The advent of mass political parties

Now that three of the Wakefield newspaper titles in the Archive have been digitalised, it’s possible to revisit some of the previous blog post newspaper articles covered in the regional press to get a clearer picture of what was going on.

Looking again at Knitting Fog, or the 80-year wait, what was the Mines’ Regulation Bill which local ‘Lib-Lab’ MP Ben Pickard had come to Wrenthorpe to speak about? Had the Tories set up their local Association in response to this inaugural Liberals’ meeting? What was it about the proposed legislation which was causing such uproar?

The franchise had been extended in 1885, giving a large proportion of working class men the vote, and creating the Normanton constituency, which was a Liberal (or ‘Lib-Lab’) stronghold. That general election had resulted in a Liberal government which only lasted six months before another election was called, this time won by the Conservatives. Both the main political parties were starting to realise the importance of local branches for ‘boots on the ground’, hence the formation of Tory and Liberal branches in Wrenthorpe. It’s actually the local Tories, with the most ground to make up, who made the first move, holding a meeting at the Royal Oak in April 1886.*

The proposed mining legislation was Tory ‘divide and rule’ politics on the appointment of colliery check weighers, aimed at deliberately causing divisions among the miners. This, despite there already being acceptable weight-checking system in place which had, ironically, been introduced by former Conservative Home Secretary, Sir Richard Cross.

Lengthy coverage of the Liberals’ meeting is given in the Wakefield Free Press. Although the introductory paragraph is of some interest, it suggests the newspaper so rarely covered any Potovens or Wrenthorpe-related news that it has to introduce the article by setting the scene about Wrenthorpe itself. The article’s rather patronising in its attitude towards working men. Why shouldn’t they be just as clued up about the ‘events of the times’? Who does the journalist think was in the vanguard of the major working class movements? And, if anyone was to understand the implications of the new legislation, it’s the men who encounter these issues everyday of their working lives. Pickard, in contrast, is respectful of his audience – his constituents, and values their opinion.

* Wakefield and West Riding Herald, 3 April 1886, p.8.

Wakefield Free Press
Saturday 23 April 1887

LIBERALISM AT POTOVENS
Interesting Proceedings
Mr B. Pickard M.P., and the New Mines’ Bill

We prefer the more popular name of Potovens to the strictly legal designation of Wrenthorpe. For one thing, it carries us back to the time when this pleasantly-situated village was a busy industrial centre. The familiar name indicates the trade carried on, and it appears to have been more extensive than most people imagine. Indeed, so important was it considered by the natives themselves, that they called their hamlet Little London! Thoresby, writing in his diary about the beginning of last century, stated that he walked to Pott-ovens, where he stayed a little to observe the manner in which the work was carried on. But the ovens have long since ceased to burn, and the people now find employment, some in coal-mining, some is band-spinning, and others in the market gardens of the neighbourhood. The name Wrenthorpe is supposed to be derived from the Warrens and thorpe, the latter an old term indicative of Danish occupation, and applied to a collection of houses, especially of the poorer class.

It was, then, to this old-fashioned village that we made our way last Saturday evening to “assist” at the annual social meeting in connection with the Liberal Association of the district. Excellent preparations had been made for the event by the committee, consisting of Messrs T. Asquith, G. Brooke, W. Calvert, J. Wilkes, C. Howden, J. Nichols, J. Ramsden, G. Boyce, J. Ainley, and J. Roberts, with the energetic secretary, Mr J. Parkin. General interest appeared to be excited amongst the people, as will be seen from the fact that nearly 300 persons sat down to the sumptuous tea provided in the Board School. This was supplied by Mrs Senior, of Kent House, Wakefield, whose catering was, as usual, most satisfactory. The comfort of the guests was carefully attended to by the following who presided at the tables:- Mrs Hustler, Mrs Howden, Mrs Wilkes, Mrs Calvert, Mrs Kershaw, Misses Calvert (two), and Miss Terry. The scene presented to the eye was a most pleasing one, nearly every person present being decorated with yellow flowers, and the neatly set out tables having a most tempting appearance. Later on in the evening a most public meeting was held. We confess to our surprise at seeing such a large and encouraging gathering. There need be no fear of the decided Liberalism of Potovens, and we almost feel inclined to believe the remark of an enthusiast who, subsequently, on a resolution being put to the meeting, shouted out that “all the Conservatives had left the place except Joseph Thomas.”*

The speeches were listened to with an intelligent interest that proved how carefully the working men followed the events of the times, and how complete is their knowledge of the political position. It was, too, a happy thought to have the meeting in a Board School, for the elementary tuition there given to the young people could not be better supplemented than by their fathers and mothers listening to the excellent addresses delivered last Saturday night. Important historical facts were mingled with caustic criticisms of the actions and speeches of the Tories and their new allies. The chair was occupied by Mr J. H. Cookson, of Stanley, a staunch and consistent Liberal, who gave an excellent tone to the proceedings by his opening speech. He was in Ireland, he said, when the Earl of Aberdeen, the late Lord Lieutenant, left Dublin, and the demonstration he then saw showed the esteem in which that nobleman was held. He considered that the claims of the Irish to Local Self-Government were reasonable in deed. He believed that when the next election took place they would again see the Grand Old Man [Gladstone] in a majority, and that he would live to see this scheme carried out as he had seen many other great measure, which had been opposed quite as much as this (applause).

The Rev C. Bonham, of Stanley, proposed the following resolution: “That this meeting expresses its strong indignation at the proposals of the Government to suppress the liberties of the Irish people by a new Coercion Bill when the necessity for remedial measures has been acknowledged by them, and also declares its confidence in the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone and the policy adopted by the Gladstonian Liberals.” He congratulated those present on the success of the first meeting of the Liberal Association for Wrenthorpe, and was pleased to see such a fine representation of the ladies (applause). Now that they had Primrose Dames [Primrose League] on the one hand, they wanted some Liberal Dames on the other (hear, hear). The Tories made a strong point of boycotting in Ireland, but they did not need to go to Ireland for boycotting, He knew where some took place not 100 miles from where they stood (applause) – most systematically took place, and where shopkeepers dare not declare themselves Liberal for fear of losing their custom (cries of “Shame”). Alter congratulating them upon the presence of Mr. Pickard, he asked where had the Conservatives brought forward a working man’s candidate with any intention of returning him. The fact was that the Tories simply used the working men as tools, and flung them aside when it suited their purpose (applause).

Mr George Thornton, of Horbury, in seconding the resolution, delivered a telling speech, in which he showed the reasonableness of the Home Rule principle, and especially how successful it had been in Canada. When it was proposed for Canada, the cry was raised, as it was in the present case, that it meant separation, but the fact was that to-day Canada was more loyal than ever.

Mr B Pickard, M.P., on rising to support the resolution, was loudly applauded. He said he was glad to be amongst them once more at Wrenthorpe because he was certain of a hearty reception there. Interested as many of them were in mining legislation there was one matter to which he wished to direct their attention. In the late Government of Mr Gladstone a bill had been brought in by Mr Childers upon which there never had been an opportunity of taking a second reading. We had heard a great deal within the last two months about what the Tory Party is to do for the mining population in the bill that they have introduced in the House of Commons. By a little trickery they had got it read a second time, and that without discussion. Before he left London it had been stated in the House that there was an objection to the bill being passed without discussion on the second reading; but some two days after he left town it was stated by the Home Secretary that he fix a day when it would be possible that a fair discussion could be taken on the bill (a voice: “That is the way they do it”). On Thursday morning, however, he was surprised to find that the Home Secretary had persisted in taking the second reading on Wednesday afternoon, when it was impossible that a discussion could have taken place, and in the absence of all the mining representatives, who were away on other business, in the firm belief that the second reading would not be taken before the Easter holidays. They would all agree that an important measure affecting some 500,000 people employed in the mines should be passed without some discussion (applause). He had been told that some of the underviewers were a little alarmed about this bill. He would say that they need not be alarmed because second class certificates would be given to the holders of certificates under the Act of 1882, and they would find that no harm can come to them under this bill. Therefore if any of the underviewers felt alarm, he hoped this statement would appease them. There were, however, certain clauses in the bill which affected check weighmen, and he hoped the latter would read the clauses for themselves. If Causes 13 and 14 became law it was his opinion that check weighmen would have no freedom whatever. In fact we were told by some colliery owners that the check weighmen in the past had had too much to do with politics and matters that did not belong to their ordinary work, and that their toe nails should he cut; and as far as he could judge the toe nails had pared down considerably. That afternoon, at Barnsley, there had been a meeting of 86 check weighmen, representing nearly every portion of Yorkshire, and these men had condemned the changes referred to, asserting that they would sooner be without any clause whatever regulating their conduct, and rely upon the consideration of the men who appointed them and paid their wages (load cheers). As they all knew, there had been a great deal of eulogy passed upon Sir R. Cross’s bill, which was now the law. Under that bill they had power to select a check weigher from any class of workmen they thought fit, and were not confined to the pit bank or bottom. This portion of the clause was still admitted, but a change was made with regard to another portion, according to which, if a majority of the workmen at any colliery agreed to appoint a check weigher, every man would have to pay his proportion for the payment of this check weigher. In the new bill, however, the clause was that only those men who were in favour of a check weigher being appointed should be called upon to assist in paying his wages. That would introduce anarchy at collieries, and they would have nothing but disturbances. For instance, if there were 200 men at a colliery and if 101 agreed upon a man, the remaining 99 would, under this bill, be at liberty, in his opinion, to refuse to pay towards the man’s wages; or, if they selected a man of their own, there would be two check weighers, and if that was net a fine thing he did not know what was. He trusted miners would read the bill carefully, and communicate with him if they had any amendments to suggest. By thus doing they would materially help him to fight this bill so as to make it the best that could be got, for no doubt it would be a bill for this generation and the next (applause). Mr Pickard proceeded to speak at some length on current political questions, and in doing so, was warmly applauded.

The resolution on being put, was unanimously agreed to amid loud cheers.

On the motion of Mr J Marshall, Horbury, seconded by Mr I Mason, of Silcoates, it was agreed to send copies of the resolution to Mr Gladstone and Mr John Morley.

Mr T P Robinson proposed and Mr David Burnley seconded a vote of thanks to the chairman, which was very warmly recorded and acknowledged by Mr Cookson and a similar compliment having been paid to the managers of the school for the use of the same, the proceedings ended.

We may that during the evening a petition against the Bill was unanimously signed.

* Thinking ‘Joseph Thomas’ was a euphemism for nobody, similar to Sweet FA; it’s something of a surprise to find there really was a man called Joseph Thomas in 19th century Wrenthorpe. He was a boot and shoe maker who lived at Bragg Lane End and was elected to the Stanley-Wrenthorpe Township School Board. [More in a future blog].

Working class men get the vote

The 1885 general election was the first in which a large proportion of working class men could vote. Wrenthorpe now formed part of a new constituency – Normanton – and leading mining trade unionist Ben Pickard successfully fought the new seat as a ‘Lib-Lab’ (Liberal) candidate, remaining its MP until his death in 1904. The seat was seen as a shoo-in for the Liberals, and Free Press believed the Potovens district was overwhelmingly supportive. Alderman Milthorp was a ‘local boy made good’ character – an industrialist who’d served as Mayor of Wakefield in 1881.

Wakefield Free Press
Saturday 21 November 1885

MR B. PICKARD AT WRENTHORPE

Continuing his successful tour of the Normanton Division, Mr B. Pickard, the Liberal candidate, visited Wrenthorpe (Potovens), on Wednesday evening, arriving from Durham shortly before the time of the meeting, which took place in the Board School [later Wrenthorpe Council School]. There was a large attendance of working men, and we believe that in this part of the Division the voting for the Liberal candidate will be three to one for his opponent. The Rev. W. Field, M.A., of Silcoates School, presided, and in opening the proceedings delivered a brief but appropriate address. He described the Tories as the Jumbo party, seeing that they would not get out of the way of the approaching express train, thus acting like the well-known elephant when it met with its death.* Mr Edward Cowey moved the usual resolution approving of Mr Pickard’s candidature and pledging the meeting to support him by all legitimate means. This was seconded by Alderman Milthorp, of Wakefield, who met with a flattering reception, he being a native of the district. He said that it gave him great pleasure to be present on that occasion in his native place, although he must say that at one time he never expected to be able to stand there and congratulate them on having a vote. For the first time in English history working men throughout the country could be called citizens of their country, and he proceeded to point out the manner in which the Liberal party had worked in order to secure the people their rights. Mr Gladstone, he said, had done more for the country than any man, living or dead, and he was prepared to work for the future. As for the Tory party they never initiated or carried a measure in favour of the people (hear, hear, and applause). Mr Pickard, on rising, was received with loud applause, and he spoke at some length in explanation of his views and the position be took. Very telling were his remarks when, on speaking of free education, he referred to the fact that he and others in a similar position in life, had not when young the chance of acquiring a good education. They had had to pick up their knowledge in after years as best they could, and he remembered with gratitude the kindness of a schoolmaster who used to come from Castleford to Kippax in the evenings to instruct another young man and him. That young man was now a Wesleyan minister, and he (Mr Pickard) was where he was. The resolution on being put to the meeting was adopted amid great enthusiasm with only one dissentient, and the proceedings closed with a vote of thanks to the chairman.

* An odd contemporary reference to a Barnum circus elephant who had been struck by a locomotive in Ontario a couple of months before.

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.

Was this the final accident at Wrenthorpe Colliery?

Arguably the strangest accident in Wrenthorpe Colliery’s 90-year history occurred just three months before its closure. But this time no miner was directly affected.

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail
Wednesday 21 March 1928

BURST FLYWHEEL
HOUSE WRECKED: WOMAN’S NARROW ESCAPE

There were miraculous escapes from yesterday when the flywheel of the engine driving the ventilation plant the Wrenthorpe Colliery, Wakefield, burst. The engine-house was wrecked and piece of machinery was hurled through the roof and crashed into the room of cottage in which a woman was sleeping. The woman, Mrs Colley, escaped injury, but her cat was killed. Mr Colley was in the pit at the time.

The flywheel was 13ft in diameter and weighed about 10 tons. A large piece of metal from the broken flywheel crashed through the rear wall of Mrs Colley’s cottage, carrying away the whole of the staircase and part of the ceiling. Mrs Colley was trapped the bedroom and had to be rescued through the bedroom window. She was able leave hospital after attention.