An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 20 (of 77) - Sutton Manor Colliery Part 2 (1960 - 1991)Researched & Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXIV Contact Me
The British Coal sign at the entrance to Sutton Manor Colliery (Frazer Nairn Collection)
The new Sutton Manor Institute or Welfare Club had been built in 1959 to replace the original building that had opened in 1922. It was financed from a Lancashire miners' welfare fund grant, of which the NCB contributed halfpenny for every ton of coal from Lancashire pits. However, soon after construction, the miners began complaining of cramped conditions inside the snooker room.
The club's committee limited the number of spectators, rearranged the furniture and even bought shorter snooker cues. But it was all to no avail and so three walls of the newly-built club were knocked down and it was rebuilt. The story of 'Miners Snookered!' even made it into the Times!
An example of a mining hazard at Sutton Manor Colliery caused by geological pressure
This 1964 view from St.Nicholas church tower has Sutton Manor Colliery behind Mill Lane - contributed by Jim Lamb
During the early '60s, the National Coal Board began a study of the industry's pits, assessing long-term economic viability and cost-effectiveness. In October 1965 as a consequence of their controversial 'streamlining' initiative, the NCB decided to close the apparently uneconomic Clock Face Colliery.
However, the adjacent Sutton Manor with its record-breaking production figures seemed to have a much more secure future. Having initially (and rather surprisingly) placed Sutton Manor in the 'jeopardy' class of at risk pits, the NCB removed it from their list and began an advertising campaign to recruit boys to Sutton Manor and Bold collieries. In a series of advertisements placed in the St.Helens Reporter during 1966, 15-year-old school leavers were promised a job for life:
Sutton Manor tallies were issued to each miner as a safety check so it was known how many men were underground
Fresh young recruits were promised "good pay right from the day you start". If they chose to work underground they'd receive a weekly wage of £7 3s 6d a week. The wage on offer for a 15 year-old surface worker at Sutton Manor was only slightly less, at £6 9s 6d. Employment benefits on offer included access to the canteen, pit-head showers, club and sports facilities.
Albert the underground loco at Sutton Manor Colliery (contributed by Les Dunning / Ian Lally)
Ex-miners were also targeted by the National Coal Board as part of their recruitment campaign using the headline 'Come Back Into Mining'. They were promised better pay than before plus "permanent employment and a secure future". The strap-line of the ads used uppercase to emphasise the longevity of employment on offer:
(NCB advertisement published in the St.Helens Reporter on October 29th 1966)
The colliery portrayed in British Coal's publication 'Sutton Manor Magazine'
In 1974 a new 10 ton triple drilling rig was introduced that was said to resemble a mechanical octopus and 2 years later an untapped coal field was discovered just south of Sutton Manor at Barrows Green. A scheme was proposed which would involve driving two underground roadways of 1,150 yards in length through a major geological fault.
The Colliery Manager Peter Male was quoted in the St.Helens press as saying that this boded well for the future:
Sutton Manor has been in jeopardy for some years because of a shortage of results from the coal face and we have lost some money. But this new field opens up new roads for the future and there are reserves of coal to last the pit for up to thirty years.
Tommy Ludden worked in the Powder magazine and distributed detonators to shotfirers. About 1974 Tommy and his wife Mary - a former Sutton Manor pit brow lass who was then working at the colliery as a cleaner - travelled to Russia with daughter Jane on a three week all-expenses paid holiday. This was as a result of an arrangement between the Soviet super-power's Miners Union and Britain's National Union of Mineworkers.
It was a wonderful opportunity to get away from the dirt and grime of the pit in the company of fifty other mining families from all over the UK. This group picture (right) was taken in a Black Sea resort with 11-year-old Jane sat on the front row (3rd left) next to her mother and enjoying three weeks off school! Sutton Manor miners were selected from a rota and had to be members of the union to qualify for the holiday.
This photograph shows Joe Gormley, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, on a visit to Sutton Manor Colliery about 1975. The former coal face worker at Bold Colliery is pictured in the lamproom signing for a lamp along with Sid Vincent, the Lancashire NUM secretary. Foreman lampman Alf Houghton is pictured on the left pointing out the correct place to sign.
Group of St.Helens police officers who visited Sutton Manor Colliery in 1976 - View Larger Version
The above photograph from 1976 shows a group of police officers from St.Helens who, accompanied by three Sutton Manor mineworkers, are enjoying a tour of the colliery. The bobbies are the ones dressed more for a night out than a trip underground! On the far right of the photo is Tommy Peet, a mining instructor at Old Boston who had come to the colliery to learn the job of Training Officer. Standing next to him is Sutton Manor Colliery Training Officer Brian Salkeld. Third from right is Assistant Colliery Manager George Blackmore, who was one of many workers of Welsh heritage. George had previously been an under-manager at Clock Face Colliery.
The award-winning colliery firefighters - View larger version with identification (Mel Moran Collection)
This history of Sutton Manor would not be complete without mentioning the volunteers who served as the colliery's firemen. As well as dealing with any incidents on site, the team of firefighters competed in the annual Fire Brigades' competition, which was open to teams from factories and pits. As can be seen from the above picture, Sutton Manor was extremely successful in this and other firefighting competitions and acquired many trophies. The core of the group was Billy Saunders (Colliery Fire Officer), Colin Neimarlija, Terry Gilford, Jack Prescott and Alan Barnes, who all served for many years during the 1970s and '80s.
The lamp room team in 1981 examining lamps prior to their deployment down the pit (View HiRes Mel Moran Collection)
The aforementioned lamp room team also played an important safety role within the colliery. They were charged with not just distributing the lamps used by the men down the pit, but in keeping them in top condition. These photographs were taken in September 1981 with the picture above showing (L to R) Bob Mellor, Tommy Stanley, Nicko Nujmarlia and Alf Houghton. Bob and Alf are reprised in this second photo. (HiRes)
In 1982 the colliery announced its intention to sell surplus methane gas to the ICI Pilkington Sullivan works at Widnes. A 5 mile-long pipeline linked Sutton Manor with ICI and over five million therms of methane - equivalent to three million gallons of oil - was pumped through it. Cooling, distribution and pumping facilities were sited at the colliery and filtration and metering equipment was situated at ICI. The scheme cost £3 million and began on July 14th 1983.
Also that year Sutton Manor Colliery was chosen to undertake the first underground trials of a high pressure water assisted roadheader machine. Water had long been used in mines to reduce coal dust and prevent frictional sparks. The former impaired miners' visibility and had serious health risks, while the latter could cause explosions. Initially the method of application was somewhat crude using hand-held hoses, which was somewhat hit and miss. Over the years the means of deploying water in mining operations improved considerably, although its effectiveness was often curtailed by severe limitations in the water supply.
By the 1980s it was appreciated that the quantity and pressure of the water were vital factors for an efficient deployment. So purpose-built machines were designed, complete with large water tanks. Some early trials were conducted at the limestone mine at Middleton. These led to Anderson Strathclyde developing an RH22 High Pressure Water Assisted Roadheader in early 1983. Roadheaders were excavating / tunnelling machines with boom-mounted cutting heads, which had first been employed in mining during the 1950s.
Two views of the RH22 High Pressure Water Assisted Roadheader at Sutton Manor Colliery - Larger Picture
Sutton Manor began the first coal mining trials of the RH22 HPWA in August 1983. A bulky machine weighing 35 tons and measuring 28 feet in length, it carried a 455 litre water tank, plus a 700 bar high pressure pump on its rear. The roadheader was employed within the mine’s Main Florida Intake, tunnelling under the Trencherbone coal seam, as well as through shale, mudstone, silt and sandstone. This created access to the Higher and Lower Florida coal seams, which in the 1980s were seen as being the future of the pit, providing coal for at least twenty years.
The trials lasted six months ending in March 1984 and were largely successful, especially when the RH22 was used at the highest water pressure. The cutting rate increased by 50%, there was no frictional sparking, energy consumption was reduced, machine vibration was minimised, visible dust was virtually eliminated and respirable dust was cut by half.
On the negative side the total advance of the roadheader over the 28 week period was only 222 metres. However this was caused by many teething problems that had to be solved during the trial period, as well as through an overtime ban. An impressive 19.62 metres was, however, achieved in a single week towards the end of the six months, which boded well for the future.
There were gifts from many sources, especially from people in Liverpool. Sutton Manor's Brian Mitchell and Jim Smith took a brightly painted Play Bus into the city each week and people came out of their homes and donated whatever they could. There were also collection centres in Hardman Street and at the Liverpool Seamans' Offices.
For almost a year the Printers Union took Sutton Manor miners to a local cash and carry to buy fruit, bacon, eggs and vegetables. Every week a man, who no one knew, turned up at the institute with a large bag of carrots and one of onions.
For the children of the strikers, the free school dinner was a lifeline that served as their main meal of the day and the community also ensured that the youngsters had an annual Christmas party. On August 23rd 1984, 200 children from Sutton Manor families got away from the hardship of the strike through a day in Blackpool. The trip was funded by the NUM and businesses, who provided specially reduced rates. There were also large reductions made by Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens, where meals and a disco were enjoyed.
1) Forest Road 2) Colliery canteen 3) Main gates 4) Manager's block 5) Pit baths clean side 6) Pit baths exit
7) Pit baths dirty side 8) Surveyors office 9) Toilets 10) Engineering workshops 11) Lamproom (pic Ian Lally)
During the Spring and Summer of 1986, the NCB's successor, British Coal, electrified Sutton Manor's number 1 shaft steam winder, leaving the number 2 shaft winder in its original condition of steam. Sutton Manor colliery was, for a time, unique in possessing one of the newest electric winding engines, as well as having one of the oldest in number 2 shaft's steam winder. In fact it was the last colliery in the country to use steam as the St.Helens Reporter had reported eight years earlier:
Work to electrify the no.1 pit's steam winder and shaft at Sutton Manor colliery by Qualter Hall in 1986
The no. 1 pit had previously been used for winding men and materials driven with the same coal-fired boilers built by the same company that manufactured the Titanic's boilers and engines. The electrification meant that for the first time in the mine's history, coal could be wound up the no. 1 shaft. The work was undertaken by engineering consultant's Qualter Hall & Co. Ltd. of Barnsley and the opportunity was taken to replace the old coal tubs with modern skips. The new structure was built around the old headgear, so that during construction coal production could continue. The winding engine had originally been built in 1914 by Yates & Thom of Blackburn. The no. 2 pit's engine, incidentally, had been manufactured by Fraser & Chalmers of Erith.
Photographed in August 1986 the new no.1 headgear and the no.2 headgear (Mel Moran Collection)
With months of this new investment British Coal shocked Sutton Manor mineworkers by announcing that they were going to make 250 redundancies. The pit was now considered uneconomic and the management claimed it was losing £25 for each tonne of coal that it produced. Jack Evans of British Coal told readers of the St.Helens Star that in his opinion some members of the workforce weren't grafting hard enough:
(Article published in The St.Helens Star on October 9th 1986)
Gilford, top dog of the Sutton Manor Colliery lamp room, with his pitmen pals in June 1988
On June 16th 1988 Manor pitmen Kevin Mather, Colin Brown, Bob Baugh and Alan Swift appeared in the St.Helens Star with their pet pooch Gilford. The dog had wandered into their lamp room some weeks earlier and decided to take up residence. As the animal had been found above ground, it was given the name of the colliery’s surface superintendent. Whether Terry Gilford considered it to be a tribute or insult wasn't recorded!
For week ending 20/01/1990, total weekly output had been a record 15,096 tonnes and the colliery results for the month of January 1990 were shown as an operating profit of £157,000, with net profit after capital charges of £46,000.
A photograph which appeared in 'Sutton Manor Magazine No.5' published in February 1990
Happy mineworkers posed for a photograph (above) propping up a board which detailed their record breaking activities, subtitled as 'Manor Men Are Back Again'. The caption underneath the picture in 'Sutton Manor Magazine', referred to the output levels as a "grand achievement". Colliery Manager Mr. Leech in an article entitled 'Well Done!' explained that "work is well underway" on a new coal face.
By December 1990 the Colliery Manager was P.G. Redford and in the Christmas edition of 'Sutton Manor Magazine (no.9) he informed the pitmen that in the quarter that ended in October, output had gone down. He claimed that British Coal had lost money and so Sutton Manor had been put back into the 'Reconvened Review Procedure'. However, the colliery manager also revealed that since October, the week by week tonnage was starting to rise and there was some cautious optimism for the future with Redford also referring to planned development work.
So there was some bewilderment when just weeks later British Coal announced that the pit was unviable and scheduled for closure in June 1991. They claimed that Sutton Manor Colliery had lost £23 million over the previous five years and a British Coal spokesman was quoted by the St.Helens Star on May, 30th 1991 as saying that "The pit was losing money and not hitting output targets". It finally closed on the 24th May 1991 with 40 years of coal still underground.
St.Helens Star report on the closure of Sutton Manor Colliery from May 30th 1991
The stone came from Holme Park quarry near Carnforth. John Melling was aged about 14 at the time and recalls working in the school holidays with his uncle who was contracted to bring stone from the quarry to Sutton Manor. John believes that the total amount of stone that his uncle and other haulage companies delivered was about 30,000 tons.
The NCB certificate awarded to Noah Lamb who spent 48 years at Sutton Manor - Contributed by Jim Lamb
Former Sutton Manor pitman Brian Spencer was until 2010 the Leader of St.Helens Council and Mike McGuire served as MP for Ince from 1964 to 1983. He was then the parliamentary representative for Makerfield until 1987. Dr. Ken Moses CBE from Thatto Heath was a General Manager at Sutton Manor Colliery and later worked as a senior executive at British Coal.
Another with a distinguished Sutton Manor service record was Noah Lamb (1898-1990) who spent forty-eight years down the pit. Noah is pictured right sitting on his bed inside his white cottage at 30 Chester Lane in Marshalls Cross where he was born. Being a miner for almost half a century didn't do Noah any harm, as he lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two.
Pit deputy George Streete pictured in 1960 and at his retirement in 1980 (contributed by Esther Streete)
House and garden of Albert Rigby from Ditton who often won NCB garden competitions - Contributed by Pat Beesley
Although many Sutton Manor Colliery pit workers lived in 'miners houses' in local streets, such as Tennyson Street and Forest Road, others like George and Esther Streete lived in Ditton at Widnes. Their houses were built by the NCB to house miners' families from Sutton Manor, as well as Cronton. They would cycle to work, unlike the local lads who'd mainly walk, the noise of their clogs puncturing the early morning peace. Post-war many of the mineworkers were proud of their gardens. The NCB held an annual garden competition and there was keen rivalry between neighbours. Pictured above is the home and garden of Sutton Manor pitman Albert Rigby, who lived in one of the Ditton houses. A keen gardener, Albert won the competition or was runner up on several occasions. Pictured in the 1950s prior to smokeless fuel, the houses are soot-stained like many other buildings at that time.
Although there were many improvements in terms of technology and practice during the 20th century, working down Sutton Manor was never easy. Ex-pit man Gary Conley described the conditions on BBC North West Tonight on March 4th 2009, in a report that commemorated a quarter of a century since the start of the 1984 strike:
Sutton Manor Colliery mineworkers pictured during the 1980s (Mel Moran Collection)
Click Here for Sutton Manor Colliery Photo-Album #2 (50 pictures) Slideshow
Click Here for Sutton Manor Colliery Photo-Album #3 (50 pictures) Slideshow
Click Here for Sutton Manor Colliery Photo-Album #4 (44 pictures) Slideshow
Click Here for Sutton Manor Colliery Photo-Album #5 (44 pictures) Slideshow
Click Here for Sutton Manor Colliery Photo-Album #6 (38 pictures) Slideshow
Click Here for a plan of Sutton Manor Colliery (courtesy Mel Moran)
or photographs, do please contact me. Thank you. Stephen Wainwright
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