An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 85 (of 87 parts) - History of  Lea Green Colliery (1870s - 1964)

An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 85 (of 87) - Lea Green Colliery (1870s - 1964)
An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
Lea Green Colliery
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVI
James Radley
James Radley
Lea Green Colliery in Lowfield Lane, St.Helens extracted high quality coal for over ninety years until its closure in 1964. It benefited considerably from its close proximity to the Liverpool to Manchester railway and was inextricably linked to the nearby Sutton Heath colliery. As with all pits, a considerable price was paid for its 'black gold', with many men and boys losing their lives or being seriously injured.

The first shafts at Lea Green Colli
ery were sunk by James Radley in the early to mid 1870s, first appearing in the Mines Lists for 1877. However this was not the first coal mining in the district as the Eltonhead family had extracted coal as far back as the 16th century. The Ordnance Survey map of 1849 shows Elton Head Colliery adjacent to the Liverpool to Manchester railway line in Lea Green, with a number of disused coal shafts also marked. It’s quite likely that Radley’s new coal mine reused at least one of the old Elton Head shafts.

James Radley also owned Nutgrove and Thatto Heath collieries (which first appeared in the Mines Lists in 1867 and 1874 respectively), as well as the Sutton Heath Colliery. This was situated on the corner of Elton Head Road (then known as Mill Lane) and Sutton Heath Road and was first referenced in 1867. Two years later Radley was made the fourth mayor of St.Helens and served three successive terms. In 1876 he opened the new Town Hall and presented a large gold chain of office to St.Helens Corporation, as well as a clock which was placed in the Parish Church's tower. Radley was also a benefactor of St. Johns Church, Ravenhead and his generosity is acknowledged via an inscription on a chancel screen within the church.

Sutton Heath and Lea Green Collieries

James Radley regularly advertised

Sutton Heath and Lea Green Collieries
James Radley regularly advertised in local newspapers
The only confirmed loco that James Radley was known to purchase was a six-coupled saddle tank which he named Fanny after his wife. This was acquired in 1876 from Vulcan Foundry of Newton-le-Willows. In 1881 the coal boss took a ten year lease on Sherdley Hall and died there on March 28th 1885 at the age of 75. The colliery was already linked to the Sherdley Estate, owned by the Hughes family, as their extensive estate included land in Lea Green and its mining rights were leased to Radley. His butler at Sherdley, incidentally, had been Henry Short, who later ran the Commercial Hotel in Rainhill and also catered for dinner parties and balls. Radley’s widow, Fanny Prescott Radley, ran Lea Green Colliery for a few years after her husband's death, before creating the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Co. Ltd. This was registered on June 28th 1890 and had a capital of £100,000, with the Radley family retaining a controlling interest. William Moore Campbell was appointed managing director with an initial salary of £500 per annum, plus 5% of net profits.

Dozens of men and boys lost their lives at Lea Green in a variety of different ways. In January 1886,
George Parr, colliery 'hooker-on', died after being struck on the head by a bolt that was dropped down the shaft. Twelve months later 53-years-old William Lunt was instantly killed by stones from a blast after lighting a fuse. He was profoundly deaf and thought his 'shot' or blasting cartridge had already gone off and so returned to the spot prematurely. The Liverpool Mercury said Lunt's body was 'fearfully mutilated'.

On May 4th 1888, three men were killed and three others injured as a result of an explosion in Lea Green's Potato Delph mine. The dead were 26-years-old
William Lunt (probably nephew of above), 49-years-old Christopher Tharratt, who took 9 months to expire, and Matthew Mercer, who died 10 months after the explosion. The injured included William's father Thomas and his brother John. The blast was caused by using naked candles down the pit as the law then only required the use of safety lamps if gas was known to be present. The colliery managers had previously been advised by Henry Hall, Inspector of Mines, to always use safety lamps but had ignored his advice.

In the twelve months ending April 1889, a total of 220,000 tons of coal were produced at Lea Green and more sidings were approved in July of that year. In September 1890, 14-years-old pony driver,
Thomas Hitchen, was crushed to death as a result of driving a 'journey' of wagons too fast, something boys often did. The young lad of 680 Mill Lane, Sutton Heath, was the son of the underlooker (mine official), also called Thomas Hitchen, who ran to his son's assistance but found him dead. In April 1892, 21-years-old St.Helens rugby player James Rennie, a waggoner of 25 Chester Lane, was crushed by a large stone in Potato Delph pit and broke his back, dying one week later in hospital. Then in May 1892, 71-years-old Peter Platt was crushed to death after crossing between wagons when shunting suddenly resumed. Platt didn't apparently hear the engine driver's whistle.

The creation of the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Co. Ltd. led to new investment at Lea Green and by 1892 the sinking of the new Queen and King pits was well underway. On the surface new colliery buildings were created and the railway layout was enlarged. In 1893 contractor
Isaiah Piggott was commissioned to build an upcast and downcast shaft for the King mine and on March 30th sinker George Atkinson had a dramatic escape from death. The young man had rammed four 'shots' into the solid rock at the bottom of one shaft. Atkinson lit their fuses and he and his assistant quickly climbed into a large iron bucket, known as a 'hoppet'. A signal was given to the engineman on the surface to bring the hoppet up and an acknowledgement was received. But to the men's horror, the bucket failed to budge. They were only feet away from the shots, which were set to explode within seconds. So Atkinson leapt out of the hoppet to extinguish the fuses and managed to cut one of them. Before the chargeman could cut the others, the hoppet began to ascend and he instinctively dashed towards it, grabbing hold of an outside edge with both hands. With his body hanging down from the hoppet, Atkinson was hauled 250 feet to the surface. The three charges exploded moments after the pair had lifted off but neither men were hurt. Just what the sinker from Boundary Road in St.Helens said to the engineman isn't, however, recorded!

Letterhead of the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Company, which was used in an 1921 letter

Letterhead of the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Company

The letterhead of the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Company

In June 1893, 44-years-old collier James Roscoe, of 160 Elephant Lane, was killed through a fall of stones and dirt from the pit roof. "His head was badly smashed...death being instantaneous", wrote the Liverpool Mercury (10/6/1893). On October 14th 1893 at 4am, 37-years-old pit sinker Evan Jones, of 22 Junction Lane in Sutton, was killed and seven other mineworkers "dreadfully burned about their heads and arms". The accident was caused by a naked candle falling from the side of the new shaft that they were sinking, which ignited an accumulation of gas. The coroner's jury at Jones's inquest returned a verdict of accidental death but made four critical comments of the pit sinking operations. These included their belief that two of the chargemen were not competent and that the safety rules under the Mines Act of 1887 had not been implemented.

This led to Henry Hall, Inspector of Mines, bringing proceedings against the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Co. for not having sufficient ventilation and failing to use safety lamps. Amazingly the manager at Lea Green,
Thomas Pennington, claimed in court on January 8th 1894 that he was unaware that he had responsibility for shafts under construction. Sinker Richard Croan gave evidence to the six hour hearing that gas had been found in the shaft before the explosion. Asked whether the man in charge of the gang was not required to report the presence of gas, Croan replied that he would have been sacked if he had. However the prosecution failed, with the magistrates clearing the company and the manager of one charge and the second charge was withdrawn.

It was quite common for fathers and their sons to work together down the pit. In February 1894, 49-years-old
Robert Hill of Cairne Street was working with his young son James in the Main Delph Mine of Lea Green when a quantity of cannel coal fell from the roof, burying him alive. Hill had been warned by fireman William Houghton to use more props but had failed to do so. In July 1894 Edward Birchall of Brown Edge was killed and his son Thomas injured by a large stone 12 feet long and 5 feet thick which detached itself from the side of their workplace.

The three headgears of Lea Green Colliery in Lowfield Lane, St.Helens; L - R Old pit, King pit and Queen pit

Three headgears of Lea Green Colliery; L - R Old pit, King pit and Queen pit

Lea Green Colliery’s three headgears

On March 16th 1895, an extensive fire occurred on the surface at Lea Green. In those days getting the horse-driven fire brigade from St.Helens Town Hall to your burning premises was a slow business. When Superintendent Yelland arrived with a body of firemen, steamer, hose reel and carriage, the flames were visible for miles around. However their efforts at stopping the burning staging, engine house and wooden gangway from spreading to the headgear of the pit shafts were, as the Liverpool Mercury put it, 'crowned with success'. The colliery reservoir provided a good source of water and they managed to extinguish the fire within two hours.

In September 1895 fireman
Peter Malone of Mill Lane, Sutton Heath, was killed and two men injured by a blast after fireman Timothy Foster of 32 East Street had lit a fuse without checking sufficiently for the presence of gas. Then in May 1896, William Jones slipped backwards while lifting a box onto rails and his arm became trapped. He ruptured muscles and died a week later from inflammation of the heart. The numbers of boys who were killed or injured was especially tragic. In July 1896, 16-years-old pony boy George Stott died while leading a pony that was pulling three full coal wagons. George fell and the first wagon passed over him and he was instantly killed.

On April 10th 1896, the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Co. were prosecuted for having an unjust weighing machine. The miners were paid piece-meal and so the coal coming out of Lea Green had to be weighed. Tests by
Police Sergeant Kerrigan had revealed that the machine was 28 lbs. out of balance, although it was in favour of the men. Defence solicitor J. O. Swift argued that the company had only defrauded itself and so the charge was dismissed. One of the magistrates was miners' agent Thomas Glover and there was laughter in court when he quipped that there should be more machines like it.

Manager Joe Robinson's signature on John Cunliffe's fireman certificate in Queen Pit at Lea Green Colliery

Manager Joe Robinson's signature on John Cunliffe's fireman certificate

John Cunliffe's fireman certificate

There seemed to be a problem at Lea Green with firemen not carrying out basic safety checks when preparing to detonate explosives. In December 1896, metalman Sydney Burrows, who lived in Lowfield Lane, was blown up and killed after a fireman had set off a charge without first checking that the area was clear. 'His body was terribly mangled', wrote the Liverpool Mercury. The jury at Burrows' inquest censured firemen William Spencer and Joseph Edwards for negligence and called for shot-lighters and firemen to be issued with printed instructions when they began work. This was made a legal requirement in the Mines Act of 1911, as can be seen by the above fireman's certificate.

Roof falls were common underground, often caused by insufficient propping. In January 1897, 50-years-old
Thomas Havey was buried alive at Lea Green's King pit while repairing a roof. The Liverpool Mercury wrote that '10 tons of rubbish' fell on him. Then in March 1897, Thomas Isherwood of Jubilee Cottages, Clock Face Road, was badly injured by a roof fall but took two years to die.

Two 14-years-old boys were badly injured during 1897 in separate accidents. In June 14-years-old pony boy
John Herbert Gamble fell under wagons and the wheels fractured his right thigh and jaw. Then in August Joseph Brown of Ellison's Square, Thatto Heath, was knocked down by a box of coal and received a severe head wound. In February 1898, 22-years-old labourer Jesse Dingsdale fell 160 yards down the shaft and was instantly killed.

Steam locomotive 'Haig' pictured at Lea Green Colliery on June 6th 1959

Steam locomotive 'Haig' at Lea Green Colliery on June 6th 1959

Haig at Lea Green Colliery in 1959

Surface workers also suffered accidents, sometimes through carelessness. In May 1898, weighing clerk Charles Atwell was killed by a wagon when crossing the colliery railway line. He'd crawled under a standing wagon to get to a weighing box and was run over. On April 28th 1899, his father Alexander Atwell sued the London & North-Western Railway Company for damages for his loss of Charles. However the jury at Liverpool Assizes decided that there had been no negligence on behalf of the railway company. Atwell probably sued the wrong firm, as the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Co. were more likely to have been liable for wagons in their sidings.

In 1897 the
Workmen's Compensation Act was introduced, updating an 1880 Act that awarded up to three years wages to workers or their families who were injured or killed through their employer's negligence. Lord Salisbury's government passed the new Act, which automatically granted damages upon application to a County Court, without the need to prove negligence. However, there were so many accidents at that time that colliery owners were concerned at their financial exposure. In June 1900 the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Co. refused to pay a compensation award to a collier called John Moore who, during the previous February, had fractured his right foot in an accident. In court they claimed a technicality, arguing that Moore had been employed at Lea Green by a contractor and not directly by the colliery itself. They also said that he'd worked for the contractor called Hankey for less than two weeks, so didn't come under the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Act. In fact he was injured on his first day with Hankey but had much previous experience of working at the colliery. The judge dismissed their argument and awarded Moore 13s. 6d. per week compensation.

Employing contractors was a widescale practice and simply meant that the colliery paid one individual for the work involved in extracting the coal. He was employed on piecework and would hire one or two assistants - often his own sons - to help fulfil his contract. The contractor, or hewer, usually hewed the coal from the face himself and his staff - known as drawers or waggoners - would transport the coal to the foot of the pit shaft. At each fortnightly 'reckoning', the colliery paid the contractor for the recovered coal and then he in turn paid his assistants.

One of the youngest boys to die at Lea Green Colliery was
William Lea of 113 Nutgrove Road, Thatto Heath who was only 13 when killed in October 1900. The lad was regulating the running of boxes up and down the brow when he was struck by a steel rope and died of a fractured skull. William had only worked there for five weeks and had told his father that he had a "nice job". A second 13-years-old, John Thomas Roberts, was killed in November 1901 when a coal box came down a brow and struck him.

At a court case on April 7th 1902, it was revealed that there had been extensive pilfering of coal from the colliery sidings. Over £100 worth had been stolen during the previous 12 months and contractor
Charles Glen was fined 20s. at St.Helens Police Court for helping himself to coal.

Steam locomotive 'King' pictured at Lea Green Colliery in 1964 with pit headgears in the background

Steam locomotive 'King' pictured at Lea Green Colliery in 1964

King at Lea Green Colliery in 1964

In May 1902, 39-years-old stoker James Stephens died after being severely scalded from steam which had escaped from a burst boiler pipe. At his inquest the coroner was scathing of engineer Henry Rainford and other colliery officials for not checking the blow-off pipe. Although the safety rules recommended that pipes be examined once a year, Rainford admitted having never read the rules. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, adding that if a competent person had been appointed to periodically check the blow-off pipe, the accident would not have happened. Then in January 1904, James Edward Ashton of Elephant Lane died in St.Helens Hospital from injuries received at the pit.

On May 10th 1905 the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Co. were back in St. Helens County Court fighting a compensation claim. Two months earlier
Edward Stringfellow had been partly buried under a fall of coal within Lea Green’s King Pit and had injured his back and chest. The company said it was the collier’s own fault as he had disregarded the instructions of a fireman. Amazingly the company had prosecuted the injured man at St.Helens Police Court on the grounds of serious and wilful misconduct, although the magistrates had refused to convict. Now Stringfellow of 22 Silkstone Street was in the County Court, claiming 15 shillings per week compensation. The company denied liability through his alleged misconduct, which they argued was in breach of the Coal Mines Regulation Act. However the deputy-judge, Dr. A. P. Thomas, allowed the award, arguing that Stringfellow’s actions should be viewed as contributory negligence, rather than serious misconduct.

It was clearly a dangerous profession for the miners, who didn't earn very much. However the management did very nicely. When William Moore Campbell,
the company's managing director of Close House in Elephant Lane, died in May 1906 at the age of 71, he left £77,163. In today's money that's over £4 million. On June 1st 1908, a cage accident left eight men injured at Lea Green Colliery, including Hugh Thomas who broke a leg. There were 16 miners who were descending the shaft when the double-decked cage violently struck scaffolding at the bottom, throwing out a number of men. Safety catches prevented their probable death by drowning. Thirty-three-years-old Henry Brown was a well known soccer player and he perished at Lea Green in October 1908 after a fall of earth.

Late in the evening of August 27th 1908, a large fire broke out in old workings at the colliery. Being 700 yards away from the pit 'eye' and 500 yards underground, the fire proved especially difficult to extinguish with water, so chemical fire extinguishers were used. Efforts continued throughout the night and by the morning the fire had been brought under control.

Colliers pictured inside Lea Green Colliery, St.Helens taken during the 1950s

Colliers inside Lea Green Colliery, St.Helens taken during the 1950s

Colliers down Lea Green in the 1950s

In May 1909 Lea Green collier John Owen was jailed for 12 months with hard labour for bigamy. He'd met Emily Kissack in Ramsey, Isle of Man and got her pregnant. The couple married but after the young woman suffered a miscarriage, Owen admitted in a letter to her that he was already married. In fact he had four children and his wife at their Thatto Heath home had intercepted his correspondence.

In September 1909, 50-years-old
Robert Edwards died in St.Helens Hospital after another roof fall. By this time there were three pits at Lea Green colliery which were referred to as 'Old' pit, 'King' pit and 'Queen' pit. The first known death down the latter took place in June 1911 when 23-years-old Peter Robinson was killed by a large piece of rock that fell from the roof. Also during that month three labourers, John Duffy, Joseph Armstrong and 54-years-old Stephen Kelly of 244 Clock Face Road, were killed at Queen pit when going for their dinner. They'd entered a wooden cabin at the pit top, when it toppled over and fell fifteen feet. In August 1911, 23-years-old Jane Houghton of Thatto Heath had an arm amputated after an accident at Lea Green. The 'pit brow lass' was thought to have caught her arm fast in the coal screening belt and didn't, apparently, receive any compensation.

In December 1912, contractor
Thomas Regan was killed when the pit roof fell on him. A similar accident occurred in April 1913 when contractor Peter Kenny of 15 Orville Street in Sutton was killed in King pit by a large stone that fell from the roof. Thomas Green died in October 1913 when two tubs full of coal ran over him. It was thought that the 39-years-old had breached safety regulations and been riding on tubs. After falling, or being knocked off, he was then knocked down and run over. A curious incident occurred on March 28th of 1913 when police were called to Lea Green to deal with a drunken miner at the bottom of a pit shaft. Inspector Jackson and Sergeant Heaton found Patrick Lally very drunk and refusing to go back up. After carrying him into the cage, they eventually got the burly Lally to the surface, although it took several hours. Three days later he was fined 40s. at St.Helens Police Court.

A particularly tragic event occurred on March 6th 1914 when the the body of Lea Green miner
Aaron Collier was found in the St.Helens Canal. His inquest was held just hours later and a suicide note - that Aaron had left on top of a sugar basin on the breakfast table - was read out. It was addressed to his wife and said: "Dear Annie, I bid you and the children all goodbye, for I am no use in the world after what I have been through, enough of trouble with my health, and I think it is time I left this earth, so goodbye and love to all my friends, and Mr. Gordon, and Mr. Lovett". The latter were the curate and vicar, respectively, of St.Mark's church. Collier had suffered head pains as a result of an accident that had occurred when he was employed at Sutton Heath Colliery and was very depressed.

A remarkable numbers of mineworkers from the Lea Green and Sutton Heath collieries responded to the appeal for volunteers from
Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War. By mid-September 1914 the miners' unions estimated that almost 500 had signed up and more would follow. With many young miners in France, older workers took on a greater role at Lea Green and a number suffered accidents. In January 1915, 63-years-old Thomas Tinlin of Heath Street died after a roof fall and in October of that year, 60-years-old William Hamilton, of 137 Watery Lane, died after suffering severe internal injuries. In April 1916, 61-years-old Henry France suffered a brain seizure and was run over and killed by coal boxes. Henry had been a survivor of the explosion of October 1893, having been badly burnt. Then in September 1916, 55-years-old Thomas Pennington was killed by yet another roof fall. At the end of October in that year, 65-years-old James Ashton of 17 Elephant Lane fell off a scaffold and fractured his shoulder and collarbone. It was probably his son who had been killed in the colliery 12 years earlier.

Royal Humane Society Silver and Bronze Medals
Royal Humane Society Medals
The manager of the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Company at this time was James Robinson of Hawarden Villa in Prescot Road, St.Helens and he was made a JP in November 1916. In December 1916, 44-years-old Joseph Halsall of Sunbury Street, Thatto Heath, died in hospital after his thigh had been broken. On May 23rd 1918, 57-years-old fireman William Griffiths of 166 Elephant Lane was fatally gassed in King pit at Lea Green. He had ventured into an area that had been fenced off as dangerous to see whether the roof had fallen in. Isaac Kay searched for Griffiths and in attempting to bring him to safety, was overcome by the gas and collapsed. Kay spent over an hour in the gas but was rescued by his colleagues and he recovered. Respirators had to be used to recover Griffiths' body. In October, Isaac Kay was awarded a silver medal by the Royal Humane Society and bronze medals were awarded to Ellis Jones, James Ford, Richard Davies, Joseph Scragg and William Davies. It was said that they had all shown 'great pluck and perseverance' in their rescue efforts. During the same month, 35-years-old John Macdonald from Gertrude Street, Thatto Heath died from a spine injury.

In April 1920 it was decided to reconstruct the parent company, so Sutton Heath & Lea Green Collieries Company Ltd. was wound up and replaced with a new company with an almost identical name, Sutton Heath & Lea Green Company Ltd. In their prospectus it was stated that the firm's average profit during the past seven years had been £89,309 p.a., about £2 million in today's money. As well as owning Lea Green, Sutton Heath and Sherdley collieries, the company also held £90,000 in shares in Sutton Manor Collieries Ltd. Profitable brickworks at Roughdales and Sutton Heath boosted their balance sheet. Their pits produced a combined 600,000 tons of coal per year and prior to the war years, their brickworks were generating 14.7m bricks per annum, with the intention of raising output to 25 million bricks p.a. Lea Green Colliery was the company's most important asset, possessing three of their five winding shafts. Mining valuers
A. H. Leech of Wigan estimated that the company's pits had a life expectancy of 42½ years, which was a pretty accurate prediction for Lea Green.

Lea Green Colliery buildings in the 1920s
Colliery buildings during the 1920s
On December 15th 1923, fourteen mineworkers, mainly boys, were taken to St.Helens Hospital after a pit cage that was being lowered in Queen pit overshot. The triple-deck cage held 30 miners and it was those on the bottom deck that suffered the impact most as the cage fell to the bottom of the shaft. The accident was caused by the winder turning a lever the wrong way and applying more steam. Fourteen-years-old Benjamin Saunders fractured his thigh. At the end of January 1924, 51-years-old Thomas Platt of Leslie Road, Thatto Heath was killed by a fall of earth while repairing an airway. His workmate John Scott was buried for three hours before being rescued.

On January 4th 1926 Fred Hoyt – whose job was to run tubs in and out of pit cages at the bottom of the shaft – had a remarkable escape from death at Lea Green. The young man, who lived in Derby Cottages, Rainhill, was in the cage removing a box when the cage suddenly started to ascend. Not being fastened for the journey, the cage began swinging violently and repeatedly struck the walls of the shaft, with the subsequent friction causing sparks and flames. Hoyt was hurled from side to side and when about halfway up the shaft, the cage struck the other cage travelling downwards and he was thrown out. Young Fred had the presence of mind to grip first the bell wire and then one of four guide rods that were set at each corner of the shaft in order to steady the cage. Clinging to the rod with his hands and gripping it with his legs, Hoyt slowly slid down until he was back at the shaft bottom. “It was a miracle”, he told a journalist from his hospital bed, where he’d been taken after being found unconscious. Four month later, 22-years-old Robert Prescott died at Lea Green after his head was crushed between a haulage rope and a wheel and in March 1928, 62-years-old Lewis C. Green lost his life after being crushed between wagons.

In Charles Forman's Industrial Town - Self Portrait of St Helens in the 1920s, a former miner recalled what life was like at Lea Green Colliery. He described how those seeking work had to line up for the manager and doff their caps. Woe betided those who failed to remove them! Another miner who had also worked at Ravenhead colliery commented how conditions were better at Lea Green because their miners 'used to make a din about everything'. They were even paid a shilling a day extra when having to work underground in wet conditions. An unnamed 'pit brow lass', who cleaned the coal of dirt, described to Forman how Lea Green employed five belts. One sorted the coal from King pit, another from the Queen pit (which she said had been the best coal), one from the old pit and the fourth was called 'normal'. The fifth belt was used for the slack that had been sieved out.

On April 8th 1931 promising rugby league player
Robert Smith was killed by a runaway box of coal down Lea Green Colliery. The 23-year-old from Fir Street, Thatto Heath, played for Pemberton club Wigan Highfield. Although an 'A' team player, he was well thought of and on the brink of making it into the first team. After Smith had left for work for the final time, a telegram arrived at his home to inform him that he was first reserve for Wigan Highfield's senior team game again Oldham on the following Saturday. A different type of tragedy occurred on a late Spring day in 1932 when 31-year-old Ralph Barber of Tennyson Street, Sutton Manor and 16-year-old Joseph Stanley from Chester Lane both drowned in one of Lea Green Colliery's reservoirs. You can read full details here.

During February 1932 the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Co. placed a contract with colliery engineers Simon-Carves Ltd. of Cheadle Heath for a new 80-ton-per-hour coal washery. During the depression years of the 1930s, the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Co.'s profits suffered, making only £13,574 in the year ending March 31st 1933. For most of the decade profits averaged about £35,000, which was much less than during the war years and the 1920s. Perhaps it was for reasons of economy that in December 1935 the firm closed its four Liverpool depots and transferred its head office to Roughdales. In June 1939 the directors of the company recommended a dividend payment of 3 per cent on its ordinary shares, its first for 12 years. Improved selling prices for coal, through the operation of a Central Selling scheme, was mainly responsible for the company’s better fortune.

The Lea Green Colliery Pithead Baths clean entrance, locker room and water storage tower

Colliery pithead baths clean entrance, locker room and water storage tower

The Lea Green Colliery pithead baths

On May 20th 1939 William Foster, vice-president of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation, opened the new pit head baths at Lea Green. The development - which included a canteen and bike shed - cost £27,000 and accommodated 1728 male and 52 female workers. The baths building was described as being two storey in 'reinforced concrete beam and pier construction faced in rustic bricks'.

In the early hours of May 27th 1939, a large stone fell without warning from the roof of the Yard mine grazing the back of
James Hill and pinning Richard Clayton to the ground. This caused the 53-year-old, from Freda Avenue in Sutton, serious injuries from which he died in St.Helens Hospital on the following day. A similar accident occurred in August of that year in Queen Pit when a stone measuring 5 ft. by 1ft. 8 inches crushed 60-year-old James (or John) Conlon of Raglan Street. It was stated at his inquest that although there were two props under the stone, a beam placed across the roof would likely have prevented the tragedy.

During the bad winter of 1940 Lea Green miners tunnelled deep through snow to rescue the passengers of a train who were buried deep in a snowdrift. On July 1st 1941 ‘bogy’ trucks carrying a number of men at the colliery ran backwards, leading to twenty of them having to be treated for minor injuries. The Daily Mirror reported on July 11th 1942 how clerks at Lea Green and Sutton Heath collieries were refusing to work overtime to implement a new miners’ pay award. They were annoyed at not being included in the wage increase, so wouldn’t calculate the men’s back pay. An official of the Colliery Officials’ Association pleaded with them to complete their work but they refused. During the following month haulage hand
John Fenney of Clock Face Road died from injuries received at Lea Green.

In January 1943 the Sutton Heath & Lea Green Co. decided to close Sherdley Colliery and transfer their workers to Queen pit at Lea Green. This was enormously unpopular with the men, who were convinced that there was much life left in their pit. The war-time fuel shortages meant it would be unpatriotic for the Sherdley miners to make a stand, so they reluctantly accepted the advice of their agent
Edwin (Teddy) Hall and agreed to make the move. However their resentment continued for some time after arriving at Lea Green, which made industrial relations difficult. The transfer began on February 8th and took place in batches over several months. It involved a total of 500 miners, as well as a number of women and girls who worked on the screens.

On August 23rd 1943 eight young mineworkers at Lea Green Colliery appeared in court charged with a range of offences, mainly connected with not observing safety regulations underground.
Albert Parry of Sutton Heath Road was also charged with behaving in a violent manner in a mine. The problems started when Parry refused to work on a haulage job, from which two men were absent sick. So the 21-year-old walked off and seven other haulage hands left with him. These included Wilf Etchells of Tennyson Street, John Fay and John Prescott, both of Sandon Street, and Fred Conway of Gladstone Street. Instead of walking on the proper travelling road, the group used the motion brow, and when fireman Ned Brown ordered them back, Parry was alleged to have knocked him down. In court the colliery company described the men’s actions as anarchy, although Parry denied striking the fireman. The magistrates fined all the men £3 each and a guinea costs for breach of the travelling regulations, but dismissed the violent behaviour charge against Parry. Three of the men said they could not pay their fine and would take the alternative of 28 days. The clerk told them to think it over and said they would be given time to pay.

There are few reports of accidents during this period, although in mid-March 1943 sixteen-year-old machine attendant
William Hayes of Sutton Heath Road was killed in the King pit. Then on March 21st Thomas Taylor, a 46-year-old colliery contractor from Longton’s Lane in Rainhill, died as a result of a stone falling from the pit roof. A further fatal accident occurred on July 7th 1944 when Henry Topping was killed at Lea Green after riding on a truck down the pit, which was contrary to regulations. Coroner Bolton said at Topping’s inquest: “It is a most unfortunate accident which should never have occurred. It seems a case of familiarity with danger breeds contempt.” Industrial action did briefly take place at Lea Green Colliery during the war years. However it was over pay and took place at the end of January 1944, as part of a wider dispute in the Lancashire coalfield.

Another unusual court case took place on May 12th 1944 when three Lea Green Colliery haulage hands were accused of interfering with King Pit’s signalling system. It was revealed that on April 15th someone had deliberately short-circuited the bell signalling service, causing the ‘Stop’ bells to ring continuously. Forty-three men were unable to work for two hours and 50 tons of coal was lost. On the Saturday night it was alleged that 17-year-old
Robert Twist had said to a youth named Birkett: “How did you like our bit of sabotage?” He then went on to explain how they had fastened wires to the signalling bells and hid the joins. Twist was fined £10, as were co-conspirators John Gallagher (19) of Sandon Street and Harry Johnson (17) of Oppenheim Avenue.

Left: Another view of the pithead baths and canteen; Right: Loco 'No 6' at Lea Green Colliery in 1962

Left: Pithead baths and canteen; Right: Loco 'No 6' at Lea Green in 1962

Loco 'No 6' at Lea Green in 1962

The manager at Lea Green during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s was Joseph (Joe) Robinson. On May 18th 1938 he was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when the Royal couple briefly visited St.Helens as part of a tour of Lancashire. Joe was succeeded as manager by his son Richard (Dickie) Robinson, who lived at Sherdleigh in Prescot Road. On a routine inspection tour down Queen pit on January 15th 1943 with under-manager A. E. Taylor, two runaway coal tubs struck Dickie and the 37-year-old died from his injuries on the following day. Within days of his death, news came through that his brother Raymond – who was in the Intelligence Corps – had been killed in action. Robinson was succeeded as manager by Mr. Grimes, who worked until his retirement and then he was replaced by Mr. McCracken, who transferred from Sutton Manor Colliery. As well as an overall manager, each pit had an undermanager. During this period, Dan Bradbury ran King pit and the aforementioned A. E. Taylor, and then Harry Foxley, were responsible for Queen pit. There was also Percy Hughes, who was tragically killed in a mining accident.

William Leyland was killed by a massive roof fall in Lea Green Colliery - Contributed by Mike Molloy

William Leyland was killed by a massive roof fall in Lea Green Colliery

William Leyland was killed by a roof fall

On January 3rd 1945 a serious fire broke out underground at Lea Green in the Little Delph mine. This was a 'dead' mine where coal had long stopped being extracted. The area was initially sealed off with sandbags and specially-equipped teams worked 1½ miles underground to extinguish the blaze. It took five days before mining operations in an adjacent district could resume. A further reminder of the danger of mining even when proper precautions were taken occurred on March 16th 1950. This was when William Leyland of Marsden Ave (off Rivington Road, St Helens), lost his life at Lea Green through a massive roof fall. The 59-years-old daywageman was working with two other men packing a roof underground and fitting an electric cable. The roof was very well supported and the fireman made regular inspections of the work. Suddenly a splintering of the timber props was heard and between 200 to 300 tons of dirt collapsed from the roof. Leyland took the full force and although rescuers were quickly on the scene, it took until the following morning before his body could be recovered. Miners’ agent Charles Tyrer told the inquest at St Helens Town Hall that this was a case where Mother Nature had defeated experienced men. Other witnesses confirmed that everything had been done that could have been done and no blame was attached to the men or the colliery company.

Lea Green miner and Manchester United player Bill Foulkes on the Isle of Man - Contributed by Tom Griffin

Lea Green miner & Manchester United player Bill Foulkes on the Isle of Man

Lea Green Colliery miner and Manchester United player Bill Foulkes

The most famous miner at Lea Green was no doubt footballer Bill Foulkes, who was a Busby Babe at Manchester United. Bill, who survived unscathed from the Munich air disaster of 1958, worked down Queen pit during the late 1940s. The above photo was taken at the Douglas holiday camp on the Isle of Man in July 1949 when the teenager holidayed with a gang of Lea Green colleagues. He was then living in Booth Street in Nutgrove and already playing for Man Utd. but only on a part time deal. As national service was still required, Bill had to serve two years in the army after leaving the mines.

After WW2 there was a shortage of manpower in the pits, partly because the war-time 'Bevin boys' were returning to normal life. A particular emphasis was placed on recruiting school-leavers for a career in the mines. These were seen as a better long-term investment than employing inexperienced adults who might soon quit for other jobs. So Lea Green Colliery created a training centre for juveniles in their 'old pit’ 400 feet below ground. It was in a part of the mine that hadn’t been worked for 40 years and there the boys learnt face work and haulage. The Manchester Guardian of September 10th 1948 described the centre as a well-lit place which was a ‘model of efficiency in which diminutive lads with treble voices display a good deal of enthusiasm’. The boys ranged from 15½ to 17½ years and they each spent 16 weeks training at the centre and at St.Helens Technical College. The lads at the latter studied coal mining and stripped down colliery machinery. They also worked out in the gymnasium in order to develop the muscles that would be most useful for them in their work. After graduating from the centre, they would be dispersed to one of 10 pits in the area. Mineworkers who wanted to work on the coal face could also make use of the old pit. They would team up with an experienced face worker who would show him the ropes. After the training was completed, the miner could progress to Queen or King pit and earn more money.

During 1949 adverts featuring Lea Green staff were placed in many newspapers by the Ministry of Labour and National Service

Recruitment advertisements from 1949 featuring Lea Green miners

1949 recruitment advert featuring Roy Hopwood of Lea Green Colliery

In 1949 the National Coal Board (NCB) undertook a newspaper recruitment campaign with workers at Lea Green appearing in many newspaper adverts. These were run in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and National Service and included 18-years-old Roy Hopwood, Peter Travis and John Housley, who was part of the management team in Queen pit. On November 25th 1950 the colliery had a special visitor when Philip Noel-Baker, Minister for Fuel and Power, made an underground tour. He told the press that unless more coal was extracted 'the situation of the country will be very serious in the early future.' Noel-Baker was a quite remarkable man who’d won a silver medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. A renowned campaigner for disarmament, nine years after inspecting Lea Green, the politician, diplomat and academic was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On September 16th 1951 several hundred piecework men at Lea Green returned to normal working after settling a dispute. They’d been on a ‘go slow’ for six weeks after demanding extra money for working on a coal face that was only 2 feet 8 inches in height. The average height of the coal faces in the St.Helens district was then between 3 feet and 4½ feet. The hewers were receiving 2s. 3d. per ton but said this had been for a yard seam and the seam they were now working on was much harder to work.

In 1953 a new locomotive shed was opened in the sidings at Lea Green, alongside the main railway line. This replaced the shed at Sutton Heath which had continued to be used, despite the closure in 1932 of Sutton Heath Colliery. This was because the brickworks at the rear of the colliery offices required a railway link, so the branch line to Sutton Heath was retained. On January 1st 1961 Lea Green became part of the NCB's West Lancashire Area, having previously been in the No. 3 (St Helens) Area of the North Western Division after nationalisation.

On June 6th 1962, The Times (of London) reported how police were searching for 'wreckers' who had released the brakes of two wagons loaded with coal as they were standing in Lea Green Colliery's sidings. The wagons rolled down an incline, smashed through a set of buffers and ended up straddled across the main line, just minutes before the Liverpool to Manchester express was due. The quick work of a signalman, who spotted the wagons and halted trains, averted a potential disaster and heavy duty cranes were brought in to clear the line. This kind of vandalism happened from time to time as youths looked for a cheap thrill, not realising the possible consequences of their actions.
The above photograph was taken in 1959 and looks north east towards Lea Green with the colliery headgear, chimney and flattened dirt tip on the left, and an LMS loco no. 46132 approaching on the Liverpool line. The picture was taken from the overhead pedestrian bridge about 1400 yards west of Rainhill station. On the left can be seen the line leading into the overgrown three tracks of the Rainhill sidings that led down and into the colliery line complex. It also led back onto the main line, just before Lea Green station. In the early 1900s, the left hand line was identified as a 'mineral railway track', and part of its use was probably the connection through the colliery complex, up to and across Eltonhead Road, into the Sutton Heath Colliery complex opposite the Boars Head Hotel and then down to the clay pits of Sutton Heath Brickworks, situated behind Elephant Lane. The other two lines of the sidings in those busy years up to about 1950, would be used to marshal coal wagons from around the district - as well as general goods from factories in Rainhill, Whiston etc. - all with connecting lines. Such marshalling activities were carefully controlled by the signal boxes at Lea Green and Rainhill stations.

Steam locomotive 'Bellerophon' pictured at Lea Green Colliery during the 1960s<

Steam locomotive 'Bellerophon' at Lea Green Colliery during the 1960s

Bellerophon at Lea Green Colliery

Of the steam locos used at Lea Green, the most remembered is probably Bellerophon. This was built in 1874 by the Haydock Foundry to the design of Josiah Evans, the son of coal proprietor Richard Evans. Its main service was at the Haydock collieries, including Wood Pit but it was also worked at Lea Green where it fell into neglect. In 1966 the NCB donated Bellerophon to the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and the loco has since been preserved and runs on Foxfield Railway. It's one of the oldest working locomotives in Britain and in 2010 it had a role in the Xmas edition of TV show Cranford.

In August 1962 it was reported that the Coal Board was proposing concentrating work on just one face at Lea Green. This would lead to 270 workers, who would no longer be required, being displaced to other collieries. Delegates at a Lancashire miners' union conference at Bolton on August 18th decided to oppose the move but it still went ahead. Before long the NCB decided to close the whole colliery with production ceasing in September 1964 (possibly August). During that year Lea Green produced 200,000 tons of coal and employed 600 men. The last remaining district on production at Lea Green was within Queen pit. Its under-manager Harry Foxley was reported to have said at the time of closure that the colliery still had a million tons of coal beneath it.

A small industrial estate occupied the site after the demolition of Lea Green Colliery and its sidings, although its locomotive shed and offices remained intact for many years. In 2005 outline planning permission was granted by St.Helens Council for a huge 'urban village development' on the site off Lowfield Lane. Based on an English garden theme, the Waterside Village development is set to feature large tree-lined boulevards, a village green and a series of natural water features.
The build on 30 acres of brownfield land has been partially completed and will eventually see 700 homes and commercial units constructed. Unfortunately it seems that the heritage of the old mining site - which saw dozens of men and boys killed and seriously injured - has been ignored with no remembrance included within the extensive plans and no mining references within the many new street names. However in early 2014, St. Modwen Homes began construction on a site adjacent to Waterside Village of what will eventually total 161 properties. This new development has been called Radley Park and seems to be a nod to the colliery's founder and fourth mayor of St.Helens, James Radley.
Thanks to ex-Lea Green miner Tom Griffin and ex-NCB engineer Harry Hickson for their assistance with this page
Next:  Part 86)  Sherdley Colliery  |  Back To Top of Page
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
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