The gas lit street lamps have been extinguished, workers set off in a morning without a proper breakfast or even a cup of hot tea while the elderly sit around empty fire grates. The reason for this was an acute shortage of coal caused by the miners' lock-out of 1921.
In 1921 the government de-controlled Britain's mining industry, which had come under state control during the Great War. The immediate effect of this was that miners' wages were reduced, a situation that they refused to accept, and as a result they were locked out of employment on the 1 April 1921. On the 28 June 1921, the miners were forced to accept a deal that left them about 20% worse off in real terms than they were in 1914. This ended the three-month long lock out and the miners returned to work. The miners were angry, as they felt betrayed, but they would live to fight another day and that day came in 1926 when the General Strike occurred. Again, after a bitter dispute they were eventually forced back to work with wage reductions and longer hours.
Miners were aware that there were coal outcrops in the sides of the Tame Valley and while they were locked out they used this knowledge to dig drifts into the valley side, especially in the Haughton Green area. The coal procured was then sold to local townsfolk. Miners also felled trees for the same purpose.
In spite if this hardship, some of the richest coal seams of the Lancashire coalfield lay a short distance below the feet of most residents. Denton and Haughton were built on top of coal and below ground there was an immense network of mining galleries. In the past, between 30 and 40 headstocks cast their shadows across the two townships. Commencing at Broomstair, they followed the course of the river Tame downstream through Glass House Fold, Dark Lane (Mill Lane), Haughton Dale (Lower Haughton), Hulme's Wood and into Reddish Vale, to come to an end at Bayley Pool Pit by the southern end of Horse Close Wood. At the centre of this sweep of pits lay Top Pit and Ellis Pit (Denton Colliery) in the hamlet of Burton Nook on Stockport Road. Close by the centre there was Hard Mine Pit, Great Wood Pit, Horse Hole Pit, Albert Pit and Parsonage Pit.
The coal measures, through which the mining galleries had been driven, were laid down during the Carboniferous Period, which lasted from about 360 to 290 million years ago. They were largely formed from tree ferns, tree horsetails and giant club mosses that grew in vast swamplands that dominated the equatorial regions of the earth at that time.
Coal seams were called 'mines' and they were given names. Some of the mines that were worked in Denton and Haughton and surrounding townships and shown in the table below:
|Big (aka Great)*|
|Bradford Four Foot|
|Jet Amber (new)*|
|Jet Amber (old)*|
* Mines known to have been worked in Denton and Haughton.
Seams varied in thickness from as little as 1 foot to around 10 feet but whatever their thickness they were worked, even if it meant that miners had to hew coal while lying full length in suffocating galleries. The most documented seam in the Lancashire Coalfield was probably the Roger Seam.
Denton Library once held the plan of the galleries of the 4ft-thick Roger Mine at Denton Colliery showing how they radiated from the main shaft. On the southern side they stretched as far as the river Tame, where Hulme's Pit stood, and probably beyond. One of the functions of Hulme's Pit was to continuously pump water from Denton Colliery, where it was discharged into the river Tame. This plan shows the shafts, galleries and inclines (or brows, pronounced 'brews') of Roger Mine and coloured inks were used to show the location of specific coal faces. Over the years comments were added to it by mining engineers. The plan is some 24 feet long and it is made of either silk or fine cotton cloth that was waxed to protect it from damage. This important historic resource is now deposited at Tameside Local Studies and Archives.
A few of the comments made on the plan by mining engineers are:
Gradually the pits in Denton and Haughton were closed, either because they became exhausted, flooded or because they were no longer economic to keep open. One of the first to close was probably the old Top Pit in Burton Nook on Stockport Road, which closed on Thursday, 26 April 1849 because all the coal in the Big and Roger Mines there had been removed. The last pits to close were Denton Colliery (Ellis Pit) in Burton Nook, which is recorded as having closed on Saturday, 9 November 1929, and Hulme's Pit probably closed at the same time. The closure of Denton Colliery was brought about for three reasons. Its decline started with the miners' lock-out in 1921 and it never fully recovered from the repercussions of the General Strike in 1926. While it lay idle it flooded because no one was available to maintain it. Also, miners going on shift had to walk considerable distances from the pit shaft along the haulage galleries before they reached the coal faces and coal tubs also had to traverse these distances to be filled or emptied. It is understood that an application for a grant had been made to sink a second shaft closer to the coal faces but this did not materialise.
A local notable who was a miner was William H Marsland of Manor Road, Haughton Green, who was the Chairman of Denton Urban District Council in 1954-55. He recalled how miners would occasionally miss a shift when the weather was fine. He jocularly remarked,
'When we arrived at the pit head we threw our caps in the air. If they stayed up we worked, but if they came down we took the day off.'
Mr Marsland started work on the day of his 14th birthday and he was first employed as a jigger attending the brake of an inclined plane or jig. As a brakeman he was responsible for controlling the raising and lowering of coal tubs over the incline or brow. For this work he was paid 11d per hour. Later he was promoted to taker off and this new job entailed unhooking full coal tubs from the inclined-plane winding rope and attaching empty tubs to the rope. For this work he was paid 1s 1½d per hour.
Denton Library once possessed a certified copy of an indenture dated 1788 (NoteIt is considered that this is a transcription error and the date should be 1798.) by William Hulton, of Hulton Park:
' ---- both grant, demise, lease, set and to form let unto the same John Fletcher, his administrators and executors all and every mine, dels, beds and viens of coal now or hereafter to be found or discovered in any part of the lands or grounds of him, the said William Hulton, situated, lying or being in Denton ----.'
The indenture continued:
'---- dig, delve, bare, search for, sink, sough, get stock, lead, take, carry away, sell and dispose of the same' (that is, coal).
The whereabouts of this important historic resource is now unknown, or even if it still exists.
John Fletcher (1765/66 - 1846) was a nephew of Matthew Fletcher (c.1733 - 24 August 1808), as was Ellis Fletcher Snr (1765 - 1834). Matthew Fletcher was a member of an influential mining family in the Irwell Valley of Lancashire. It is not known whether John and Ellis Fletcher were brothers or cousins. The principal landowner in Denton was the Egerton family (Earls of Wilton) and in the first instance, at an unknown date, they must have leased much of this land to the Hulton family.
William Hulton Snr (1762 - 1800) was a powerful landowner and coal proprietor whose family seat was at Hulton Park, a large estate situated at Over Hulton, south west of Bolton. In addition to land in Denton, he also owned land in nearby Harpurhey. Income was mainly derived from substantial coal-mining interests, which included pits around Hulton Park and West Haughton as well as those in Denton.
In 1867 the pits in Denton were leased to Peter Rothwell, who until then had been the agent of the Fletcher family. In 1872 the Denton Colliery Company was established and Peter Rothwell was the principal shareholder and managing director. He was the Chairman of Denton Local Board of Health in 1866-69. The last managing director of the Denton Colliery Company was a Mr Davies.
The number of coal mines in Denton and Haughton owned by the Fletcher family may never be known but it included the most important and the family was a major employer in the area. They included: Ellis Pit (Denton Colliery), Top Pit, Great Wood Pit, Horse Hole Pit, Hard Mine Pit, Hulme's Pit, Bayley Pool Pit, Albert Pit, Parsonage Pit and Sycamore Pit/Roger Mine Pit.
Acknowledgement and thanks are due to A Etchells.