Ian was born in 1946 and spent his early life in a miner’s cottage in the hamlet of Newton near Fairburn Ings north of Castleford. The family moved to Swillington in 1959 and when he left school at the age of 15 Ian chose to be a mining apprentice largely because the wages on offer were much greater than other apprenticeships.
After initial training at Whitwood Technical College he was sent to Water Haigh where he worked on electrical machinery in the fitting shop on the pit top and underground. It included the cutting machines and conveyor belts used to transport the coal from the faces as well the “gate-end boxes” which distributed the high voltage electrical power.
In his spare time Ian played in the pit’s 7-a-side football team. On two occasions in the mid-1960s they were winners of a competition between teams from 16 local collieries in the No. 8 Area of the Yorkshire coalfield. The competition was organised by CISWO – the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. As part of his training he was also selected to go on outward bound courses in North Wales and Derbyshire.
With other apprentices Ian used to drink “under age” in the Midland Hotel in Woodlesford when the landlords were Bert and Bill Pollard. One Saturday evening they were nearly caught out when they went in to find Bill reading the Green Final edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post. At first he ignored the group but when he left the bar and they picked up the paper they found it featured a photograph of three of them in the Great Preston Juniors which was an under 18 team! Luckily Bill saw the funny side and they got their pints.
By the time Ian arrived at Water Haigh the long serving manager, Billy Williams, had been promoted to a senior role in the No. 8 Area and Ian remembers his successors Eric Mitchell followed by Tom Pearson. The electrical engineer when he started was Bernard Tonkinson who went to Glasshoughton colliery then an area job. He was followed by Terry MacDonald who moved to Savile colliery at Methley when Water Haigh closed. The foreman electrician was Jim Smart who left to become an instructor at Allerton Workshops Training Centre.
Ian still has a miner’s safety Davy lamp which belonged to overman Sam Hartley which he bought for 36 shillings when the lamps were replaced with Garforth lamps.
In the early 1960s there was an expectation that Water Haigh would remain open for many years to come and Ian remembers the National Coal Board investing money in the pit for two roadways which were driven under the canal and River Aire. They were designed to open up a new face called 81s under the Swillington area where there was believed to be a square mile of coal.
Unfortunately the pit lived up to its name and the “horrendous” wet conditions meant that Ian and the other electricians had to work round the clock to keep the pumps working. Eventually the N.C.B. decided that it was uneconomic to keep the venture going and ultimately it led to the pit’s closure.
Click on the links below to hear Ian Wallace talk about his time at Water Haigh including his face training where he was given a bonus by the experienced men he was working with. He also describes the electrical machinery and the methods used to cut the coal and remembers some of the many “immigrants” from abroad which resulted in the pit being one of the most multinational in the country.