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History of coal in the West Riding of Yorkshire; Altofts
and its relation with my family Ratcliffes and Martins.

This story is extracted and reformated from the writing of notes for John Buckingham Pope by Owen Pope a descendant of the Pope family owners of collieries at Altofts. The original source is here [link]. The story relates to my own family on my father's side: Allen William Ratcliffe and Abraham Martin who both worked at Altofts colliery. Abraham Martin came from Birmingham area; he was underviewer at the colliery and in his later years undermanager. He died in March 1914. William Ratcliffe, Allen William Ratcliffe's father was a coal miner at Altofts; he had come from Ilkeston Derbyshire where he was a stone miner (see birth certificate of Allen William). Allen William was educated and trained at Pope and Pearsons dedicated school at Altofts and became an engine tender. He married Ann Martin daughter of Abraham Martin in 1884 and in 1889 he was sent to Calais by Pope and Pearsons I suppose as site manager for the unloading of their steamships exporting coal from Altofts from the port of Hull. This lasted during the golden age until 1914. After the first world war, Allen William Ratcliffe founded with other English residents in Calais, a wholesale cooperative society using the expertise of the Altofts and Normanton Co-operative Society, Ltd, the co-op or CWS of Altofts, and I suppose with the help of its managers and of Pope and Pearsons. I am grateful to Owen Pope for this knowledge coming at the end of my life. Italics are my inputs.

My father's family history is therefore related to coal and Altofts during the industrial revolution in England and the development of coal in the West Riding of Yorkshire after the building of the railway. As a French descendant of Abraham Martin and Allen William Ratcliffe, I chose to become a mining engineer and graduated from the French school of mines of Saint-Etienne in consideration of this history. My professional life was entirely in mining. And by coincidence, without knowing, I was manager at the colliery of Lagrange of Houillères du Bassin du Nord et Pas de Calais Groupe de Valenciennes (see mon histoire liée au charbon).

The West Riding coal trade received a considerable boost from 1850 when the completion of the Great Northern Railway opened for the first time on any large scale the great and increasing coal-hungry markets of London and the South of England to West Riding coals. Already, during the 1840s the construction of railways within the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire, with rail links into the coal-producing West Riding, had given collieries lying within easy access to the new local steam railways an advantage in competing with the older canal or navigation-linked pits for the supply of the regional coal markets.

It was against this background of changing and expanding markets occasioned by the opening of the new railways that the collieries worked by the Popes at Crigglestone and later by Pope and partners at Altofts arose.

The first members of the Pope family to appear on the West Riding scene were Richard and John Buckingham Pope, coal factors and co-partners of Lower Thames Street in the City of London. Richard Pope had had dealings in property in London from at least as early as 1827. In November 1841 the partners are referred to as agents in London for the sale of coal from the Cliffe Colliery at Crigglestone, near Wakefield, where pits were being sunk in 1838-41. The owners of the Cliffe Colliery had some difficulty with the availability of liquid capital and by 1842 they owed 2,300 Pounds to the Popes on a balancing of the accounts so that the Popes took over the new colliery, sinking number one shaft deeper and completing number two to the Winter seam. The colliery had four shafts in 1841 and in 1846.

The Popes continued their London coal business, maintaining their Lower Thames Street offices and trading in coal from Abbey Wharf, Westminster. Richard Pope lived at Camberwell and J. B. Pope, who had been born at Newton Bushall in Devon and was thirty-five years old in 1842, lived at Mornington Crescent, Hampstead Road. The Popes continued to develop their Cliffe Colliery which supplied coals to London by water, and a railway was built (largely a self- acting incline and in part in tunnel) down to the Calder and Hebble Navigation under wayleaves granted between 1843 and 1846.

Coke ovens, a fire clay works, a stoneware manufactory, brick and tile kilns and drying sheds and a chemical works were all run along with and close to the railway. The firm had a fleet of twenty-seven keels, the Yorkshire river barges, to carry their products. A series of highly complex legal and financial manoeuvres were ultimately unsuccessful in assisting the Popes in a difficult period of trade depression in the coal industry in the middle and later 1840s and a fiat in bankruptcy was issued against them at the very end of 1847.

Ultimately, in June 1849, the colliery was put up for sale by auction and was purchased by J. V. Broughton for 23,050 Pounds. The financial difficulties of the colliery had brought J. B. Pope to the West Riding and some four months after the sale of the Cliffe Colliery a draft partnership deed was prepared under the provisions of which J. B. Pope, by now of Castleford and described as a coal merchant and earthenware manufacturer, was to join Joshua Skidmore, commission agent, and William Shaw, railway building contractor, both of Wakefield, in the operation of a colliery at Whitwood and of a pottery and clay works at Castleford, late Isaac Fletcher's.

Pope was to devote his whole attention to the new business and was to receive a salary of 250 Pounds a year. A new partnership deed was entered into in 1850, Pope being joined by George Pearson and John Woodhouse, railway contractors residing in Pontefract. (Pearson could only sign the deed with a mark and Woodhouse had very poor handwriting!) A first lease of coal was agreed in 1850, the lease being taken from an absentee landowner, the Rev. Sir T. G. Cullum, Bart., M.A., J.P., D.l., of Suffolk (1777-1855). Richard Pope, J. B. Pope's eldest son, cut the first sod of one shaft of the new colliery on his twenty-first birthday in February 1851.

The new pit was named California, after the then-recent California Gold Rush. One shaft was sunk close to Altofts railway junction, giving access to all parts of the country. Another (probably for pumping) was sunk near to the present Wheatsheaf Inn in Whitwood township.

Coal had been mined at Altofts in earlier times - the writer has a deed of the 1330s which refers to pits of sea coal in Altofts, and there are references of about 1600 - but no modern coal shafts existed in 1851 in the township. In any case, Pope and his partners were preparing to work in the much deeper and hitherto unexploited Stanley Main seam. The potential of the deeper seams had, it is interesting to note, been first exploited by Henry Briggs and Charles Morton who had taken a lease of coal in Whitwood in 1841 from the Earl of Mexborough.

The colliery at Altofts was early given the name of West Riding from its principal shafts' situation within the angle formed by the railway junction, already known as the West Riding junction. One of Pope and Pearson's letterheads with an engraved illustration and used in 1860 shows a busy scene at the colliery. Richard Pope senior died in January 1853 and a few months later Woodhouse left the colliery partnership. The firm now became Pope and Pearson, the name under which it traded until Nationalisation - and under which it does still trade (1977).

By 1855 Richard Pope, the son of J. B. Pope and the young man who had cut the first sod in 1851, had joined the partnerships and it was his energy which both established and developed the colliery and its trade. The only early account book which survives begins in 1850, presumably during the period when coal was being merchanted but not mined; too much coal was sold in the northern parts of Yorkshire via the York and North Midland Railway (one end of which is at Altofts Junction) and there were smaller local sales to potteries (at Leeds and Castleford), to limeworks, to Carter's Knottingley Brewery and so forth. Other local markets included a windmill, a flintmill, a bank and a workhouse.

Small and distant sales were made to Chatham and even to Newton Abbot, to which place there was an established water connection for the transport of china clay. New coal leases were negotiated in 1851, when a lease was taken from Hugo C. M. Ingram, Lord of the Manor and a large landowner in Altofts, and coal was sub-leased from Henry Briggs. Sidings were put into the York and North Midland Railway in 1853, the year before it became part of the new North Eastern Railway, and communication was made with the conveniently close and accessible Fairies Hill Cut of the Aire and Calder Navigation.

John Buckingham Pope remained managing partner of the concern until his death in April 1878 but his son took a very active part in its affairs and in the coal industry in a wider context. In 1885 he and his partners were negotiating for a lease of coal at Rawrnarsh near Rotherham. In 1858 he and his partners established the modern Sharlston Colliery. He and his partners sank the great Denaby Main Colliery from 1863 (he, his father and Pearson were all members of the partnership there), and from 1889 Cadeby Main developed as an adjunct to Denaby.

George Pearson, who lived in pthe Pontefract suburb of Tanshelf, was the senior partner in a group of Pontefract men who sank Darfield Main Colliery near Barnsley, in 1856-60. The partners kept the West Riding Colliery's pits up-to-date technologically. In 1858 they agreed with the patentees to make use of a coal washing machine, which necessarily resulted in the unusually early development of colliery pit heaps at Altofts and the neighbouring part of the Whitwood township. In 1860 William Wood of the nearby Foxholes Colliery, Methley, recorded in his diary that he went to Balaciava Colliery, West Ardsley, with Mr Pope, Mr Locke and Mr Warrington (of Kippax Colliery) to see a coal-cutting machine there.

In August 1869 Pope and Pearson agreed to continue the use of an experimental coal-cutting machine in their colliery which was worked by compressed air. The firm was constantly a leader in the field in regard to mechanical coal-getting. William Garforth, then only recently appointed manager, introduced two undercutting machines in the Haigh Moor seam but these, and all other early machines only undercut to about half the depth which was possible with hand holing.

In about 1888 an electric-powered bar machine was introduced, although Garforth was concerned at the possible effects of the flashes which it made. About 1892 Garforth's own Diamond deep undercutting machine was brought into regular use at the colliery and from that time the machines became of increasing significance: mechanical failures decreased and the new machines were able to contribute towards a shift output per man of six tons as against a manually-got output of some three and a quarter tons.

Garforth set up his own firm to manufacture coal cutters: he built twenty-one in 1899 and fifty-six in 1901 and the firm was still flourishing in 1977. As with many of the new rail-orientated collieries of the 1840s and, (particularly) the 1850s, the West Riding Colliery was sunk in what had been hitherto a predominantly agricultural area. Men had to be recruited to work in the new colliery - often from far afield - and houses had to be built for them and their families. The population of Altofts increased to a small extent as a result of the immigration of railway workers but largely as a result of that of colliery workers and their families, and especially of those employed by Pope and Pearson. My own family members Abraham Martin and William Ratcliffe came from Wednesbury and Ilkeston in Staffordshire.

Some colliery families did, however, live just outside Altofts, where other colliery and industrial developments make any assessment of the influence of Pope and Pearson's employment impossible of determination. The 1871 census returns indicate places of birth, and the colliers who were heads of households in the largely-completed colliery village of The Buildings at lower Altofts, where the entire village was the property of the colliery partnership. The 1881 and 1891 census records indicate Abraham Martin and family, the head of family was underviewer in 1881 and undermanager in 1891).

Pope and Pearson's cottage building accounts begin in September 1852, but deeper sinkings and increased outputs demanded more and more workers and more and more houses for them. In the mid 1860s the three collieries in which the Popes had interests all began the development of specific colliery villages, two of which (those at New Sharlston and at Lower Altofts) still survive in 1977.

The Silkstone seam of coal, lying at some 414 yards below the surface and 4ft. 7in. in thickness, was leased by Pope and Pearson in July 1863, and the new sinking was paralleled by the building of the new and model colliery village. The exact date of the erection of The Buildings at lower Altofts is uncertain (My grandfather's residence as indicated in his marriage certificate was Paley's buildings Lower Altofts), but the site for the houses was bought by the partners at an auction sale at the Horse and Jockey Inn in Altofts in April 1864 at the price of 460 Pounds for some 5.5 acres: A letter of July 1864 refers to a proposal of the firm's concerning their "commencing to build". The sinking to the Silkstone seam apparently occurred in 1864-65, and the newly-opened seam gave its name to the new village, Silkstone Buildings.

The dating of the village is further elucidated by a reference in the 1871 census returns to a boy born in Silkstone Row who was then aged six, and by the stablishment of the colliery community's own Altofts and Normanton Co-operative Society in about September 1866. By 1871 the streets in existence were: Silkstone Row, North Street, South Street, East Street and Prospect Place (my great grandfather Abraham Martin lived in Prospect Place see evidence of this on the marriage certificate of Allen William Ratcliffe with Ann Martin, daughter of A.Martin).

In both 1889 and 1899 Henry Briggs, Son and Co. were the largest producers of coal among the members of the West Yorkshire Coal Owners' Association, with Pope and Pearson coming second in both years.

The question of early labour relations and troubles at Pope and Pearson's collieries is a difficult subject to deal with, largely on account of the lack of adequate documentation. Machin's book "The Yorkshire Miners" details some of the disputes which affected the collieries from as early as 1853, but gives the men's views only. Certainly some disputes led to severe conflict and even ejection of colliers from their houses, although relations never deteriorated to the extent of those at the sister colliery Denaby Main, which was constantly and bitterly riven by industrial disputes.

The recollection of old employees of Pope and Pearson is definitely at the present of a sympathetic relationship between masters and men within the last fifty years of the private ownership of the concern. As was so frequently the case in regard to major colliery owners in the West Riding, the Popes were nonconformists, a situation which to some degree cemented the interests of capital and labour as many of the colliery workmen were nonconformists by conviction and even before their coming to work at the new collieries in Yorkshire. My grandfather Allen William Ratcliffe was a non conformist of the Methodist Wesleyan obedience as evidenced by his certificate of marriage with Ann Martin, celebrated in Altofts Methodist chapel).

J.B.Pope was a member of the Plymouth Brethren and, not surprisingly, two of the meeting houses of that denomination arose in Altofts: one was dated 1891 and the other was built in 1906. There is no reference to the existence of this denomination in the 1878 trade directory, but in the February of the following year the Brethren were using the colliery company's Pope Street School for a tea, and by May 1882 they had a Sunday School.

Religious provision did not, of course, emanate entirely or even largely from the Plymouth Brethren. The Wesleyan Methodists had established a preaching place in Altofts in 1809, and the Primitive Methodists opened a chapel in Lock Lane, halfway between Lower and Upper Altofts, in 1871. Curiously, it was the more staid and respectable Wesleyans, as against the Prims, who built a wooden chapel at Silkstone Buildings in 1877 at a cost of 25 Pounds, replacing the denomination's use of a room in Silkstone Row itself. A new Wesleyan Chapel was erected in 1891, costing a further 701.18.1 Pounds. and is still in active use (1977).

The Church of England, as was again common, was late on the industrial scene, W. E. Garforth being behind its interests at the Buildings: the Mission of the Good Shepherd at Lower Altofts, housed in a corrugated iron structure to seat two hundred, was opened in February 1903, and for some years it had its own minister, operating under the umbrella of the Vicar of Altofts. An early Scout Troop was formed at Lower Altofts in 1908. Educational facilities were provided by the colliery owners: in 1867 or 1868 a school was built at the end of Silkstone Row by Pope and Pearson" and the building was used as an infants' school from February 1872 when log books were first kept as a result of the first obtaining of a Government grant in aid. In the 1891 census my great grandfather Abraham Martin is listed as Colliery Under Manager and Local Preacher [link].

The log books refer to visits made by the school managers and by the owners - Mrs Pope visited, for example, on several occasions in 1873 - as well as referring to the frequent outbreak of infectious epidemics. On the outbreak of an infectious disease, the company put out posters advising precautions which could be taken by the tenants against its spread, while the houses infected were fenced off (Edgar William Ratcliffe grandson of Abraham Martin, son of Allen William Ratcliffe and Ann Martin died of diphtheria in Altofts in 1900 at the age of 13, staying on holidays from Calais with his grandparents.). This school was enlarged in 1895 and its gallery was only removed in 1924. It was not until as late as July 1942 that the management of the school was transferred to trie West Riding County Council, although the building had been leased to the County at a peppercorn rent in 1903.

A school house was also part of the model village. The school celebrated its centenary in 1972 - apparently quite wrongly. A school was in fact run by the colliery partners from about 1856, and this became the Altofts Colliery School in Pope Street, the log book of which dates from November 1872. A new school was built here in 1875 and old J. B. Pope visited the new buildings on the occasion of the re-opening in September 1875. The school log book is found here [link] In the 1877-1879 listing line 411 it shows entered 3rd Dec 1877 RATCLIFFE James born 6th Jan 1870 father William Ratcliffe at 26 Silkstone Row Infants School. James was the young brother of Allen William Ratcliffe my grandfather b. 1861. See two entries to the school here.

The H.M.I. did not think much of the natural abilities of the children: in December 1875 he wrote that "The general intelligence of the scholars is low and they are very irregular attenders". This school's management was also transferred to the County in 1942, and the school was closed in 1946. There is an interesting reference in the log book in May 1888, when the headmaster refers to his scholars' parents setting-off to see their relatives near Bristol and Gloucester and in Shropshire and Staffordshire - the areas from which they had originally come As I indicated earlier, Abraham Martin came from Wednesbury, and was born in Darleston; William Ratcliffe father of Allen William came from Ilkeston Staffordshire.

Further social facilities were provided in the form of a recreation ground; the date of its establishment is uncertain, but is possibly in the 1880s. The printed rules of the recreation ground survive, headed "Silkstone Row Recreation Ground" - its location being at the north end of the Row. The Ground was for the benefit of the tenants of Pope and Pearson, their families and persons living with them (it will be recollected that there were many lodgers).

A huge committee of sixty persons was to be elected from the inhabitants, and the Ground, which lay between Silkstone Buildings School and the canal, was to be open from 6 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. from 1 May to 31 August, and during the winter from 8 to 6. No games were to be played on Sundays, and fines on adults and exclusion for children for various periods were provided for misbehaviour.

A new recreation ground or sports ground was opened in September 1924 in a different location. Many colliers had - and still have - a delight in gardening and (incidentally) in supplementing their wages by growing vegetables. In 1896 Pope and Pearson supplied some seventeen acres of land for the use of their workmen at a reduced rental of 25 shillings an acre and the Altofts Allotments Association was formed for its management:

In 1915 the Co-op committee was asked to allow the use of a room for the Allotment Association's meetings. Another typical model colliery village development, backed by the colliery company, was the establishment of the Altofts Co-operative Society. The minute books of the Society which have survived date from June 1877, but by that time the Society had been established for some ten years. It was originally The Altofts and Normanton Co-operative Society, Ltd., and was formed at the height of interest in the development of co-operative retail outlets by individual societies in the new colliery villages of the West Riding.

No store was opened in Normanton itself, and a co-operative store was built there in 1872 by an independent Normanton Society, but it was not until 1894 that the Altofts Society dropped the name of Normanton from its title. There was another neighbouring society in the form of the Hopetown and Whitwood Industrial Society. The Altofts Society was probably established in February 1867, although according to the successive numbering of its quarterly meetings it may date back to 1866. It was intended only for employees of the colliery partnership, and it provided a not atypical range of social facilities beyond those of a shop alone: by 1872 an educational fund was in existence, a library existed by 1877 and a reading room was maintained. A subscription was paid to the Leeds Infirmary to enable members to obtain treatment there, and in the 1870s references also occur to tea meetings, lectures and excursions.

The Buildings at lower Altofts had no public house, but the workmen's co-op did sell beer for consumption off the premises, and in 1877 the committee agreed to get a board painted to caution customers to refrain from drinking beer or spirits in the streets or in the shop. In 1900 a separate beerman was to be appointed for the co-op shop - still known as the Top Shop - and tobacco was also sold. In 1894 it was recommended that non Pope and Pearson workmen should be eligible as members of the co-op for the first time, and in 1917 business was booming to such an extent, despite the War, that the Society had to ask for the tenancy of the adjoining house, number one Silkstone Row.

As could be expected with a Society so closely allied to the fortunes of the coal trade, booms and depressions in that industry and in its wages were felt in the co-op: the coal trade slumped in 1874 and only recovered slowly, and the sales figures of the co-op show a similar pattern.

Pope and Pearson grew as a large employer of labour: there were 1662 work-men (1316 below and 356 on the surface by 1903, and the firm ultimately became of necessity and design, a major housing owner. By 1928 a list of the firm's property shows them owning a total of 429 houses, 316 of which were in Altofts, 99 in Normanton and 14 in Whitwood; 388 were freehold and only 41 (all in Altofts) leasehold.

In 1874 one of the first board meetings of the new company had agreed to buy 38 cottages at Normanton Common which were the property of Mr Pearson. The greatest concentration of company property was, of course, at Lower Altofts, where in The Buildings there were 164 houses; Silkstone Row itself had 52 houses, still in one row without cross alleys in 1904. An undated list of properties shows that the dimensions of the Silkstone Row houses slightly differed: One row, North Street, was of back-to-back houses, the remainder being through.

The two Portland rows are probably early examples of concrete houses, similar to those being built (by 1877) at The Concrete near Wombwell, but now demolished. The colliery schoolmaster recalled that the company had built 80 new houses between 1871 and 1875. The company early had its own gasworks, but the supply came from the Normanton Gasworks from about 1898, when the new Silkstone shafts were sunk on the site of the gasworks in the colliery yard. Water was supplied by Wakefield Corporation from 1880, and local government facilities were (slowly) provided for Altofts by an elective local Board, originating in 1872 and providing, for example sewering from 1878-79 and a cemetery in 1878 My great grand parents Abraham Martin, his beloved wife Ann, my grand mother their daughter Ann Ratcliffe and her son Edgar William who died of diphtheria in 1900 while on holidays from Calais are at rest in this cemetery Photo.

By 1894 Pope and Pearson were paying some 74% of the rates of Altofts. The colliery village was somewhat altered in the 1890s, when the ash pits were much improved, and in 1927 a loan was made by the Altofts Urban District Council for the conversion of the privies in Silkstone Row. A further social facility was provided at lower Altofts in the form of an institute for men and boys opened in a converted malt kiln in the lower part of the village in 1892; in 1911 a Grand Bazaar was held in the Church Schools in Altofts to raise 800 Pounds for furnishing a new institute, during the presidency of W. E. Garforth, and a Working Men's Club was in existence in the village by January 1916.

A yet further and highly important, social facility in the form of a railway station, to serve Altofts and Whitwood, was opened in September 1870 photo.

Meanwhile, what of the management of the colliery?

The members of the Pope family were, as has been indicated, much concerned in the 1860s with the opening up of collieries at some distance from Altofts - at Denaby Main and at Sharlston - and George Pearson was a senior partner in Darfield Main. Capital for the necessary new developments at Altofts was consequently limited, especially after the collapse of the coal boom early in 1874, so it was decided to turn the Altofts collieries into a limited liability company, the Pope and Pearson families taking a majority of the shares - 301,000 Pounds out of a total capital of 400,000 Pounds. The first meeting of the new company was held at the firm's solicitors' offices in East Parade in Leeds on 18th November, 1874, and J. B. Pope was appointed chairman.

Old Mr Pope retired to the Isle of Wight, returning to undertake his duties as chairman until his death in 1878. His son Richard Pope took over after his father's death, with the newly-appointed W. E. Garforth as his strong right hand, Richard was a Congregationalist, unlike his Plymouth Brethren father, but like his father he had a country estate in the Isle of Wight, and he died there in 1903.

George Pearson died in 1881, but members of the Pope and Pearson families continued an active interest in the concern. The management of the colliery was largely in the hands of a professional manager, directed initially by the partners and (from 1874) by the directors and with the aid, for a short time, of a consulting mining engineer: the great Jacob Higson of Manchester was appointed to this consulting office, on a part-time basis, in 1874. John Warburton was the colliery manager until about the end of 1872, when he was replaced by John Hopkinson, who lived at Normanton and who saw the colliery through its first years as a limited liability concern; he died suddenly in London on 14th April, 1879, and was replaced by William Edward Garforth in that same year: Garforth was introduced at a meeting of the Board held on 3rd July, 1879 and was paid initially the handsome salary of 500 Pounds a year.

No detailed account of the life, activities and significance of William (later Sir William) Garforth is given here, on account of the recent publication of John MacKinnon's excellent biography of that gentleman; the work can be consulted at any local library. By 1875, when the great European coal export trade from Britain was well developed, a major coal sales depot had been established by Pope and Pearson at Calais, and by 1876 the company owned steamships which took the coal from Hull (*).
This was the development of the Cobden-Chevallier free trade agreement between England and France in 1860. My grand-father Allen William Ratcliffe came to Calais from Altofts appointed by his company; I presume as the manager of the coal sales depot - unloading the steamships and the making of briquettes from the slack coal. He often travelled to Hull on those steamships, and sent his children to Altofts for holidays with their grand parents Abraham and Ann Martin and for learning English.

The use of coal washing machinery resulted in the development of pit heaps and also in the availability of large quantities of coal slack; briquettes from this slack were made at both Altofts and Calais, and in 1880 the Board ordered the building of twenty coke ovens at Altofts This implies that the coal from Altofts was coking coal, a feature which explains exports to France by Calais, because coking coal was lacking in the North of France when steel making, based on coke, developed in Valenciennes area; the railway line Calais-Bâle via Valenciennes favoured those exports. In 1881 the Board was considering the purchase of the unsuccessful Park Hill Colliery near Wakefield, but decided against the project; a few years later, in 1886, the firm sank the Fox Pit as an air shaft but close to the canal, a situation which was considered suitable for the new pit's use as a coal loading place for the waterway.

In the same year of 1886 there occurred an explosion in the Silkstone pit of Pope and Pearson at Altofts, where normally some four hundred men and boys were at work: owing to the explosion occurring between shifts, only twenty-one persons were killed. Naked candles had been used in the pit until only six months earlier. The explosion led to the ultimate invention of Garforth's (the WEG) rescue apparatus and to the establishment of a series of experimental galleries near the colliery which cost some 13,000 Pounds in experimental expenses and, according to the files of the Colliery Guardian, "focused the attention of the whole mining wold on Altofts".

The first mines rescue station in the world is claimed to have been established in connection with Pope and Pearson's Altofts Colliery in 1901, and an Ambulance class was formed in 1884. Pope and Pearson had, of course, their own colliery locomotives, and railway wagons, and by 1893-94 they were using between 114 and 117 horses in and about their pits. Thus there developed at Altofts both a major West Riding colliery and a wide range of social ancillaries; the colliery was to continue to produce coal well into the period of Nationalisation, the last coal being drawn (after the cessation of coal drawing from the colliery shafts) from the Fox Pit drift on Friday, 7th October, 1966, at about 1 p.m.

See my web site and in particular my blog The story of Anglo-French friendship, my blog on coal and mining and my story related with coal and mining.


  1. Abraham and Ann Martin
  2. Allen William and Ann Ratcliffe
  3. Allen William Ratcliffe's passport
  4. Pitwork: photographs of Joseph Stocks
  5. Slide show

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