Category Archives: North Staffordshire Coalfield

Scenes From the Past: Shelton Bar (1873)

This drawing of Shelton Bar is taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.

Scenes From the Past: Shelton Bar (1873)

A drawing of Shelton Bar taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.

Scenes from the Past: Tower Hill Colliery (Harriseahead)

This photograph, taken by Malcolm Street at the beginning of the 21st century, shows the remains of Tower Hill Colliery in Biddulph Road, Harriseahead.

During the 19th Century, tramways carried coal from the colliery to a coal wharf in Congleton and to a wharf on the Macclesfield Canal at Kent Green in South Cheshire. The coal taken to Kent Green was loaded onto canal boats that took it to Goldendale Iron Works in the Chatterley Valley.

(Photograph: © Copyright Malcolm Street and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

The Pottery Industry in the 1960s

In the 1960s, The Potteries was a hive of industrial activity. Skilled crafts-persons living and working in the six towns created the best pottery in the world.

About 90% of the bone china, earthenware, tiles, porcelain, bricks and sanitary ware made in the United Kingdom was produced in Stoke-on-Trent. Pottery workers employed by factories in Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton were proud of their skills and expertise. They took pride in their work and knew that the ware they made was exported all over the world.

The seeds of North Staffordshire’s industrial development were sown in the 14th century. Iron ore was mined in Tunstall and at Apedale. Small pot banks which used local clay to make earthenware were scattered in isolated villages and hamlets throughout the district. There were coal seams near the surface and coal miners risked their lives working in drift mines and bell pits to get the coal needed to fire the ware.

Industrialisation came to The Potteries in the 18th century when entrepreneurs like Josiah Wedgwood, William Adams, Josiah Spode and Thomas Whieldon built factories that produced good quality ware which was sold at prices people could afford to pay.

During the 19th century the pottery industry and the coal mining industry expanded rapidly. The population increased and the six towns which we know today were created. New factories were built and the smoke from numerous bottle ovens and kilns polluted the atmosphere.

As late as 1939, the pottery industry used 1,500,000 tons of coal to fire its ovens and kilns. After the Second World War, coal fired bottle ovens and kilns were replaced by electric or gas fired tunnel kilns. Between 1945 and 1966, many small firms closed and others amalgamated to form large companies. In 1966, there were about 66,000 people employed in the industry 48,000 of whom were women.

(The photograph was taken in the warehouse at the Gladstone Pottery Museum by J. Rutter and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Scenes From The Past: Shelton Bar (1873)

This illustration of the furnaces at Shelton Bar is taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.

Life was hard for Kidsgrove miners

During the first half of the 19th century, a coal miner’s life was hard. Wages were low. Men, women and children worked long hours in semi-darkness. The work was dangerous. Accidents were frequent. Human life was cheap, and colliery owners put profits before safety.

Half naked men and women worked together at the coalface mining coal and putting it into wagons. Young children were employed to open air doors on roadways leading from the coalface to the bottom of the mine shaft. They sat alone in the darkness and opened the air doors for boys and girls who were harnessed to wagons which they pulled along the roadway.

In the early 1840s, Samuel Scriven who was preparing a report on child labour for the government visited Kidsgrove. He interviewed several coal miners employed by colliery owner Thomas Kinnersley who lived in luxury at Clough Hall.

A Young Miner’s Working Conditions

Seventeen year old John Vickers who was interviewed by Mr Scriven said: 

“I have been working in the mines for about four years. Before that, I worked at a farm for about four years. My job is to attend at the pit’s mouth and haul away the coals that come up from the Delph. My wages are 11 shillings a week which I give to my mother. I am paid by the charter master. He gives me my wages in a public-house. I went to day school for a few months before going to work on a farm. Although I cannot read or write, I go to church pretty regularly. I start work at six in the morning and go home at about six {in the evening}. I am too tired to go to school in the evening. I would like to go if I could but, as I said before, I am always too tired.

“My father is dead. My mother keeps a dame school for young children. I have three sisters; two of them work in the silk factories at Congleton. The eldest is 18 years old. She earns five shillings and six pence a week. My other sister, who works in Congleton, is 14. She earns three shillings and six pence a week. My youngest sister goes to the National Day School at Mr Wade’s. 

“I have my first breakfast before I go to work and take my second breakfast to work with me. I go to dinner at twelve and have ‘tatees’ and bacon. I always take an hour for dinner and eat my second breakfast when I can. I never do any night work.”

The illustration shows a girl harnessed to a wagon in a coal mine.

Kinnersley’s Kidsgrove (1841)

A report on Kidsgrove prepared by S.S. Scriven in 1841 for the Children’s Employment Commissioners says that:

“Some five or six years ago the inhabitants of this place were said to be in a state little removed from barbarism, notoriously ignorant, vicious and depraved and as much a terror to the surrounding countryside as the now equally notorious people from ‘Biddle (Biddulph) Moor’.

“About this time Mr Kinnersley (the owner of Kidsgrove’s ironworks and coal mines) erected at his own expense an exceedingly elegant and commodious church together with a Sunday School for both sexes. He appointed the Rev. Wade to the living and shortly afterwards established a day school for boys and girls with a master and mistress who worked under the Rev. Wade’s supervision.

“The character of the people is now entirely different from what it was. They attend church regularly. They are steady and domesticated at home. At work, they are industrious and hard-working and respectful and obedient to their superiors.

“Those miners I have spoken to appear to be conscious of the blessings bestowed upon them by Mr Kinnersley. Judging from their own admissions and from reports of what they were like, I should say they must indeed be an altered people.”

Focus on Kidsgove: Harry Wilson – A Local Hero

The Edward Medal

THE COAL MINES ACT 1911

The Coal Mines Act 1911 forced colliery owners to employ qualified safety officers who were called firemen to inspect roadways leading to the coalface and to make sure that the pit was well ventilated and free from gas.

It was a responsible job. A miner could not become a fireman unless he had obtained a Fireman’s Certificate, was at least 25 years old and had worked underground for three years before working at the coalface for two years.

In the early 1920s, Harry Wilson, a roadman at Harriseahead Colliery, was a part-time student at the North Staffordshire Technical College (now Staffordshire University) where he was studying for his fireman’s certificate.

HARRISEAHEAD COLLIERY FLOODED

On March 10th, 1924, Harry was at work when the lower levels of the colliery were flooded by a sudden inrush of water. Except for Edwin Booth, who was trapped by flood water about 300 yards (274 metres) from the bottom of the shaft, all the men working underground escaped. Many had made their way along roadways where the water was four feet deep to the bottom of the shaft.  They were brought up in the cage. Other miners scrambled up a footrail to reach the surface.

When he realised that Edwin was missing Pailing Baker, the manager, called for volunteers to go back into the mine to rescue him. Five men, including Harry, volunteered. Led by Pailing, they entered the mine through the footrail. Making their way along a roadway, the volunteers reached a ventilation door which was holding back the flood water. Fearing for their lives, four of the men refused to open it. They returned to the surface while Pailing and Harry stayed by the door.

When the two men slowly opened the door, the water behind it fell slightly.

Although they realised that they could be drowned by the water which was still pouring into the mine, Pailing and Harry risked their lives by wading in semi-darkness through swirling black flood water. They found Edwin trapped in a low roofed, narrow roadway. Struggling against chest high, fast flowing water, Pailing and Harry again risked death to guide him to the bottom of the shaft where a cage took all three of them to the surface.

PAILING AND HARRY AWARDED THE EDWARD MEDAL

Six months later, on August 23rd, 1924, Buckingham Palace announced that King George V had awarded Pailing and Harry the Edward Medal for “exceptional courage and resolution”. Before going to London to receive their medals from the King, they were honoured locally.

At a ceremony in the Victoria Hall, Kidsgrove, they were presented with certificates acknowledging their bravery by the Daily Herald, a popular national newspaper. During the ceremony, the Carnegie Trust announced that it had agreed to pay Harry’s tuition fees at the North Staffordshire Technical College giving him the opportunity to continue his studies and become a mining engineer.

Instituted by King Edward VII in 1907, the Edward Medal was the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Designed by W. Reynolds-Stephens, the medal had the sovereign’s profile on the obverse, while the reverse depicting a miner rescuing a stricken colleague, was inscribed with the words “For Courage”.

HARRY EXCHANGES HIS MEDAL FOR THE GEORGE CROSS

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the prime minister, Winston Churchill, persuaded King George VI to institute the George Cross “for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger”.

The George Cross gradually replaced the Edward Medal which was only awarded posthumously after 1949. During 1971, the Queen invited the 68 surviving holders of the Edward Medal to exchange it for the George Cross. Harry accepted the invitation, and until his death in 1986, he regularly attended the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association’s reunions at Buckingham Palace.

Please contact Spotlight on North Staffordshire at spotlightstoke@talktalk.net to tell us about other miners working in local collieries who were given awards for risking their lives to rescue a comrade trapped underground.