An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire
Part 21 (of 80 parts) - Sutton Manor Colliery Part 2 (1960 - 1991)
By the beginning of the 'swinging '60s', Sutton Manor Colliery was in a strong position with 1600 men on its books and coal output levels rising. Now controlled by the National Coal Board (NCB) since the industry's nationalisation in 1947, the colliery was annually outputting over 300,000 tons of coal and it seemed to have a rosy future. They could even afford to knock down and rebuild part of their new social club because there was not enough elbow room in their snooker room!
The British Coal sign at the entrance to Sutton Manor Colliery (Frazer Nairn Collection)
The new Sutton Manor Institute or Welfare Club had been built in 1959 at a cost of £54,000 to replace the original building that had opened in 1922. It was financed from a Lancashire miners' welfare fund grant, of which the NCB contributed halfpenny for every ton of coal from Lancashire pits. However, soon after construction, the miners began complaining of cramped conditions inside the snooker room with insufficient elbow room. The club's committee limited the number of spectators, rearranged the furniture and even bought shorter snooker cues. But it was all to no avail and so three walls of the newly-built club were knocked down and it was rebuilt at a cost of more than £2000. The story of 'Miners Snookered!' even made it into the Times! In the Guardian's account, steward Edward Gallagher said he thought that when the club was at the design stage, they simply measured two snooker tables, forgetting that people have to stand behind them to play.
As revealed in Part 1 of the history of the pit, working underground at Sutton Manor Colliery could be highly dangerous, something that Harry Hickson is very much aware of. Between 1959 and 1966, Harry worked for the National Coal Board as an engineer, initially at Bold Colliery but then working out of the Haydock Area Office, he regularly visited Sutton Manor dealing with underground and surface installations. Harry describes how the above photograph illustrates some of the dangers:
An example of a mining hazard at Sutton Manor Colliery caused by geological pressure
During the early '60s, the National Coal Board began a study of the industry's pits, assessing long-term economic viability and cost-effectiveness. In October 1965 as a consequence of their controversial 'streamlining' initiative, the NCB decided to close the apparently uneconomic Clock Face Colliery. However, the adjacent Sutton Manor with its record-breaking production figures seemed to have a much more secure future. Having initially (and rather surprisingly) placed Sutton Manor in the 'jeopardy' class of at risk pits, the NCB removed it from their list and began an advertising campaign to recruit boys to Sutton Manor and Bold collieries. In a series of advertisements placed in the St.Helens Reporter during 1966, 15-year-old school leavers were promised a job for life:
This 1964 view from St.Nicholas church tower has Sutton Manor Colliery behind Mill Lane - contributed by Jim Lamb
Fresh young recruits were promised "good pay right from the day you start". If they chose to work underground they'd receive a weekly wage of £7 3s 6d a week. The wage on offer for a 15 year-old surface worker at Sutton Manor was only slightly less, at £6 9s 6d. Employment benefits on offer included access to the canteen, pit-head showers, club and sports facilities.
Sutton Manor Colliery tallies were issued to each miner as a safety check so it was known how many men were underground
Ex-miners were also targeted by the National Coal Board as part of their recruitment campaign using the headline 'Come Back Into Mining'. They were promised better pay than before plus 'permanent employment and a secure future'. The strap-line of the ads used uppercase to emphasise the longevity of employment on offer: 'Britain will need coal and mines for a LONG, LONG TIME'.
Albert the underground loco at Sutton Manor Colliery (contributed by Les Dunning - pic by Ian Lally)
In February 1967 AEI Electronics of Leicester announced that they were supplying remote conveyor control and monitoring equipment worth £100,000 to seven collieries, including Sutton Manor, which would be equipped in March. In the Spring of 1968, the colliery was reorganised and coal production ceased in no. 1 pit, as the management believed that there were more economic seams contained within pit no. 2. The local NUM branch opposed the closure plans but they were supported by area secretary Joe Gormley and by a vote at the union's north-west area conference. As a consequence there was a reduction in the workforce of 481 men, leaving 937 men still on the books producing about ½ million tons of coal per year. Shaft no.1 was still used by the colliery, however, for essential ventilation and winding operations.
Sutton Manor Colliery, St.Helens in British Coal's in-house magazine Sutton Manor Magazine
In November 1973, the NUM introduced an overtime ban in pursuit of a wage claim. On January 13th 1974, NCB Chairman Derek Ezra described how on a visit to Sutton Manor, he had witnessed volunteers having to operate the steam engines that powered the winching gear. Ezra also said that the overtime ban meant that underground workers were being laid off for two days, while winding cables were replaced. The coal board was bound by law to replace these cables every three years, but the work would normally be done at Sutton Manor during the weekend. The national dispute, which affected production at Sutton Manor, led to a state of emergency being declared and a general election. On February 28th 1974 the Daily Express reported how strike-bound Sutton Manor Colliery had agreed to allow 600 tons of coal to be shipped to an Ulster hospital that was running out of supplies. The NUM branch gave permission after Coal Board officials passed on an urgent appeal from the Londonderry hospital.
Later in 1974 a new 10 ton triple drilling rig was introduced that was said to resemble a mechanical octopus and two years later an untapped coal field was discovered just south of Sutton Manor at Barrows Green. A scheme was proposed which would involve driving two underground roadways of 1,150 yards in length through a major geological fault. The Colliery Manager Peter Male was quoted in the St.Helens press as saying that this boded well for the future:
Tommy Ludden worked in the Powder magazine and distributed detonators to shotfirers. About 1974 Tommy and his wife Mary - a former Sutton Manor pit brow lass who was then working at the colliery as a cleaner - travelled to Russia with daughter Jane on a three week all-expenses paid holiday. This was as a result of an arrangement between the Soviet super-power's Miners Union and Britain's National Union of Mineworkers. It was a wonderful opportunity to get away from the dirt and grime of the pit in the company of fifty other mining families from all over the UK. Sutton Manor miners were selected from a rota and had to be members of the union to qualify for the holiday.
This photograph shows Joe Gormley, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, on a visit to Sutton Manor Colliery about 1975. The former coal face worker at Bold Colliery is pictured in the lamproom signing for a lamp along with Sid Vincent, the Lancashire NUM secretary. Foreman lampman Alf Houghton is pictured on the left pointing out the correct place to sign.
NUM President Joe Gormley at Sutton Manor Colliery (Contributed by Alf Houghton / Mel Moran Collection)
The above photograph from 1976 shows a group of police officers from St.Helens who, accompanied by three Sutton Manor mineworkers, are enjoying a tour of the colliery. The bobbies are the ones dressed more for a night out than a trip underground! On the far right of the photo is Tommy Peet, a mining instructor at Old Boston who had come to the colliery to learn the job of Training Officer. Standing next to him is Sutton Manor Colliery Training Officer Brian Salkeld. Third from right is Assistant Colliery Manager George Blackmore, who was one of many workers of Welsh heritage. George had previously been an under-manager at Clock Face Colliery.
Group of St.Helens police officers who visited Sutton Manor Colliery in 1976 with three mineworkers
This history of Sutton Manor would not be complete without mentioning the volunteers who served as the colliery's firemen. As well as dealing with any incidents on site, the team of firefighters competed in the annual Fire Brigades' competition, which was open to teams from factories and pits. As can be seen from the above picture, Sutton Manor was extremely successful in this and other firefighting competitions and acquired many trophies. The core of the group was Billy Saunders (Colliery Fire Officer), Colin Neimarlija, Terry Gilford, Jack Prescott and Alan Barnes, who all served for many years during the 1970s and '80s.
The award-winning Sutton Manor Colliery firefighting team - view version with identification (Mel Moran Collection)
The aforementioned lamp room team also played an important safety role within the colliery. They were charged with not just distributing the lamps used by the men down the pit, but in keeping them in top condition. These photographs were taken in September 1981 with the picture above showing (L to R) Bob Mellor, Tommy Stanley, Nicko Nujmarlia and Alf Houghton. Bob and Alf are reprised in this second photo.
The Sutton Manor colliery lamp room team in 1981 examining lamps prior to their deployment down the pit (Mel Moran Collection)
In 1982 the colliery announced its intention to sell surplus methane gas to the ICI Pilkington Sullivan works at Widnes. A 5 mile-long pipeline linked Sutton Manor with ICI and over five million therms of methane - equivalent to three million gallons of oil - was pumped through it. Cooling, distribution and pumping facilities were sited at the colliery and filtration and metering equipment was situated at ICI. The scheme cost £3 million and began on July 14th 1983.
Also that year Sutton Manor Colliery was chosen to undertake the first underground trials of a high pressure water assisted roadheader machine. Water had long been used in mines to reduce coal dust and prevent frictional sparks. The former impaired miners' visibility and had serious health risks, while the latter could cause explosions. Initially the method of application was somewhat crude using hand-held hoses, which was somewhat hit and miss. Over the years the means of deploying water in mining operations improved considerably, although its effectiveness was often curtailed by severe limitations in the water supply.
By the 1980s it was appreciated that the quantity and pressure of the water were vital factors for an efficient deployment. So purpose-built machines were designed, complete with large water tanks. Some early trials were conducted at the limestone mine at Middleton. These led to Anderson Strathclyde developing an RH22 High Pressure Water Assisted Roadheader in early 1983. Roadheaders were excavating / tunnelling machines with boom-mounted cutting heads, which had first been employed in mining during the 1950s.
Sutton Manor began the first coal mining trials of the RH22 HPWA in August 1983. A bulky machine weighing 35 tons and measuring 28 feet in length, it carried a 455 litre water tank, plus a 700 bar high pressure pump on its rear. The roadheader was employed within the mine’s Main Florida Intake, tunnelling under the Trencherbone coal seam, as well as through shale, mudstone, silt and sandstone. This created access to the Higher and Lower Florida coal seams, which in the 1980s were seen as being the future of the pit, providing coal for at least twenty years.
Two views of the RH22 High Pressure Water Assisted Roadheader at Sutton Manor Colliery
The trials lasted six months ending in March 1984 and were largely successful, especially when the RH22 was used at the highest water pressure. The cutting rate increased by 50%, there was no frictional sparking, energy consumption was reduced, machine vibration was minimised, visible dust was virtually eliminated and respirable dust was cut by half.
On the negative side the total advance of the roadheader over the 28 week period was only 222 metres. However this was caused by many teething problems that had to be solved during the trial period, as well as through an overtime ban. An impressive 19.62 metres was, however, achieved in a single week towards the end of the six months, which boded well for the future.
In December 1983 the National Coal Board announced a £14 million investment in Sutton Manor which they predicted would provide a 'kiss of life' for the 'viable' pit, converting it into one of Britain's most modern collieries. The St. Helens Star began its report of the cash injection by saying:
St.Helens Star newspaper articles on Sutton Manor Colliery in St.Helens published December 15th 1983 and October 9th 1986
There were some ugly incidents at Sutton Manor, which developed a reputation as the most militant pit in Lancashire. At the end of August a minibus, which was taking 15 pickets from Northumberland to London for a court hearing, was set on fire outside the Institute. On November 28th 1984 the Guardian newspaper published a photograph of the first coal that Sutton Manager pitmen had hauled to the surface for nine months, with manager Peter Earnshaw supervising the operation. However only a quarter of its 800 miners were working, compared to the Lancashire average of 58% with 77% employed in the whole Western area. As production resumed, NCB area director John Northard announced that the investment planned for Sutton Manor had risen to over £17 million. The three-year modernisation programme, would, said Northard, turn a consistently and heavily-loss-making pit into a profitable one, although there would be a slight reduction in labour.
During the Spring and Summer of 1986, the NCB's successor, British Coal, electrified Sutton Manor's number 1 shaft steam winder, leaving the number 2 shaft winder in its original condition of steam. Sutton Manor colliery was, for a time, unique in possessing one of the newest electric winding engines, as well as having one of the oldest in number 2 shaft's steam winder. In fact it was the last colliery in the country to use steam as the St.Helens Reporter had reported eight years earlier:
Sutton Manor Colliery plan: 1) Forest Road 2) Colliery canteen 3) Main gates 4) Manager's block 5) Pit baths clean side 6) Pit baths exit 7) Pit baths dirty side 8) Surveyors office 9) Toilets 10) Engineering workshops 11) Lamproom (pic by Ian Lally)
The no. 1 pit had previously been used for winding men and materials driven with the same coal-fired boilers built by the same company that manufactured the Titanic's boilers and engines. The electrification meant that for the first time in the mine's history, coal could be wound up the no. 1 shaft. The work was undertaken by engineering consultant's Qualter Hall & Co. Ltd. of Barnsley and the opportunity was taken to replace the old coal tubs with modern skips. The new structure was built around the old headgear, so that during construction coal production could continue. The winding engine had originally been built in 1914 by Yates & Thom of Blackburn. The no. 2 pit's engine, incidentally, had been manufactured by Fraser & Chalmers of Erith.
Work to electrify the no.1 pit's steam winder and shaft at Sutton Manor colliery by Qualter Hall in 1986
With months of this new investment, British Coal shocked Sutton Manor mineworkers by announcing that they were going to make 250 redundancies, more than was expected. The pit was considered uneconomic and the management claimed it was losing £25 for each tonne of coal that it produced. Jack Evans of British Coal told readers of the St.Helens Star that in his opinion some members of the workforce weren't grafting hard enough:
Photographed in August 1986 the new no.1 headgear and the no.2 headgear at Sutton Manor (Mel Moran Collection)
On June 16th 1988 Manor pitmen Kevin Mather, Colin Brown, Bob Baugh and Alan Swift appeared in the St.Helens Star with their pet pooch Gilford. The dog had wandered into their lamp room some weeks earlier and decided to take up residence. As the animal had been found above ground, it was given the name of the colliery’s surface superintendent. Whether Terry Gilford considered it to be a tribute or insult wasn't recorded!
Gilford, top dog of the Sutton Manor Colliery lamp room, with his pitmen pals in June 1988
In 1989 Sutton Manor miner Steven Sullivan was made president of the Lancashire area NUM but continued to work on the coalface. Steven had played a leading role in the 1984/5 strike, during which he discovered that he had a talent for public speaking. As an activist he helped to ensure that the majority of Lancashire mineworkers went on strike and that Sutton Manor pitmen stayed out for as long as they did. Sadly Steven died aged just 41 in 1997, after a long fight against cancer.
The redundancies in 1986 left just 425 men on the colliery's books and by February 1990 with a downsized workforce, matters seemed to be improving. In the 5th edition of in-house publication 'Sutton Manor Magazine', then Colliery Manager K. A. Leech praised the men for breaking three output records since the previous edition of the 4-page newsletter. For week ending 20/01/1990, total weekly output had been a record 15,096 tonnes and the colliery results for the month of January 1990 were shown as an operating profit of £157,000, with net profit after capital charges of £46,000.
Left: Anonymous Manor miners (Frazier Nairn Collection); Right: Bill Mullaney at his Milton Street home after a nightshift
Happy mineworkers posed for a photograph propping up a board which detailed their record breaking activities, subtitled as 'Manor Men Are Back Again'. The caption underneath the picture in 'Sutton Manor Magazine', referred to the output levels as a 'grand achievement'. Colliery Manager Mr. Leech in an article entitled 'Well Done!' explained that "work is well underway" on a new coal face.
A photograph which appeared in 'Sutton Manor Magazine No.5' published in February 1990
By December 1990 the Colliery Manager was P.G. Redford and in the Christmas edition of 'Sutton Manor Magazine (no.9) he informed the pitmen that in the quarter that ended in October, output had gone down. He claimed that British Coal had lost money and so Sutton Manor had been put back into the 'Reconvened Review Procedure'. However, the colliery manager also revealed that since October, the week by week tonnage was starting to rise and there was some cautious optimism for the future with Redford also referring to planned development work.
So there was some bewilderment when just weeks later British Coal announced that the pit was unviable and scheduled for closure in June 1991. They claimed that Sutton Manor Colliery had lost £23 million over the previous five years and a British Coal spokesman was quoted by the St.Helens Star on May 30th 1991 as saying that "The pit was losing money and not hitting output targets". It finally closed on May 24th 1991, with 40 years of coal said to be still underground and a new £40 million Gladstone dock being constructed at Liverpool to handle cheap imported coal.
The old National Coal Board gates in Jubits Lane and the remnants of the pit shafts (see right - pit no.2) are all that’s left to remind visitors of the site's illustrious past. After the colliery’s closure, the shafts were filled with stone from the pit bottom up to the first inset. Concrete was then poured in and more stone added up to the next inset, where more concrete was introduced. This process was repeated up to the top of the shaft, where a concrete cap and pipe were added.
St.Helens Star report on the closure of Sutton Manor Colliery from May 30th 1991
The stone came from Holme Park quarry near Carnforth. John Melling was aged about 14 at the time and recalls working in the school holidays with his uncle who was contracted to bring stone from the quarry to Sutton Manor. John believes that the total amount of stone that his uncle and other haulage companies delivered was about 30,000 tons.
The capped pit shafts in Sutton Manor Woodland - The first two images show pit 1 and the third pic is pit 2
A number of former Sutton Manor pitmen became councillors or civic leaders such as Harry Williams, who worked at the colliery for 50 years as a foreman in the power house. In fact his brothers Arthur and Wilfred worked for similar durations and so the trio put in about 150 years combined service at the pit. Harry held the distinction of being the Mayor of St.Helens in 1973, its final year as a borough council prior to becoming a Metropolitan Borough under Merseyside.
The NCB certificate awarded to Noah Lamb who spent 48 years at Sutton Manor Colliery - Contributed by Jim Lamb
Mike McGuire served as MP for Ince from 1964 to 1983 and was then the parliamentary representative for Makerfield until 1987. When at Sutton Manor, McGuire served as full-time branch secretary of the NUM. Dr. Ken Moses CBE from Thatto Heath was a General Manager at Sutton Manor Colliery and later worked as a senior executive at British Coal. Former pitman Brian Spencer was until 2010 the Leader of St.Helens Council. Ernest Patterson deserves a mention too for his football prowess. The Manor miner of Shakespeare Road played some games for Manchester City in the early 1950s and was scouted by Doncaster Rovers.
Another with a distinguished Sutton Manor service record was Noah Lamb (1898-1990) who spent forty-eight years down the pit. Noah is pictured right sitting on his bed inside his white cottage at 30 Chester Lane in Marshalls Cross where he was born. Being a miner for almost half a century didn't do Noah any harm, as he lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two.
George Beresford Streete worked at Sutton Manor for 30 years after arriving in the UK from his native Jamaica in 1950. He served as a pit deputy and is remembered by colleagues for his ever-present smile. George's German-born wife Esther was a district midwife for 35 years after starting nursing at St.Helens Hospital. The mine also employed large numbers of Polish, Lithuanian and Russian pit men. On Saturday nights during the 1940s, Polish and Lithuanian miners often fought each other outside the Griffin pub!
Pit deputy George Streete pictured in 1960 and at his retirement in 1980 (contributed by Esther Streete)
Although many Sutton Manor Colliery pit workers lived in 'miners houses' in local streets, such as Tennyson Street and Forest Road, others like George and Esther Streete lived in Ditton at Widnes. Their houses were built by the NCB to house miners' families from Sutton Manor, as well as Cronton. They would cycle to work, unlike the local lads who'd mainly walk, the noise of their clogs puncturing the early morning peace. Post-war many of the mineworkers were proud of their gardens. The NCB held an annual garden competition and there was keen rivalry between neighbours. Pictured above is the home and garden of Sutton Manor pitman Albert Rigby, who lived in one of the Ditton houses. A keen gardener, Albert won the competition or was runner up on several occasions. Pictured in the 1950s prior to smokeless fuel, the houses are soot-stained like many other buildings at that time.
House and garden of Albert Rigby from Ditton who often won NCB garden competitions - Contributed by Pat Beesley
Although there were many improvements in terms of technology and practice during the 20th century, working down Sutton Manor was never easy. Ex-pit man Gary Conley described the conditions on BBC North West Tonight on March 4th 2009, in a report that commemorated a quarter of a century since the start of the 1984 strike: "It was hotter than the flames of hell in some sections and cold as the Antarctic in others."
Despite the often harsh conditions, the bonds of friendship between the workforce, in what's been called a family pit, were very strong. Almost twenty years since the closure, many mineworkers still have a considerable connection to the site. On May 31st, 2009 as part of the Big Art Project, a work of public art called Dream was officially opened at the apex of the former colliery's spoil heap, which rises 270 feet above sea level. This artwork towers over the M62 and was designed by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa both to serve as a memorial for the site's heritage but also to look forward to the future. Appropriately, former Sutton Manor pitmen have played a pivotal role in commissioning this monument to the blood, sweat and toil that took place underneath the statue for eighty-five years of the twentieth century.
Sutton Manor Colliery mineworkers pictured during the 1980s (Mel Moran Collection)