Nibble and Clink

The abandoned Nibble and Clink mine shaft near Woodlesford. The photograph was taken in the early 1960s by signalman Bill Tiffany from the Waterloo Colliery Sidings signal box. The River Aire is in the distance and the earthworks beyond are the opencast mining which took place from the 1950s.

During the 1870s the nearest working mine shaft to the centre of Woodlesford was on the narrowest section of land between the Midland Railway and the Aire and Calder Navigation. About half a mile towards Leeds from Woodlesford lock the shaft was known as Nibble and Clink, a name used at several other pits in different parts of the country and believed to be derived from the noise the winding ropes made when they went over the pit wheel.

It’s not known precisely when Nibble and Clink was sunk but on a geological survey published in 1875 it is labelled as passing through 9 seams of coal starting 12 yards below the surface and going down 183 yards to the Beeston seam. It was used for winding coal from the various levels which was then transported away mainly by railway although some may have gone by canal. From 1871 it belonged to the Waterloo and Woodlesford Coal Company which throughout its short life of 9 years appears to have had a troubled existence.

From the the early 1700s the coal in the immediate area, under the Temple Newsam estate on the northern side of the canal and river, and at Rothwell Haigh on the southern side, was mined by men working for the Fenton family. Originally from Woodhouse Hill in Hunslet, over several generations, they leased and developed many local pits, introduced steam engines to pump water from the deeper seams, and became known as the “Coal Kings” of Yorkshire.

The Waterloo colliery, centred around Thorpe Stapleton, was started by William Fenton on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The earliest Ordnance Survey map from 1846/7 shows a number of pit shafts and a network of tramway lines connecting them to canal side wharves. Furthest to the east, just north of the river, were the Woodlesford pits going down to the Middleton Main seam at 83 yards.

An extract from the Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1846/7, showing some of the Waterloo pits and Irwin Square, generally known as Waterloo village. Other maps can be found at the National Library of Scotland.

On a triangle of land, bound by the River Aire and the canal, William Fenton built a small village of 70 cottages for his miners and their families. It was also known as Waterloo but identified on maps as Ingram Place or Irwin Square from the names of the owners of Temple Newsam. A school room, used for church services, was opened in 1845 and it’s recorded that cricket matches were played between teams from Waterloo and Woodlesford. The site of the village is now just to the north east of Junction 44 of the M1 motorway.

In the 1850s the lease to mine coal under the land north of Thorpe Stapleton was sold to engineer John Towlerton Leather and his pits became known as Waterloo Main Colliery. The pits in the area to the south and east of Thorpe Stapleton retained the name Waterloo (sometimes Thorpe Hall) colliery and were inherited by John Thomas Fenton, a reverend in the Church of England who had been educated at Cambridge. After taking control he moved to live at Thorpe Stapleton House with his family and, according to John Batty in his History of Rothwell, J. T. Fenton was “nearly ruined” after a 40 week long miners’ strike in 1858 during which the colliery was “shut up.”

A couple of years later John Clarkson, a 33 year old miner who lived at Woodlesford, was killed in a roof fall at Pasture Pit close to Thorpe Hall. He had been working with a man named Calverley when they were buried under about two tons of rock. Calverley survived but an “insensible” Clarkson was taken to Leeds Infirmary where he died. It was reported that his body was “dreadfully bruised all over,” but none of his bones were broken.

At the inquest it was claimed that despite repeated warnings the two men had failed to fix enough props to support the roof. As was common at the time the government inspector, a Mr. Morton, was clearly on the side of the colliery owners. He said there was no neglect by J. T. Fenton, or his agents, and laid the blame solely on the “carelessness” of the two miners. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

Perhaps with some remorse for the deaths in his colliery, in June 1862 J. T. Fenton joined with other colliery owners to establish a fund for the widows and orphans of miners killed in accidents. He also employed 15 labourers and 4 boys farming 500 acres of land around Thorpe Stapleton and there is a record of him being taken to court after his bailiff moved part of his herd of 100 cattle illegally during an outbreak of the highly infectious “cattle plague,” now known as rinderpest.

By 1861 Charles Fenton, J. T. Fenton’s 21 year old eldest son, was the agent in charge of the Waterloo colliery and at some point in the next few years they took on another partner. He was John William Clay from Rastrick near Brighouse and it’s more than likely that his involvement brought new capital into the business. However something must have gone wrong between them because the partnership with Clay was dissolved in March 1864.

In September 1865 J. T. Fenton placed an advertisement in the Leeds Intelligencer looking for another partner, or partners, to join him in the Waterloo colliery. Alternatively he offered to let the concern or even sell it outright “on reasonable terms, with immediate possession,” based on a recent valuation by “an eminent valuer.”

It’s not clear precisely what arrangements were made but it appears the reason for the advertisement was J. T. Fenton’s ill-health. After a “protracted illness” he died the following February at the age of 62 with John William Clay returning to become sole owner. Charles Fenton left the business to become an agent for the Great Northern Railway and later emigrated to New Zealand.

J. W. Clay’s father, Joseph Travis Clay, owned a mill at Rastrick, a thriving concern employing 70 hands making “fancy” woollen garments so buying the colliery may have been a way of investing the Clay family’s profits. However it’s doubtful if the younger Clay had any skills in mining and he appears not to have lived near his pits, preferring Rastrick and then Warwick Place in Leeds where he was described in the electoral registers as a colliery proprietor.

John William Clay in later life.

The management of Waterloo was placed in the hands of another agent and the first sign of the problems it was to face under Clay’s ownership came just a few months after he took over. Philip William May, who was described as J. W. Clay & Company’s engineer and managing director, was arrested in October 1866 for embezzling £46 of the firm’s money. He had been taking cash and handing out receipts for coal supplied to William Denison’s brickworks and Bray and Waddington’s iron and brass foundry, but had not paid the money into the bank.

May fled to London where he was caught by a detective from Leeds and brought back to face the magistrates who sent him to gaol for two months. He came from a respectable Staffordshire mine owning family and had previously been convicted of a similar offence, but in moving across the Pennines seems to have managed to keep his criminal past from his employer’s inexperienced eyes.

In March 1868 brick maker William Denison was to feature in another court case at Leeds Town Hall, this time brought by John William Clay against him for not paying for the coal with which he had been supplied. The normal practice was to pay monthly but Denison had run up a debt of £135 17s. 9d. for coal supplied from Clay’s East Street Wharf in Leeds between June and October 1867. The action was undefended and Denison was given four days to pay up.

Although he didn’t live at Thorpe Stapleton John William Clay had voting rights there due to his ownership of property and in 1869 he became firmly established as a leading citizen when he was the only candidate and elected unopposed to the position of guardian in the newly created Hunslet Poor Law Union.

Before government benefits under the welfare state the unions administered handouts to the poor and ran the workhouses. The Hunslet Union had 18 members and covered six parishes to the south of Leeds including Hunslet, Middleton, Thorpe Stapleton, Temple Newsam, Rothwell, and Oulton-with-Woodleford. In 1870 Clay joined the assessment committee along with Oulton stone merchant William Holdsworth. Edmund Calverley of Oulton Hall, one of the wealthiest men in the district, was an unelected member.

Another extract from the Ordnance Survey map of 1846/7 with geological information overlaid in 1875.

A plan to sink a shaft between the railway and the Aire and Calder Navigation at Woodlesford seems first to have been put forward in 1867. The minutes of the Midland Railway’s Way and Works Committee for 17 December that year record an application “from Messrs. J. W. Clay & Co. for a siding to their new proposed pits at Rothwell Haigh.”

The application was referred to the Midland’s chief engineer John Sydney Crossley. He reported back on 13 March 1868 that there was no difficulty in providing a siding “about 1000 yards from Rothwell Haigh on the up side of the line.” This indicates precisely the site of the Nibble and Clink shaft as shown on later maps and plans.

It’s not clear if any railway work was actually done in 1868 as the matter was referred to the Traffic Committee “to consider the necessity for providing the siding.” The next reference in the minutes wasn’t until 15 August 1871 when the Way and Works Committee ordered “that a plan and estimate be made for constructing sidings for Messrs. Clay & Co. near Woodlesford at the Midland Company’s cost on Midland ground.” It’s possible this refers to an extension of a siding built between 1868 and 1871 but it’s also likely that work on sinking the new shaft had been slow, or had not even started, and a railway siding hadn’t yet been built.

Mining engineer John Marley.

What is certain is that on 31 May 1871 the lease enabling the Waterloo colliery to mine coal under land in Whitkirk and Rothwell parishes, owned by Emily Charlotte Meynell-Ingram, was renewed. What’s more an agreement was then made, just after Christmas 1871, between J. W. Clay, his father, and John Marley, a mining and civil engineer from Darlington, to promote a new limited company to exploit the coal, along with the fireclay and ironstone also found in the area.

The new entity was the Waterloo and Woodlesford Coal Company Ltd. It started with an initial nominal capital of £40,000 raised from 4000 shares priced at £10 each. Although the new company wasn’t legally registered until 26 January 1872 it’s clear from the articles of association, now in the National Archives, that it was to take over the liabilities of J. W. Clay’s Waterloo colliery from the beginning of the previous October and he was to be secretary and majority shareholder with 2000 shares. The registered office was at 2 Fearn’s Island just south of Crown Point Bridge in Leeds.

The articles refer to the beds of coal to be worked under the Meynell-Ingram lease including the Bright Coal and Top Bed or Little Coal, along with the much deeper and potentially more lucrative Beeston Bed. It’s more than likely then that the Nibble and Clink shaft at Woodlesford was finally completed, using part of the new capital, during 1872.

As well as the three original promoters the board of the new company included Henry John Grievson, a Darlington merchant who had been mineral manager on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and John Edward Mammatt of Wortley Grange. They both took 100 shares. Mammatt was a mining engineer and had made his name in the Oaks pit disaster near Barnsley in December 1866 in which 381 miners and rescuers were killed during a series of explosions. Along with another man, he was lowered down the shaft in a steel tub to bring out the sole surviving rescuer.

The second largest shareholder was Farnley ironmaster William James Armitage who had 400 shares. There were about ten others, including merchants, farmers, engineers and solicitors mainly from Yorkshire and Durham, who each took between 25 and 200 shares.

The day to day running of the enterprise was placed in the hands of a newly qualified mining engineer, 21 year old Matthias Stokoe Hall. He moved from Kelloe near Darlington to live at Woodlesford and took 50 shares. Under the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1872 he studied for a first class manager’s certificate granted in March 1873 by Frank Newby Wardell, the government appointed inspector for Yorkshire. In February 1874 Hall became a member of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers.

An extract from a map published in 1921. The Nibble and Clink shaft is marked as “Pump” on the opposite side of the railway line to the Waterloo Colliery Sidings signalbox. The old shafts at the top of the map were marked “Woodlesford Pits” on the 1846/7 map. The blue line is the boundary between Rothwell and Whitkirk.

It’s clear that Nibble and Clink was in production in 1872 from a newspaper report of the inquest into the death of a man found in the canal nearby in October that year. Issac Fawkner, a 50 year old bachelor from Macclesfield, had been staying with a relative at Sodom in Holbeck but he had been missing for three weeks.

His badly bruised body was discovered just after five o’clock one morning by John Rayner, a miner from Alma Place, who had been walking along the tow path to start his shift at J. & J. Charlesworth’s pit off Bullough Lane. “When I got near to Woodlesford colliery I saw the deceased’s body floating upright in the water,” he told the inquest which was held at the Boot and Shoe Inn.

Surgeon James Nowell, the Woodlesford doctor, said it was clear from the injuries that Fawkner had been hit with a sharp instrument and he had been dead or insensible before he was put in the water. The jury returned a verdict that he had been “murdered by some person or persons unknown.”

There are no reports of Fawkner’s killer, or killers, being caught but the Waterloo and Woodlesford Coal Company were to have their own brushes with the law over the next few years. The first came in December 1873 when they were taken to court by William Allison, a seedsman and florist from Kirkgate Market in Leeds.

He owned a “valuable black filly” which was put out to pasture in the care of a farmer who rented fields from the colliery company near Thorpe Hall. One of their tramways ran through the fields and somebody forgot to close a gate. The filly got out, jumped into the canal and was injured.

Allison sued the company for negligence with Matthias Stokoe Hall claiming in court that it was the farmer’s responsibility to look after the gates. The judge disagreed and awarded Allison £34 and costs.

A much more serious charge was levelled against them the following year by Superintendent William Hall, Deputy Chief Constable of the West Riding. Hall was also Inspector of Weights and Measures and on Saturday 21 February 1874 he turned up unannounced at Nibble and Clink to check the pit top weighing machine. It was used to weigh the corves, or tubs, of coal, which came up the shaft from the mine and it determined how much the miners were paid.

Using “imperial standard” weights Hall found the weighing machine was only giving half the weight it should have done. “It is certainly the worst machine I have ever tested. I could scarcely conceive that there was such a bad machine in my jurisdiction,” he said. The machine seemed to have been in a bad state for a long time and he thought the miners “must have sacrificed their earnings to a very considerable extent.”

Once again Matthias Stokoe Hall was in court, this time at Wakefield. His lawyer, a Mr. Quiggin, started by contending that within the meaning of the law no offence had been committed as the coals weighed on the machine were not sold directly to the public. The magistrates thought otherwise and said they wanted to know “the why and the wherefore of the machine being wrong.”

Backtracking, Quiggin said he’d been instructed to state that the company were not aware that the machine was not working correctly. “There was no intention to wrong anyone,” he said. “When its faulty condition was discovered it was at once sent away to be rectified.” Unimpressed the magistrates fined them £5 12s. 6d.

Whether the weighing machine had been deliberately fixed or it whether it was broken is impossible to say but it seems the amount of coal being produced at Woodlesford warranted an enlargement of the railway sidings adjacent to the pit. At the request of the Midland Railway’s Traffic Committee a new plan was drawn up with the cost of a siding next to the main line and its connections being borne by the railway, “the remainder of the work to be at the cost of the applicants.” £3032 was approved to be spent by the Way and Works Committee on 16 June 1874.

A Midland Railway plan of the Waterloo sidings and colliery in 1875. (Midland Railway Study Centre, Derby.)

It was probably not the right time to be making such an investment as along with the rest of the economy the coal industry was about to enter what was called the Long Depression which lasted into the 1880s. As with future recessions and depressions it hadn’t been predicted and during the early years of the 1870s there had been much optimism with many new pits being sunk in the Leeds area. Indeed in March 1874 the directors of the Waterloo and Woodlesford company decided to raise a further £20,000 in capital by issuing new shares to existing shareholders.

However at about the same time the outlook started to change and the price of coal began to fall. In previous years the miners had done relatively well but now the coal owners demanded a 25 per cent reduction in wages. After negotiations it was reduced to 12 and a half per cent but as prices continued to fall the owners demanded a further 20 per cent cut and by October 14,000 men in the West Yorkshire area were out on strike. The Waterloo and Woodlesford was amongst over 30 coal companies involved in the dispute listed by the Leeds Times.

After a month the miners were persuaded to return to work pending arbitration by an independent lawyer. This was done largely by the efforts of the leadership of the West Yorkshire Miners’ Association including Benjamin Pickard from Kippax who later became the Liberal M. P. for Normanton. In January 1875, after many meetings between the owners and the miners’ executive at the Great Northern Hotel in Leeds, the arbitrator, county court judge William Thomas Shave Daniel, ordered what amounted to a 25 per cent reduction in wages from those being paid at the end of March 1874.

A pamphlet produced by the miners’ association summing up the dispute refers several times to the “Woodlesford Coal Company” leaving out the reference to Waterloo so it’s possible that by this time the Nibble and Clink pit was the company’s principal source of coal and most of its other pits had closed, although the official name of the company remained the same.

Looking up towards the old shaft from the canal tow path. 

A figure for the number of men working at Nibble and Clink comes from a brief report in the York Herald of a religious service held “in the new pit at Woodlesford” in February 1875. It was conducted by the Reverend Charles John Hussey as part of a mission in the parish to increase membership of All Saints’ church which had opened just over four years earlier. There were over 150 miners at the service held during the day shift. Given there would be other men employed to do “byework” advancing the faces at nights and others working on the surface it probably means there were over 200 men in total employed at the pit.

A week or so after the service a plumber and painter, taken on to paint between 20 and 30 of the company’s railway wagons, was severely injured at the Midland Railway’s Hunslet sidings. The wagons had been taken there because there wasn’t enough room to do the work in the sidings adjacent to the pit.

25 year old Joe Newsome lived in Woodlesford with his wife and their young daughter and he had been employed along with another man called Craven, most likely 37 year old joiner Joseph Craven who lived on Stockings Lane.

Just before two o’clock on the afternoon of February 26th Newsome was between two of the wagons painting the buffer beams whilst Craven was on the outside. Apparently without warning the wagons were “violently pushed together” and Newsome’s arm was caught between the buffers where it was badly crushed and broken.

He was dragged about 20 yards along the siding before the wagons were stopped. His injuries were “of such a dreadful character” he had to have his right arm amputated at Leeds Infirmary and subsequently he couldn’t carry on his trade.

In a damages case held before a jury at the start of August the railway’s lawyer claimed Newsome and Craven were in the sidings without permission and the railway were not responsible for the accident. However it was shown the colliery company had been given written approval to have their wagons painted at Hunslet. Even in the face of the evidence the lawyer claimed the person who had granted it did not have the authority to do so, but after an argument in court he was persuaded to drop that part of his defence.

He was still adamant Newsome and his colleague were there at their own risk. They had been warned that shunting was going on constantly and it would take one of them most of his time to act as a look out. It was claimed Newsome had agreed to this and had been responsible for the accident by his own negligence in not making sure Craven was looking out properly.

The jury disagreed and Joe Newsome was awarded £300 in damages, a substantial amount for the time. He appears to have invested the money wisely by starting a grocery and beer shop on Midland Street in Woodlesford close to his home at Temperance Terrace in Claremont Street. He went on to become a traveller for Bentley’s brewery and was also the landlord of the Two Pointers Inn. Ironically he was once again a victim of the Midland Railway when he was “severely shaken” when his train home to Woodlesford ran head on into a Bristol express just outside Leeds Wellington station on 21 December 1880.

Another view of Nibble and Clink looking east towards Swillington. In August 1877 a team of 8 men from the pit beat a team from Bentley’s brewery in a “tug of war” match. It was held in the grounds of Eshald House during the Woodlesford Floral and Horticultural Exhibition.

By the 1870s there was a system of safety in coal mines. It had been developed over the previous 30 years and was enforced under acts of parliament. Some of the miners, however, could be a law unto themselves, and it appears from a trial heard at Wakefield that it was quite common at Nibble and Clink for the men to break the colliery’s rules. It happened in February 1876 when George Bottom, an “elderly” miner, was charged with infringing the “40th special rule in force at the colliery.” Perhaps, with his age and experience, Bottom thought he knew the job better than some of the younger men in charge.

The case against him was that he had attempted to remove some explosive on a coal face which had misfired when it was detonated by a shot firer called Holt. Bottom and another miner named Forshaw were working together and they had been told three times not to drill the shot out.

Despite the warnings and being moved to another part of the workings they had returned and Bottom was found by an official drilling out the shot with Forshaw holding a lamp for him. Forshaw allegedly told Bottom they would be “in for it” but he replied that they could finish the work in 10 minutes.

Mr. Andrews, who was described as “the certified manager at the collieries,” told the court it was “a most dangerous practice, and as it had become very common he was directed by the company to press the case.” George Bottom denied he had anything to do with drilling out the shot but ended up with a fine of £3 4d. or six weeks in Wakefield gaol if he couldn’t pay. There was a similar case in December 1878 in which Charles McMillan, who claimed he wasn’t aware he was “transgressing the by-laws,” was fined 20 shillings.

Andrews had taken over as manager at some point during 1875 following the departure of Matthias Stokoe Hall and it may well have been Hall’s youth, and inability to control the workforce, that had led to his replacement. He returned to his native county of Durham where he married the daughter of a music teacher in 1879 and continued as a mining engineer living in Bishop Auckland.

The new manager can’t have survived for long either because soon after the case against George Bottom there was yet another man in charge. He was Issac William Hewitt White, a mining and civil engineer who would go on to have a long association with Woodlesford and the surrounding district. The son of a Somerset glassworks and mine owner he had come to the West Riding in 1870, at the age of 19, as an apprentice to John Edward Mammatt and, like Matthias Stokoe Hall, had qualified for his first class manager’s certificate in 1873. He then became a partner of Mammatt who had moved to live in Roundhay.

This view of Nibble and Clink was taken before the demolition of the chimney at the former paper mill in Woodlesford in the 1960s.

During White’s time the Waterloo and Woodlesford company was capable of producing between two and three thousand tons of coal per week although it’s doubtful if that amount was achieved on a regular basis. It’s also not clear if it came mainly from the Nibble and Clink pit or was the combined amount including the remaining pits closer to Thorpe Stapleton. If 3000 tons was all carried away by rail it would have needed 375 wagon loads given the maximum weight carried by each wooden planked wagon at that time was 8 tons.

An Aire and Calder Navigation rent book from 1876 suggests a substantial tonnage of coal was still being taken by tramway to Leeds where the Waterloo and Woodlesford paid £186 per year for their wharf, whereas at Woodlesford the rent for their land was only £9. The rent for the company’s wharf close to Waterloo village was even less at £5 per year.

Shortly after Issac W. H. White’s arrival the miners under his control set up their own union. During the dispute in 1874 there was no mention of a lodge of the West Yorkshire Miners’ Association in Woodlesford itself but there were lodges at Rothwell and for the Joshua Bower & Sons’ pits near Swillington so it’s likely the Woodlesford and Waterloo men had belonged to those. By 1876 with more men employed at Nibble and Clink it was probably thought a union solely for those at the pit had become viable.

Under the Trade Union Acts of 1871 and 1876 unions had to be registered and operate under a set of rules and so on 12 August 1876 the Waterloo and Woodlesford Miners’ Refuge was formally established. Evening meetings were held every two weeks at the Boot and Shoe Inn at which the members had to pay a subscription of 3d. per week. To join men had to pay 2s. 6d. reduced to 1s. 6d. for boys under 16. Elections for a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, three trustees and a committee of seven were to be held every six months.

After a qualifying period members could claim a weekly amount if they were sick or had been injured. The wives of those who died were also eligible for an allowance. If there was a strike those over 16 years could receive 10 shillings a week and those under 16 five shillings, “so long as the funds will allow of such payment.” Those with children could claim one shilling per week for each child under 12.

A 16 page rule book was issued, the key points of which were:

“To secure the prices and wages bargained for by the members, to prevent all illegal stoppages at the pay office, and to protect members when unjustly dealt with by the masters or managers.

To try for compensation for accidents (fatal or otherwise), if such accidents have been caused by negligence on the part of employers and managers.

To secure the true weight of the material sent to bank by the miners, which will give justice both to employers and work people.

To shorten the time of labour in the pit to eight hours per day, and to improve the moral and social position of the mining classes.

To provide a weekly allowance for the support of members and their families who may be locked out or on strike, and to resist any unjust regulations in connection with their employment.”

The first secretary was James Haigh who was 48 years old. He had been born at Royston but by 1851 was living in Newsam Green and working at the Fenton pits nearby. He had married his cousin, Emma Haigh, and they had a large family which they brought up at Waterloo village before moving to Woodrow in Methley. In later life they lived next to the post office on Station Lane in Woodlesford. The other founding members were Edwin Dennison, Tom Hirst, Joseph Calverley, Joseph Haigh, Arthur Hughes and John Hirst.

Sadly the need for the union and its benefit funds was only too evident in the next couple of years. The first incident was the death of 32 year old John Nevitt who was seriously injured in a roof fall on the afternoon of Friday 14 December 1877. He had been walking along one of the roads underground with two others when a piece of rock weighing about 15 cwts. fell on him.

Some of his ribs were broken but he had other more severe internal injuries and he died the same evening in Leeds Infirmary. At the inquest at Leeds Town Hall a deputy called Ellis said the roof had been safe when he had checked it at midday. Issac W. H. White said the roofs were examined on every shift but sometimes the weather affected the rock.

The coroner said he’d received a letter from the inspector, Frank Wardell, who had examined the colliery and was of the opinion that Nevitt’s death was “purely accidental.” The jury agreed. John Nevitt, who is thought to have been born at Tunstall in Staffordshire, was buried at Oulton.

The following April the Waterloo and Woodlesford Miners’ Refuge flexed its industrial muscle when it brought the men and boys “at the two pits belonging to the Waterloo and Woodlesford Colliery Company” out on a strike which lasted more than two weeks. The dispute was over a 5 per cent cut in wages and a reduction in the amount per yard they were given for “packing“ rock to hold up the roofs of the workings.

About 800 men and boys who worked at the five pits around Allerton Bywater were out on strike at the same time in a dispute over the use of “riddles” which the management wanted the men to use underground to cut down the amount of waste rock, or slack, being brought to the surface with the coal.

In the Waterloo and Woodlesford dispute representatives of the West Yorkshire Miners’ Association attempted to seek arbitration but the local union refused saying they had no connection to the organisation.

The accounts for the year starting on 1 December 1877 show that the refuge took in £200 7s. 7d. in contributions. £104 11s. 2d. was paid out in strike pay, £6 for sick and accident pay and £3 in death benefits. About £8 was spent on expenses including rent of the lodge room at the Boot and Shoe and the balance of about £76 was either in the bank or in cash held by the treasurer.

That all was not well with the company and with Nibble and Clink in particular became clear after an accident in November 1878 in which two miners were killed when they fell to the bottom of the shaft. Despite the jury recording their deaths as an accident the inquest revealed several pieces of faulty equipment. There were also serious questions asked about the management of the pit and within a few weeks the whole enterprise was put into liquidation.

Just after midday on Friday 8 November Solomon Butterworth and Bob Inman were amongst about 180 men working underground. They were being hauled to the surface in the pit’s cage which came up too fast, hit the headstock and then, despite two safety devices, plummeted back 200 yards to the bottom of the shaft. Edward Rose, a Hunslet surgeon, said their skulls were fractured, all their bones were “smashed,” and one of them was “beyond identification.”

The inquest was held at the Old Red Lion Inn at Thwaite Gate where it was revealed that the man in charge of the winding engine had been sent to prison for manslaughter after two men died in a similar winding accident at Glass Houghton three years earlier.

On his release he’d changed his name from Henry Johnson to Joseph Jackson. Nobody at Nibble and Clink had asked him for proper credentials when he’d been taken on a fortnight before the accident. From newspaper reports of the inquest it was still unclear whether his real name was Johnson or Jackson.

A juryman suggested that when he was first employed the Woodlesford miners had “played” and refused to go down the pit for several days in protest but this was denied by the management. In his defence he claimed one of the valves on his engine had stuck because it was furred up and the wire and bell used for signalling from the pit bottom was faulty.

Despite being overwound there was a device on the rope called a Walker’s patent safety hook which  was designed to prevent the cage from falling but it failed and, despite the rules, John Leeson, the banksman, had wandered away from the pit top.

Diagram showing how a cage should come to rest using a Walker’s patent safety hook.

The banksman’s main job was to supervise the men in and out of the cage and to unload the corves of coal when they were hauled up. When the cage carrying Butterworth and Inman came up Leeson should have manually pushed four heavy bars across the shaft mouth but he was too far away hanging up some tickets from the corves when the cage shot out and he was unable prevent it from falling back down. Leeson was normally supervised by the head banksman but he was away from the pit.

It also emerged that the enginewright, Henry Golightly, had left the company just two days before the accident and been replaced by the foreman labourer, John Crossland, who, despite being “one of the most valuable, sober, and trustworthy men about the place,” was not a mechanic and had no formal qualifications. Neither did he appear to have troubled himself reading the colliery rules posted on the pit bank.

Various of the rules had been ignored by all of the men involved and when he gave evidence the man in ultimate charge, Issac W. H. White, claimed none of the faults had been brought to his attention. By this time White appears to have taken on consulting work at other collieries and the day to day running of the pit was in the hands of the steward and underviewer, Charles Waterhouse, who’d been in the pit office at the time of the accident. He said he’d never seen a banksman walk away from the pit top when a cage was coming up but he’d witnessed a cage being overwound two weeks previously by the second engineman who was also called Waterhouse.

On the instructions of the coroner an independent engineer, John Kirby, who lived on Wakefield Road in Leeds, had examined all the machinery after the accident. He identified the main cause as the the failure of part of the Walker’s safety device and recommended it be made of stronger material. Also the bars which had to be put across the top of the shaft should be made self acting, “so that as soon as the cage arrived at the landing stage the apparatus would fall into such a position that it would be impossible to fall down the shaft until liberated by someone in charge.”

Despite the neglect shown by the banksman and the engineman the jury decided that it was faulty equipment which had caused the cage to fall and they returned a verdict of “accidentally killed.” They were, however, critical of the men and the pit’s managers for not seeing that the rules were carried out. Additionally they recommended that the improvements suggested by the independent engineer be carried out.

Both Solomon Butterworth and Bob Inman were 30 years old when they were killed. They were brothers-in-law with young families having married sisters Bathsheba and Mary Ann Marsden, daughters of a Woodlesford papermaker. They were buried side by side at Swillington three days after the accident. The cart carrying their bodies along the towpath from the pit to Bullough Lane bridge was charged 6d. by the Aire and Calder Navigation. A further 1d. was charged to a J. Blackburn “for funeral party down towing path to Woodlesford.”

In an unfortunate postscript Bob Inman’s brother, Thomas, was accused of appropriating part of £7 which had been collected by the miners at Nibble and Clink for the widows. He claimed it had been spent on funeral expenses but magistrates sent him for trial.

Of the others involved in the accident the banksman, John Leeson, was 25 years old. Born at Market Overton in Rutland, in 1873 he married Eliza Tate, daughter of the Woodlesford lock keeper. They lived on Pottery Lane and had a baby son. Afterwards they moved to live at Gorton in Manchester where they ended up running a draper’s shop.

William Jennings, who was 50, was the “hanger-on” at the bottom of the shaft and the last to see Butterworth and Inman alive. He was the son of a miner and brought up at Waterloo village. He later moved to a cottage close to the John o’ Gaunt’s Inn and lived into old age.

The underviewer, Charles Waterhouse, was the son of the Waterloo schoolmaster. After the accident he moved to Castleford and died there in 1895. One of his sons, Major Waterhouse, also became a mining engineer and colliery manager in the Tinlsey area of Sheffield. The enginewright, Henry Golightly, was born in Northumberland. After Woodlesford he moved to Woolley colliery and later became a  manager in one of the first motor engineering and car body building workshops in Sheffield.

Given the prevarication over his real name so far it’s been impossible to discover what happened to Henry Johnson alias Joseph Jackson.

Even before the inquest jury had given their verdict and made their recommendations for improvements the directors of the Waterloo and Woodlesford Colliery Company Ltd. had decided to put it up for sale and on Thursday 14 November 1878 a classified advertisement appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer.

Classified advertisement from the Yorkshire Post, November 1878.

Rather than the cost of the improvements the sale was probably brought about by the fact they weren’t making any money. £20,000 had been raised in new capital a year earlier but it doesn’t seem to have helped and within a month of the sale being advertised a meeting of shareholders was held at the offices in Leeds where it was proposed by John William Clay to liquidate the company.

A minute of the meeting reads: “It had been proved to the satisfaction of the meeting that the said company cannot by reason of its liabilities continue its business and it is advisable to wind up the same and accordingly that the said company be wound up voluntarily.” John Edward Mammatt and Thomas B. Jones were appointed as liquidators at a salary of £200 each.

The company was finally wound up at the end of May 1880. A report in the Sheffield Independent said the paid up capital was £77,000, and the deficiency account showed a loss of £109,528. During the final year of working, under the liquidators, there was a loss of £1,648. The amount of claims ranking for dividend was £37,195, and the liquidators declared a first and final dividend of 2s. 6d. in the pound.

The newspaper went on: “The state of matters is becoming very alarming in the West Yorkshire district. Pits noted for the best house and engine coal barely average half-time, and colliers are casting about for some more lucrative means of labour, large numbers having vacated their homes and gone northwards.”

As far as Issac W. H. White was concerned the implied criticism of his management at Woodlesford doesn’t appear to have affected his career or standing within the community. In 1879 he was already the engineer at Bowers’ Allerton Main Collieries which had also spent a period in liquidation but recently reopened. It included West Allerton or “Old Engine” pit near the hamlet of Astley. Despite the shaft being on the north side of the River Aire most of the coal it extracted was from the Haigh Moor seam underneath the Water Haigh area of the Calverley estate at Oulton. By 1882 White was acting as engineer for the Silkstone and Haigh Moor Coal Company at Allerton Bywater.

He also owned a quarry at Kippax and branched out into railway engineering becoming highly involved in plans to build a railway from West Ardsley through Rothwell and Woodlesford and on to Drax. It was called the East and West Yorkshire Union Railway and before a parliamentary committee into its formation in London in 1883 White gave evidence throwing light on why the Waterloo and Woodlesford company had failed.

The main reason, it appears, were the high charges made by the Midland Railway and the North Eastern Railway to carry the coal to Hull where it could have been sold to steamship owners and sent for export.

As White explained: “Attempts were made for many years to establish a satisfactory trade to Hull during the summer months. A great difficulty was found in keeping the collieries employed. Trains of coal were standing sometimes for weeks upon the sidings, but there was no demand for them, and the result was a very irregular working of the colliery and large loss in the working, and ultimately the colliery was abandoned. The whole of the plant had to be removed, and a loss was sustained, I believe of £109,000.”

He was asked if the work generally, besides the coal trade, had been depressed amongst the population. “Yes,” he said, “there has been great distress amongst the people generally in the district in the last few years. I am a resident in the locality, and can speak to that.” There had been “very great distress at that particular time for the colliers’ families.”

Asked why the men and their families couldn’t go somewhere else he said: “No. They came to very great distress, and they never recovered from it. There was a very large sum paid weekly in wages, which was lost to the district.”

Most badly hit was the colliery village of Waterloo. With the closure of the Waterloo and Woodlesford company’s two collieries its families did move away and its location meant it was unattractive for others. By July 1880 most of the houses had been demolished leaving only the recently rebuilt schoolroom standing. Later it was used as a temporary isolation hospital for smallpox and other diseases until better facilities were built on Haigh Road in Rothwell.

Many of the men who had worked at Nibble and Clink appear to have moved to work at pits around Methley and in May 1881 the union changed its name to the Woodlesford and Methley Miners’ Association. Collection meetings were held every two weeks at the White Hart in Woodlesford and the Bay Horse at Methley.

As for the Nibble and Clink pit itself the shaft and stone work of the pit bank survived into the 1960s before they were finally demolished and all traces of the colliery removed. On the Ordnance Survey map from 1921 the shaft is labelled “Pump” indicating it may have been used to pump water from the Beeston seam which was also worked by Charlesworth’s Midland or Fanny pit nearby. It’s believed the water ran in a pipe to supply Bentley’s brewery. The map also shows two pit cottages which may have originally been the colliery’s offices.

Click on the link below to read transcripts of newspaper reports about the Waterloo and Woodlesford pits.

Waterloo Woodlesford newspaper stories

A Midland Railway plan from the early 1900s showing the Nibble and Clink pit “in ruins.” (Midland Railway Study Centre, Derby.)