An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire
Part 75 (of 83 parts) - Sutton Manor Colliery Part 1 (1906 - 1959)
The accounts for the financial year of 1907-8 have survived and reveal that the colliery had a budget of £35,000 of which £1200 was spent on a boiler, £2,175 on winding engines, £1000 on railway and siding and £4000 was expended on wages. However, the creation of the new pit had more than a financial cost. On July 20th 1908, 34-year-old Fred Tiplady was employed erecting headgear until a chain broke, which caused him to fall 62 feet to the pit bottom, fatally injured him. He was far from being the last casualty at Sutton Manor. In fact more than 60 people were killed working at Sutton Manor Colliery throughout its 85-year-history and over 270 were injured. Irish immigrant Patrick Joseph Fahey worked there during its early years and made quite an impression on his colleagues. He dug out injured workmates after what was probably a roof fall and then carried them on his back to the pit head. It's said they carved his name at the pit entrance in gratitude. Fahey, incidentally, became village bobby in Rainhill and his wife was the local midwife.
On May 29th 1909, 32-years-old Henry Jackson of Jubilee Cottages, Clock Face, was lowered down a shaft in a hopper to examine pumps and guide rods. He overbalanced and fell eighty yards to the bottom of the shaft, dying soon afterwards. Jackson lost his life on the eve of his wedding. 1913 was a bad year for accidents at Sutton Manor with a total of three deaths, including 51-years-old Thomas Hurst of 110 Gartons Lane who died on April 16th, five weeks after being struck by a fall of rock. Peter Owens of 8 Powell Street was fatally injured by a roof fall on September 22nd, his first day at work. Peter's mother Annie was subsequently awarded £175 compensation for the loss of her son. 1913 also saw a number of serious injuries to workers, such as on August 13th when William Rigby of 10 Oxley Street, William Beckett of 28 Milton Street and Robert Faulkner were badly injured in yet another roof fall. On November 27th 1913 Michael King met an unusual death down Sutton Manor. Shot firer William Brown had been asked to set off five ‘shots’ or charges in a tunnel where the 33-year-old King was employed. The third shot failed to go off and after several minutes, Brown disconnected the cable and removed the battery. The pair examined the cable and found a portion that had the outer covering split, leaving bare wires. Suddenly the shot went off, killing King and injuring Brown. Such occurrences had happened before but were extremely rare and mine inspectors could not explain why, after the battery had been disconnected from the cable, shots should still explode. In the following year (on 18th March), John Lowton, a 15-years-old haulage hand, lost his life. He was crushed to death by runaway tubs of coal and was the youngest worker to die at the pit. Then on April 10th 1914 John Hughes was crushed to death by a roof fall.
The first known photograph of Sutton Manor Colliery - undated but probably about 1915
However despite the accidents, it was an exciting time in the district. On February 2nd 1914, the Liverpool Evening Express - in an article entitled ‘Glassborough. A Prosperous Lancashire Town. How St. Helens is Growing’ - described the industrial advances being made in the town. The author wrote about the ‘wonderful development’ that was taking place at Sutton Manor in which extensive coal beds lay beneath its ‘smiling countryside’ and where growth had been ‘phenomenal’. It was described how the venture had endured seven lean years until the financiers of the mine gave the management an ultimatum that unless coal could be found within a week, ‘the pit goes’. The article went on to claim that it wasn’t until the seventh day of the deadline week that an Irishman named Duffy ‘bored his way right into a first-class seam of coal, and announced his find with a joyful Hurroo’. Sutton Manor had to overcome a number of difficulties in locating a seam of coal that could be economically extracted over the long term. Its coal seams were very deep and there were major faults in the strata. The latter created significant interruptions in the seams, causing directional changes that weren’t easy to track.
These and other factors led to expensive delays before coal could be wound up Sutton Manor's shafts but it was soon making up for lost time. The mine had only begun production in 1912 but by 1914 was already achieving an output of 700 tons of coal per day. The Times for their part reported how building firms were profiting as the newly-recruited Manor pitmen and their families needed housing:
In April 1914 Sutton Manor miner George Cottle was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for attempting to murder his landlady, Ellen Fleming, at 30 Tennyson Street. You can read more about this here. A third shaft with a diameter of 18 feet was started in 1914, but with the outbreak of the first world war, sinking was suspended at a depth of 180 feet and the shaft was subsequently filled in. On April 9th 1914, John Hughes was killed by a roof fall when using a coal cutting machine. This was not only a tragedy for the 41-years-old's family, it exacerbated Sutton Manor Colliery's recruitment problem. The company was experiencing a shortage of skilled men able to operate the coal cutting machinery and on July 28th manager Thomas Cook found himself in court. He admitted allowing some coal-cutters to work double shifts and so was prosecuted for breaching the Eight Hours Act of 1908. In fact Sutton Manor was the first colliery in the country to be charged with contravening the act.
Left: 100 ft steel headgear constructed and erected by John Booth & Sons of Bolton c.1915; Right: Times article 4/2/1914
Boys will be boys whether it's war-time or not. On March 23rd 1915 William Parr and Peter Ashton from Milton Street found themselves in front of St.Helens magistrates charged with releasing waggons at Sutton Manor Colliery. They'd allowed them to run onto the main line and had torn off labels, which had caused confusion as the waggons were addressed to different ships at the docks. For their bit of mischief, both boys were sentenced to six strokes of the birch. On April 6th 1915, 52-years-old Samuel Randles of Chester Lane was killed by a fall of roof.
In February 1916 an inquiry was held into the Sutton Manor Colliery Co.'s application to construct a new railway. This would connect the pit with the Liverpool & Manchester line and replace an inadequate temporary line which was hampering its coal distribution. Alterations to Jubits Lane, Walkers Lane and Lea Green Road, with some road diversions, would be required at an estimated cost of £1315. The colliery company agreed with St.Helens Council to contribute £800 towards the cost of the roadworks. The General Manager John Robinson revealed at the enquiry that they had lost between 300 to 400 men through the war but when it was over "there would be a great development and the district round the colliery would be a very busy one". He also predicted 70 years work at the colliery with the intention of generating an annual output post-war of 1 million tons of coal.
St.Helens miners were regarded as experts at the front and officers often consulted them on the best means of mining under German trenches. Several were awarded the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) for their skill and bravery. Of the near four hundred Sutton Manor colliery miners who went to fight, many didn't return. These included Pte. Joseph Halsall of the 6th Battalion of the Prince of Wales's Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment) who was killed at Gallipoli on August 10th 1915. It was also highly dangerous for those miners who stayed behind, with three deaths at the colliery during 1915, at least one in 1918 and three in 1919. These included 26-year-old William Kelly, who was killed by a falling stone and Richard Gaskell of Lever Street in Clock Face. 26-years-old Frank Mason took a full year to die after his spine had been broken by a fall of stone on April 10th 1917. Three Manor men also lost their lives in 1920.
Liverpool Evening Express 24/1/1914; Pte. Joseph Halsall & Miners Agent Joe Tinker in 1935
Leisure facilities for the mineworkers greatly improved in 1922 with the opening of the Miners' Institute. This became the entertainment centre of the village and was a corrugated iron building situated in Jubits Lane, opposite Bell Lane. It had a bar room, a games room with billiard / snooker tables and a larger room that was used for dances and brass band practice. On December 31st 1934 the inaugural New Year’s Eve dance was held in the Institute. This annual event attracted around 300 people and proceeds were usually in aid of the colliery band and Sutton Manor Bowling Club. On Sundays this room became the Sutton Manor C. of E. Mission and alcohol stopped being served. There was also living quarters that was occupied by the club stewards, who during the 1930s was the Greenall family. The outside sports facilities included a bowling green, two tennis courts and a cricket field, that was later used for football. In fact the Sutton Manor Colliery football team had been in existence almost since the start of the mine and during the 1913/14 season it was in Division 1 of the St.Helens District League.
The explosions of firedamp - the flammable gas found in coal mines - was a common cause of accidents, as well as roof falls and haulage accidents, that were sometimes caused by youthful exuberance. On April 17th 1923, 18-year-old haulage hand William Gee was also killed by runaway tubs of coal at Sutton Manor. The divisional inspector of mines said at Gee's inquest, held at St.Helens Town Hall on the 19th before veteran coroner Samuel Brighouse (1850-1940), that he'd probably been riding an empty box down a brow when the accident happened and so the coroner ruled misadventure. He had quite a busy day, as he also conducted an inquest at the Clock Face Hotel on the death of Alfred Davies, who was a foreman at Clock Face Colliery. In June of that year it was announced that the Sutton Manor Colliery Company were building 150 more houses, taking advantage of the Ministry of Health's subsidy scheme.
The 1926 national lock out / strike hit the community in Sutton Manor hard. The miners were locked out of their colliery on May 1st for refusing a cut in their wages. The general strike took place from May 4th until the 12th and then the lock out continued for a further 28 weeks. A soup kitchen was set up in the Wesleyan Mission Church in Milton Street where wives of striking miners prepared hot midday meals for the men. People donated food and vegetables and a jazz band was formed that toured neighbouring towns to raise funds for the kitchen.
An aerial picture of the Sutton Manor pit c.1930 and compressors that powered underground machinery
In order to keep the colliery in a safe condition, between 40 and 50 'safety men' were allowed to work down Sutton Manor during the lock out. They were responsible for making repairs and ensuring that the pumps kept on working. This was vital as otherwise there would be problems with flooding and ventilation, delaying a resumption of work. However in the middle of August, the residents of Sutton Manor were concerned to see much coal being raised to the surface. The management insisted that some coal had to be hauled, as a head of steam was required to carry out the maintenance. The union view was that there was sufficient coal already on the surface that they could burn. A meeting of the union was held in Bolton on Monday August 16th and it was decided to withdraw the safety men. On the Tuesday morning, virtually all the village assembled to enthusiastically hear the news from the union leaders and picketers surrounded the colliery. Some of the safety men decided to ignore the order, leading to considerable tension. 'The situation is a dangerous one', commented the Manchester Guardian on the 18th, predicting trouble if the situation was not carefully handled.
On the Wednesday, a crowd of a thousand men assembled outside the colliery booing and shouting. The Manchester Guardian said the noise they made could have been heard over a mile away. A window was smashed in a worker’s house and a number of other workers were followed home by a crowd who loudly beat tins; a traditional sign of hostility. The colliery claimed that 25 non-union workers were still employed inside and decided to accommodate them at the colliery, to prevent further unpleasantness. The Manchester Guardian predicted that life would be difficult for these men long after the dispute is ended, 'so fierce is the hatred felt for them'. The newspaper wrote how the cottage of one had been 'smeared almost to the eaves with whitewash' with 'terms of abuse scrawled over the window panes'. Over the next few days, more houses were daubed with whitewash but according to the colliery, the workers inside actually increased in number to 55.
Reporting to the House of Commons, Joe Tinker – the MP for Leigh and miners' agent – said that on August 22nd three thousand men had processed peacefully to Sutton Manor. Tinker, who lived in St.Helens, told MPs that police were rushed past them in wagonettes and charabancs. While their meeting was in progress, some of the 'blacklegs' showed themselves provocatively to the crowd and the pits' pulleys went round. Tinker claimed that it had been a direct incitement, which had been intended to start a riot, so the police could rush in and "give us the lesson they thought we should have."
Relations with the police became very poor. Gordon McDonald of the Lancashire & Cheshire Miners' Federation Executive argued that not all of the police in St. Helens were against the strikers but those on duty in Sutton Manor were becoming notorious. At a meeting McDonald said: "In a police force containing many thousands you will find dozens of brutes and cowards among them – in Sutton Manor, maybe, who will call Sutton women swine". Police were billeted in the colliery workshop and mining institute and in a lodging house in Jubits Lane and they paraded round the Manor in pairs challenging any small group. For a short time the strikers and their families were allowed to gather coal from the colliery spoil heap but this became prohibited and the police looked out for offenders. The miners' institute was dubbed the 'scab club' as most of their patrons were the so-called 'blacklegs'. The locked out men were denied access and so built an alternative club in Walkers Lane out of two ex-army huts. In one incident in August 1926, alleged blacklegs David Eden and J. Chisnell were accosted on Jubits Lane while cycling to work by a dozen men armed with sticks and pick shafts.
In an article in the Hull Daily Mail of August 27th 1926, it was claimed that 50 men were employed on the Sutton Manor coal face with nearly 100 other colliers, enginemen and other staff working elsewhere at the pit. The report stated that they were under police protection with an 'army of wrathful men, backed by crowds of excited women' outside. At one point the hundreds of strikers thronging Jubits Lane were startled by two cartloads of coal that suddenly left the colliery. However they were pacified when told it was being donated to the local schools, so they could cook food for the children.
By October life was becoming intolerable for many Sutton Manor miners and there was a slow drift back to work. This culminated in two large bus loads of workers from Wigan and St.Helens arriving in Jubits Lane on October 11th. The colliery manager said it was a larger return to work than they’d experienced during the whole of the previous week. This was a turning point in the dispute with the incentives being offered to the indebted miners being too great a temptation for many. Miners’ agent Joe Tinker said at a meeting on the 13th that they were offering "£1 bribes, a load of coal and back rent knocked off". The latter was important as many owed as much as £15. The colliery management was also visiting the men at home and telling them that unless they returned to work, their jobs would be given to others. An announcement by the Board of Guardians that they would be reducing relief to miners' wives and children by 10% from the 21st was a further blow. About 300 men were now back at the colliery and long lines of loaded coal wagons were on the surface ready to be transported by rail. Still many more men held out and by November 24th the figure working was listed as only 541. That was just over a quarter of the total workforce, with 86 men having returned within the previous 24 hours as the colliery owners’ terms were being agreed by the unions.
The legacy of '26 was much mistrust between fellow miners and with the police. A good example of the latter took place in November 1927 after police officers arrested a street bookmaker in Sutton Manor. John Bryan had allowed them to observe the illegal activities from his house at 32 Tennyson Street. After the police had left the district, an infuriated mob led by women attacked his home smashing windows and doors and plastering the walls with mud. It was estimated that 600 to 700 individuals took part, out of the small mining community of about 3000. Sadly many were children, encouraged by their mothers. "I thought they were going to kill me", Mrs. Bryan later told magistrates, alleging that death threats were made both to her and to her husband. It would take a long time before community wounds that had been inflicted in 1926 would heal.
A view of Sutton Manor Colliery from Tennyson Street - photograph by Ian Lally
Sutton Manor mineworkers who got injured were entitled to compensation, although it was not on the same scale as today. In January 1927 James Cunningham was awarded 16s 3d per week in the County Court for an ankle injury he'd suffered nine months earlier. This was payable for as long as he couldn't work but was much less than his weekly wage had been.
On November 1st 1930 miner E. Keen took a day off work at Sutton Manor as he was a Communist candidate in the St.Helens council elections. He was promptly sacked by the colliery management but was able to claim 13 weeks victimisation pay from his union. After the three months was up, Keen applied for an additional two weeks pay, which was the custom. However the Sutton Manor Miners' Branch of the Lancashire and Cheshire Federation refused to support his application because he was a member of the National Minority Movement (NMM), which they said was "trying to smash the Federation". The aim of the NMM was to convert the revolutionary minority of the working class into a majority, in order to boost Communist influence. A furious Daily Worker attacked the Sutton Manor branch saying: 'By this action the secretary and the other local officials have shown that they support the coal bosses in victimising militant workers'.
On Saturday February 27th 1932, the Sutton Manor Colliery Institute Prize Band, as it was then known, performed in a live 15-minute broadcast on BBC radio. Newspaper listings credited solos by W. Kenyon on trombone and E. Clayton on cornet, with H. Moss conducting the performance. John Armitage's baritone provided some vocals in the programme scheduled for a 7:45pm transmission. The above photograph shows the band around 1930. On the back row second from right is Ronnie Dorning; fifth from right is Fred Aitken and Assistant Bandmaster Percy Dutton is holding a trombone on the far left of the middle row. On the front row standing far right is the aforementioned Billy Kenyon and second from right is Ernie Howell. The man with a bow tie is probably a visitor from Clock Face called Pennington. On the front row, first left, is Jack Houghton (of Milton Street); second left is Fred Prole (Forest Road) and Jack Gaskell is the bandmaster in the centre. Fred Barton is second from right and John Gaskell, the bandmaster’s son, is pictured far right. Thanks to George Houghton for the identification and Colin Atkinson for the photo. Do please get in touch if you can identify any others.
Sutton Manor Colliery Institute Band around 1930 (contributed by Colin Atkinson)
Sutton Manor Colliery Band participated in many contests. In 1928 they were winners at Douglas, Isle of Man and at Wigan and then three years later they won the May Championship at Belle Vue. The band won the Boosey & Hawkes Challenge Cup In 1933, the Belle Vue Challenge Cup in 1936 and the Freckleton Challenge Cup in September 1938. For the latter competition the colliery band performed an original composition called ‘Wayside Scene’, which was written by John Ambrose Greenwood, the ‘famous conductor and composer’ - as the Prescot Reporter described him - who joined the band in the late 1930s. William Gaskill, who had greengrocers' shops in Clock Face and Sutton Manor, was also a conductor of the brass band.
On October 12th 1935 Arthur Edward Chesworth was presented with a gold-plated Omega watch by his workmates after fifty years service in the mining industry as an engine winder. Just how many years at Sutton Manor isn't known, but it may well have been from the beginning of operations. Arthur, who lived at 35 Tennyson Street in Sutton Manor, was clearly loved by his colleagues who had clubbed together to buy this expensive timepiece. Thomas Aldred was another longstanding miner who retired as under-manager about 1944 after decades of employment at the colliery.
Arthur Chesworth's Omega watch presented after 50 years as an engine winder (contributed by Andy McEwan)
During the 1930s, Sutton Manor Colliery's safety record improved, leading to less business for Samuel Brighouse. He was highly experienced at enquiring into the deaths of colliers during his 55-year-long tenure as coroner for South West Lancashire. As a consequence Brighouse developed considerable knowledge of mining practice and understood that accidents were inevitable in such a hazardous occupation. In 1935 when 37-year-old colliery haulage hand John Abbott Almond, who was employed at the Florida Mine of Sutton Manor's No.1 pit, was crushed to death by a six feet-long stone, Coroner Brighouse holding Almond's inquest praised the colliery management:
Not knowing precisely what caused an accident in a pit was quite common and wasn't something that usually troubled Coroner Brighouse. He explained to the jury how miners weren't able to hear the pit roof crunching and about to fall, because of the noise made by electrically-driven coal cutters. Such things didn't exist when Sam Brighouse first began conducting inquests on deceased miners. However, improvements in technology and practice were, in general, making the mines a safer workplace as the 88-year-old coroner stated at Richard Bebbington's inquest:
Richard Bebbington, miner at Sutton Manor Colliery, pictured with wife Caroline (contributed by Mel Moran)
In January 1939 the colliery claimed that 45 tons of coal was being stolen from them every week. The problem had become so bad that they had been forced to employ a man to patrol the colliery premises and sidings off Walker’s Lane to reduce pilfering from wagons. Also that month the decision was taken to close Holland Colliery at Upholland and transfer many of the 500 men (who lived at Skelmersdale, Rainford and Upholland) to Sutton Manor. This didn’t go down well with Sir Thomas Rosbotham, the Labour MP for Ormskirk, who complained to Captain Harry Crookshank, the Secretary of State for Mines, about the arrangement. Rosbotham claimed in the House of Commons that several hundred men were going to be thrown out of work and he wanted the Secretary to stop such deals. Crookshank replied that most of the men would in time move to Sutton Manor and such transfers of supply sales quotas were essential to concentrate output in more efficient collieries. On April 15th 1941 the Sutton Manor (and Clock Face) miners who lived in the Skelmersdale district refused to go to work as a protest against increased bus fares.
On April 19th 1939 William Heaton was fatally injured at the colliery after a fall of dirt and coal from the pit roof. The 44-year-old from Orrell was using a compressed air pick about eight feet away from his brother Moses, when the collapse took place. The pair had been working together down Sutton Manor Colliery for 13 years and fireman James Cook of 82 Clock Face Road had previously inspected their place of work and decided it was safe. However at Heaton’s inquest he accepted that an extra ‘sprag’ (short supporting wooden prop) might have made the place safer. In September 1939 John Platt of Milton Street died in St.Helens Hospital, a year after fracturing his spine down the colliery. Three bars in the pit roof had suddenly collapsed on the 39-year-old, pinning him to the ground. Then on New Year’s Day 1940, 50-year-old William Roberts, of 49 Waterdale Crescent, succumbed to silicosis and tuberculosis after working down Sutton Manor Colliery over 15 years. Silicosis is the dreadful lung disease caused by the inhalation of coal dust, which also caused the death in December 29th 1940 of 50-year-old coal hewer John Robson of 92 Milton Street. 17-year-old Ernest Hamer, a haulage hand of 209 Mill Lane, was killed at the colliery in September 1941 and then on December 15th, 31-year-old Joseph Traverse of Derbyshire Road died as a result of a fall of roof.
Women and girls played their part at Sutton Manor Colliery and often had demanding jobs, especially in the pit's early years. Many worked in the lamproom or as 'pit brow lasses' in the screens plant, picking out rock and dirt from the coal belts. Pictured right (L-R) in February 1980 are former screens girls Mary Ludden, Rita Randles, Mary Taylor and Betty Lees. The latter had just retired from Sutton Manor after 47 years service and Betty was quoted in Coal News saying that she had begun work in 1933 as a 14-year-old screens girl:
Mary Ludden on the coal belt at Sutton Manor Colliery's screens (contributed by daughter Jane Mines)
For the first twenty years of the colliery's life, women played a major role in the home in washing their man's filthy clothes and with hot water already prepared, helped to get their blackened husband clean upon arriving home from the pit. A major advance as far as both sexes was concerned was the opening of the pithead baths on September 21st 1931. Jennie Lancaster's father worked as a blacksmith at the colliery and told the pupils of Sutton Manor Primary in 2006 how he bathed in a tin bath in the corner of their washhouse which her mother filled with hot water from a fire boiler. Then the baths opened:
The showers in the baths at Sutton Manor Colliery during demolition in 1992 (contributed by Mel Moran)
In 1943 two former Sutton Manor Colliery miners, both from Forest Road, died from silicosis. 69-year-old former colliery fireman Henry Hancock died on January 31st and 45-year-old Wilfred Houghton passed away on December 7th. On September 2nd of that year coal cutter George Smart of Lever Street in Clock Face was killed when a 3-foot stone fell from the pit roof onto his head and another dropped onto his body. At his inquest it was revealed that the 40-year-old was wearing a cloth hat instead of his helmet. Coroner Bolton said: “If men would wear their helmets many lives would be saved. The helmets may be a nuisance, but they save men from death”. During the 19th century mineworkers were sometimes taken to court for failing to turn up for work. This rarely happened in later years, apart from wartime, when coal had a greater national importance. So on December 30th 1943 haulage hand Henry Foster found himself in court facing three charges of being absent from Sutton Manor Colliery without reasonable excuse. The 18-year-old from Clayton Street in Skelmersdale, was fined a total of £9 (about £300 in today’s money). On July 8th 1944 57-year-old hewer Charles Hawksworth of 120 Peasley Cross Lane died in St.Helens Hospital after being injured two days earlier at Sutton Manor by a roof fall.
During the war and for several years afterwards, a number of so-called 'Bevin boys' were conscripted to work at Sutton Manor instead of going to fight. Many lived at the 'Bevin huts' at the top of Grimshaw Street in Sutton Leach. Most weren’t trade union members, which strained relations with the union men. On October 21st 1946 the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch at Sutton Manor Colliery gave notice that from November 4th, union men would not work with or ride in the pit cage with non-union staff. In the event it became a fully-fledged strike by 1200 miners. Many of the Bevin boys did not feel that they should have to join a union, as they were only in temporary employment. The colliery company offered to segregate the 140 non-union staff from union men but this was rejected by the NUM. The dispute was quickly settled, however, after Edwin Hall, Lancashire secretary of the union, held a meeting with the Bevin boys on the evening of the 5th. He pointed out how the union had fought to obtain advantages that the pitmen now enjoyed and urged them to consider their duty to the men who would follow them. Impressed by Hall’s, words almost every Bevin boy agreed to join the union, the strike was called off and the night shift went to work.
Vesting Day, when the coal industry passed into public ownership, was officially January 1st 1947. However in Lancashire commemorative events and celebrations took place during the following weekend. Sutton Manor was one of just seven collieries chosen for an officially organised ceremony, which was held on Sunday 5th, and preceded by dance entertainment on the Saturday night.
The extensive use of the baths at Sutton Manor and other pits was causing problems for bus conductors as miners were too clean! Under a heading 'You can't tell a miner these days', the St.Helens Newspaper of October 14th 1949 reported how the St.Helens Corporation had successfully applied to the Liverpool Traffic Commissioners' Court for permission to cease colliers' day work return bus tickets after 9am. This was because bus conductors were unable to distinguish between miners and other workers as they were taking 'full advantage' of the pithead baths. This short story was placed on the front page of the newspaper, adjacent to a lengthy account of the death of Peter Fitzhenry at Sutton Manor. The coroner at his inquest, C. M. Bolton, described it as "...the old, old story all over again of bolting the door when the horse has gone."
The 67-years-old haulage hand from Milton Street died in St.Helens Hospital just over two weeks after being injured in No. 2 pit. He was struck down on September 24th 1949 by a runaway empty tub that young inexperienced Thomas Maher of Sutton Road had failed to secure. Since the accident, a warrick (or warwick) safety device had been installed by the management to prevent unbalanced loads from running away at that location. This was too late for elderly Irishman Peter Fitzhenry, who'd worked at Sutton Manor for many years despite only having one arm. The man who Charles Tyrer, the President of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners Federation, described as a 'grand type of worker' lost an arm in 1917 as a result of injuries sustained in the Battle of Arras, after volunteering to fight for the British in WW1.
Despite Fitzhenry's death, Sutton Manor Colliery was becoming a safer place to work as a consequence of improvements to working practices and technology. Although on 23rd February 1950, the pitmen were reminded that their job could be hazardous when a 30lb bar of iron mysteriously fell 1500 feet down a shaft, striking and killing 32-year-old William Sweeney who was in a descending cage. Two others miners were also killed that same year and three more died in 1954. There were eight black years within the life of the colliery when as many as three miners perished within the year (1913, 1915, 1919, 1920, 1928, 1941, 1950 & 1954). Thankfully 1954 was the last.
Changing the cutter picks on the road heading machine which cut the coal then transported it back down the shaft
On April 17th 1950, 25 miners at Sutton Manor and 26 at Bold Colliery were each ordered to pay £10 damages by a court at Widnes for breach of contract. This was through separate unofficial strikes that had been undertaken in March. At Sutton Manor miners had walked away from the coal face and refused to work for three days after a mechanical coal cutter had broken down. They said it would have been unsafe to have continued, but the coal board disagreed. Most of the miners refused to pay their fines, so in September the NCB returned to court and obtained committal orders against 21 men at Sutton Manor. A 42-years-old miner called John Horrocks from Skelmersdale was the first to be arrested and was imprisoned for 28 days in Walton and then Preston jail. This outraged the 1200 miners at Sutton Manor and 1000 men at Bold, who held meetings and voted to go out on strike.
A deal was then struck between the employers and the Lancashire secretary of the NUM, Edwin Hall, and its president Charles Tyrer, in which Horrocks would be released from prison and the miners would return to work. However the Sutton Manor lads weren't consulted and although Horrocks was duly released, they initially opted to stay out. Then the NCB and NUM issued a joint statement saying that negotiations were being opened to settle the question of the outstanding damages, with the Coal Board promising not to press for immediate payment. So a meeting of the Sutton Manor men was held and a vote was taken to resume work on September 11th. But five days later, twelve more Manor miners, who hadn't paid their breach of contract fines, were despatched to Walton. The shocked Sutton Manor branch of the NUM met and voted to pay the imprisoned men's fines. They were told that £117 8s. 6d. was needed, which was a substantial sum in those days, and there wasn't enough in the kitty. So branch treasurer Joe Tyson ended up borrowing from family and a neighbour to make up the shortfall and get his colleagues released. The disgusted NUM members in Sutton Manor also passed a resolution calling on Charles Tyrer, the Lancashire area president of the union, to quit his post.
During 1952-7, the colliery was re-organised and no.1 shaft was deepened by 683 feet, creating a total depth of 835 yards or almost half-a-mile (one source states an extension of 494'). No.2 shaft was deepened by a further 183 feet and new pit bottoms were also constructed. New screens were also installed and a new winding drum was added to No.2's winder. Provision was also made for locomotive haulage. The reorganisation also led to changes in the mining geography, with operations expanding and concentrating on areas around large faults that ran in a general west to east direction.
NCB Wagon Label - Sutton Manor Colliery to Liverpool Docks from September 28th 1955
In September 1953 Polish miner Jan Szumczyk was working on his knees in the colliery when a large stone fell from the roof on to his back paralysing him. The 29-year-old’s employers were the Associated Tunnelling Co. of London, who were driving a tunnel down Sutton Manor. However they were absolved of all blame for the accident as the roof had been insufficiently propped, which was the responsibility of the colliery. So it was the National Coal Board who on November 17th 1955 were ordered at Liverpool Assizes to pay the sum of £13,553 to Szumczyk, who would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The former paratrooper in the Polish Brigade had taken part in the raid on Arnhem during WW2, escaping by swimming the Rhine.
On December 21st 1954, the London Gazette reported that two Sutton Manor pitmen had been honoured for bravery. Deputy George Corrigan and coal-cutterman Ernest Gee were awarded the Queen's Commendation for brave conduct after a fire had occurred underground. Corrigan later moved to Lea Green Colliery but modesty stopped him from talking about his award. Gee also received the Daily Herald Award for Industrial Heroism, along with a tribute from Lancashire miners. The 44-year-old from Billinge had gone back three times into the danger area to rescue three colleagues, who had been overcome by gas. "There is not the slightest doubt that these men owe their lives to his heroism", said area secretary Edwin Hall. Sadly eight years later (on July 5th 1962), Ernest lost his own life at Sutton Manor Colliery when he became trapped in a conveyor belt 500 feet below ground.
During these post-war years, Sutton Manor Colliery was in its heyday with output rising and innovative methods employed to produce coal. In 1956 the colliery began diverting the deadly gas methane to fire its boilers and three years later it recorded its highest number of men on its books, 1682 workers in total. The long-term future of the colliery looked bright. However it wasn't to last.