Memories of Temple Newsam mine
Did you know there used to be an open cast mine on Temple Newsam estate?
We uncover the truth behind the mine and speak to people who are involved with
a campaign to encourage everyone to remember the work of coal miners in Yorkshire.
Photography by John Arnison
Visitors to the beautiful Temple Newsam estate may be surprised to learn that, until relatively recently, the site hosted an open cast mine. Coal has been mined on the estate since the 17th Century and in 1815 a mine shaft was sunk at Thorpe Stapleton. Waterloo Colliery was named after the famous battle of that year. Open cast mining began at Temple Newsam in 1942. The beautiful landscape, designed by Capability Brown, was destroyed. After the pits closed in the 1980s, the parkland was re-landscaped and the mines were forgotten.
That is, until a hardy bunch of ex-miners, led by community curator Helen Pratt, decided to rekindle the memory of the mine. In 2019, the group created a temporary exhibition called “Blot on the Landscape”. They continue to campaign to have the work and life of the miners permanently memorialised at the Temple Newsam site.
I think there was a sense of cohesion from the pit and within the streets and houses where they lived.
We caught up with Helen Pratt to ask her about the mine and the group that has formed around it.
When were you first aware of the Temple Newsam mine?
I came to Leeds when I was 16 and I remember Dennis (who is now my husband) taking me up to Seacroft. The in-place to go out at that time was the Windmill pub. I came up Bullerthorpe Lane and
said, “What on earth is this?” It looked like a lunar landscape! He said, “You won't believe it, but behind that mound of earth is a lovely country house.” That was my first encounter with Temple Newsam. The landscape was unbelievable. It had all been turned over - it wasn't the “Capability Brown” landscape that that we know now. It was dug up from 1942 to 1983. It intrigued me, to think that they’d dug up all that landscape for coal-mining.
How did the “Blot on the Landscape” idea start?
It came from the Mining Memories exhibition at Lotherton Hall. I’d been up to the talks the miners had given as part of it. One of the miners, Bill Heselgrave, came over to me and said, “Now then, my love, I hear you’re going to do a mining exhibition for us at Temple Newsam.” I thought, yes, great idea. But I didn’t know where on earth to start! I had the miners interested. And I put an invitation out to potential research volunteers – I got about 7 or 8 responses and within that group we had an amazing range of skills from people. We've got an ex-prison governor, a community worker, an ex-school-teacher. One individual has learning disabilities - his father and his uncles were miners, so he had some stories. So, we had a great group and there was some kind
of chemistry. They all gelled and that was it, that was the start of it. Initially it seemed leviathan - there were so many stories. We picked out certain strands and themes.
Where did the name “Blot on the Landscape” come from?
Emily Maynell-Ingram - who was one of the richest women in England – owned Temple Newsam House. She gave permission for these pit managers to lease the land and sink pits, as long as she couldn't see the pit wheels. As an old curator at the house said mining was like a blot on the landscape - and I just said, right, that's a title.
Had the miners’ story been told before?
James Lomax, our curator for 30 years, he did an exhibition called “Work and Play”. He touched briefly on the miners, but never covered them in depth. In our collections, we have very little in the way of mining artefacts. To consider that it was such a massive undertaking at Temple Newsam and there were several pits sunk! The Maynell-Ingram family got a lot of revenue from it, so to think that that story had not been told filled me with dismay. They’d made a lot of money, based on blood, sweat and tears. The house was fuelled by coal and they made money on it.
How did the miners live?
Many members of my family were miners; when I went to investigate my family history many I thought, “Gosh these people are like nomads”. They moved all over. What I realised doing this mining project was that miners had to go where the work was. So they were nomadic! When the pit closed or they got laid off, then the time came to find work elsewhere.
The miners have lots of sayings. My Dad used to say a phrase, “it’s not worth a candle”. This derives from when young children were used as “trappers”; they used to allow the air into the pits, in 12-hour shifts. They used to be in pitch-black, they were never given a candle. Not even worth the light of a candle! These children were seen as worthless. The miners were tough. Conditions were far better in the 1960s than they were in the 19th Century, but still.
What astonishes me is that they look back on the life fondly! I think there was a sense of cohesion from the pit and within the streets and houses where they lived. It’s quite unique. My grandfather ended up at Grimethorpe, where they filmed Brassed Off. There was something special about that community. They
all had allotments, pigeons. There’s something that connects them. They have a grimly jocular humour.
Anger was on their shoulders – death was there all the time. A sardonic humour.
How do feel, thinking that the work of the miners might be forgotten?
It saddens me. Lots of miners, especially in the old days, lived in really cramped conditions. The aristocracy made money off the backs of miners, but they didn’t want to see the pit wheels. The miners had very tough lives. And that needs to be remembered.
Helen with the former miners
We spoke to a few ex-miners who are part of the Blot on the Landscape project, and asked them to share their memories:
Phil Duffy worked at Temple Newsam pit when he was a young man.
When I left school, I started to work. My brother worked at Water Haigh, so I went for a job at Water Haigh. I started off as a coal miner trainee. They sent me to Whitwood Colliery, where the training galleries were. You spent 13 weeks there; a week at the pit and a week at Whitwood Traning College – that for 13 weeks. When I finished my 13 weeks training, I went back to Water Haigh and I worked there for 2 or 3 weeks down the pit bottom. Then they wanted me to go as an apprentice. So, they sent me to work at Temple Newsam, as an apprentice fitter, which I did for 2 years.
For 12 months I was on the surface in the mechanics’ shop and worked with the fitters and also the blacksmiths, who did the shaft work and various other things, various other jobs. There was a farrier there, who worked with the pit ponies, shoeing the pit ponies.
Tony Banks worked in lots of pits across Yorkshire. He remembers a particular disaster that happened at Lofthouse in March 1973.
In 1957, I started working at Manor Colliery in Wakefield. I then went to Lofthouse in 1966. I was at Lofthouse during 1973, working underground on the night when the disaster happened: 7 men lost their lives. They were drowned. I was in a different seam, below the seam that flooded, about 1000 yards away.
I was on nights. We were late getting to the “Paddy”
in the morning (the “Paddy” was the train that took miners to the pit). All taking the mick out of each other, saying, “it’s the first day of Spring tomorrow, time to plant our radishes”. We arrived at our destination off the Paddy. When we got there my team went down, the other team went up. The last thing I remember
was someone shouted to me, “And don’t be late in the bl**dy morning! We don’t want to be late out of the
pit!” That stuck with me. Of course, the next morning, after the disaster, it was so strange. Some of the men never came back to join us on the Paddy. Seven of them, we never saw again. It sticks in your mind.
That particular night, I was on the coal face. It was a about a yard high, the seam. I was with the machine man, he was cutting. All of a sudden there was a surge of wind: “woooof!” It sort-of knocked us off balance. I said, “What the hell was that?” I got on the tannoy to the Loader Gate Deputy. Everything went back to normal so quick. It happened so quick, as if someone had pressed a button. I said to the Deputy, “It’s strange, I’ve never known anything like it.”
At 4.20am the Loader Gate Deputy contacted Tony on the tannoy. 14 men were missing. They shut everything down and gathered the men together at the Meeting Station. I rung the Control up and said, “we’re on our way out of the pit – is there anything you want me to hang back with some men, to help out.” Of course, his answer was, “No, get yourself out of the pit now. The rescue team are here.”
Tony got out of the pit to safety, and he reported to the Control Manager.
Time was going on by this point. I’m usually home by this time. When I got down the street, my wife, and a few more were all stood at the top of the street. It was a lovely day. They’d all heard on the news about this disaster. They were all worried. I got home and went to bed about 9am. But I couldn’t sleep. All you do is think about them men, Anyway, we struggled, but we never got them out. Six of them are still there today. After that, Lofthouse was never the same again.
Bill Heszelgrave worked in many collieries for over 40 years, and still remains positive about mining.
I started work in 1954. I finished school on Good Friday and I started work at Peckfield Colliery in Micklefield on the Tuesday. I worked there till 1960 when I got married. I moved to Primrose Hill Colliery in Swillington. Then on to Acton Hall, Ledston Luck, Bolt Colliery in Lancashire. In 1974 I went to Welldale, then to Kingsley Drifts and then to Gascoyne Wood.
I did every job in mining. I was in the pit bottom when I first started. Moving on to pony driving, haulage work. All different jobs on the face. All the jobs you could do in coal mining. I did 44 years down the mines and if I had my time again, I’d do exactly the same. I thought it was the best job you could ever have. All the miners’ camaraderie was fantastic. All your friends, you could trust your life to them. To your mate next to you. In the day or night, whatever shift you were on, you always knew you were safe. I remember going to work every day and just enjoying it. Some good memories, some bad memories.
I had a few lucky escapes. At Peckfield Colliery, I was on haulage. I’ve been sent down this morning, to bring the tubs up that had been stored from the previous shift. I was pulling them up, and unbeknownst to me there’d been about 60 tubs fastened together, where normally they’d be in blocks of 20. The rope reared up and came off the tubs and knocked me to the floor. The rope was running over my stomach. Luckily, there was a lad who’d been late for work, he was walking by. He stopped the rope. Another older man, he was walking in. Well, they managed to lift the rope off me. If not, I’m afraid I’d have been cut in half that morning. That would have been the end of poor old Bill! It was dangerous, don’t get me wrong. But you got used to it. You had your mates to back you up.
Thanks Helen, Tony and Bill.
These recent photos of the ex-miners are by John Arnison and will be on display at an upcoming exhibition at Lotherton Hall very soon.
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