An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire
Part 22 (of 81 parts) - History of Clock Face Colliery
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.
The above photograph of Clock Face Colliery was taken c.1905 and looks across Gorsey Lane, with Burtonwood being to the left. The original headgear is over no. 2 shaft and a very basic chute arrangement delivers coal to the rail wagons underneath. The locomotive in the centre is the typical design that continued working in St.Helens Collieries for many years. The original no. 3 shaft is shown to the right, and behind it is the Boiler House which generated steam for winding engines and other services.
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.
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 above photograph shows the Clock Face Colliery Rescue team taken just before the war. The establishment of mine rescue teams nationwide was as a result of the Coal Mines Act of 1911, together with some additional provisions made in 1912. The Act came into force as a result of public anguish over recent mine disasters, with two having taken place within the Wigan area. The Maypole Colliery tragedy in Abram, Wigan in August of 1908 was caused by an underground gas explosion and led to the deaths of 75 men and boys.
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 near-200 men at Clock Face struck for quite a number of months from February, over revised working conditions and a pay dispute. The miners were offered 2 shillings a ton but they demanded 2s 4d, in line with what they claimed was the going rate at neighbouring pits. 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. However the result of the ballot was just short of the required 2/3rd majority, that authorised a walk out.
On November 1st 1911, St Helens County Court considered a case brought by Lot Kitts of Clock Face Colliery, which had implications for miners at other pits. Kitts was a check weighman, an individual who was hired by miners to check the findings of the colliery’s own weighman, who they didn't trust. This was at a time when hewers were paid by the weight of the coal they had extracted. The weighing took place via a weighbridge situated outside a wooden cabin that housed the actual mechanical scale. Each box of coal was positioned on the weighbridge, which was connected to the scales inside by levers. The weighman was able to determine the total load on the bridge by sliding a weight along the graduated lever until it was in a balanced horizontal position. He would then subtract the weight of the box to give the weight of the actual coal inside it.
After a strike the Wigan Coal & Iron Company and the men at Clock Face had agreed on a pay rate of 2 shillings a ton, with a guaranteed minimum of 7 shillings a day for all workers. Those miners who didn’t earn more than 7 shillings argued that they had no need for a checkweigher, so wouldn’t pay Lot Kitts. He argued that they had all agreed to pay him, so Kitts sued the refuseniks. Judge Shand ruled that he was fully entitled to receive payment from all the miners, whether they needed his services or not. This photo (above) shows the Check Weighbridge at Douglas Bank Colliery in Wigan in 1890. It provides a good illustration of the efficient organisation, with the weighman inside and the extra people required to quickly get the boxes on and off the weighbridge.
One of Clock Face Colliery's earliest managers was a Mr. Hewlett and James Whittall was in charge from about 1907 to 1911. James lived at 440 Clock Face Road and at Red Villas in Clock Face. His great-grandson Ernie Bate has a painted portrait of his ancestor hanging in his home. Ernie writes:
Portrait of James Whittall the manager of Clock Face Colliery c.1907 to 1911 - contributed by Ernie Bate
Harold Joshua Whitehead (1884-1965) took over as manager at Clock Face Colliery between 1911 to 1917, before transferring to become manager of Abram Colliery, Bickershaw and later Garswood Hall Colliery. H. J. Whitehead presided over the opening of Clock Face Institute on January 9th 1914. This was undertaken by the Earl of Crawford, chairman of the Wigan Coal and Iron Co., who was also known as Lord Wigan. The new club cost £2000 and contained a large meeting room 50' x 22', large billiards room and games room plus dressing rooms and baths for football and cricket teams. Newspapers reported how it was part of a scheme for a 'model village' that the company was creating with the Institute in between football and cricket grounds and surrounded by new colliery houses.
Harold Whitehead the manager of Clock Face Colliery during World War 1 - contributed by Brian Legg
By the time of the opening, 42 homes had been built, with 20 more under construction and 122 miners' houses were created in total. The Earl of Crawford announced at the opening of the Institute that plans were in hand for a school house, which would be as good and as well equipped as any in the county. He also claimed that no money had been spared to ensure that the pit was "suitable for the safety and convenience of those engaged in it." The 27th Earl added that with the housing that his company was providing, they were hoping to attract the "very best class of Lancashire artisan".
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.
Many miners at Clock Face Colliery went to war and 22 failed to come home. Eight others were honoured for their bravery during the first world war, being awarded either the Distinguished Conduct Medal or the Military Medal. A plaque was created to honour the fallen and those miners who achieved military distinctions. The brass plaque was originally at the colliery but is now in the Clock Face Miners Recreation Club in Crawford Street.
Left: An old Clock Face Colliery tally; Right: Plaque in Clock Face Miners Recreation Club
Like most pits, there were many accidents and inquests into mining fatalities were often held at the Clock Face Inn. On January 21st 1915 Peter Brookfield of 37 Hall Street, Clock Face died as a result of a chain breaking and striking him a violent blow to his neck. The 18-years-old haulage hand collapsed in the arms of a colleague, saying "Give me a drink; I am choking". Some Clock Face workers took a long time to succumb to their injuries. Evan Davies of 27 Rolling Mill Lane, Sutton was run over in October 1917 by the boxes of coal that he was lowering down a brow. However he didn't die until June 2nd 1918. In the last week of January 1919, four fatal accidents occurred at Clock Face, including Garratt Murray, who died from a roof fall.
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:
The miners’ houses, that the Wigan Coal & Iron Co. had built, cost 6s 6d a week to rent. Although mineworkers were supposed to vacate them after leaving the colliery's employment, the company didn't usually enforce its rule. However they did give notice to quit in the case of William Roscoe, who after the 1921 lock out, lost his job at Clock Face Colliery and was asked to vacate his home. The Wigan Coal & Iron Co. said they required the house at 84 Crawford Street for a fireman who was lodging 1½ mile away in a house with nine others. Roscoe was now an insurance agent but had been the district president of the Miners’ Federation during the strike. During a hearing in St.Helens County Court on February 7th 1923, it was alleged that the colliery company were being vindictive. Judge Dowdall seemed to agree and refused to make an order to turn Roscoe and his family out, saying that the Wigan Coal & Iron Co. would first have to find them alternative accommodation.
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.
The above picture of Clock Face colliery, acquired from the archives of the former Wigan & District Mining & Technical College, is labelled 'Photographed in the 1920s'. However, it was probably taken during the 1926 lock out, due to a lack of mining activity. Note the empty, seemingly abandoned coal wagons without workers, in the background of the picture.
Headgear, screens building & winding house (right) of no. 1 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, who was a member of St.Nicholas church choir, 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.
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.
In the early days of mining, coal was extracted from the seam by hand, with miners 'hewing' the coal with a pick. The hewer would then fill a container (initially a basket, then a box on wheels) and his 'drawer' would take it to the shaft for winding. With this simple system, the miner was able to ensure a better segregation of coal to non-coal items before the delivery to the surface. Little screening was required, apart from sorting the type and size of coal. 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.
Pictured from Gorsey Lane with Sutton Manor to the right. No. 2 pit's headgear on the left of picture is being dismantled, ready for replacement with steel headgear of similar design to no. 1 pit on the right which is integrated with new screen building.
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.
Consequently engineering companies that served the mining industry began designing and manufacturing mechanised devices to greatly improve the efficiency of screening. The introduction of a full screening system also required the design of new buildings to house this equipment and these changes also affected the existing winding headgear designs. In the new system, screening was both a vertical and horizontal separation process. Coal could, for example, be segregated into different sizes by dropping through certain sized holes onto a conveyor underneath (vertical). Or scrap items could be manually taken off a conveyor and placed in a bin alongside (horizontal).
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.
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. 1 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.
Clock Face Colliery pictured in John Wood & Son catalogue - From the Graham Isherwood Collection
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.
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.
Two photos taken inside the Clock Face Colliery screens building - From the Graham Isherwood Collection
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.
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.
Inside the screens building pictured in John Wood & Son's catalogue - From the Graham Isherwood Collection
The above sectional drawing of the Clock Face screens building shows an internal cross section looking towards Burtonwood. At the top level are full tubs having exited the cage and now travelling down to the tipplers on the left and into which they will tip their load to begin the screening process. The empty tubs having returned to their position on the right are able to re-enter the two decks of each cage. At ground level, rail wagons can be seen under the respective-sized coal discharges, in this case nuts, cobbles and large coal.
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', 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.
Fortunately on the morning of 29th March 1926 when 150 pickers were 'busily engaged raking and scratching among the dirt for coal', no one lost their life. However, the railway line which carried 100 ton trains at the top of the heap, began to sink and so the colliery management called the police. P.C. Johnson arrived but was single-handed and quite unable to arrest so many pilferers on his own. He did take the names of three men who were subsequently fined 5 shillings each at St.Helens Police Court.
St.Helens Reporter 16/4/1926 and women picking coal at Clock Face during the 1926 lock out - note small boy on left
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.
Men preparing food for the soup kitchen at Clock Face in September 1926 during the miners' lockout
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.
Clock Face Colliery miners thought to have been taken during the 1926 lock out - contributed by Alan Mercer
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.
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.
Cameras were not usually permitted at Clock Face so underground photographs are rare - contributed by Terry Callaghan
The above photograph looks towards Burtonwood, and shows the headgear of no. 2 upcast pit in the centre with the small no. 3 pit headgear to its left. The upcast shaft is the one through which large ventilation fans extract the foul air from the mine workings, a process that automatically replaces it by having fresh air being drawn down no. 1 shaft, hence the term downcast shaft. Underground the air can only flow in one direction with clever arrangements to ensure that this happens, and it is a serious offence for anybody to violate this principle. For example by leaving a door open between the return air tunnel, and the fresh air tunnel. The winding house for the no. 1 shaft can be seen behind the building steelwork on the left of the photo. The small no. 3 shaft was the pumping shaft through which large volumes of piped water were brought up every day. This was through the work of large pumps contained within the pump house on the right of the picture facing the shaft.
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.
On June 1st 1935 the manager of Clock Face Colliery, T. W. Shaw, died while playing golf on Hindley Hall links, near Wigan. He appears to have been replaced by Herbert Price, who was certainly manager in 1939. On February 24th 1937, an unnamed miner was killed down the colliery after completing his normal shift and being told to undertake overtime. Joe Tinker MP raised the case in the House of Commons and Captain Crookshank, the Secretary of State for Mines, replied that there had been no contravention of the law. The usual coal cutter machineman had been absent through illness and so the miner who lost his life had simply been asked to deputise.
Left: Colliery Tally; Right: An undated photograph of Clock Face Colliery - probably taken during the 1930s
As stated earlier, miners could take some time to succumb to their injuries after suffering an accident. However the death of Charles Thompson of Gartons Lane in Providence Hospital in St.Helens on January 26th 1939 after a period of seven years, was probably a record. Six weeks later at a meeting of Whiston Rural Council it was stated that Gorsey Lane was subject to flooding whenever there was heavy rain. As a result the colliers at Clock Face had to wade through two feet of water to reach their bicycles after finishing work. A surveyor told the meeting that the flooding was due to a lack of surface water sewers.
The pit-head baths were formally opened on July 29th 1939 with the Earl of Crawford presiding. The men’s baths were official opened by John E. James with Lady Balniel opening the smaller women’s section. They were praised in the St.Helens press as being’‘palatial’ and a 'boon to the housewife' and it was said that on Sunday mornings local children were allowed to use the baths as long as they brought their own towels.
The bike shed built as part of the pit-head baths development, pictured in 1940 - Courtesy of Alan Davies
Clock Face Colliery’s baths, or more accurately showers, were funded by the Miners’ Welfare Committee and the land on which they were sited, was said to have been acquired from Byron's farm. A £1,100 steel-framed walkway bridge over Gorsey Lane, that was built with asbestos sheet walls and roof, connected the no. 1 pit’s Screens house on the main colliery site to the new baths building. This enclosed walkway allowed the colliery workers to go to and from their respective pit locations safely and in all weathers.
The baths complex (pictured above) also housed a lamp room, fully-equipped rescue station & first-aid room, cycle shed, offices and a canteen. The whole scheme cost £33,618 and accommodated 1600 men and 40 'pit brow' women, the latter having their own separate facilities. Whiston Rural District Council - in whose area the colliery was then situated - extensively widened Gorsey Lane adjacent to the the baths’ frontage. Dominating the site was a high Water Tower, which housed the large water tank that serviced the baths, canteen and offices. It was located at the top of the tower to provide adequate water pressure. The award-winning gardens outside gave the colliery a 'rural' feel and were tended by pit staff.
The above photograph of the baths complex is taken from an upper level in the no.1 pit screen house looking north. Indicated on the picture are 1) Walkway; 2) Shower area (with over 100 cubicles); 3) Lamp room; 4) Locker room (with 1600 lockers); 5) Water tower; 6) Canteen; 7) Offices; 8) Manager’s office; 9) Entrance to offices; 10) Gardens. Mineworkers soon became accustomed to crossing the bridge, walking down two or three steps into the corridor and dropping their lamp off onto a long bench, before going downstairs to the lockers/showers below.
There was a strong community spirit 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:
Mr. Benyon was awarded 2nd prize for his performance of what presumably was the music from the Merry Widow
The Clock Face Colliery Band had been created soon after the opening of the Miners' Institute in 1914. It's 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' Prize 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. Edward Taylor was secretary of Clock Face Colliery Band in 1939, which was then led by John L. Williams. Isaac Hough of Gorsey Lane passed away in June of that year and in the St.Helens Reporter’s obituary, he was credited as a pioneer of the band, in which he played euphonium for about 20 years.
Left: NCB advert; Right: Programme for the Clock Face Colliery Recreation Club Athletic Sports 1950
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.
A picture of the popular Clock Face Colliery Band - Contributed by George Houghton
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.
Clock Face Colliery Football Club 1949 - Ernest Patterson front row, 4th from left - can you name any others?
In September 1946 it was announced that a new dual-purpose mining safety lamp had been successfully tested at Clock Face Colliery. The lamp, known as a Spiral Arm, had been invented by Mr. C. McLuckie, head of St.Helens Mining School. A red light flashed when at least 2 per cent of firedamp gas was detected and when levels of oxygen were sensed as being unsafe, a white light indicated. The lamp also detected the presence of sewer gas down street manholes. On June 6th 1947 the London Gazette reported that Hugh Dawson, Assistant Storekeeper and Ambulance Man at Clock Face Colliery, had been awarded the British Empire Medal. At the end of March 1948 the men went on strike for a week, through a dispute over pay. Some men had been moved from a 3 feet 9 inches seam to a very low one measuring just 2 feet four inches in order to improve the quality of coal. Output had subsequently fallen and the miners claimed they were losing at least 10 shillings a day and having to work much harder. The dispute was settled when new pay rates were agreed, although much output was lost.
In 1949 a mechanical gear to load coal trucks into the pit cages was installed at the colliery. However the banksmen who operated the system found there were difficulties with tubs sometimes sticking to one another. Consequently they had to be manually separated, which led to Francis Topping losing his life. In November of that year the 51-year-old from Hall Street in Clock Face stepped forward to free two stuck tubs. However he was crushed between a truck and an upright and received fatal injuries. On June 7th 1951 Francis’s wife Mary was awarded £1,750 damages against the National Coal Board.
Also 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 extolling the virtues of working in the coal industry. A photo of young C. B. Ralph also appeared in the NCB ads, as a 'mining apprentice from grammar school', who was quoted as saying that "There's plenty of variety in the work and a good career ahead if you work for it." 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 was the Land Sale Manager at Clock Face Colliery from the 1940s, a title that had nothing to do with 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:
Horace Pugh is 2nd from right standing next to brother-in-law Frank Spakauskas (right) - John Williams is 2nd left
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.
After nationalisation of the coal mines, a Labour government in power and a national pay agreement, it was hoped that there would be industrial harmony in the mines. However for two years the issue of concessional coal led to considerable disruption in the Lancashire coalfield and in May 1949, 50,000 miners in 65 pits went on strike. When the industry was in private hands, the owners had different arrangements on a town and pit basis. During 1948 five million tons of coal at free or reduced prices had been distributed nationally to mine workers and managers. However St.Helens was the only town in Lancashire that granted concessionary coal, with Clock Face Colliery having the most generous scheme. All miners who were householders or had dependants, received a ton of coal every 28 days at 5 shillings a ton, which was much less than the retail price. The long-standing dispute was finally settled in April 1950 when it was agreed that all miners would receive 4 tons 8 cwt at 21 shillings below retail price. This would cost the National Coal Board (NCB) £136,000 per year and Clock Face miners had to accept a far-less generous concessionary scheme than the one they’d been used to.
The Mines and Quarries Act of 1954 brought in a requirement for mining qualifications for managers and under-managers, including deputies, shot firers, 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.
John King who was in charge of the winding house at Clock Face Colliery - Contributed by John James
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.
In October 1956 the NCB gave notice to 24 workers at Clock Face that, as a result of their attitude, they were going to be sacked. It was alleged that the men were not pulling their weight after a dispute at the pit. There were suggestions that they would be offered work at other pits but on the 19th of October the notices were withdrawn. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said this was as a result of them informing the coal board of a number of mechanical breakdowns, which had reduced the flow of coal.
In November 1959 the NCB magazine 'Pit Prop’ published a portrait gallery featuring the miners of Clock Face Colliery, which they called ‘The Men Below’. The photographs were taken by Frank Grimshaw, who worked for the NCB as their St.Helens area photographer and who would later be employed by the Warrington Guardian. The trio in the above picture (left) are (L-R) Eddie Lea, fitter Allan Smith and shot-firer Bill Carr. Eddie used to play rugby league for Dewsbury and at Clock Face was employed as dust suppression officer. This was a relatively new and important position, which is worthy of some detailed explanation here. By the 1950s most collieries had an individual responsible for dust suppression, but for well over 200 years it had been the responsibility of pit overmen and deputies. In early ‘pillar and stall’ mining the usual method of extracting coal was by an individual miner and his drawer, with the latter collecting and removing the coal. These worked in a chamber of coal called a stall, which had its roof generally supported by coal pillars and wooden props. The miner would, crouching down, hand pick the coalface a couple of feet from the floor along its free length to the depth of his pick. Holes would be drilled along this length above the undercut, and explosive charges put into them. Firing the charges would result in the vertical collapse of coal over the length, with the drawer then filling the tubs and pushing them out to a haulage collection point, usually by pony. Although this primitive method created some dust, it wasn't a large amount in comparison to later methods.
Left: Eddie Lea, Allan Smith & Bill Carr; Right: Bob Cornish technical assistant to Cec Ryan, area mechanisation engineer
The above photograph illustrates pillar and stall mining from about 1900. It shows the miner undercutting the coal seam of approximately 4 feet thick, with his very young drawer, who is possibly his son, hand-drilling the holes ready for the blasting charges. It is somewhat ironic that the improvement in working conditions that took place through using mechanised equipment and much improved ventilation created major additional problems for all of the underground workers. The mechanisation not only generated considerably more coal dust, but it also now had a finer texture. In addition the significantly improved ventilation carried the released dust out of the face area and along the many tunnels towards the uptake shaft, with various amounts settling on beams, road floors, equipment, conveyors, etc. Anybody working underground was subject to breathing in the suspended dust that was continually passing through the air. This became the source of the terrible lung disease ‘pneumoconosis’, or ‘black lung disease’, as it was also known. Once coal dust entered the lungs it was impossible for it to come out and it progressively accumulated to a point were breathing became severely restricted. The waiting room at first Dr John Unsworth's, and then Dr Rory O'Donnell's surgery in Leach Lane in Sutton during the 1940s, ’50s and ‘60s, always had a number of the unfortunate mine workers who had this condition. Their sunken eyes, grey drawn face, with the most rasping of coughs and wheezing of breaths, was so sad to experience; especially as they knew that nothing medically could be done to reverse their terrible condition. Horace Longworth worked down Clock Face Colliery for 38 years and his daughter Margaret Braithwaite explains in her Memories of Sutton article, how after her father’s death, the pathologist had described his lungs as being like “black cement”.
Left: An example of pillar and stall mining; Right: How pneumoconosis blackened lungs
The second equally major problem resulting from these changes was that of coal dust explosions following a gas (usually methane) explosion. After mechanisation gas release from within the coal seam was much more frequent than in the old method of mining. There are a number of ways the gas could be ignited, but the resulting explosion would create a significant explosive force, which passed down the coal face and then into the tunnel system, which connected to the shaft. During this passage the coal dust that was lying along its length would be lifted into the air. If it is in its combustible form, as pure coal dust, it would immediately explode and ignite, continuously fuelling itself as the flame travelled towards the shaft. Over the years there have been some terrible consequences of dust explosions, with the one at the Hulton Colliery in Bolton on the 21st December 1910, in which 344 men and boys were killed, being a tragic example. Some of the victims died almost a mile from the scene of the coal face gas explosion through the effects of carbon monoxide, caused by the coal dust fire consuming all the oxygen.
The elimination of coal dust in mining was, of course, impossible, so finally after WW1 serious examination of the best methods of minimising these dangers was started. This resulted in the use of stone dust, usually limestone, in all mines to neutralise the explosive characteristics of coal dust. The principle was based on reducing as much as possible the available coal dust’s combustion levels, by mixing the two dusts to a percentage that would not ignite. The process was expensive to maintain because hundreds of tons of stone dust were required on a monthly basis, plus the cost of dedicated underground people, who you could always spot at the end of a shift with white dust on their clothing and boots. It was carried out under a strictly controlled programme of area dust sampling throughout the mine. These samples were tested by the colliery chemist, who would subsequently report on what was required in the sample areas. The bags of stone dust, similar in size and weight to a bag of cement, were opened and hand-applied in the various roadway tunnels by being thrown into the ventilation stream of air. This would allow it to mix with the airborne coal dust in that area, eventually settling on nearby surfaces of road and equipment, with the team then moving on to the next sample area. The basic theory was that any subsequent gas explosion air movement would only lift the top amount of the settled mixture back into the air, and if mixed to the correct ratio it would not ignite.
In later years stone dust barriers were also introduced to hang from the roadway roof along its route, which if impacted by a sudden rush of air from an explosion, would release a large quantity of stone dust into the air targeted to put out the following flame. The position of the dust suppression officer at each colliery was made to specifically make one person responsible for coordinating all the activities involved, and he would report to the undermanager, but worked very closely with the overmen, deputies, and mechanisation team. Eddie Lea as dust suppression officer at Clock Face would also be involved in trying to reduce the source and amount of dust that was generated on the coal face, which would involve the cutter pick design, with water spray application if practical.
In the above photograph (left), which was also featured in Pit Prop and published here courtesy of Alan Davies, is training officer Bob Marsh. The group picture (right L-R) features Eddie Lea, Bob Marsh, Allan Smith, greaser Harry Nicholson (complete with his grease gun), and partly in shot is Bob Connolly, who worked on haulage. The role of Harry as the greaser was vital to the efficient running of the underground equipment, much of which was in poorly lit areas that were not continuously attended. He would travel all over the workings of the mine, checking on rotating equipment and applying grease to greasing points, including conveyor drive rollers, endless haulage pulleys etc. Without this work, bearings could run hot with friction (with dust a big factor), and any unscheduled stoppage would have a major impact throughout the production delivery system.
Bob Connolly's role as part of the haulage team is another important one, dedicated to getting the supplies of equipment to the various underground areas as soon as possible after their arrival at the shaft bottom. The supplies would include timber/ hydraulic props, steel tunnel arches, timber packing, pipework, stone dust and many, many more items. These would travel in tubs as far as possible, before being manhandled to their desired location and made safe. It can be appreciated that any failure to have such items in place when required, could impact upon production. The aim of Pit Prop was to publicise these key people, and photographer Frank Grimshaw really enjoyed playing his part in bringing them to the magazine’s many readers.
There are many who still recall the sight of black-faced miners walking through Clock Face village during the 1950s, including Ernie Bate:
In October 1965 the National Coal Board, as part of its national coal mine 'streamlining' initiative, deemed the pit to be uneconomic claiming that there were 'geological difficulties' and the NCB announced that the colliery at Clock Face would close during the following year.
Clock Face Colliery Closure St Helens Reporter 23/10/1965
At the time of the closure announcement, the site had produced 169,000 tons of coal during the last year. Johnny Quinn, head lampman and Clock Face employee for forty-four years, expressed his feelings to the St Helens Reporter:
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
In the Guardian newspaper of November 26th 1965, a large photograph of miners’ wives Elsie Elliot and Agnes McDermott, plus the latter’s 14-year-old daughter Pat appeared. The trio were shown arriving at the colliery with food and flasks of tea for the miners who as the paper put it, were staging a 'stay in' strike 2,000 feet underground. The nine men - who had ensconced themselves in an office in a brick hut - included the president, treasurer and two committee members of the union branch. Their protest, however, only lasted 48 hours.
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 and lamp storage complex in Gorsey Lane is currently all that's left of the historic colliery. However on February 5th 2015, St.Helens Council granted planning permission for the building of 19 homes on the site.
Capped shaft number 1 at the former site of Clock Face Colliery pictured in 2009 - contributed by Neil Selfridge