The abandoned Nibble and Clink mine shaft near Woodlesford. The photograph was taken in the early 1960s by signalman Bill
Tiffany from the Waterloo Colliery Sidings signal box. The River Aire is in the distance and the earthworks beyond are the
opencast mining which took place from the 1950s.
During the 1870s the nearest working mine shaft to the centre of Woodlesford was on the narrowest section of land between the Midland Railway and the Aire and Calder Navigation. About half a mile towards Leeds from Woodlesford lock the shaft was known as Nibble and Clink, a name used at several other pits in different parts of the country and believed to be derived from the noise the winding ropes made when they went over the pit wheel.
A pamphlet produced by the miners' association summing up the dispute refers several times to the “Woodlesford Coal Company” leaving out the reference to Waterloo so it's possible that by this time the Nibble and Clink pit was the company’s principal source of coal and most of its other pits had closed, although the official name of the company remained the same.
Looking up towards the old shaft from the canal tow path.
A figure for the number of men working at Nibble and Clink comes from a brief report in the York Herald of a religious service held “in the new pit at Woodlesford” in February 1875. It was conducted by the Rev. Charles John Hussey as part of a mission in the parish to increase membership of All Saints’ church which had opened just over four years earlier. There were over 150 miners at the service held during the day shift. Given there would be other men employed to do “byework” at nights advancing the faces and others working on the surface it probably means there were over 200 men in total employed at the pit.
Just a week or so after the service a plumber and painter, taken on to paint between 20 and 30 of the company’s railway wagons, was severely injured at the Midland Railway’s Hunslet sidings. The wagons had been taken there because there wasn’t enough room to do the work in the sidings adjacent to the pit.
25 year old Joe Newsome lived in Woodlesford with his wife and their young daughter and he had been employed along with another man called Craven, most likely 37 year old joiner Joseph Craven who lived on Stockings Lane.
Just before two o’clock on the afternoon of February 26th Newsome was between two of the wagons painting the buffer beams whilst Craven was on the outside. Apparently without warning the wagons were “violently pushed together” and Newsome’s arm was caught between the buffers where it was badly crushed and broken.
He was dragged about 20 yards along the siding before the wagons were stopped. His injuries were “of such a dreadful character” he had to have his right arm amputated at Leeds Infirmary and subsequently he couldn’t carry on his trade.
In a damages case held before a jury at the start of August the railway’s lawyer claimed Newsome and Craven were in the sidings without permission and the railway were not responsible for the accident. However it was shown the colliery company had been given written approval to have their wagons painted at Hunslet. Even in the face of the evidence the lawyer claimed the person who had granted it did not have the authority to do so, but after an argument in court he was persuaded to drop that part of his defence.
He was still adamant Newsome and his colleague were there at their own risk. They had been warned that shunting was going on constantly and it would take one of them most of his time to act as a look out. It was claimed Newsome had agreed to this and had been responsible for the accident by his own negligence in not making sure Craven was looking out properly.
The jury disagreed and Joe Newsome was awarded £300 in damages, a substantial amount for the time. He appears to have invested the money wisely by starting a grocery and beer shop on Midland Street in Woodlesford close to his home at Temperance Terrace in Claremont Street. He went on to become a traveller for Bentley’s brewery and was also the landlord of the Two Pointers Inn. Ironically he was once again a victim of the Midland Railway when he was “severely shaken” when his train home to Woodlesford ran head on into a Bristol express just outside Leeds Wellington station on 21 December 1880.
Another view of Nibble and Clink looking east towards Swillington. In August 1877 a team of 8 men from the pit beat
a team from Bentley's brewery in a "tug of war" match. It was held in the grounds of Eshald House during the
Woodlesford Floral and Horticultural Exhibition.
By the 1870s there was a system of safety in coal mines. It had been developed over the previous 30 years and was enforced under acts of parliament. Some of the miners, however, could be a law unto themselves, and it appears from a trial heard at Wakefield that it was quite common at Nibble and Clink for the men to break the colliery’s rules. It happened in February 1876 when George Bottom, an “elderly” miner, was charged with infringing the “40th special rule in force at the colliery,” and, perhaps with his age and experience, Bottom thought he knew the job better than some of the younger men in charge.
The case against him was that he had attempted to remove some explosive on a coal face which had misfired when it was detonated by a shot firer called Holt. Bottom and another miner named Forshaw were working together and they had been told three times not to drill the shot out.
Despite the warnings and being moved to another part of the workings they had returned and Bottom was found by an official drilling out the shot with Forshaw holding a lamp for him. Forshaw allegedly told Bottom they would be “in for it” but he replied that they could finish the work in 10 minutes.
Mr. Andrews, who was described as “the certified manager at the collieries,” told the court it was “a most dangerous practice, and as it had become very common he was directed by the company to press the case.” George Bottom denied he had anything to do with drilling out the shot but ended up with a fine of £3 4d or six weeks in Wakefield gaol if he couldn’t pay. There was a similar case in December 1878 in which Charles McMillan, who claimed he wasn't aware he was "transgressing the by-laws," was fined 20 shillings.
Andrews had taken over as manager at some point during 1875 following the departure of Matthias Stokoe Hall and it may well have been Hall's youth, and inability to control the workforce, that had led to his replacement. He returned to his native county of Durham where he married the daughter of a music teacher in 1879 and continued as a mining engineer living in Bishop Auckland.
The new manager can’t have survived for long either because soon after the case against George Bottom there was yet another man in charge. He was Issac William Hewitt White, a mining and civil engineer who would go on to have a long association with Woodlesford and the surrounding district. The son of a Somerset glassworks and mine owner he had come to the West Riding in 1870, at the age of 19, as an apprentice to John Edward Mammatt and, like Matthias Stokoe Hall, had qualified for his first class manager’s certificate in 1873. He then became a partner of Mammatt who had moved to live in Roundhay.
This view of Nibble and Clink was taken before the demolition of the chimney at the former paper mill in Woodlesford in the 1960s.
During White’s time the Waterloo and Woodlesford company was capable of producing between two and three thousand tons of coal per week although its doubtful if that amount was achieved on a regular basis. It's also not clear if it came mainly from the Nibble and Clink pit or was the combined amount including the remaining pits closer to Thorpe Stapleton. If 3000 tons was all carried away by rail it would have needed 375 wagon loads given the maximum weight carried by each wooden planked wagon at that time was 8 tons.
An Aire and Calder Navigation rent book from 1876 suggests a substantial tonnage of coal was still being taken by tramway to Leeds where the Waterloo and Woodlesford paid £186 per year for their wharf, whereas at Woodlesford the rent for their land was only £9. The rent for the company’s wharf close to Waterloo village was even less at £5 per year.
Shortly after Issac W.H. White’s arrival the miners under his control set up their own union. During the dispute in 1874 there was no mention of a lodge of the West Yorkshire Miners’ Association in Woodlesford itself but there were lodges at Rothwell and for the Bowers’ pits near Swillington so it's likely the Woodlesford and Waterloo men had belonged to those. By 1876 with more men employed at Nibble and Clink it was probably thought a union solely for those at the pit had become viable.
Under the Trade Union Acts of 1871 and 1876 unions had to be registered and operate under a set of rules and so on 12 August 1876 the Waterloo and Woodlesford Miners’ Refuge was formally established. Evening meetings were held every two weeks at the Boot and Shoe Inn at which the members had to pay a subscription of 3d per week. To join men had to pay 2s. 6d. reduced to 1s. 6d. for boys under 16. Elections for a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, three trustees and a committee of seven were to be held every six months.
After a qualifying period members could claim a weekly amount if they were sick or had been injured. The wives of those who died were also eligible for an allowance. If there was a strike those over 16 years could receive 10 shillings a week and those under 16 five shillings, “so long as the funds will allow of such payment.” Those with children could claim one shilling per week for each child under 12.
A 16 page rule book was issued, the key points of which were:
“To secure the prices and wages bargained for by the members, to prevent all illegal stoppages at the pay office, and to protect members when unjustly dealt with by the masters or managers.
To try for compensation for accidents (fatal or otherwise), if such accidents have been caused by negligence on the part of employers and managers.
To secure the true weight of the material sent to bank by the miners, which will give justice both to employers and work people.
To shorten the time of labour in the pit to eight hours per day, and to improve the moral and social position of the mining classes.
To provide a weekly allowance for the support of members and their families who may be locked out or on strike, and to resist any unjust regulations in connection with their employment.”
The first secretary was James Haigh who was 48 years old. He had been born at Royston but by 1851 was living in Newsam Green and working at the Fenton pits nearby. He had married his cousin, Emma Haigh, and they had a large family which they brought up at Waterloo village before moving to Woodrow in Methley. In later life they lived next to the post office on Station Lane in Woodlesford. The other founding members were Edwin Dennison, Tom Hirst, Joseph Calverley, Joseph Haigh, Arthur Hughes and John Hirst.
Sadly the need for the union and its benefit funds was only too evident in the next couple of years. The first incident was the death of 32 year old John Nevitt who was seriously injured in a roof fall on the afternoon of Friday 14 December 1877. He had been walking along one of the roads underground with two others when a piece of rock weighing about 15 cwts. fell on him.
Some of his ribs were broken but he had other more severe internal injuries and he died the same evening in Leeds Infirmary. At the inquest at Leeds Town Hall a deputy called Ellis said the roof had been safe when he had checked it at midday. Issac W. H. White said the roofs were examined on every shift but sometimes the weather affected the rock.
The coroner said he’d received a letter from the inspector, Frank Wardell, who had examined the colliery and was of the opinion that Nevitt’s death was “purely accidental.” The jury agreed. John Nevitt, who is thought to have been born at Tunstall in Staffordshire, was buried at Oulton.
The following April the Waterloo and Woodlesford Miners’ Refuge flexed its industrial muscle when it brought the men and boys “at the two pits belonging to the Waterloo and Woodlesford Colliery Company” out on a strike which lasted more than two weeks. The dispute was over a 5 per cent cut in wages and a reduction in the amount per yard they were given for “packing“ rock to hold up the roofs of the workings.
About 800 men and boys who worked at the five Bowers’ pits around Allerton Bywater were out on strike at the same time in a dispute over the use of “riddles" which the management wanted the men to use underground to cut down the amount of waste rock, or slack, being brought to the surface with the coal.
In the Waterloo and Woodlesford dispute representatives of the West Yorkshire Miners’ Association attempted to seek arbitration but the local union refused saying they had no connection to the organisation.
The accounts for the year starting on 1 December 1877 show that the refuge took in £200 7s. 7d. in contributions. £104 11s. 2d was paid out in strike pay, £6 for sick and accident pay and £3 in death benefits. About £8 was spent on expenses including rent of the lodge room at the Boot and Shoe and the balance of about £76 was either in the bank or in cash held by the treasurer.
That all was not well with the company and with Nibble and Clink in particular became clear after an accident in November 1878 in which two miners were killed when they fell to the bottom of the shaft. Despite the jury recording their deaths as an accident the inquest revealed several pieces of faulty equipment. There were also serious questions asked about the management of the pit and within a few weeks the whole enterprise was put into liquidation.
Just after midday on Friday 8 November Solomon Butterworth and Bob Inman were amongst about 180 men working underground. They were being hauled to the surface in the pit’s cage which came up too fast, hit the headstock and then, despite two safety devices, plummeted back 200 yards to the bottom of the shaft. Edward Rose, a Hunslet surgeon, said their skulls were fractured, all their bones were “smashed,” and one of them was “beyond identification.”
The inquest was held at the Old Red Lion Inn at Thwaite Gate where it was revealed that the man in charge of the winding engine had been sent to prison for manslaughter after two men died in a similar winding accident at Glass Houghton three years earlier.
On his release he’d changed his name from Henry Johnson to Joseph Jackson. Nobody at Nibble and Clink had asked him for proper credentials when he’d been taken on a fortnight before the accident and from newspaper reports of the inquest it was still unclear whether his real name was Johnson or Jackson.
A juryman suggested that when he was first employed the Woodlesford miners had “played” and refused to go down the pit for several days in protest but this was denied by the management. In his defence he claimed one of the valves on his engine had stuck because it was furred up and the wire and bell used for signalling from the pit bottom was faulty.
Despite being overwound there was a device on the rope called a Walker’s patent safety hook which was designed to prevent the cage from falling but it failed and, despite the rules, John Leeson, the banksman, had wandered away from the pit top.
Diagram showing how a cage should come to rest using a Walker's patent safety hook.
The banksman’s main job was to supervise the men in and out of the cage and to unload the corves of coal when they were hauled up. When the cage carrying Butterworth and Inman came up Leeson should have manually pushed four heavy bars across the shaft mouth but he was too far away hanging up some tickets from the corves when the cage shot out and he was unable prevent it from falling back down. Leeson was normally supervised by the head banksman but he was away from the pit.
It also emerged that the enginewright, Henry Golightly, had left the company just two days before the accident and been replaced by the foreman labourer, John Crossland, who, despite being “one of the most valuable, sober, and trustworthy men about the place,” was not a mechanic and had no formal qualifications. Neither did he appear to have troubled himself reading the colliery rules posted on the pit bank.
Various of the rules had been ignored by all of the men involved and when he gave evidence the man in ultimate charge, Issac W.H. White, claimed none of the faults had been brought to his attention. By this time White appears to have taken on consulting work at other collieries and the day to day running of the pit was in the hands of the steward and underviewer, Charles Waterhouse, who’d been in the pit office at the time of the accident. He said he’d never seen a banksman walk away from the pit top when a cage was coming up but he’d witnessed a cage being overwound two weeks previously by the second engineman who was also called Waterhouse.
On the instructions of the coroner an independent engineer, John Kirby, who lived on Wakefield Road in Leeds, had examined all the machinery after the accident. He identified the main cause as the the failure of part of the Walker’s safety device and recommended it be made of stronger material. Also the bars which had to be put across the top of the shaft should be made self acting, “so that as soon as the cage arrived at the landing stage the apparatus would fall into such a position that it would be impossible to fall down the shaft until liberated by someone in charge.”
Despite the neglect shown by the banksman and the engineman the jury decided that it was faulty equipment which had caused the cage to fall and they returned a verdict of “accidentally killed.” They were, however, critical of the men and the pit’s managers for not seeing that the rules were carried out. Additionally they recommended that the improvements suggested by the independent engineer be carried out.
Both Solomon Butterworth and Bob Inman were 30 years old when they were killed. They were brothers-in-law with young families having married sisters Bathsheba and Mary Ann Marsden, daughters of a Woodlesford papermaker. They were buried side by side at Swillington three days after the accident. The cart carrying their bodies along the towpath from the pit to Bullough Lane bridge was charged 6d by the Aire and Calder Navigation. A further 1d. was charged to a J. Blackburn “for funeral party down towing path to Woodlesford.”
In an unfortunate postscript Bob Inman’s brother, Thomas, was accused of appropriating part of £7 which had been collected by the miners at Nibble and Clink for the widows. He claimed it had been spent on funeral expenses but magistrates sent him for trial.
Of the others involved in the accident the banksman, John Leeson, was 25 years old. Born at Market Overton in Rutland, in 1873 he married Eliza Tate, daughter of the Woodlesford lockkeeper. They lived on Pottery Lane and had a baby son. Afterwards they moved to live at Gorton in Manchester where they ended up running a draper’s shop.
William Jennings, who was 50, was the “hanger-on” at the bottom of the shaft and the last to see Butterworth and Inman alive. He was the son of a miner and brought up at Waterloo village. He later moved to a cottage close to the John o’ Gaunt’s Inn and lived into old age.
The underviewer, Charles Waterhouse, was the son of the Waterloo schoolmaster. After the accident he moved to Castleford and died there in 1895. One of his sons, Major Waterhouse, also became a mining engineer and colliery manager in the Tinlsey area of Sheffield. The enginewright, Henry Golightly, was born in Northumberland. After Woodlesford he moved to Woolley colliery and later became a manager in one of the first motor engineering and car body building workshops in Sheffield.
Given the prevarication over his real name it so far has been impossible to discover what happened to Henry Johnson alias Joseph Jackson.
Even before the inquest jury had given their verdict and made their recommendations for improvements the directors of the Waterloo and Woodlesford Colliery Company Ltd. had decided to put it up for sale and on Thursday 14 November 1878 a classified advertisement appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer.
Classified advertisement from the Yorkshire Post, November 1878.
Rather than the cost of the improvements the sale was probably brought about by the fact they weren’t making any money. £20,000 had been raised in new capital a year earlier but it doesn’t seem to have helped and within a month of the sale being advertised a meeting of shareholders was held at the offices in Leeds where it was proposed by John William Clay to liquidate the company.
A minute of the meeting reads: “It had been proved to the satisfaction of the meeting that the said company cannot by reason of its liabilities continue its business and it is advisable to wind up the same and accordingly that the said company be wound up voluntarily.” John Edward Mammatt and Thomas B. Jones were appointed as liquidators at a salary of £200 each.
The company was finally wound up at the end of May 1880. A report in the Sheffield Independent said the paid up capital was £77,000, and the deficiency account showed a loss of £109,528. During the final year of working, under the liquidators, there was a loss of £1648. The amount of claims ranking for dividend was £37,195, and the liquidators declared a first and final dividend of 2s. 6d. in the pound.
The newspaper went on: “The state of matters is becoming very alarming in the West Yorkshire district. Pits noted for the best house and engine coal barely average half-time, and colliers are casting about for some more lucrative means of labour, large numbers having vacated their homes and gone northwards.”
As far as Issac W. H. White was concerned the implied criticism of his management at Woodlesford doesn’t appear to have affected his career or standing within the community. In 1879 he was already the engineer at Bowers' Allerton Main Collieries which had also spent a period in liquidation but recently reopened. It included West Allerton or “Old Engine” pit near the hamlet of Astley. Despite the shaft being on the north side of the River Aire most of the coal it extracted was from the Haigh Moor seam underneath the Calverley estate at Oulton. By 1882 White was acting as engineer for the Silkstone and Haigh Moor Coal Company at Allerton Bywater.
He also owned a quarry at Kippax and branched out into railway engineering becoming highly involved in plans to build a railway from West Ardsley through Rothwell and Woodlesford and on to Drax. It was called the East and West Yorkshire Union Railways and before a parliamentary committee in London in 1883 White gave evidence throwing light on why the Waterloo and Woodlesford company had failed.
The main reason, it appears, were the high charges made by the Midland Railway and the North Eastern Railway to carry the coal to Hull where it could have been sold to steamship owners and sent for export.
As White explained: “Attempts were made for many years to establish a satisfactory trade to Hull during the summer months. A great difficulty was found in keeping the collieries employed. Trains of coal were standing sometimes for weeks upon the sidings, but there was no demand for them, and the result was a very irregular working of the colliery and large loss in the working, and ultimately the colliery was abandoned. The whole of the plant had to be removed, and a loss was sustained, I believe of £109,000.”
He was asked if the work generally, besides the coal trade, had been depressed amongst the population. “Yes,” he said, “there has been great distress amongst the people generally in the district in the last few years. I am a resident in the locality, and can speak to that.” There had been “very great distress at that particular time for the collier’s families.”
Asked why the men and their families couldn’t go somewhere else he said: “No. They came to very great distress, and they never recovered from it. There was a very large sum paid weekly in wages, which was lost to the district.”
Most badly hit was the colliery village of Waterloo. With the closure of the Waterloo and Woodlesford company's two collieries its families did move away and its location meant it was unattractive for others. By July 1880 most of the houses had been demolished leaving only the recently rebuilt schoolroom standing. Later it was used as a temporary isolation hospital for smallpox and other diseases until better facilities were built on Haigh Road in Rothwell.
Many of the men who had worked at Nibble and Clink appear to have moved to work at pits around Methley and in May 1881 the union changed its name to the Woodlesford and Methley Miners’ Association with collection meetings held every two weeks at the White Hart in Woodlesford and the Bay Horse at Methley.
As for the Nibble and Clink pit itself the shaft and stone work of the pit bank survived into the 1960s before they were finally demolished and all traces of the colliery removed. On the Ordnance Survey map from 1921 the shaft is labelled “Pump” indicating it may have been used to pump water from the Beeston seam which was also worked by Charlesworth’s Midland or Fanny pit nearby. The map also shows two pit cottages which may have originally been the colliery’s offices.
Click on the link below to read transcripts of newspaper reports about the Waterloo and Woodlesford pits.
Waterloo and Woodlesford newspaper stories.pdf