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 donated 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.
Many of the original 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 license 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.
An undated photograph of the Musgrave & Sons engine within the pump house at Clock Face Colliery
The above undated photograph is of the machinery that drove the pump at Clock Face, which played a crucial role and was manufactured by Musgrave & Sons of Bolton. The company closed in 1926, so it is likely that this was part of the original 1904 pump installation. The attendants, however, were so dedicated to their work in keeping the equipment spotlessly clean, that it is not easy to say if the equipment is new, or had been in service for many years.
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.1900 to 1911 - contributed by Ernie Bate
James Whittall was one of Clock Face Colliery's earliest managers, if not the very first. He was probably in charge from around 1900 to 1911 and he may also have been the manager of an adjacent brickworks. James lived at 440 Clock Face Road and Red Villas in Clock Face and his great-grandson Ernie Bate has a painted portrait of him hanging in his home:
Harold Whitehead the manager of Clock Face Colliery during World War 1 - contributed by Brian Legg
An unusual prosecution took place on March 10th 1914 when mine inspector George Fillingham found himself in court. He’d accompanied the manager Harold Whitehead on an inspection down the pit then realised he had his pipe in his pocket. Fillingham ran back to the cage and went straight up the pit but the damage had been done. The Wigan Coal & Iron Company had a rule that all who breached their 'no smoking materials' ban had to be prosecuted. However the magistrates dismissed the case on payment of 6 shillings costs. Fillingham was actually appointed by the miners who had been empowered by a 1911 Act to have a representative who would inspect the mine workings on their behalf.
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
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 second from right c.1947/8 standing next to his brother-in-law Frank Spakauskas (right) who was home on leave from the Sudan and being given a tour of the pit. A brilliant photographer who was born in Pendlebury Street, Frank was contracted by MGM whilst in Kenya to take stills for The Snows of Kilimanjaro starring Gregory Peck - 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:
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