Frank Arrowsmith was a clerk at Water Haigh colliery all of his working life from when he was a teenager until his death in the 1950s. He started at the pit shortly before the outbreak of the First World War and rose to become the colliery manager’s secretary.
Frank was born in 1897 at Halton, the fifth of the seven children of William Arrowsmith, a maltster, and his wife Clara, nee Vallance. Tragedy struck the family in 1905 when Clara died leaving William with five children still at home to look after. Just over a year later it all became too much for him and he took his own life. He was only 47. At the inquest a doctor said he seemed to be a man “worn out with work and worry.” A verdict of “suicide whilst of unsound mind” was recorded.
Frank and two of his brothers were still too young to fend for themselves and so they were sent to live at one of the five purpose built children’s homes off Wood Lane on Rothwell Haigh. The first three had been opened in 1897 and were administered by the Hunslet Board of Guardians who also ran the workhouse nearby. It had opened in 1903 and in 1930 became St George’s Hospital.
In the 1911 census Frank, who was 13 by then, and his brothers Herbert, 11, and Arthur, 8 were amongst 23 boys in one of the homes. They were looked after by Superintendent Charles Parker Ward and his wife Isabella along with two relief foster mothers, Henrietta Binks and Edith Crowther.
As they reached school leaving age it was the practice of the Guardians to seek employment for the orphans in their care. A letter from the Guardians’ clerk, Frederick Mee, shows that Frank must have been keen to work at Water Haigh. The letter doesn’t survive but the reply is now in the West Yorkshire archives at Wakefield. It was sent by Walter Hargreaves, the general manager of Henry Briggs Son and Company Ltd., owners of the newly opened colliery at Water Haigh. He wrote back saying they employed 13 year olds on the surface as “screen lads” to sort and dress coal, and if Frank could find lodgings he’d be happy “to give him a start.”
In the end it took until late 1913, or early 1914, for Frank Arrowsmith to get a job at the pit. The evidence comes in another letter. It was sent in July 1913 from Walter Hargreaves to Lucy Ellen Price, the 61 year old wife of elementary school teacher George James Price. They lived on Cross Flatts Grove in Beeston and had two grown up children so it’s possible that they may have fostered Frank. Alternatively he may have become a pupil teacher at George’s school.
Mrs Price had obviously been lobbying on Frank’s behalf and the letter says that if there was a vacancy at Water Haigh the company would consider him. This suggests he was trying to get office job rather than labour on the screens.
Another letter in the archives was from James Betteridge Dunmore, a 24 year old clerk at the company’s head office in Whitwood, to Dennis Walter Hargreaves, the manager at Water Haigh. It proves that Frank was indeed given an office job shortly after Mrs Price’s appeal. It was written in September 1914 and refers to the pit’s accident book which Dunmore presumes was “kept by young Arrowsmith.” “I must say that it never has been kept so well and it is a credit to him,” it reads.
None of the pit’s staff ledgers have survived so it’s not known precisely how Frank progressed or who he worked with in the pit’s office. One glimpse of his duties comes from a newspaper report in the Wakefield Express in January 1923. By then he was a clerk in the time-office and it appears that just before Christmas he was conned into handing over a pay note to a miner called Arthur Baldwin. The pay note was passed to the wages clerk, Gilbert Storey, and he gave Baldwin nearly £22 which he should have distributed amongst his work colleagues.
When it was discovered that the others hadn’t been paid Frank went with a policeman to Lower Headrow in Leeds where he identified Baldwin who was arrested. He said in court that he had spent some of the money buying clothes, port wine and other things for a widow who he was going to marry the following week. The prosecuting policeman said he was “a bit of a fool.” Luckily the magistrates took pity on him binding him over for six months after the bride to be was called before the bench to declare that she would still marry him whether he was sent to prison or not.
Frank Arrowsmith stayed at Water Haigh for the rest of his life. In 1939 he was still a timekeeper recording the hours and calculating the wages of men who worked underground. During the war he acted as an air raid warden and at some point was promoted to be the manager’s secretary writing minutes of pit meetings and looking after correspondence.
Frank married miner’s daughter Eunice Woolford and for a number of years they lived at “Delamere” on Park Lane in Rothwell before moving to a council house on All Saints Circle in Woodlesford. Frank passed away in 1954 and Eunice a year later.