Grafton Whincup

Grafton Whincup being presented with his Bevin Boy badge by Mary Creagh, the Labour M.P. for Wakefield from 2005 to 2019.

Initially Grafton Whincup was a reluctant miner. Conscripted as a Bevin Boy during the Second World War he first worked at the Prince of Wales colliery in Pontefract but after trying to leave the industry immediately after the war he returned to the pits and spent over 15 years at Water Haigh.

Grafton, who went by the name of George, was born in 1925 and grew up at Ryhill to the south of Wakefield where his father, John Sefton Whincup, was a miner. He had been born in 1902 at Newton Kyme near Tadcaster where Grafton’s grandfather, who he was named after, worked first as a groom then as a maltster’s labourer at either John or Samuel Smith’s brewery.

Jack Whincup probably moved to Ryhill just after the First World War looking for work and it was there that he met Grafton’s mother, miner’s daughter Winnie Bragger, who he married in 1922.

As a first generation miner Jack wasn’t keen on his son following him into the pits so in the 1930s he moved his family to Bradford where it was easier for Grafton to find alternative work. It was there, whilst working in a munitions factory, that he first met his future wife, Edna Marlow, who came from Drighlington.

As he approached the age of 18 in the autumn of 1943 Grafton was keen to join the Navy but fate was to intervene when he received papers saying he’d been selected by ballot to be one of the 48,000 men conscripted into the mining industry in the scheme set up by the Minister of Labour and National Service, Ernest Bevin.

So it was in early 1944 that Grafton found himself in Pontefract working with other Bevin Boys at Prince of Wales pit. After the war he returned to marry Edna in 1947 and tried to work outside mining but the attraction of higher wages forced him back into the industry.

After a few years at a colliery at Norwood Green near Bradford Grafton moved to work at Water Haigh. For several years he had to commute to the pit taking two buses from his home at Pudsey, a punishing schedule as he was a “ripper” working permanent night shifts. Eventually, after putting pressure on the pit management by threatening to quit, in 1960 he was given a house on the National Coal Board estate at Oulton where he lived for the rest of his life.

The estate of 214 houses was built in the early 1950s to address the severe shortage of post-war housing for miners who worked at local collieries including Water Haigh, Newmarket and Waterloo near Temple Newsam. Constructed from prefabricated concrete parts the houses were quickly built but soon earned the nickname “Cardboard City” and were later to suffer badly from mining subsidence.

The first priority in 1953 was to allocate houses to miners and their families who were lodging with family members or landladies. Then those who lived at a distance were given the opportunity of a house but when they were first advertised there were twice as many applications as houses available.

The original plan included sites for two shops. 99 year leases were offered to traders willing to erect their own buildings to provide a grocery shop and a wet fish shop but it seems there were no applications leaving the tenants to be served by “mobile” shops which became a feature of estate life.

Grafon Whincup stayed in the mining industry until he was made redundant just short of his 60th birthday in 1985. He was amongst 50 Yorkshire Bevin Boys who finally received recognition for their service at a ceremony at the National Coal Mining Museum on 2 May 2008. There, at the former Caphouse colliery, he received his Veterans Badge from the Wakefield Labour M.P. Mary Creagh. He was 86 when he passed away in 2012. 

Click on the link below to hear Grafton’s daughter Sue talk about her father’s working life and her memories of growing up on the Coal Board estate.

They were all Bevin Boys