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The Story of Barnbow Pit (1924-1930)


from The Barwicker No. 59

When the afternoon shift on Thursday, April 21st., 1927, settled in to work, all seemed well at Barnbow. At approximately 4pm in a heading about 400 yds. north of the two shafts and towards the outcrop of the Beeston seam in the highest working point of the pit (the coal seam dipped south), an Arkwell boring machine was being used. A Kippax man was operating the machine along with two assistants and the jib penetrated about six inches into the face when it bored into old workings. There was a huge inrush of water which came from an old gallery of a pit over 100 years old.

The alarm was given and in a few minutes the deputy, who by chance was in the heading, had the men rushing for safety. There were 48 men working in the pit at this time and due to the deputy having full control of the situation all the men got away from the inrush before the mine was flooded out. The nine ponies working underground were also rescued, though during the time they were being lifted to the surface, the men at the bottom of the shaft were waist deep in water, but all men and ponies got out safely.

Water from the old workings flooded into Barnbow Pit at the rate of some 500 gallons per minute so the entire pit was soon flooded out. The cages were "middled" but were soon covered in the flood water. A report from the Yorkshire Evening Post wrote:

"Standing by the gate at the top of the shaft at noon today (Friday 22nd), I could hear far below the swish of water as it lapped against the beams and girders of the shaft. On the surface men were making preliminary preparations for the installation of the new pumps, those at present in existence being insufficient to cope with the huge volume of water."

In this incident 150 men were put out of work at Barnbow Pit, although Garforth Collieries Ltd. found employment for about half that number in the Trench Pit, Garforth.

Colliery officials after surveying the scene thought that there would be "no great difficulties in getting the pit back to work", but estimated that it would take some weeks. The pit had its own pumping plant which could only lift water at rate of 150 gallons per minute and, as the pit was all electrically powered, these pumps could not be used. It was impossible to lift any water until new pumping plant could be installed and this work started in the week after the inrush. First a concrete foundation was laid in readiness for the installation of a steam winch which lowered a high capacity electric pump down Number 2 Shaft along with all the necessary pipes and cables.

The submersible pump was made by Pulsometer Engineering Co. Ltd. and was normally used in sinking operations. It was working in the shaft by Friday 25th. April and the water from the pumping operations was piped to the Cock Beck. The pump had a tendency to overheat and had to be switched off at intervals to cool down. Engineers were lowered down the shaft in a hobbit (a large iron bucket, also known as a bowk) by the steam winch to inspect the pump and make repairs.

Barnbow pit remained flooded until June 9th. when the last of the water was lifted and four days later an investigation was started into the cause of the flooding. Plans to get the pit back to work were put into operations. All roadways and workings had to be inspected, damaged or missing pit props were replaced as the inrush washed some out of place, and the workings had slurry removed and were made safe. Electrical and mechanical equipment was brought to the surface to be cleaned, refurbished and re-installed. When all this work and safety checks by HM Inspector of Mines had been carried out, the pit returned to normal working later in the summer.

Charges were brought against Garforth Collieries Ltd; C D Wardle, the manager, and Albert Mellor, agent, by Mr James Edward Wing for the Director of Public Prosecutions. They were summoned to appear at the Leeds West Riding Court on 18th. October 1927. The case was a complex one and would take some time to hear. The Magistrates therefore agreed to adjourn the hearing until November.

The defendants appeared before the Leeds West Riding Court on Friday 11th, November 1927 to answer charges for an alleged breach of the Coal Mines Act, 1911. The action was taken under Section 68 which provides that where any working had approached to within 40 yards of a place containing, or likely to contain, an accumulation of water, or of old workings not ascertained to be free of water, there should be an advanced bore-hole and flanking bore holes.

Mr J E Wing of Sheffield appeared for the Director of Public Prosecutions and Mr W Stewart, instructed by Messrs. Scatchard, Hopkins and Brighouse, for the defendants.

Mr Wing first described the inrush of water and the way the men and ponies were got out of the pit without injury. He spoke of the investigation party: Mr H M Hudspeth, Divisional Inspector of Mines; Mr G Cook, Inspector of Mines, and Sir Richard Redmaine for the defendants, who made a close inspection of the plans and went into the pit on the 13th. June. At the point of the inrush the party found the thickness of coal between the old and new workings to be from 9 to 13 inches. The party was able to travel 98yds. westwards along an old level but they were stopped by black damp. Along another one they were stopped by a fall some 12yds. along.

It was found that no boring had taken place at all in spite of the fact that between the Barcelona outcrop and the Cock Beck, old pits were shown on the map and there was evidence on the surface that coal had been mined there. The defendants, Mr Wing submitted, "Could easily have proved the existence of those old coal workings in the vicinity and where the shafts actually were. They could have explored one of the shafts and then known whether they went into the Barcelona seam or, as they undoubtedly did, into the Beeston seam."

Mr Wing continued by saying that the defendants stated that the old shafts were assumed to have been sunk to work the Barcelona seam and not the Beeston, and, on that assumption, no attempt was made to find plans. Careful consideration was given to all the plans and data of the area available before Barnbow was sunk and, on the plan, the whole of the coal was shown to be solid to within 30 yds. of the outcrop.

The case for the prosecution rested on the theory that some of the pits went down to the Beeston seam and that, noting their position on the survey, the defendants should have suspected old workings in the Beeston seam and caused bore holes to be made as directed by Section 68 or, in default of the latter, should have ascertained the depth of the pits.

The defendants submitted:

The Magistrate summed up the case:

"The existence of old workings in the Beeston seam was merely surmised from appearances on the surface. We have examined a number of the pits and are satisfied that they are all bell pits of the type commonly found in the outcrops of the West Yorkshire seams and we found no evidence to suggest that any of them had been to the depth of the Beeston seam. In our opinion the evidence presented by the prosecution fails to show that the defendants had reason to suspect the existence of water or of old workings in the Beeston seam within the area required and we therefore find that they have not infringed the provision of Section 68 of the Mines Act of 1911."

Mr Stewart for the defendants applied for costs and the bench awarded 100 guineas.

In the 1927 reports of H M Inspector of Mines, Yorkshire Division, Mr H M Hudspeth, Divisional Inspector of Mines, wrote of the Barnbow inrush: "Although it was well known that sooner or later old workings must be encountered, no boring operations were carried out . . . . . Joining several of the old coal pits there was clearly shown on the 6in. geological plan a 'supposed water level' which at its eastern extremity overlapped for distance of 300 yds. the western extremity of an old road shown on the working plan in the colliery office and known to be in the Beeston seam joining up a line of old coal pits extending farther eastwards Although this 'supposed water level' was shown on the 6in. geological plan as south of the calculated outcrop of the Barcelona, it is clearly in the Beeston seam and should not have been assumed as existing in the Barcelona."

Mr Hudseth wrote later in the report;

" It is difficult to postulate, as a result of going over the surface, as to which seam has been worked to any particular shaft, and that the safety of workmen should not depend merely on unconfirmed opinion, particularly when the means of confirmation is readily available".

The next incident at Barnbow Pit happened on the 11th. March, 1928, when the cage was over wound. Two men had been cleaning out the shaft sump, the overwinding gear had been disengaged to allow the cage down in to the sump and had not been re-engaged by the winding engineman when the two men wanted to return to the surface. The winding engineman started the electric winder in the wrong direction and he did not notice what he had done until the surface cage had been wound 45ft. and was suspended in the headgear with the hook detached. He then realised his mistake and stopped the motor. The engineman was later reprimanded by the colliery managers.


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