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The Story of Barnbow Pit (1924-1930)


from The Barwicker No. 58

The article below, the first of a series of three, was written for us by Douglas Laycock of Garforth. He has for many years researched the histories of the Shell Filling Factory at Barnbow and also the Barnbow Pit, about which little has been previously published.
Douglas is a good friend of the Historical Society, who spoke on these topics at one of our meetings several years ago and led us round the sites on one of our summer outings. He also gave much help in the writing of the article by Tony Cox on The Barnbow Shell Filling Factory (see 'The Barwicker' No. 47). We thank Douglas most sincerely for his articles.

A colliery on the Barnbow site was first planned in 1911. Robert Routledge was the colliery manager then and he had been employed by Garforth Collieries since 1881. A survey of the coal reserves at Barnbow was carried out for the owner of the collieries, Col. Gascoigne, by Mr Wilson, the colliery surveyor, who had worked at Garforth Collieries for 14 years.

The colliery owners intended to start sinking to the new seams in 1913 and plans were drawn up by the North-Eastern Railway for extensive railway sidings adjacent to the Leeds-Selby line to the west of Barrowby Lane Gates. These sidings would have accommodated 245 waggons with later extensions planned to hold another 140 waggons, but these plans for the railway and colliery were taken no further than the drawing board.

Following a miners' strike in 1919, Col. Gascoigne sold the Garforth pits. They were bought by 'The Garforth Collieries Ltd', a company controlled by Wharncliffe Silkstone, of Tankersley near Barnsley. On the first of January 1920, The Garforth Collieries Ltd took a sixty year lease on the coal seams. During 1923 after further strikes and other industrial problems, the company was sold to Old Silkstone Collieries of Dodworth, near Barnsley, and the name was changed to 'Garforth Collieries Ltd'. The new company saw a strong future in coalmining in the Garforth area.

In 1923 plans were prepared by Garforth Collieries Ltd for a new pit on the site of the former Shell Filling Factory. The land owned by Col. Gascoigne was due to be returned to him by March 1924 from the Disposal and Liquidation Commission. However a High Court order was in the possession of Col. Gascoigne's agent, Mr T H Frater, stating that the whole of the Barnbow site would be returned to him by September 1923.

Local newspapers in September 1923 were reporting with enthusiasm the proposed new pit. The Sisters Pit at Garforth had closed about 12 months prior to this date with the loss of mining jobs in the area. The Yorkshire Evening News reported ; "The developments in the area will be watched with the greatest interest by miners both in Leeds and around Garforth, for a large number of men in the York Road district of Leeds, and in the surrounding villages, work or have worked in the Garforth collieries".

A part of the Shell Factory site was returned to Col. Gascoigne on the 7 September 1923. This area had been previously surveyed and it was known that there was coal at a depth of no more than 90 yards. By January 1924 all surveys and plans for Barnbow Pit were complete. The concluding sales of the Central Stores Department were taking place and the final stages of pulling down the Shell Filling Factory were about to commence. Barnbow Pit was to be sunk at the rear of the melting house of the Amatol "B" plant and parts of this building were used at the colliery.

Garforth Collieries Ltd. agreed mining royalties with the freeholder, Col. Gascoigne, and these royalty payments would continue for the life of the pit, which was thought to be about 50 years. Barnbow had an estimated 200 acres of solid coal reserve which could be worked at the new pit.

During Spring 1924, work started on the construction of the pit. Number 1 shaft winding house utilised the melting house building of the Amatol plant, while number 2 shaft winding house was a new building. Other buildings from the Shell Filling Factory were used as offices, compressor house, workshops and canteen. The contractor building the colliery was Sir Edward Airey of Leeds and the Yorkshire Electrical Power Company supplied and installed all electrical equipment above and below ground. Winding, pumping, hauling and lighting were all electrically powered. There was no pit chimney belching black smoke at Barnbow Pit; was this the first "green" pit in the country?

Map of the Pit and the surrounding area

Sinking the downcast shaft (Number 1 shaft) started early September 1924 after the colliery headgear had been constructed. The sinkers worked 3 shifts a day and in 3 weeks had reached a depth of over 90 ft., passing the Barcelona seam at 75ft. This was no mean achievement as the sinkers were working in a shaft 14 ft. in diameter. To help with the sinking, explosives were used and the thud of the blasts could be heard in Garforth causing windows to rattle. Quantities of reclaimed bricks from the Shell Factory were used in the lining of the shafts, these bricks being dressed by men who were paid 15 shillings (75p) a 1000 for the work. The dressed bricks were then transported to the colliery by Mr Horner who lived at Shippen Cottages. After the closure of the pit, Mr Horner was employed as night watchman.

After sinking past the Barcelona seam, a rate of up to 15yds. a week was achieved until the Beeston coal was reached on November 25th. 1924. The sinkers found the 5ft. 3in. seam was an excellent quality coal and the first piece of Beeston coal was brought to the surface at this time. Sinking operations did not stop here but went on to form the shaft sump, although consideration was given to sink even lower to the thinner seam which was thought to be a good gas coal. It was intended to work these seams at a later date but the coals were never worked.

The construction of the Barnbow colliery was under the overall charge of Mr W R Steele, the agent and general manager of the company. Mr J H Risby of Ryhill was in charge of the sinking operations and around 100 men were employed on the site. A number of workers were billeted on the site in wooden buildings left standing from the Shell Factory, which had been converted into canteens and dormitories.

Number 2 shaft, the upcast, was sunk some 50 yds. away from the downcast. Sinking started in December 1924 with some haste because under the mining regulations only 20 men could work at the pit bottom until ventilation and escape routes could be established with the upcast shaft. Number 2 shaft had the ventilation equipment installed at the surface.

Spoil from the sinking operations was used to raise one end of the railway sidings, to allow the coal waggons to move by gravity to the colliery screens. The railway was much the same as in the days of the Shell Factory, though some track had been lifted close to the LNER Leeds-Selby main line, and at the colliery more sidings were added. The locomotives and waggons which ran on these lines were the railway company's as very few privately owned waggons ran on the LNER.

Construction of the colliery was nearly complete by February 1925 and it was anticipated that full production would be reached by May-June of that year when 2000 tons of coal would be raised each day. At this time there was employment for over 300 workers at Barnbow Pit, many of whom came from the Garforth, Crossgates and Killingbeck areas. The Isabella Pit at Garforth had closed in April 1925 and some of the redundant workers found employment at Barnbow Pit.

The need for housing for employees was raised. Garforth could not house any more families at this time and the building of council houses at Crossgates and Killingbeck only partly relieved the situation. The colliery company hoped that "private enterprise" would come to the rescue and build more houses.

Coal production started at the colliery during June 1925, the first workings being towards the closed Sisters Pit. One district was opened on the 'advancing longwall' system but this was abandoned owing to the nature of the roof and floor so 'bord and pillar' working was adopted to win the coal. Like all the Garforth pits, Barnbow was wet and the water was lifted at a rate of 150 gallons per minute. It is said by the old miners that the water which fell from the roof was clean enough to drink! The tubs of coal on reaching the surface were hauled by endless rope to the screens where the slack (dirt) was removed and the coal was then graded. LNER waggons passed under the screens and the various grades of coal loaded into them, weighed at the weigh-house and shunted into the sidings to await despatch or loaded into horse or motor waggons for local delivery. Garforth Collieries Ltd had sidings at Garforth railway station goods yard and a Colliery Agent's office at Marsh Lane station, Leeds.

The pit ponies had an unusual life as they always came to the surface at the end of their working day. Their journey to and from work was a little hazardous as they were lowered down and brought up the shaft in a net slung under the cage. Barnbow Pit cages had 2 landings but were quite small. They were secured to the winding rope by an over-winding self-detaching hook. If an over-wind took place, the cage would be left suspended at the top of the headgear thus preventing a major accident.

Once the pit had started production in 1925 the general running of the colliery soon settled down into a steady routine. Coal sales were good as the demand for Beeston house coal was regular, selling both to industry and the local domestic market. The price of coal particulary to the domestic market was kept low because transport costs to Leeds and the local villages was minimal as the pit was situated within the city boundary.

J W Dobson of Garforth was Garforth Collieries Ltd commercial agent, C D Wardle was manager at Barnbow, Mr Flynn was first undermanager while Fred Spedding was appointed to the position in 1926. Mr Robert Teale was engineer-in-chief at the colliery and Mr Granville Wardle the electrical manager. Mr C D Wardle took a managerial position in the Warwickshire coalfield in May 1930. On 17 April at the Gascoigne Arms, Garforth, he wa presented with a silver tea service; then later in the evening Mr Hirst was introduced as the newly-appointed manager. Mr Wardle earned a salary of 20.0.0. a month, was given a free coal allowance and had a Standard motorcar provided by the colliery company.

All work at Barnbow went well for nearly 2 years until one afternoon in April 1927 when disaster struck. Part 2 tells the story of this disaster.


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