Jack Varley

A visit to Water Haigh in 1956. Jack Varley is fifth from the left. Harry Morton is third from the right.

Jack Varley was the training officer at Water Haigh from the mid-1950s until his retirement in 1963. His full name was John William Joshua Varley and he was born in Hunslet in July 1898. His father, John, worked as a labourer in a paper mill. His mother, Kate Wood, came from Castleford. In 1901 the family lived on Lupton Street in Hunslet but by 1911 they had moved to Primrose Place. Jack’s two older sisters were by then working as machinists making blouses and he was at a trades school.

Jack served as a soldier in the First World War but no details of his record have survived. After the war he was living at Gasholder Terrace in Hunslet and was working as a miner when he married Edna Harding, the daughter of a cashier, at St. Peter’s church on Hunslet Moor in 1923. It’s possible he was already at Water Haigh by then as many of the pit’s workforce travelled daily from Hunslet and other parts of Leeds.

Jack and Edna’s first son, John Edward, was born in 1923 and Roy followed in 1925. After his birth it’s believed they moved live in a council house at 34 North Lane in Oulton. A family story was told of them bringing their possessions on a cart from Hunslet during the 1926 miners’ strike. Later they moved to No. 42 where they stayed for many years. A third son, Maurice, was born in 1928. By then Jack had already studied and passed an examination to become a pit deputy. He also trained at the Wakefield Central Mines Rescue Station established by the West Yorkshire Coal Owners in 1916.

In 1930 he was captain of the No. 2 ambulance team at Water Haigh when they won the Elliot Memorial Cup in the third annual open competition of the Wombwell Ambulance Division. Also in the team was an F. Varley, possibly Jack’s younger brother, Frank.

Jack Varley, on the left, with his friend “Buster” Webster at Barry’s Hotel, Thomson’s Falls in British East Africa, now Kenya.

At the start of the Second World War mining was yet to become a reserved occupation so, at the age of 41, Jack was able to volunteer to re-join the army. Indeed during the inter-war years he probably kept up his military training as part of the territorial unit based at the barracks on Oulton Lane in Woodlesford.

During the war he was posted to North Africa and after the end of hostilities in 1945 he was sent to Germany. Staying on for a further period he travelled to East Africa, where he was promoted to captain, and Mauritius.

After leaving the army Jack returned to Water Haigh where he became a safety officer and later training officer. As part of his duties he had to show visitors round the pit, both above and below ground. The photograph at the top of this page shows him with a group in the pit yard in 1956. One of them was a Mr. Ogor from Nigeria who sent a card with “compliments of the season” the following Christmas.

At the bottom of the page Jack is pictured with a party of Germans who visited Water Haigh on Wednesday 5 April 1961, part of a delegation of 40 youth leaders and schoolboys from Schawbisch Hall, a town in southern Germany. They were on an exchange visit with the East Riding Association of Youth Clubs and staying at the homes of boys from Longcroft school in Beverley. After their tour of the pit they went to look round the offices of the Yorkshire Post at Albion Street in Leeds.

When Jack retired he was replaced as training officer by Howard Stephenson. He died, aged 70, in 1969.

Edna and Jack Varley.

The other Water Haigh miner in the photo at the top of this page, third from the right, was Harry Morton, a deputy and safety officer. He was born in 1898 at Oulton, the third son of William David Morton, who had started his working life as a colliery labourer. He later worked for the Aire and Calder Navigation at the wharf on the Swillington side of the bridge over the canal in Woodlesford.

By 1911 William David had been promoted to foreman and lived with his family in the small bar house on the Woodlesford side of the bridge. It had formerly been the home of the people employed to collect tolls on the Wakefield and Aberford turnpike road.

Harry Morton’s grandfather, John Morton, was the master of a vessel called the Hopewell, most likely a “Humber Keel” which plied along the Aire and Calder Navigation from the North Sea ports.

During the 1871 census the Hopewell was berthed at the Albert Dock in Hull and John was living on board with his family. He had been born at Knottingley but his wife and two eldest sons, who also worked on the boat, were born in Norfolk, suggesting John had sailed on coastal vessels during his youth.

By 1881, when he was 60 years old, John Morton had given up the hardships of a maritime life and moved to a house in New Woodlesford where he was working as a labourer at Bentley’s brewery. He quickly returned to the Navigation though and was employed as the lock keeper at Fishpond lock when William David married Fanny Massey, the daughter of a book keeper at the brewery, in 1890.

Harry Morton was 33 years old and had already been promoted to colliery deputy at Water Haigh when he married 31 year old widow Nellie Hartley at Woodlesford church in July 1931. He was living on Airedale Road. Her address was given as 8 Back Eshald Place. After their marriage they lived a few doors along at No. 16.

Nellie’s first husband, Selwyn Ephraim Hartley, was also a miner, the son of the landlord at the Boot and Shoe Inn in Woodlesford, but had died in an accident at Water Haigh colliery in 1923 within a year of their marriage.

As Nellie Roberts she had probably known Harry since childhood. Born in 1901 she was the eldest daughter of miner Albert Roberts. Her younger brother, also called Albert, went on to become the local M.P. after working at Water Haigh and serving as a union official at the pit and then as a local Labour Party councillor.

Jack Varley showing a group of German youth leaders around the pit in April 1961.