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The Story of Barnbow Pit (1924-1930)


from The Barwicker No. 60
Dec. 2000

The history of Barnbow Pit is closely aligned to the final years of coal mining by Garforth Collieries Ltd. Barnbow Pit was the last deep mine to be sunk in the Garforth Coalfield. In this final chapter the story of the Garforth mines from the end of the Great War to 1930 is told.

After the Great War, industrial unrest, low wages and unemployment were the cause of strikes in the years 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1926. These national events were followed by the Garforth miners. During the 1919 strike, troops and naval ratings were sent to the Yorkshire coalfields. To protect the Trench Pit, naval ratings were brought in but there was no violence at the Garforth pits. After the strike, Colonel Gascoigne sold the pits and they were bought by The Garforth Collieries Ltd., a company controlled by Warncliffe Silkstone, of Tankersley near Barnsley. On the 1st. of January 1920, The Garforth Collieries Ltd. took a sixty year lease on the coal seams. The output of the pits was about 4500 tons a week, around 220,000 tons a year. The new company knew that there were reserves of coal for a hundred year's work and they looked to the output increasing. On 16th. October the miners went on strike again only to return to work in November, 1920.

The next strike started on 1st. April 1921 when the miners were locked out. This lasted until 1st July when they went back defeated. Evidence of the 1921 general coal strike and lock-out of miners in the Garforth district may still be seen on trees along Barrowby Ridge. These beech trees have graffiti carved on them by the striking miners referring to the lock-out by the masters.

Following the strike the company set up a programme of updating the pits. The Isabella Pit had only a few years' work left but the Trench Pit had good reserves and was being extended. The Sisters Pit worked out during 1922 and in this year The Garforth Collieries Ltd. were served with 109 summons for contraventions of the Coal Mines Act. The hearing took place on February/March 1922 when the management were fined.

In 1922 a new president was elected to the Miners Federation of Great Britain. He was Herbert Smith, born 1862 in a workhouse in Kippax. He started work in the pits at the age of ten and was president of the Yorkshire miners from 1905. He was MFGB president for 7 years.

During 1923, The Garforth Collieries Ltd. was sold to Old Silkstone Collieries Ltd. of Dodsworth near Barnsley. The name was changed to Garforth Collieries Ltd.and some of the directors of the old company were on the board of the new one. The new company saw a strong future at Garforth and invested in a new pit which was sunk as we have seen at Barnbow.

Towards the end of 1924 a depression set in the coal trade. The owners made their usual demands on the miners to cut wages to offset losses. At Garforth the prolonged depression hit hard. The directors of Garforth Collieries Ltd. served a week's notice on the men at the Isabella Pit (where many Barwick men worked), to expire on Tuesday April 14th. 1925. In a statement issued on Wednesday the 8th. April, the directors put the blame squarely on the men. The statement went on:
"The high cost of production consequent upon serious absenteeism of the men and low production, together with the depressed state of the coal industry, has created a position which has made it impossible to continue the working of the pit, except at a very serious loss. There has been no option under these circumstances, but to close down."

Working at Trench Pit was also subject to the directors' scrutiny. They demanded a drop in absenteeism and increased production per shift. Barnbow Pit seems to have escaped the directors' wrath. Isabella Pit closed with a loss of 392 jobs. The pumps were stopped in November 1925 after all equipment had been salvaged.

The General Strike of 1926 started on the 1st May and was called off on the 12th, May, but the miners in spite of suffering and starvation held out for six months. By the end of November the Yorkshire miners were back at work. The owners had won, the miners' wages were cut and the working day increased.

The miners at Garforth Collieries Ltd. came out during the General Strike bringing a halt to coal production at Barnbow and Trench Pits. It was not long before the miners and their families were in severe trouble, lack of income leading to obvious difficulties for them. A scheme was set up to provide a free meal daily for the children: 'The Garforth Miners Relief Fund for Children'. Some 700 children received this free meal daily in the Garforth district during the dispute. The committee of the scheme was formed and helpers were organised to make collections. Many gifts of food were received and donations were given. By June the average weekly income was 10. On 17th. of June the balance was 73 plus some gifts "in kind". As the weekly expenditure was 25, the balance was soon used up.

A collection was made at a cricket match between Garforth and Barwick on behalf of the fund. The collectors made weekly visits to houses. The Committee Treasurer, Cr. H Chappel, said he hoped that they would continue and increase.

In an effort to increase the funds and supply food to the villagers of Garforth, the committee set up two stalls, one in the Main Street, where twice a week fish was sold. The fish was brought from Hull at a discount price, sold cheap to the miners and dearer to others, and the profit used in the Childrens' Fund. Thirty gallons of milk were distributed each week to children under one year old and to expectant mothers, half the milk being given by local farmers. There was also a fund for providing boots for children "in the poorest of circumstances". In June there was a debit to this fund of 3, which was paid by the Chairman.

As during the 1921 strike and lock-out, striking Garforth Miners dug coal from an outcrop of the Middleton seam near Elizabeth Pit, and as the Aberford Railway had been closed by the colliery owners, the miners dug up wooden sleepers left from the old track-bed to cut up and burn on domestic fires.

After the General Strike, political rather than an industrial action was used to further the workers' cause. In 1927, Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, had the Trades Disputes Act passed making a general strike or any strike in sympathy with other workers illegal.

In the years 1929 - 1930 Britain's exports fell and unemployment rose, a trade depression set in and became a major slump. Coal, shipbuilding and textiles suffered from the poor home and export orders, and workers were laid off. The New York Stock Exchange collapsed in October 1929 and doubts about trade caused share prices to plummet. The crash was followed by a spiral downwards in trade world-wide and an increase in unemployment was felt in Great Britain. The depression lasted until the late 1930s. The depression in industry leading to a poor demand for coal, reduction in coal exports and the poor domestic coal trade during the period 1929-30 hit Garforth Collieries badly. In July 1929 the staff of the collieries accepted a 5% reduction in pay to help save the pits and their jobs.

During early 1930 the Garforth Collieries were in deep financial trouble which came to a head in the later part of May. Mining in Garforth and Barnbow employed some 600 men, about two thirds being employed at Barnbow, the others at Trench Pit. From the time the Barnbow Pit opened , apart from the time of the flooding, at least 5 days work a week had been possible.

As a way out of the situation, the Garforth Collieries Ltd. gave notice of a 10% reduction on wages across all employees. This was met with resentment by the pit workers who thought their pay was low enough, but the staffs were ready to accept the reduction as they saw the rejection of the proposal as the possible closure of the collieries.

Meetings were held between the owners and the miners' representatives to discuss the troubles during May. On Saturday 31st. May, the miners' representatives met the owners to try and find a solution, but to no avail. A meeting was held in the Miners Welfare Hall, Main Street, Garforth, on Sunday, 1st of June to hear the deputation's report of their negotiations with the owners. There was no solution forthcoming other than the owners demanding "if the proposals are rejected the pits will close immediately". The men at the Trench and Barnbow pits were given their notices by the owners on Monday/Tuesday, the 2nd.and 3rd. of June. These were to expire in one week's time. During the change of shifts on Wedenesday, 4th of June, the men were ballotted on the question of a 10% cut. The ballot was lost by the owners as the vote was 343 against and 214 in favour. The position of the Garforth Collieries was now serious and a statement from the colliery company read, "It is impossible to carry on if the proposals are rejected." The pit workers had carried the vote and the hope was that negotiations would find a solution. Failing this the miners would be out of work by Tuesday, the 10th of June.

The men came out on strike on Friday, 6th. of June. There was no holiday feeling in Garforth and district during Whitsuntide, 1930. Many families were still worried about their futures; would there be any work in the pits? If the pits closed would they be able to find any work elsewhere? The matter of the pits was raised at a meeting of the Garforth Urban District Council and deep concern was expressed.

A crowded meeting was held on Tuesday, 18th. of June in the Miners Welfare Hall and the men were still adamant to reject the reductions. A deputation's report from the directors stated that they would close the pits immediately if the men did not accept the reductions they demanded. Later, notices were posted that the pits would be opened at 6am Wednesday, 11th. of June, and gave the reduced wage rates for the men who wanted work. Another meeting was held at the Welfare Hall on Tuesday the 17th. and, after the routine business, a vote was taken to test the solidarity of the men and every hand went up to continue the struggle. The committee stated that any case of hardship by the members would receive immediate attention.

By July the dispute was entering its third week and the men were as determined as ever. The owners however had started to recover equipment from both the Trench and the Barnbow pits. Coal cutting machines were brought out of the workings as the owners suggested they may be lost due to falls of debris from the roofs and to flooding. The small number of men still at work had been issued with their notices during the last weekend of June which meant they could be dispensed with at any moment. In the local paper, an article on the strike concluded, "Compromise on both sides might have saved this situation, and at the same time obviated untold suffering and hardship on the families of the workmen employed at these pits."

The Yorkshire Electric Power Company cut off the power to the pits on July 4th. but negotiations between Garforth Collieries and the power company over the weekend resulted in the reconnection of supplies on Monday 7th.of July. Power was required to keep pumps and ventilation fans running in the pits. On the 11th. of July the strike was still strong and no suggestion came from either side to end the dispute. On Monday the 14th. at Whitkirk Auction Mart, a number of pit ponies were put up for sale. The colliery company had been dismantling the pits and these operations were coming to an end. The pits finally closed and Garforth was no longer a mining village. Records show that Garforth Collieries Ltd. was in the hands of the Receiver, S P Harrison, Dodsworth, Barnsley, as late as 1938.

The abandonment plan of Barnbow Colliery gives the final day of working as 30th. of June 1930. A report of the 4th. July by an official who inspected both Barnbow and Trench pits went on to state that Barnbow had no more than four years coal left. It was a wet pit, he said, the water probably originating from the Sisters and the Isabella pits and in the region of 300 gallons a minute were being pumped. On the 5th. July 1930, Colonel Gascoigne was informed of the winding up of the company and he was handed a deed of surrender for the colliery.

A deed dated 1st October 1932 is for the colliery company taking a further lease on the Barnbow Pit site and sidings. This was a short term arrangement and the purpose was to allow the company to salvage machinery from the pit. The two shafts of Barnbow colliery were capped in April 1967, after the shafts were used to lift water from the open cast workings which previously extended from Barnbow, continued north of the Garforth golf links to Barwick Road; this was the Oxclose site.

I acknowledge the following newspapers: Yorkshire Evening News, Yorkshire Evening Post, The Skyrack Courier, Skyrack Express and the Yorkshire Weekly Post, from which I drew much information. In parts of my text I have quoted their words verbatim - their writings of the events could not in my opinion be bettered. I also thank the few surviving miners who worked at Barnbow and were willing to talk to me about the pit; also to Graham Hudson for information. Other sources were the West Yorkshire Archaeological Service and Leeds Local History Library. All of the above were my main sources of reference albeit other publications, maps and plans were referred to, for which I acknowledge the work.


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