

(From Our Own Correspondent.)
WAKEFIELD, Sunday.

The depression in the mining industry, so far as the Wakefield area is concerned, is more marked than for a considerable time past, and the result has been that an increasing number of mineworkers from the several pits have been compelled to bring themselves within the scope of the Unemployment Insurance Act, and register at the Employment Exchange.

The live register at the Wakefield Employment Exchange contains the names and particulars of 5,500 persons, the great majority whom are mineworkers from the coal pits in the district, who are not working more than three shifts in the week, and therefore eligible for State benefit.

For the first time, it is believed, the men employed at the Crigglestone Colliery are so affected, and they have qualified for benefit. The number permanently unemployed men has been greatly augmented by the recent closing down for an indefinite period of the Wrenthorpe Colliery of the Laithes Colliery Company.

The total permanently unemployed on the register, including those from Wrenthorpe, numbers about 1,500.

There is only negligible increase of unemployment among the women workers in the city and district.

Mining accident deaths: roof falls

Four mid to late-19th century reports on Wrenthorpe miners killed by roof falls at local pits.

Leeds Mercury
Saturday 5 April 1856

FATAL ACCIDENT IN A COAL PIT

On Thursday evening last, an inquest was held before T Taylor, Esq, coroner, at the Royal Oak Inn, Potovens, touching the death of John Bedford, who had died on the morning of the above day from the injuries he had received on the previous Monday, whilst working in the pit of Messrs R Hudson and Co, at Newton Lane End. From the evidence of Joseph Clegg, a miner, who was working near to deceased at the time of the accident, it appeared that he and deceased were in what is termed straight work, and on hearing something fall, he called out, but, receiving no reply, took his light and looked through a slit, and saw deceased under a stone weighing about half a ton. He assisted in getting deceased out of the pit, and saw him conveyed home to Potovens in a cart. He was 27 years of age, and was attended by Mr H Horsfall, surgeon, up to the time of his death. Verdict, “Accidentally crushed”.

Barnsley Chronicle
Saturday 21 December 1861

KILLED BY A FALL COAL

On Thursday, at the Royal Oak Inn, Potovens, T Taylor, Esq, held an inquest on the body of George Whiteley, a collier, who had been killed in the St John’s Colliery, which is the property of the executors of the late Mr Benjamin Burnley. According the evidence of James Whiteley, of Wrenthorpe, who was hurrier to the deceased, it appeared that the deceased worked at the St John’s Colliery. The seam is the Stanley Main bed, which consists of two veins, the lower being a yard thick, and intervening between it and the upper vein, which is about two feet thick, there is layer of loose stone and dirt. On Monday the deceased was at his work, and had “holed” under the lower bed about two feet. The bank where was working is about ten yards long, and he had bared about four yards in the middle. He had previously “felled’’ one end, and as he was cutting the other end the coal suddenly fell, and the corner hit him on the left side, and knocked him off his stool. He was just at the time getting the last curve load for that day, previous to ceasing work. After his injury he could not rise, and had to be taken home, where died on Wednesday from the injuries had sustained. In addition to the above facts, it was stated by a collier, named John Haigh, residing at Eastmoor, that if the deceased had been standing in place of sitting when the fall occurred, he would not have been injured. The verdict returned was to the effect that the death of the deceased had resulted from his being accidentally injured.

Sheffield Independent
Saturday 31 March 1888

FATAL COLLIERY ACCIDENT AT LOFTHOUSE

On Thursday, fall of roof took place at the Lofthouse Colliery, near Wakefield. A mass of about five tons of material fell upon a young man named Albert Tattersdale, between 19 and years of age, living at Potovens, burying him under the debris. When extricated, he was found to be quite dead, being crashed in a fearful manner.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph
Wednesday 3 May 1899

INQUEST

Yesterday, Major Taylor, JP, held an inquest at the Clayton Hospital, Wakefield, on the body of Harry Scott Clay, miner, 25 yean age of Wild’s Buildings, Potovens. The deceased was employed at the Silkstone seam the Lofthouse Colliery, when a large piece of stone suddenly fell from the roof, caught Clay on the head, and caused a compound fracture of the skull. A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned.

Wrenthorpe Colliery 7: the 40-week strike

Less than two years before the General Strike and the prolonged 1926 miners’ strike, the miners at Wrenthorpe Colliery were embroiled in a dispute which lasted for 40 weeks.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Friday 18 July 1924

THIRTY WEEKS’ STRIKE OF YORKSHIRE MINERS
OFFICIAL SETTLEMENT IGNORED
(By our Labour Correspondent.)

Mr Herbert Smith, President of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association, has intimated that unless there is an early settlement of the prolonged strike at the Wrenthorpe and Low Laithes Collieries, he will consult his Association the policy of taking county action.

The strike turned upon certain demands respecting payment for men in abnormal places, and it began in December. To enforce their point of view, the Yorkshire Miners’ Association called out the men at Soothill, although the only connection was that one gentleman happened to be a director there, as well as at Wrenthorpe. Operations at the third pit were soon resumed, but at the two others no coal has been got for thirty weeks. Wrenthorpe is a fairly large colliery, and the output there and at Low Laithes will be well over 400,000 tons a year. The serious loss turnover in local wages and trade, resulting from the stoppage, can be conjectured.

There have been many joint conferences about the strike, and they resulted in terms of settlement being agreed upon weeks ago between accredited representatives of the Owners’ Association and the Miners’ Association. Both sides agreed to recommend the terms for acceptance the men and by the colliery company respectively. These terms were as mutually fair as it was possible to devise. They were accepted by the Low Laithes men and by the company, but rejected by the Wrenthorpe men.

At that time the Yorkshire Miners’ Association might have intervened to the great advantage of the community, and of their own funds, by advising the Wrenthorpe men that their original claims could not conceded by any company, and that the terms offered were the best that could possibly be obtained. The Wrenthorpe men, however, seem to be retained on strike pay as a means to establishing a precedent that a claim to the effect that place is abnormal must carry extra allowance. All such claims, anywhere, must be investigated, and subjected to conditions. It seems lamentable that an arrangement agreed to by officials from the Association at Barnsley should be ignored, and the strike prolonged.

Plans to end the longest dispute in the pit’s troubled industrial history were drawn up in September 1924.

Leeds Mercury
Wednesday 3 September 1924

FORTY WEEKS’ STRIKE ENDS
WAKEFIELD MINERS TO RESUME
2,000 AFFECTED

It is announced that the long-drawn-out dispute at the Wrenthorpe (Wakefield) and Gawthorpe pits, belonging to the Low Laithes Colliery Company Ltd has at last been settled.

About 1,100 men and boys were employed at the Wakefield Colliery, and about 450 at Gawthorpe, and they downed tools on December 4th last year. After waiting for two or three weeks many of the men succeeded in finding work at other collieries, but a large number have been idle for the past forty weeks. During this period Mr Herbert Smith, the President of the Yorkshire Miners’ Federation, and prominent local colliery officials have been making efforts to bring about a settlement, but an agreement could not be arrived at with regard to the points at issue.

Yesterday, however, it was reported that an agreement had been reached on practically all the points under dispute, and the men’s representatives regard the terms as satisfactory.

During the long time the pits have been idle many falls have taken place in the workings, and much cleaning up will be necessary before coal-getting can be proceeded with. It is hoped, however, that in the course of a few days all the men will be fully employed.