An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 21 (of 76) - History of Clock Face Colliery
The pit took its name from the old Clock Face Inn and Clock Face Road, but the village as we know it today, was non-existent when sinking operations first began.
Clock Face Colliery taken possibly around 1905 looking across Gorsey Lane with Burtonwood to the left. The original headgear is over no. 3 shaft and a basic chute arrangement delivers coal to rail wagons underneath. The locomotive in the centre is the typical design that worked in St.Helens collieries. The original no. 1 shaft is shown to the right, and behind it is the Boiler House in which steam was generated for winding engines and other services
Clock Face Colliery was initially under the ownership of Bold Hall Estate Co. Ltd. who registered their company on July 20th, 1893 with a capital of £200,000. Their directors included two millers, a ship owner, a sugar refiner, a colliery proprietor plus industrialist and benefactor Colonel David Gamble. The latter is remembered for donating the Gamble Institute, where Central Library is housed, to the people of St.Helens.
Although established primarily to exploit the minerals on former Bold Hall land, the company's industrial remit also included:
Pit sinking could be as perilous an occupation as mining and Andrew Neary was fatally injured in July 1896 when water was accidentally tipped onto him. Then the Liverpool Mercury of October 11th, 1899, reported how sinker Charles Booth had also lost his life. During the previous year, John Davies of Neill's Row, Bold, sued the Bold Hall Estate Co. for £300 damages after losing virtually all of his sight. This was after gelignite cartridges had exploded in the pit sinker's face. During the court hearing, it was revealed by John Nolan of Sutton Moss that he and his fellow workers at Clock Face had been forced by the company to contract out of the Employers' Liability Act. The company argued that Davies had caused the accident and had also contracted himself out of the Act, so was not entitled to any compensation. The jury were not impressed by the unsympathetic treatment of Davies and awarded him £200.
On March 23rd 1900, the Manchester Times described how 250 men had been involved in the sinking and construction of shafts over the "past four or five years" but had now been discharged. They said that the high prices of fuel and iron had also contributed to the suspension of operations at Clock Face as well as the problems with water.
In 1904 the Wigan Coal and Iron Company took over the colliery and invested in powerful pumps that pumped out 400 gallons of water per minute from the pits. The pumps were housed in a dedicated building where an attendant maintained and kept them clean and reported variations in operating cycle. Now Clock Face was able to develop as a business and they converted no. 1 shaft into a pumping pit that coped with over 700,000 gallons of water per day. Of this 500,000 gallons were sold to St.Helens Corporation for use as drinking water. Three ponds on the colliery site stored the water which had a number of uses, including the washing of newly-mined coal.
An undated photograph of the Musgrave & Sons engine within the pump house at Clock Face Colliery
Getting Clock Face Colliery fit for purpose cost the life of sinker George Macintosh, who suffered a dreadful death on April 13th 1906. The 27-year-old from Clock Face Road lost his life while fixing steel wire rope down a shaft. This was intended to support pipes that were needed to pump out water. Macintosh was 200 yards from the surface in a small sinking tub with three other men when rope suddenly came loose. It fell some distance down the shaft and cut off Macintosh's head and left arm. These fell 300 yards to the bottom of the pit, leaving his torso in the tub with the three shocked men. Fellow sinker Michael Mahon was badly injured, although carpenter Alfred Roby of Leach Lane and sinker George Thompson were uninjured. At Macintosh's inquest it was revealed that he'd decided to save a little time in uncoiling the rope down from the top of the pit, instead of from the pit bottom up.
In an article published in the Liverpool Daily Post on December 7th 1906, it was stated that rapid progress had recently been made at Clock Face and it was expected that coal would shortly be reached. Coal mining operations began in 1907 and as well providing employment for mineworkers, opportunities
Many of the pit sinkers had stayed at the Clock Face Inn and on February 4th 1908, licensee James Naylor successfully applied to a St.Helens licensing hearing for permission to build a new, larger house. This, he argued, was needed to serve the expanding population of the district, which until very recently had been mainly agricultural. The 200 miners and surface workers that were presently employed at Clock Face Colliery required accommodation and so a large number of houses were being built. At the licence hearing it was stated that the colliery had plans to expand its workforce to between 1000 to 1500 employees. Shafts were also being sunk at the new Sutton Manor Colliery nearby and mineworkers would soon be needed to work that mine.
The six members of the Clock Face Colliery Rescue Team plus two drivers - contributed by Terry Callaghan
Then on December 21st 1910 at the Pretoria mine of the Hulton Colliery Company, just outside of Bolton / Atherton, a massive explosion killed 344 men and boys. Neither of these two collieries were owned by the Wigan Coal & Iron Company, the owner of Clock Face Colliery, but they did make a significant contribution. Their six-man Rescue team from the nearby Westhoughton Colliery were highly praised for their rescue efforts in the Pretoria mine, working long eight hour shifts under very difficult conditions. There is no doubt that this had a significant role in the establishment of a rescue team at Clock Face, so soon after the Pretoria explosion.
The Coal Mines Act made it compulsory for mine owners to establish Rescue Teams at their own collieries. Alternatively, they could contribute to the cost of a central rescue station within a maximum distance of 10 miles from the colliery. Mine owners were also legally responsible for the supply and maintenance of all rescue equipment, as well as arranging regular first aid and rescue training.
At Clock Face, the Wigan Coal & Iron Company needed no prompting to set up their own station. This was despite St Helens electing to have a central rescue station and with Clock Face being well within the 10 mile limit. The above photograph demonstrates a very well presented brigade of six proud members, together with their drivers.
In the Pretoria mine disaster a number of the dead had not been injured by the explosion, but had slowly succumbed to a lack of oxygen. With explosive gas being an important issue in many mine accidents, for any rescue brigade to have any success it was necessary to provide them with portable breathing equipment that would maximise their manoeuvrability in difficult situations.
The Proto Rebreather Apparatus became the standard kit for brigade use and was fitted over the wearer's head. It then rested on his shoulders and was held in place by straps around the waist. The oxygen supply was around two hours depending on the cylinder numbers and size, and whilst the unit allowed freedom of movement it was considered bulky, heavy, and in confined spaces within a mine, rather unpleasant to wear. In the photographs the important use of goggles is seen together with electric hand lights, good boots and knee pads. These are particularly important when crawling around in low, confined spaces.
Other Home Office directions relative to the application of the Act at each Colliery Rescue Station were: a) Provision and maintenance of two or more small birds or mice for the testing of the presence of carbon monoxide gas. Most readers would be familiar with the long established practice of mines using canaries. b) Two electric hand lamps always ready for use and capable of providing its designed light standard for 4 hours. c) One set of oxygen reviving equipment. d) A safety lamp for each member of the brigade capable of testing for the presence of gas. e) An ambulance box provided by the St John Ambulance Association, or similar boxes, together with antiseptic solution and fresh drinking water.
The training of rescue teams at Clock Face, as at other collieries, was ongoing and would have closely simulated the conditions faced underground. So special buildings were set up and sulphur fumes and smoke were injected into a totally-dark room. Obstacles were placed in their way, temperatures were elevated and there was even inclined floors, to simulate a fault dip or incline tunnel. In all these conditions they had to communicate as a team, erect roof supports, clear roof falls, install temporary ventilation measures such as brattice cloth, treat the injured and get personnel out safely on stretchers.
So when we look at the Clock Face Rescue Team in this photo, do spare a thought for the history of the establishment in the first place, but also for the physical and psychological demands that the work placed on each member.
Like all pits, Clock Face colliery had its share of industrial disputes. Some were national strikes, others were regional or localised disputes, such as in 1910. Then the men at Clock Face struck for a number of months from February, over revised working conditions. In September 1910, men employed at the Wigan Coal and Iron Company's thirteen other pits, voted 2:1 to go out on strike in sympathy.
A portrait of James Whittall the manager of Clock Face Colliery c.1907 to 1911 - contributed by Ernie Bate
Harold Whitehead the manager of Clock Face Colliery during World War 1 - contributed by Brian Legg
One of the earliest Clock Face Colliery Tallies c.1910 - contributed by Terry Callaghan
Memorial plaque in the Clock Face Miners Recreation Club in Crawford Street - contributed by Ste M
G. B. Tristram was listed as manager in the 1923 edition of the Wigan Coal and Iron Co's Colliery Year book. This also revealed that Clock Face's nos. 1 and 2 pits had 475 workers (underground and surface) with no.3 pit having 819 workers underground and 204 on the surface.
Contemporary newspaper reports could be vague about the precise causes of death, as accidents often happened suddenly within poorly-lit workplaces. Witnesses and experts attending inquests often surmised as to what they thought had happened. When Head Foreman Alfred Davies (1881-1923) was found dead under a girder in no.3 pit at Clock Face in 1923, the St.Helens Reporter's account (20/4/1923) of his inquest reported comments made by the inspector of mines and by fellow mineworker Walter Jones:
In March 1924, 50-years-old Isaac Daniels died after being struck by a large stone during a roof fall. The under-manager and fireman were admonished at Daniel's inquest for failing to provide sufficient roof props. Mining historian Ian Winstanley has identified over thirty deaths at Clock Face Colliery during its life, with most fatalities caused by roof or stone falls.
Headgear, screens building & winding house (right) of no. 3 downcast pit of Clock Face Colliery during the 1920s
That is with the exception of two men who are putting on sheeting and installing windows into the 'screens' building. They are stood on what appears to be a single plank without rails or protective helmets. Occupational health and safety during the 1920s was not what it is today! A rare day with no production was an ideal time to perform such tasks. When mining operations were underway, the whole building would shake from the vibrating screens and shakers, which is not good for new glass.
The top photograph also shows rope coming out of the winding house on the right of the picture. Ebor Rowley from Leach Lane, Sutton was, for many years, a winder at the colliery until its closure. Like other winders in pits, Ebor would sit alone responding to the shaft signals. A member of St.Nicholas church choir, Ebor is pictured (left) on a day trip to Southport in 1950.
The screening process was an important part of mining and it's worth describing its function and the processes and technologies employed at Clock Face in some detail. Screening or sorting was required because the material that came up the shafts in the 'tubs' (skips in Parkside and from 1986 in Sutton Manor) was not just coal. It also included rock, plus discarded items used in maintaining miners' safety, eg. timber, steel bars and brattice cloth used in ventilation. The coal also varied in size and type and burning efficiency.
Clock Face Colliery photographed from Gorsey Lane with Sutton Manor to the right - Note how the headgear of no. 2 pit on the left of the picture is being dismantled, ready for its replacement with new steel headgear of similar design to the no. 3 pit on the right which is integrated with the new screen building
As mining developed and more mechanised methods of coal extraction were introduced, the boxes or tubs now contained items other than pure coal. These needed to be removed as the colliery's customers would not be happy with a coal delivery that included rock or other non-combustible items.
It was also necessary to remove the aforementioned redundant items, such as timber and brattice cloth, so they could be recycled or disposed of. In the early days, these products were crudely extracted before they got into wagons or coal sacks. This hand separation work was mainly carried out by women and it was slow, tiring work. Developments in the efficiency of underground extraction, the opening of multiple coal seams and improved winding speeds and techniques led to greater volumes being wound and so improved screening methods were needed.
The letterhead of John Wood & Sons Ltd. who designed and made the screens at Clock Face Colliery
Both the horizontal and vertical separations ended via chutes into rail wagons underneath. When all these drops in levels are added together, it can be appreciated that the original surface stopping level for the cages in the shaft now had to be much higher. Coupled with the introduction of overwind safety devices into the headgear, to stop the possibility of the cage going over the pulleys, these changes required complete new headgears to be installed or existing ones modified. Clock Face Colliery covered all of these issues during the 1920s, illustrated in the following pictures.
Clock Face Colliery pictured in John Wood & Son catalogue - From the Graham Isherwood Collection
The above photograph again taken from inside the colliery yard looking towards Gorsey Lane, shows the exterior of the completed screens building integrated with the downcast no. 3 pit's new headgear. The building was very large with many levels inside. Full coal wagons can be seen under the building ready to be despatched via the rail line to the left, which joins the Widnes line south of Clock Face. An example of the loading chute from the scrap bin can be seen at the front right of the picture.
The screens building was a significant investment for the Wigan Coal and Iron Company and John Wood & Sons supplied the screening equipment. They included the photographs below in their catalogue which demonstrate the different stages of screening at Clock Face.
Two photos taken inside the Clock Face Colliery screens building - From the Graham Isherwood Collection
The upper part of the first photo above shows the tippler housing into which tubs discharged their coal, with two lines of shaker conveyors below. The inclined steel shakers are thrown forwards and backwards by an eccentric drive shaft and rod system. Hole perforations in the bottom plate begin a sizing process, and the end of the shaker feeds a motorised continuous 'slat' conveyor travelling to the left.
The second photograph on the right shows the next stage with the slat conveyors taking the coal through a hand screening area. Women would generally stand alongside these conveyors to remove unwanted items, dropping them into a hopper between the 2nd and 3rd conveyors. Note the steps and platform used to cross from one position to another, and the shovels that were used in the removal process as well as to keep the floor clean. The small amount of coal on the conveyors suggest that the photographs were taken at the installation period during trials of the various stages of screening.
Inside the screens building pictured in John Wood & Son's catalogue - From the Graham Isherwood Collection
The above photograph is further along the same process, with the slat conveyor on top. When in operation, coal was delivered to the inclined perforated 'troughs' and then onto another slat conveyor. The perforations are small in size and are likely to have been used to capture the last of the 'slack' or very small coal.
Note the rake leaning onto the bunker which was used to remove unwanted items or to clear build ups in the passage of coal. The slat conveyors at this point are now sloping downwards, suggesting that this particular line is getting close to its final delivery into a hopper/ bunker.
Sectional drawing of the Clock Face screens building - From the Graham Isherwood Collection
The strikes in the 1920s caused considerable hardship to the families of miners. Just days before the 1926 national strike and lock out, the St.Helens Reporter, in an article entitled 'Who Picks the Coal? - Dangerous Practice at Clock Face' (16/4/1926), described how serious damage had been caused to the colliery dirt heap by one hundred and fifty people who'd been helping themselves to coal.
The article reported that it had been the custom for some months for local people to regularly visit the heap and "purloin some of the coal which they found there". The practice had continued despite the death of a man, which the newspaper described as a "raider", who some weeks earlier had been buried alive whilst taking coal.
Women picking coal at Clock Face Colliery during the 1926 lock out - note small boy on left
Men preparing food for the soup kitchen at Clock Face in September 1926 during the miners' lockout
There were happier times during the lock out. There was very good weather throughout the summer and in June it was reported that Clock Face colliers were gathering nightly at a coppice, playing their mouth organs and listening to a nightingale sing. Word soon spread and 400 people from the village turned up late one night, although the bashful nightingale refused to perform! The manager at Clock Face Colliery at this time was a man called Twist.
Clock Face Colliery miners thought to have been taken during the 1926 lock out - contributed by Alan Mercer
The above photograph is believed to have been taken during the 1926 lock out. Dick Latham of Gorsey Lane is second from the left in the front row of pitmen that are facing the camera. To Dick's left and just behind him with head turned, is David Mercer, also of Gorsey Lane. Can you name any other miners? Note some very youthful faces amongst them. A larger version of the picture can be viewed Here.
In May 1930 Herbert Cunliffe of Clock Face was awarded a university scholarship from the Miners’ Welfare National Scholarship scheme. The annual award enabled mineworkers or sons and daughters of miners to study at university. Around 2000 people applied each year and Herbert was one of 12 recipients for the 1930 award. It was a benefit of the Miners’ Welfare Fund which had been established in 1920 and funded by a levy on coal production and mining royalties. By the end of 1937 almost £17 million had been raised through the fund with the bulk of the money spent on baths, leisure and medical facilities.
Cameras were banned down Clock Face so underground photographs are rare - contributed by Terry Callaghan
On June 1st 1931, the Evening Telegraph ran the headline 'Coal Mined by Woman'. The newspaper explained how Mrs. Masie Robinson "clad in an old raincoat and carrying an electric safety lamp in her hand" had accompanied her husband on a visit down Clock Face Colliery. London barrister J. Rowland Robinson was the Conservative candidate for Widnes and wished to inspect working conditions below ground. "Of course, I'm not nervous", Mrs. Robinson told a reporter just before the cage began its 800 yard journey downwards. The couple returned with black faces after their two hour trip and with pieces of coal that they'd dug from the face almost a mile away from the pit shaft. "It has been one of the most thrilling experiences of my life", declared Mrs. Robinson.
Clock Face Colliery headgears, screens and winding house (undated but the desolate scene suggests a strike day)
On the extreme right of the above photograph, the lower section of the colliery chimney through which the boiler's combustion products were extracted, can just be seen. The boiler also produced steam for various colliery uses including heating the offices and baths etc. Some black-looking insulated hot water pipes from that location can also be seen on the right.
An undated photograph of Clock Face Colliery but which was probably taken during the 1930s
Mr. Benyon was awarded 2nd prize for his performance of what presumably was the music from the Merry Widow
A strong community spirit prevailed and the Clock Face Colliery carnivals were said to be among the most talked about events in the north-west. The colliery band performed at these and other events and in a report in the St.Helens Newspaper of May 12th 1939, it was stated that:
Programme for the Clock Face Colliery Recreation Club Athletic Sports 1950
The Clock Face Colliery Band had been created soon after the opening of the Miners Institute in 1914. It's been said that a manager called Anderton obtained £500 to buy a full set of instruments for 25 players. Six miners who were members of Parson Peter's band in Parr formed the core and each Christmas the Clock Face Miners' band would go round the village playing Christmas carols. Groups of miners also played accordions on summer evenings on waste ground during the 1920s, attracting good audiences. Another well-remembered conductor of the Colliery Band was Richard Fairhurst. Not all members were mineworkers, as cornet player Fred Fairhurst worked on Byron's farm.
Clock Face Colliery Football Club of 1949 - do contact me if you can name any players
The Clock Face ensemble, along with the Sutton Manor Colliery Band, played at the Athletics Sports meetings which were first held in 1947. These were organised by the Clock Face Colliery Recreation Club, which had changed its name from the Institute. The annual sports events took place on the large recreation ground opposite the Clock Face Hotel, in between the main road and Crawford Street. The programme for the 1950 sports reveals that 31 events were scheduled that year with a total prize money of £140. That is equivalent to over £3000 in today's money. The day ended with a Grand Carnival Dance in St. Aidan's School to the music of G. Roughley and his Band.
The recreation ground also hosted Clock Face Colliery Football Club which competed in the local league. The Recreation Club still exists and presently operates two adult football and one rugby team, plus eight junior rugby teams. In April 2012 they were awarded £49,875 from Sport England’s Protecting Playing Fields fund to convert 14 acres of farmland into pitches for football, rugby and other sports.
At the end of March 1948 the mineworkers at Clock Face went on strike for a week. Some men had been moved from a 3 feet 9 inches seam to one measuring 2 feet four inches. Output had fallen and the miners claimed they were losing 10 shillings a day. During 1949 the newly-created National Coal Board engaged in a recruitment campaign for school-leavers. 16-years-old Malcolm Ormrod of Clock Face Colliery featured in their national advertisements (pictured right) extolling the virtues of working in the coal industry.
In 1950 John Rafferty of Clock Face Colliery made the final of that year's Mineworkers’ National Amateur Boxing Championships, fighting for his pit within the Featherweight division.
Horace Pugh is 2nd from right standing next to his brother-in-law Frank Spakauskas (right) - contributed by Alan Pugh
Horace Pugh was the Land Sale Manager at Clock Face Colliery from the 1940s. This was a curious title as it had nothing to do with land requisition or land sales. Horace and his staff were instead responsible for the selling of coal to the miners and public and he also had responsibility for the coal yard and sidings that ran down the side of Gorsey Lane. His office was at the main gate opposite the baths, just to the left of the gate. When the mine closed Horace was transferred to Bold Colliery as Land Sale Manager and remained there until his retirement.
However Horace began working at Clock Face as a 'Bevin Boy', one of many young men who were enlisted to work at the pit, instead of in the armed forces, as his son Alan Pugh recalls:
One little known fact is that Clock Face Colliery played a role in the Berlin Airlift of 1948. After Stalin's blockade was imposed on West Berlin, US Army trucks lined up in Gorsey Lane to be filled with Clock Face coal. This was then flown onto Germany from Burtonwood Air Base. One problem was that the coal was not stored in sacks but loose in the cargo holds of planes. It tended to shift in flight which caused some difficulties for the pilots.
John King who was in charge of the winding house at Clock Face Colliery - Contributed by John James
The Mines and Quarries Act of 1954 brought in a requirement for mining qualifications for managers and undermanagers, including deputies, shotfirers, engineers and others in positions of responsibility. One of the most responsible positions in any pit was held by the individual in charge of the winding house who had to safely take men and materials up and down the shaft in cages. In 1905 a mistake by the winder at nearby Bold colliery had led to the deaths of five miners, including four boys.
During the 1940s and ‘50s John King held that important position at Clock Face Colliery. He entered the mining industry in 1918 at the age of 13 when he got a job at Pemberton Colliery, assisted by a reference from John Woods, Vicar of Highfield. After transferring first to Cronton Colliery, John King relocated to Clock Face where he lived at 31 Bridge Road. In 1958 as pit winder he received his Mechanic’s Certificate under the Mines and Quarries Act, shortly before moving to Sutton Manor Colliery.
There are many who still recall the sight of black-faced miners walking through Clock Face village during the 1950s, including Ernie Bate:
St Helens Reporter 23/10/1965 - courtesy St.Helens Local History & Archives Library
Clock Face Colliery lampman Johnny Quinn with best friend and fellow pitman David Mercer (1st and 3rd in second photo) - Johnny's son, John Quinn, played professional football for Sheffield Wednesday - contributed by Alan Mercer
It is like losing a member of the family. Here you are in a community that has gone on for many years. It is a very homely and friendly pit from the management right down to the workers and this feeling has prevailed throughout the years.
The protest only lasted forty-eight hours as they knew that it was ultimately futile, but it was the only way the miners knew to let off steam.
After the colliery closed, a pump was installed to daily deliver tens of thousands of gallons of near pure water from underground to Sutton Manor Colliery and into the public water system.
The site was reclaimed by St Helens Council as a community woodland and public open space in the late 1990s and is now known as Clock Face Country Park and enjoyed by many. Other than the hidden-away capped shafts, the old baths complex in Gorsey Lane is all that's left of the historic colliery.
Capped shaft number 1 at the former site of Clock Face Colliery pictured in 2009 - contributed by Neil Selfridge
Please do contact me if you can provide any further information and / or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of old Sutton for the Memories pages, which are proving very popular. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Please do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't received a response within 12 hours, check your junk mail folder or send your message again. Thank you! SRW