WATER HAIGH. Leeds, Yorkshire. 7th. May, 1910.

The Water Haigh Mine consisted of four pits which were in the course of being sunk to develop a new mining area. They were at Oulton about five miles south-east of Leeds and were owned by Messrs. Briggs, son and Company, Limited. There were two accidents which occurred in the No.1 shaft which was 20 feet in diameter. The first ten yards were sunk through very treacherous ground where every possible precaution had to be taken with the work and the sides were secured with brickwork and concrete as the work progressed. The strata sunk through consisted of sandstones, shales and fireclays. These were dry during the sinking but later, water ran down the sides of the shaft which introduced a distinct danger as the fireclays absorb water and become much heavier.

At a depth of 69 yards, a cast-iron water ring, 2 feet 6 inches wide had been embedded in hard rock in the shaft and from this to the surface, the shaft was lined with cemented brickwork. In addition, a concrete block, 40 feet square and 31 feet from the surface was formed around the shaft and supported by an iron skeleton rings and hangers backed with timber. At this point it was thought that the difficult part of the shaft had been passed.

At 109 yards sinking operations were stopped and a bricking crib was fixed two yards from the bottom and the permanent brickwork was built on this ring. When the work of lining the shaft started, the length of the shaft supported on the rings was 39 yards. The brickwork was carried on to a height of 13 yards and at the time of the first accident, 26 yards was dependent on the iron skeleton rings. It was necessary to remove the rings as the brickwork progressed and this was being done at the time of the first accident. A heavy scaffold, secured by bolts into the side of the shaft, was fixed below the top of the brickwork. The men stood on this and the building materials were placed on this.

The first accident occurred at 7 a.m. on the 7th. May 1901 when seven men, including a chargeman, W. Hellewell, went down the pit to the scaffold which had been fixed to the top of the brickwork on the previous shift. The scaffold was 19 feet 6 inches in diameter which left three inches between the edge and the side of the shaft. It was secured by eight wrought-iron bolts thrust into the brickwork. Each bolt had a breaking strain of 20 tons. the scaffold was constructed of pitch pine baulks, 8 inches square, and planks 3 inches thick and was firmly bolted and iron bond. It was calculated that it could hold 40 tons with safety.

The men who were standing on the scaffold started to remove a skeleton iron ring and the backing timber so that the brickwork could continue. The rings were about 4 feet 6 inches apart and were 22 feet 6 inches in diameter, 3 inches wide and seven-eighths of an inch thick. They were supported by iron hooks or “hangers”, the last ring was suspended from the water ring 68 yards from the surface.

By 8 a.m. the ring had been removed and the last segment was in the sinkers bucket, ready to be sent to the surface when the chargeman noticed something that made him uneasy and he told W. Macnamara to get the bucket to the surface to bring down the master sinker. When Macnamara was a few yards up the shaft he heard a loud noise followed by the shrieks from the men.

He looked down the shaft and saw that the scaffold was displaced but could not see what had happened. as soon as he reached the surface, he and two other men went down the pit and stopped just above the place where the scaffold had been fixed. The scaffold had disappeared and there was a large cavity in the side of the shaft which had caused a large fall of fireclay and brick. The men realised that something very serious had happened and immediately went to the surface.

George Silkstone, enginewright, and four other men then went right to the bottom of the pit. They thought the scaffold was there though it was buried with rock and wreckage. They saw Patrick McCarthy, one of the sinkers, jammed against the side of the shaft but could not see any of the other men. McCarthy told them that his leg was trapped and they tried to pull him out but failed. They returned to the surface for tools and Silkstone and others again went down to McCarthy but as stones and bricks were falling down the shaft, it was considered that the first priority was to take steps to protect the rescuers and McCarthy.

By this time. Mr. Hodges, the agent, had reached the colliery and took charge of the operations. He inspected the pit and decided to build a temporary scaffold. Mr. Pickering, the Inspector, arrived at the colliery was this was being completed. a descent was made and McCarthy was found to be still alive and every effort was made to release him but waste? had risen to his shoulders and this and the falling material made the rescue attempts to failed. He died from exhaustion in the presence of the rescue parties.

Further risk was considered unnecessary and it was decided to make the shaft secure to recover the bodies of the other victims. This work was completed on the 15th. May, eight days after the accident. It became evident that no human effort could have saved McCarthy’s life. Both his legs were jammed between the scaffold and the sides of the shaft. It took nearly seven hours of skilled work to recover the body. The scaffold weighed about three tons and there was 100 tons of debris on it.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • John McCafferty aged 30 years, sinker
  • Patrick Gill aged 32 years, sinker
  • W.G. Lancaster aged 26 years, sinker
  • W. Hellewell aged 24 years, sinker
  • F. Cooper aged 23 years, sinker
  • Patrick McCarthy aged 27 years sinker

All the men were buried by the debris with the exception of Cooper who was in a cavity under the scaffold. there was no evidence as to exactly what had happened but it was thought that, when the skeleton ring was removed, the chargeman saw some weakens in the shaft and so sent Macnamara to go and get the master sinker. Just as he was raised, a large quantity of fireclay and shale fell from the sides onto the scaffold with the result that the bolts were ripped out. The bolts at the sides held for a moment as the scaffold pivoted on them. Cooper was thrown done the shaft and the other men clung on but wee knocked off by further falls.

The cause of the first slip was a smooth joint in the stratum of fireclay which had not been seen before the accident. The inspector commented on the courage and resource displayed by the colliery officials and workmen in a very trying emergency.

Work continued after the accident until on the 17th November 1901 there was an accident in which one man, James Plean, died from his injuries. As a result of the conduct of the rescuers in these two accidents, His Majesty was pleased to award a number of Edward Medals.


Colliery Guardian, 3rd. June 1910, p.1069.

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

Return to previous page