Below is a short history of the Henry Briggs company, owners of Water Haigh colliery from 1908 until nationalisation in 1947. It was written by Donald Henry Currer Briggs, a descendant of the founder, and published in 1971. There is also a link to extracts from a company brochure from 1938.
A MERCHANT A BANKER AND THE COAL TRADE, A Yorkshire Family History
by Donald Henry Currer Briggs
These historical notes have been prepared in order to establish how certain of the descendants of the family, headed by John Briggs of Hull, born in 1693, who at that time was a protestant dissenter, and later a Unitarian, came to be associated with the banking world and the development of the coal trade in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
John Briggs was a merchant in the export trade of Hull, he was particularly connected with woollens and textiles produced in the active industrial areas centered around Wakefield, Halifax and Leeds, all places connected to the port by water transport, either river or canal. At that time protestant dissenting groups in the Hull district met frequently in private houses and John Briggs was one of their number who eventually joined together to build Bowlalley Lane Unitarian Chapel, (circa 1725) with a seating capacity of 450; the members of the congregation reached about 120.
In 1726 on June 22nd John Briggs married Sarah Buttry in York Minster. In the register of the Minster they are both described as citizens of Hull. Their eldest son, also called John, was born on March 23rd 1727; he died on March 19th 1782. He is described as citizen of Hull and Hessel; he married Mary Rawdon, eldest daughter of Christopher Rawdon of Bilborough, Nr. York, and a tablet commemorating John and Mary was fixed in Bowlalley Chapel.
“To the memory of Mr. John Briggs a zealous and valuable member of this congregation and for many years a Trustee of the Chapel and also to the memory of Mary Briggs his amiable and exemplary wife, daughter of Christopher Rawdon Esq., of Bilborough, near York. This tablet is erected by their surviving children in testimony of their filial respect and veneration for the many virtues of excellent parents. Mr. Briggs died March 19th 1782 aged 55 years, highly esteemed as a man of truly Christian principles and upright conduct. Mrs. Briggs died December 25th 1799 aged 67 sincerely respected by all who knew her.”
This tablet was later removed to the new Unitarian Chapel in Hull when the original chapel was pulled down. John junior is variously described in notices and papers of that time as merchant, ship owner, or underwriter.
No record has been found giving the name of the eldest son of John and Mary Briggs who possibly died in infancy, but their second son Rawdon was born on August 23rd 1758 in Hull. He married Ann Currer, born 25th May 1763 at Clapham, where they were married on August 10th 1791. They lived at Ward’s End, Halifax, until she died on August 2nd 1802. Rawdon and Ann had three sons and three daughters, he sons were namely Rawdon (junior) born August 17th 1792, William born May 30th 1795 and Henry born on August 10th 1797. In December 1810 Rawdon (senior) married for a second time, Mary (née Allen) widow of John Fletcher of Oldham, by whom he had various other children. It seems probable that Rawdon (senior) of Hull ws originally sent to Halifax by his father, John (junior), to learn a trade and to promote the export of wool and cloth by ship through Hull; for it appears from certain records that he became partner with his brother-in- law William Currer of Halifax in a firm known as Currer, Briggs and Co., producing woolen yarn and carpets. Rawdon senior’s third son Henry joined this same firm for some time prior to his marriage. Rawdon senior was an active Unitarian of the Northgate End Chapel in Halifax, and was later involved with other members of that commnity in supporting a local banking partnership which was short of funds to meet creditors’ requirements; from this time Rawdon senior became closely connected with banking (see Genesis of Banking in Halifax by H. Ling Roth). In this venture he was associated with his eldest son Rawdon junior and also his second son William and eventually formed the Halifax Commercial Bank (see Four Centuries of Banking by George Chandler page 194). Meanwhile, in Hull, Harrison, third son of John (junior) and Mary (née Rawdon) Briggs had followed his father in shipping; his family has come to light in 1970 represented by Rawdon and Spicer Briggs of Mingo Station, Brynestown, Queensland, Australia, and an interesting record of their experiences in the earlier generations is available.
Henry Briggs, third son of Rawdon senior and Ann Currer, born at Ward’s End, Halifax, in 1798, married Marianne Milnes, younger daughter of the late James Milnes of Flockton Manor, on June 3rd 1824. They had two sons, Henry Currer born 2nd March 1829 and Arcibald born 16th January 1833.
At the time of his marriage Henry was still associated, as he had been since 1816, with the firm of Currer, Briggs and Co. of Luddendenfoot, Nr. Halifax, as also was his cousin Henry Currer. After the wedding Henry Briggs moved from Halifax to live at Flockton Manor with his wife and widowed mother-in-law. In 1826 Henry left the Halifax business and joined his brother-in-law William Stansfield, husband of Marianne’s elder sister Margaret.
Together with the ladies of the Milnes family they developed New Flockton Colliery. Before this time James Milnes and his father Richard, who had been described as a timber merchant, had built a wooden railway from Flockton to Horbury to provide an outlet by waterway for the timber, this railway was relaid with iron rails in 1825 to provide the necessary transport for coal from the colliery.
The New Flockton Colliery finally closed in 1893 after a prolonged strike. Henry and Marianne Briggs moved to Overton, near Thornhill; the firm was at first called Milnes, Briggs and Stansfield, but later became Stansfield and Briggs on the death of Mrs. Milnes. Margaret Stansfield took her mother’s place and later still after her husband died she continued to work the colliery with her two sons James Milnes Stansfield and Henry William Stansfield. In 1839 Henry Briggs retired from the partnership but left his half share of the Flockton Minerals to the continuing partners.
In the following year 1840 Henry Briggs became associated with Charles Morton of Normanton in the development of Newton Pit near Allerton Bywater, this venture was not successful. Morton then obtained a lease from Lord Mexborough dated December 1st 1841, to which Henry Briggs was a party, this lease allowed them to work various seams of coal in the Whitwood area on the south side of the river Calder. The first pit sunk was called Faries Hill, followed by Ratten Row, then Speedwell and Common Pits. In 1844 Charles Morton was appointed as one of the first Inspectors of Mines, on a part-time basis, but when he ws appointed District Inspector on 21st November 1850 for the area covering Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Leicester and Warwick, he left the partnership.
At this time Henry was joined by Henry King Spark who assisted in the undertaking until he retired in 1859. In 1849 Henry Currer Briggs joined his father and Henry King Spark. In 1854 Henry Currer Briggs married Catherine Shepherd, daughter of Edward Shepherd, Governor of Wakefield Gaol.
Henry Currer Briggs assisted in the management of a jute mill owned by his father-in-law at Thornes, Wakefield; this was known as Shepherd and Co. Until 1860 the Colliery Company was known as Henry Briggs and Co. but when Mr. Spark retired a re-organisation took place.
William Briggs (banker) and James Fletcher Tonge (corn miller) purchased Methley Junction Colliery from the trustees of Benjamin Burnley and a new partnership deed was drawn up with Henry Briggs, Henry Currer Briggs, William Briggs and James Fletcher Tonge as co-partners. The capital of the company was £75,000 divided as to £8,000 William Briggs, £ 15,000 James Fletcher Tonge and £52,000 between Henry and Henry Currer Briggs jointly, all shares were of £1,000 each. In addition £12,000 of previously accumulated short workings were also due to be repaid to the Henry Briggs interest as soon as output from the mines exceeded the tonnage covered by minimum rents, these over payments having been made by the previous firm. To represent the capital interest William Briggs and J. F. Tonge brought in the Methley Junction Colliery, and Henry Briggs and Henry Currer Briggs brought in the whole assets of the previous partnership. From 1860 onwards the deeper and larger pits were sunk, comprising Whitwood Haigh Moor, Good Hope and Don Pedro.
Between 1860 and 1865 there was considerable unrest amongst the colliers as the trade unions were becoming more active organisations, and many stoppages of work took place at intervals. This caused considerable loss of output, and after a particularly long and acrimonious strike of thirteen weeks in 1863, the following letters were received by Henry Briggs on October 13th 1863 at Outwood Hall:
“Mr. Briggs, I will tell you what i think by you About this struggle. You are getting an ould man and besides you are a tyrant – ould B — r now Sirs what do you think to that bit – we have stopped 13 weeks All redy, but i have myself sw to take your life and your son also. But you shalt not live 13 days. Depend on it my nife is sharp. But my Bullits is shorer than the nife and if i can under the time i will by God – if it be at noon day wen i see you shall have the arra if it be in your Charrit. Like ould Abe Now reade that and pray to God to forgive your sins to be reddy.”
Note received by Mrs. Briggs on October 14th 1863:
“Mrs. Briggs do tell Mr. Briggs to mind for he is in danger. S. Margerison.”
(sw means Sworn. Arra means Arrow. Abe means Ahab, see 1st Kings, chapter 22, verses 34 to 38.)
After this Henry Briggs and his son decided to promote a scheme of Co-operative Management under which both customers, officials and workmen could share in the profitabilty of the undertaking. The scheme provided for the division of the profits after proper provision for depreciation etc. and after setting aside a sum to rumunerate the invested capital, to be shared equally between shareholders and employees, as a bonus percentage on the money invested in shares, or for non-shareholders as a similar percentage on wages earned during the year.
There was no obligation for workmen or officials to put their share of bonus back to buy shares, but many did so, and therefore they received not only the current bonus on earnings, but also the dividend on shares bought out of past bonuses; in addition it was provided that the employees should elect two members to the board of directors, provided that no strikes took place and that all disputes in the event of dissatisfaction should be settled by arbitration. This scheme proved highly satisfactory for many years and upward of £40,000 in bonus was divided amongst the work people and more than 300 became shareholders.
To enable this to be arranged a new Company was registered as a limited liability company with a capital of £450,000 of which £247,000 was to be paid up and issued in the form of shares to shareholders; included with the colliery assets and farms taken over by the new company, the Yorkshire Coal and Steam Ship Company also became part; which Company had invested £60,000 in four ships called the Altona and Marianne Briggs of 700 tons each and the Dinnington and Whitwood of 500 tons and 400 tons respectively. The first two traded from Goole to Hamburg and the other two from Goole to Rouen. The large boats on the Hamburg run had reasonable passenger accomodation for 15 persons each.
From 1865 to 1868 the chairman of the company was Mr. Henry Briggs followed by Henry Currer Briggs from 1868 to 1881. The managing directors of the company were Henry Currer Briggs from 1865 to 1868 and again from 1876 to 1881; the period from 1869 to 1876 Archibald Briggs filled this position. From the date that the company became a limited liability company more rapid expansion took place with the sinking of the Whitwood Silkstone pit with a down cast shaft of 18 feet diameter and an upcast shaft of 20 feet diameter, and with a prospective output of 1000-2000 tons per day from 440 yards. In 1876 the output of the company was 598,000 tons per annum and by 1881, when Henry Briggs died, the output had reached 660,000 tons; during this period he held the position of both chairman and managing director.
At this stage in the record it seems appropriate to give a short description of the two members of the Briggs family so closely concerned with the inception and progress of the company. Henry Briggs was a confirmed Liberal and believed in deciding his own code of conduct; one not easily deterred from his objectives. He was a most conscientious Unitarian and spent much of his spare time in promoting the education of the young. He was noted as a keen and regular Sunday School teacher at Westgate Chapel, Wakefield, and on many occasions acted as a Lay Preacher and occupied the pulpit when need arose. He was a powerful man and eminently just, and being 6 feet 2½ inches in height made a notable figure. His wife ably supported him and as she was 6 feet in height they were noted as an imposing couple. He was disinclined to be turned from his definite purpose, for which reason it is known that he spent most of his energies in devloping his own business. He did at one time assist his wife’s brother-in-law by taking a sixth share in the firm Stansfield Briggs and Stansfield of Leeds which was not a success, the firm eventually going into liquidation. As further proof of the honesty of purpose which was inherent in the character of Henry Briggs, it is well to quote an extract from his will, which was proved at Wakefield on February 4th 1869; it read as follows:
“One of the most painful circumstances of my life having been the failure of the firm of Stansfield, Briggs and Stansfield, in which I had a one sixth share, whereby many parties suffered loss who were not well able to bear it, and it having always been my intention and most earnest wish of my heart to pay my share of that loss should I be able to do so without committing injustice to my family, I hereby express my wish that should I not be able during my lifetime to accomplish what I intend my sons may bear in mind my said intention and if they should be eminently successful in business and could well spare the necessary funds, that they will in some degree carry out my wishes in such cases as I myself may not have been able fully to accomplish in my lifetime. For this purpose I leave with this my will a list of creditors of the firm of S. B. and S. I further desire that no unneccessary expense be incurred nor any pompous display exhibited at my funeral.”
At the time of his death Henry Briggs was staying with his eldest son at Fernbrae, Dundee, which is now a nursing home, and it is probable that on account of the final paragraph of his will it was decided to bury him at the Western Cemetry, Dundee, where Henry Currer Briggs bought a freehold plot.
Henry Currer Briggs, who succeeded his father as chairman of the company, had been managing director of the company from 1865 to 1868, and then handed over that office to his brother Archibald Briggs who held it until his death in 1876. From that time Henry Currer Briggs held the dual office until his death in 1881. He is said to have been a man of calm disposition and impressed his far-sighted abilities on those he met in business. It was for this reason that he joined the Dundee firm of Thomson, Shepherd and Briggs, jute spinners, and lived in Dundee until 1869, when he moved to Saltburn following the death of his father. Whilst in this district he became interested in the Carlton Iron Company, the Merrybent Railway and Apedale Lead Mines, and also the Bratsberg Copper Company in Norway. These various activities covered coal, iron, lime, lead, silver and copper production. He also helped in financing the patent pressed cement and granite paving stones produced by the Shap Granite Quarries. In 1873 he moved to Harrogate to be more accessible to Henry Briggs Son and Company and in 1876 he moved to Leeds and ceased to be more than a director of the companies in which he had an interest. He was a strict Unitarian and helped in founding a chapel in Dundee on 12th March 1870 and later one in Stockton-on-Tees on 18th November 1872.
The sudden death of Mr. Henry Currer Briggs on October 20th 1881, whilst he was in Norway on a visit of inspection to he Bratsberg Silver Mine in company with two other directors, was a severe blow to Henry Briggs Son and Company. A letter written to his wife on October 14th 1881 regarding this visit stated “This mine is grand and is now making £200 profit per month”. In the closing paragraphs he told her that he had fallen whilst on board ship, but despite bruising he was able to get about. However, his gout was causing him much pain and his ankles were swollen, which made him very lame.
The tragedy left Henry Briggs Son and Company with no chairman or managing director as no future succession to he position had been contemplated. At that time the board of directors contained only one member of the Briggs family, Arthur Currer Briggs, eldest son of Henry Currer Briggs, who had been appointed to the board in that same year; the only senior members of the board were Richard and Samuel Tonge, both apponted in 1872. The continuity of the company was provided by the appointment of Mr. Richard Tonge as chariman and Mr. Walter Geoffrey Jackson as a director, the latter was the mining engineer to the company and also the son-in-law of the late chairman, and in his earlier years had been employed by the Central Argentine Railway Company on its engineering staff. This was followed by the appointment of Mr. Arthur Currer Briggs, at the age of twenty- six as managing director.
This sudden misfortune required a re-organisation of the family affairs which naturally fell upon the sholders of the managing director and his brother-in-law. The late chairman had so many varied outside interests as previously mentioned and these frequently required considerable financial help and supervision, so it was decided that these obligations should be disposed of as soon as possible and all their energies and attention should be devoted to the further development of the collieries and the shipping interests. It had been necessary to raise a considerable sum of money in 1876 by the issue of redeemable debentures to facilitate the development of the Silkstone Pit and Savile Haigh Moor Pit and to cover the reduction of liquid funds due to the earlier purchase of Streethouse Pit from Messrs. Ellis and Broadbent in 1873. (This was certainly the most unprofitable venture of the Company). In 1881 the Company bought the freehold of the Holdsworth Estate, and Mr. Jackson went to reside in Loscoe Grange so as to be in daily contact with the various pits.
In 1883 Arthur Currer Briggs married Helen Jones and they lived at Red Bank, Newton Park, Leeds, a small house in the same neighbourhood as his mother. They had one daughter, and two sons, Reginald Martin Currer Briggs born 1891 and Donald Henry Currer Briggs born in 1893.
At this time it became necessary to find a profitable means of dealing with the considerable output of small coal arising from the breakage of coal in transport for which no reasonable market existed; in fact large quantities were available on the open market at no more the 6d. per ton, and as it ranked as a waste product, it was prequently used as railway ballast being no more than ¾” in size. It was therefore decided to join with Messrs. Demster Bros. of Elland, makers of gas production plants to build a carbonizing plant on the old Good Hope Pit site, which had now been cleared. Here they manufactured coke, benzol, sulphate of ammonia and gas to light the district. The Company provided half the capital and the Demsters the other half. This venture, started in 1883, proved highly successful and much coke was shipped to Scandinavia, whilst German dye works took most of the benzol. This was known as the Whitwood Chemical Company Ltd. In passing it is worthy of note that it was possible to redeem the last of the debentures by 1892.
From 1865 to 1886 the profit sharing scheme on co-operative management lines persisted; there were seventeen workmen shareholders who served on the board. Early in 1886 much outside pressure was brought to bear on the workmen as the Miners Union made progress in the district, and after a short but partial stoppage the workmen directors resigned requesting that the union in future should deal with any disputes; this proved the death blow to the attempt to substitute the arbitration principle for the ‘strike’. Thus ended the period during which the workmen directors were elected by the general meeting of the company’s employees. However the goodwill which the co-operative scheme had engendered enabled the best type of men to be available for appointment to positions on the committees of the local union branches and the company continued to make gradual and uninterrupted progress up to 1893 when a district strike took place, which lost the Company nearly 250,000 tons of output. Also in 1893 Arthut Currer Briggs became the chairman as well as the managing director of the Company, and in 1896 Mr. Gerald O’Dwyer Briggs and Mr. Walter Fowler of the Stanton Coal and Iron Company were added to the board of directors.
In 1897, Mr. Arthur Currer Briggs being so concerned by the cut-throat competition both in prices and wage settlements between companies, proposed the foundation of a Coal Owners’ Association to cover Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Lancashire and Cannock Chase. This of course did not come into effect until 1930, when it was brought in by Act of Parliament. An Association of West Yorkshire Coal Owners was in fact formed, of which Mr. Briggs was chairman for seven years, and all coal districts did form their own associations and joined together as the Mining Association of Great Britain.
In 1895 to 1899 considerable progress was made by the company and the Snydale Pit was bought from Rhodes and Dalby to take the place of Streethouse Pit which had been closed down. It came into production that year and the company produced over 1,000,000 tons for the fist time in 1900, but there was a considerable reduction in output following the South African War, when production was down to 800,000 tons per annum until 1906 when the Newmarket Colliery Company was bought which was owned by the Hargreaves family.
On August 31st 1906 a second severe blow fell upon the company. It was on the day of the annual meeting that year, that Mr Arthur Currer Briggs, chairman and managing director, who had broken his holiday to preside at the meeting and also to sign the contract to purchase the Newmarket Colliery Company, died suddenly of heart failure. This of course required a sudden change in the organisation of the company, and Mr. W. G. Jackson was appointed to fill the chairmanship and the office of managing director.
Mr. Arthur Currer Briggs was certainly the best known and respected of the three chairmen of the company, having been not only chairman of the West Yorkshire Coal Owner’s Association but also for a period chairman of the Mining Association of Great Britain; he had also served on the Royal Commission on Coal Supplies in 1900 and, after being elected Lord Mayor of Leeds, he bacame an Alderman and J.P. of that city, notable for his work on the Watch Committee and Waterworks Committee. In 1904, after he had been a member of the council of the Yorkshire College for eleven years he raised a fund to build the Mining Department. He devoted his outstanding business ability to the conduct of the company and the Coal Industry and could rarely be pursuaded to undertake outside duties that might intrude upon what he considered his prime duty to the shareholders for whom he worked. The only important work he undertook outside the company was to join with the Lupton family and others in the promotion of electrical development so as to reduce smoke nuisance and air pollution in Leeds. This led to his being one of the founder members of the Yorkshire Electric Power Company, his place on his death being taken by Mr. W. G. Jackson. It was due to his energy and foresight that the company purchased considerable areas of surface and minerals within its royalty, and also arranged considerable extensions of current leases. He propounded a policy by which as far as profits would allow, sums were invested outside the company for two purposes; to provide funds to extend the present company by purchase or otherwise; and secondly to provide a sinking fund that would enable shareholders to receive their capital back by the end of the current leases, should these not be renewed. The result of this policy ended in the formation of Henry Briggs Son and Company (Trust) Ltd. in 1923, at which date these funds were put into a separate company in view of the board’s apprehension that in the event of nationalisation the reserve fund would be taken over with the collieries. Each shareholder was given share for share in the new Trust Company as his interest in the reserve fund assets.
In 1907 Mr. Jackson added to the board Mr. Walter Hargreaves, Mr. W. S. Hannam and Mr. I. Hodges, the mining general manager, and later in 1909 Mr. Ernest Briggs was appointed to represent the family interest, as Mr. Gerald Briggs had retired in 1907 in order that he might manage the Shap Granite and Chirk Quarries.
By 1908 over 1,000,000 tons of output was reached again, until 1910 when Don Pedro finished, but its place was then taken by the new Water Haigh Colliery at Woodlesford. From this date the output rose gradually and from 1914 to 1919 the average annual output was 1,380,000 tons. In 1919 Mr. Jackson appointed Mr. Walter Hargreaves as managing director but retained the chairmanship until 1924. He had moved from Loscoe Grange to Aberford, and for the last five years to Bowcliffe Hall, Bramham, as it had become an accepted custom in th family that some member lived within easy reach of the collieries.
The post war period was a difficult time for any company to face due to the end of government control exercised during the war years 1914-1918; during that period a standard profit was guaranteed in the form of subvention, but as soon as notice of termination had been given, there was no fund against which inflated wages costs cold be charged, thus any losses had to fall directly on the colliery companies themselves. Wage increases had been granted on a liberal basis by the Coal Control Department so as to maintain output during the war, thus it at once became necessary for the industry, as represented by the Mining Association of Great Britain, to give notice to reduce the percentage additions to wages, in order to render the industry less unprofitable. At one time when control ended the industry was losing £1,000,000 per week. This caused the general stoppage of 1919.
The company was most fortunate in having secured the services of Mr. Walter Hargreaves as managing director. He was one of the West Yorkshire representatives appointed to negotiate a settlement with the Miner’s Federation of Great Britain and the Mines Department. Mr. Hargreaves was a man of great ability and patience, with an outstanding experience of all phases of mining and also coal marketing. He was the unanimous choice of the various West Yorkshire Colliery managements and his opinion on all the issues arising in the negotiations was universally listened to. The Government was eventually pursuaded to extend the subvention payments on a gradually reducing scale to cover the period of transition from government to private control; during which, further wage negotiations were to take place. This ended the 1919 strike, but further problems arose as the difficulties of ending the losses in the industry, without the reduction in wage rates, became obvious. In 1921 a more serious strike followed, just at the time when French and German industries were re-organising and pressure for output was heavy; prices rose to such an extent that it became possible to arrive at a settlement without much delay. Thereupon output rose rapidly to make up the deficit caused by the strike and in order to meet the demands for export. This situation lasted until 1924, during this period the company reached its peak with output in 1923 of 1,725,000 tons.
When in 1924 Mr. Jackson retired as chairman, Mr. Hargreaves took his place but at this time a recession set in due to the rehabilitation of the European coalfields, and the industry again became seriously unprofitable. It was towards the end of 1917 that Reginald Martin Currer Briggs, the elder son of the late Arthur Currer Briggs, joined the Company after war service and became a director. He had, prior to the war, had a period of training at Leeds University followed by six months in Dresden in order that he could learn commercial German, this was followed by twelve months at New Moss Colliery at Ashton-under-Lyne and was aimed to fit him to undertake the supervision and conduct of the commercial and sales side of Henry Briggs Son and Co. Ltd. He became a director of Robert Holliday and Sons Ltd. and the Whitwood Chemical Co. Ltd. in 1923. He later bacame a member of the Central Collieries Commercial Association Sales and Export Committee and a founder member of the London Coal Trade Luncheon Club. After similar wartime service in 1918, the youner son Donald Henry Currer Briggs joined the Company and sarted his training under Mr. Walter Hargreaves in order to qualify for a Colliery Manager’s Certificate. Mr. Walter Hargreaves, himself a chartered colliery manager of many years experience, had originally been a student of the Yorkshire College, later Leeds University, and had been instrumental in providing funds, amounting to £20,000 with the generous assistance of the members of the West Yorkshire Coal Owners’ Association and the Miners’ Welfare Fund, required to build the new mining department in the University in 1920. He was later honoured by the university with the degree of LL.D for his valuable service to mining education.
During his mining apprenticeship Mr. Donald Henry Currer Briggs lived at Methley, to be readily accessible to the collieries. He and his wife Elizabeth served on the Urban District Council, and in 1925 he became a J.P. for the West Riding. As he had obtained his degree in engineering at Oxford prior to 1914, he was engaged in the engineering department of the company when not occupied by his underground duties. In 1919 he had been appointed a director of the company.
It was a difficult time for young men to enter the coal trade, but the sudden improvement in the fortunes of the industry in 1923 convinced the directors that it was a suitable time to look for further expansion and they decided to buy the privately owned colliery of Robert Holliday and Sons Ltd. of East Ardsley as the original partners wished to retire. Mr. Donald Henry Currer Briggs, who had by this time obtained his colliery manager’s certificate, was appointed to manage this colliery. In 1924 he became a member of the Institute of Mining Engineers and later became President of the Midland Institute of Mining Engineers. In 1938 be became President of the National Association of Colliery Managers of Great Britain.
Although the parent company and its associated company continued to make profits it was overtaken by the long strike of 1926, which started as a General Strike resulting trome the general attempt to reduce inflationary costs by re-adjusting the overall level of wages which had got out of hand during the war. In 1927 Mr. R. M. C. Briggs and Mr. D. H. C. Briggs visited Canada as representatives on the Mining and Metalurgical Congress and returned to find that, in spite of the huge loss of output during the stoppage, there was only a slow and very fluctuating demand for British coal after a resumption of work; quite insufficient to meet the expanded wartime capacity of the coal industry. Inter-district competition became very acute until, due to Government action, the Coal Mines Act of 1930 was introduced under which the Midland Amalgamated District was formed, with statutory regulations on output and prices. Under this scheme there was a slow but steady reduction of output until 1933, when a gradual improvement, due to the closure of uneconomical pits, started. In 1934 both Reginald Martin Currer Briggs and Donald Henry Currer Briggs became joint managing directors. In 1937 the Micklefield Coal and Lime Company was purchased and from 1938 to the end of 1939 output rose rapidly and towards the end of 1939 all the colliery assets of Henry Briggs Son and Company Ltd. were transferred to a holding company called Briggs Collieries Ltd., when output again rose to 1,600,000 tons.
When the 1939 war finished it became clear that the Industry would be nationalised if a Socialist Government came to power, which of course took place in 1945. At this time Mr. Donald Henry Currer Briggs became the chairman and managing director of the company and chairman of the West Yorkshire Coal Owners’ Association in 1947.
The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act became law in 1946 when the company and its subsidiaries ceased to operate. The Chemical Company had ceased in 1940 due to its main market in Scandinavia being occupied by the enemy. The remaining duty left to the directors was to prepare the claims of the company for compensation which were finally determined in 1954.
Throughout the generations the interest and active participation in the Unitarian movement persisted. Arthur Currer Briggs was a Trustee of both Westgate Chapel, Wakefield and Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds, as was his son Donald, both his sons being at one time Wardens of Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds. The present register of baptisms and marriages at Mill Hill contains many of the names of the present generation of the Briggs family, stemming from John Briggs, Merchant, of Hull.
Since Nationalisaton the family has sought new fields of interest, and the present male descendants are represented in the Arts, Engineering and the Army Veterinary Corps. When Donald Henry Currer Briggs retired as chairman of Briggs and Company he joined the Board of Directors of Martins Bank, who had, in their time absorbed the Halifax Commercial Bank. As chairman of the Yorkshire District Board of Martins Bank, Donald Henry Currer Briggs was responsible for the area formerly covered by his ancesors, Rawdon Senior and Rawdon Junior and William of Wards End, Halifax.
In 1971 the male line of the family is represented by Mark David Currer-Briggs and Julian Jack Currer-Briggs, sons of Richard Anthony Currer-Briggs and his wife Shirley and grandsons of Reginald Martin Currer-Briggs; and by James Henry Currer Briggs, son of James Arthur Currer Briggs and his wife Moira and grandson of the last chairman of the Company, Donald Henry Currer Briggs.