Glyn Edwards

Glyn Edwards at work underground at Lofthouse in the aftermath of the disaster in 1973.

Glyn Edwards was employed by the National Coal Board all his working life at five collieries to the south east of Leeds. Unlike most young men who left school to join the industry in the 1950s his father wasn’t a pit worker but he did have several relatives who were miners and a great uncle who was a celebrated miners’ union leader and Member of Parliament.

Glyn began his career as a surveyor at Water Haigh in 1956. He spent five years as an apprentice at the colliery and a further five years there before transferring, in 1966, to Waterloo Main near Temple Newsam. Later he moved to Lofthouse, then Newmarket Silkstone between Oulton and Stanley, followed by Allerton Bywater, from where he was made redundant when that pit closed in 1992.

Although his father and paternal grandfather weren’t miners Glyn had several family members who were, including two uncles and his maternal grandfather. Born in Rothwell in 1882, Tom Nunns had been employed at J. & J. Charlesworth’s Swithen’s Pit south of Rothwell. A shallow drift mine, it took coal from the Haigh Moor seam just 50 yards below the surface. Jokingly its was known as “Tattie Main” as the miners were reputedly able to pick potatoes as they walked underground.

Glyn’s grandfather, Tom Nunns.

A coal owners’ deal in the early 1900s transferred the pit to the Henry Briggs company which meant that Tom moved to Water Haigh when Swithen’s closed in 1922 after it was flooded during a long strike in 1921. It was that connection which prompted Glyn to look for a job at the Woodlesford pit when his ambition to become an architect was thwarted after he didn’t achieve the necessary exam results at Rothwell Grammar School.

Initially Glyn asked for work as a clerk in the Water Haigh office but after meeting the pit’s surveyor, Bob Moss, he was encouraged to apply for a surveying apprenticeship. During his ten years at the pit there was a significant amount of investment which resulted in an increase in productivity. For instance, when he started in 1956 most of the coal was hand shovelled, or filled, into tubs at the various coal faces. A decade later it was all cut mechanically and carried away on conveyor belts with the workforce reducing from about 1250 men in 1956 to around 700 in 1966 for a similar amount of output per man shift.

A Rothwell resident throughout his life, Glyn Edwards was born in 1939. He lived at first with his parents, John and Eliza, at 7 Church Street just below the Co-op. John was employed as a lorry driver but later became a bookmaker. His father was Henry Edwards, known as Harry, who had a greengrocery business on Commercial Street.

The son of an agricultural labourer from Sherburn-in-Elmet, Harry married Alice Parrott from Methley at St Jude’s in Hunslet in 1888. She was the daughter of James Parrott, originally from Stanmore in Middlesex, who had worked as a construction worker on early mainline railways in Sussex and Somerset in the 1830s and 1840s before becoming a miner and settling in Yorkshire.

William Parrott M.P.

One of Alice’s older brothers, Glyn’s great uncle, was the miners’ leader William Parrott. He became a pit-boy at the age of 10 and was one of the first union activists to be elected as a checkweighman under government legislation, at Good Hope pit at Normanton in 1872. Four years later he became the assistant secretary of the West Yorkshire Miners’ Association and for over 25 years was prominent nationally as a union negotiator. In 1904, after the death of Kippax born Benjamin Pickard, the Liberal-Labour M.P. for Normanton, William Parrott was chosen to succeed him and entered parliament after a by-election. Sadly, he was there for less than a year before he died at his home in Barnsley in February 1905.

In Rothwell it was during the years before the First World War that Harry Edwards’ greengrocery business went from strength to strength. The 1911 census lists him as a fruiterer but he also had a horse drawn cab and wagonette company which had one of the first telephone lines in the district. An advertisement in a 1905 edition of the Rothwell Advertiser declared: “Wedding parties catered for and cabs supplied for funerals. Carriages with silent tyres.”

Harry Edwards, Glyn’s grandfather.

Harry and Alice Edwards had 15 children, 12 of whom survived into adulthood. In 1911 two of the sons were employed at Rothwell pits – Clifford as a pony driver underground and Horace on the coal screens on the surface. Inspired by their father there was a strong entrepreneurial streak in the family and several of the Edwards sons set up their own small businesses and shops.

The oldest of Glyn’s uncles, Sydney Edwards, eventually took over the Commercial Street greengrocery, growing his own produce, including rhubarb, on land he rented in Woodlesford, now the site of the All Saints’ estate. In the 1920s he started one of the first bus services in the area running from the Halfway House in Robin Hood, through Rothwell, Oulton and Woodlesford to Swillington.

Old Sarah Shaft pumping engine house at Newmarket colliery in 1915. According to Yorkshire Collieries by Eddie Downes the Newcomen pumping engine at Old Sarah was moved from Bottomboat colliery in 1832. It’s believed to have been made between 1780 and 1790 and was a primitive engine by an unknown manufacturer. It had a 54 inch diameter cylinder with a 5 feet stroke and lifted water up the 330 feet deep shaft in three lifts doing 5 strokes per minute. It last worked in 1917. The piston and chain are preserved at the Science Museum in London.

Throughout his career Glyn Edwards had a strong interest in local mining history and built up a collection of old plans, documents and books. He was also adept at drawing diagrams to show how the shafts and roadways were connected underground.

One scheme he worked on which involved historical research was at Newmarket Silkstone in 1975. As the colliery’s surveyor he had to devise a method to install new submersible electric pumps instead of a static winder. This involved looking into the way water had been drained from Newmarket’s seams, at first by a manpowered “gin” and then a Newcomen atmospheric steam engine at the “Old Sarah” shaft. The engine had been dismantled in 1918 and parts of it were donated to the Science Museum in London.

One of Glyn’s plans of the old workings around Newmarket colliery. Oulton is at the top of the plan.

One of Glyn’s last jobs in the coal industry was to contribute to a historical record of Allerton Bywater colliery where he was the unit surveyor. Along with his deputy, Melvyn Watson, and the manager, Ken Westmoreland, he helped research and write “The Last Pit in Leeds” which was published to mark the pit’s closure in 1992.

In 1960, whilst he was still at Water Haigh, Glyn Edwards married Barbara Doody. They had met at the Kiosk dance hall in Castleford where she had grown up. Her maternal grandfather, Richard Barnett, was a miner born in 1875 at Lofthouse Gate. He worked at Wheldale colliery and during the First World War became a sapper with 171 Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. He left a widow, a son and five daughters when he was killed on the Western Front on 1 January 1916.

Glyn and Barbara on their wedding day at Holy Trinity church in Airedale in 1960.

In retirement Glyn Edwards continued his lifelong interest in fly fishing and model railways but one event from his career was never very far from his thoughts – the disaster at Lofthouse colliery in 1973 when an inrush of water from old workings killed seven miners.

Glyn was the deputy surveyor at Lofthouse and, although he was never blamed, the failure by more senior National Coal Board staff to identify the old workings on plans and in old notebooks affected him deeply. Every year, on the 21st of March, he attended a ceremony to pay his respects to those who died. To mark the 40th anniversary he wrote a detailed article published by the Rothwell Record in March 2013. Found amongst his papers after he died in May 2016 was a handwritten note from his daughter Julie: “I feel very proud of the part you played in the aftermath of the tragedy and amazed at how strong you were – never letting onto the three of us how difficult it must have been for you – but pleased that you can now talk about it.”

Click on the link below to listen to Glyn Edwards describe his job and what it was like working underground.

Glyn Edwards – apprentice surveyor

Click here to read Glyn’s article – “The Price of Coal” about the Lofthouse disaster

Glyn Edwards in his garden in Rothwell in 2009.
A drawing by Glyn Edwards of the water drainage system at Rothwell Haigh colliery.
A collier undercutting coal. Photo from “The Last Colliery in Leeds” published in 1992.
A Fox Transport Service bus. Operated by one of Glyn Edwards’s uncles it ran through Oulton and Woodlesford to Swillington. (Photo courtesy Rothwell and District Historical Society).