Hewing coal

Jonathan Beever was a miner, a hewer of coal. There’s some understanding that he worked down Primrose Lane, which would have been for the Stanley Coal Co. When first married Jonty rented a house near there, at the top of Knowler Hill, and here he spent census night 1901, alone. He had just become a father, and Kate was recovering from the birth at her mother’s in Bull Row. Not long afterwards they took a house two doors from her parents. This was close to Strawberry Bank pit, but there is nothing to say that Jonathan was ever employed there.

Strawberry and Primrose, a hint of rural delights. Pitheads here were set in the fields, in places not favoured by other industries. For a colliery, being near a main road or town centre was less important than access to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. This line, constructed about 1850, ran above the valley bottom, along the contour. Carrying coal was its main business.

Being a collier was hardly a choice. Jonathan’s family followed the industry for at least a century , and perhaps many hundred years, moving around south-west Yorkshire as mines opened and closed. It was understood, something almost automatic, that sons would be apprenticed to their father. Coal-miners operated in small groups, often just of family members. The mine manager, the owner’s agent, allocated a stall to the leading miner, and paid him by output. The pay was then divided according to seniority.

When Jonathan started work, these two collieries, Stanley and Strawberry Bank, were the largest in the immediate area, each with more than 200 underground workers and 40 or so on the surface. The Low Moor Company had an outpost in Hartshead that was almost as large, with 178 miners and 55 on the top in 1905. Alongside these, smaller mines came and went, some with only half a dozen men. Altogether, it was a substantial local industry.

It was also very dangerous. The number of fatalities was shocking, even allowing for how many thousands were employed in local mines. Poor medical care added to the dangers of death or being maimed. A wall falling underground, a broken leg, and death from infection could quickly follow. I picked a random volume, for 1899, in the reports of Inspectors of Mines. In Liversedge alone that year, 13 men died at the Park Coal Co., 6 at the Stanley company, and 2 more at Dymond and Co., another name for the Liversedge Coal Co. These figures were nothing out of the ordinary, for Spen Valley or across the Yorkshire coalfield.

An Act of 1860 had raised the minimum age for underground workers to 12, though there was an exemption if the boy could read and write. Many of the victims of gruesome accidents were young. The mines inspector reported one such in 1890, at the Stanley Colliery.

There is a short chain road of about 140 yards along which persons travel to get to the bottom of the shaft from the workings. A pulley wheel is fixed, and a person stationed there to attend to it, to see that no boys pass along the road, whether the chain is in motion or not, unless accompanied by men, a caution board being also fixed there, although the chain takes about 10 minutes to travel this 140 yards, working about one foot from the floor, and the road is a very good one, about 10 feet wide. Peter Currans, a boy, who on the above date was coming out to the shaft, was stopped at the wheel by the attendant, Smith, and told to wait till his collier came. Smith having turned round, Currans went forward, and when stepping over the chain it started and pulled him in between it and the wheel, and so crushed him that he died the following day.

The boy’s age is not mentioned.

Edgar wrote something about Stanley pit, though he did not mention his father working there. Instead he talked of Solomon Brook, a distant relative by marriage, who looked after the colliery’s horses and lived next to the stables. The pit, he said, ‘was busy in those days, with a plate way up to Hightown and another down to Bradford Road. The mine has long been finished and there is little trace of the colliery or the stables, or the hostler’s house.’


26 August 2016


Remains of spoil heaps, Primrose Lane colliery

(predecessor of Stanley pit)

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