Nostalgia on Tuesday: Pride of the North

Barrow colliery site in April 1985.
Barrow colliery site in April 1985.
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Barrow colliery was once named as ‘the million-tons-a-year pit’ and ‘Pride of the North’ due to record-breaking mining feats.

On September 29, 1982, the Sheffield Star said Barrow miners had rewritten the pit record book by producing 1,000 tons of coal a day from a coal face just 38 inches high. Miners working on X31’s unit at the colliery were achieving more than 5,000 tons of coal a week, with each man producing an average of 18 tons a shift.

It was the first time ever that a coal face in the Silkstone seam at Barrow had produced the magical 1,000 tons a day, the previous best being 796 tons. The record-breaking performances took X31’s face to the top of the Barnsley coalfield ‘top 10’ league table. The valuable coal from the seam was also helping to boost the coal industry’s export drive, most of it being sent through Immingham to Continental power stations.

Barrow colliery, near Worsbrough, Barnsley, took its name from the owning company the Barrow Haematite Steel Company, first established in 1864, having iron ore mines in the Furness area in Lancashire and Cumberland. The Duke of Devonshire was chairman.

The first sod at Barrow colliery was cut in a growing South Yorkshire coalfield at 4pm on Wednesday, June 4, 1873, by Chas Newman, mayor of Barnsley and Chas Wright, the agent of the Worsborough Estate.

Earlier in the previous year the Barrow company had gained a foothold in the area when acquiring, from Cooper & Co., Worsborough Park colliery, which was located approximately 450 yards north-east of the new venture. The company was eager to tap coal and coke reserves to avoid relying on others for feeding their steel works, annually consuming about 800,000 tons.

Sinking Barrow colliery was a risk because it was intended to reach the Silkstone seam at 500 yards – 380 yards below the Barnsley bed. This was much deeper than any sinking hitherto; Swaithe Main was mining the seam at 240 yards.

Barnsley mining engineers JG and A Kell sank three shafts for the colliery: No.1, 15ft diameter, was a downcast shaft, 410 yards deep to the Thorncliffe seam, and was used to wind coal from both the Parkgate and Thorncliffe seams. No.2 shaft, also 15ft diameter and downcast, was 469 yards deep to the Silkstone seam. No.3, upcast shaft, 17ft diameter, was sunk to the Silkstone seam.

The first coal was raised on January 13, 1876, and during the following years the colliery was well equipped.

In order to take coal and coke to the company’s works at Barrow-in-Furness, a line to join the Midland Railway was constructed by 1898.

Barrow colliery will always be remembered for the accident which occurred there on November 15, 1907, when seven men were killed. The accident occurred in No. 3 shaft, which served the Parkgate, Thorncliffe and Silkstone seams.

Sixteen men – the last of those working on the morning shift – got in at the Parkgate seam, which was the nearest to the surface. The cage was then lowered to the Thorncliffe seam to allow a horse-keeper just coming on duty to get off.

It was there something went wrong. The footplate over which the men usually walked out of the cage into the pit was not lifted up before the cage started. As soon as the engine began to wind, the cage tilted heavily with the result that seven men were thrown out of the cage and fell to the bottom of the shaft. As soon as possible the cage was stopped, and helpers went down by another shaft, but the seven who had fallen were dead.

Barrow colliery underwent significant redevelopment during the mid-1920s before amalgamating with Barnsley Main and Monk Bretton collieries in 1932 to form Barrow Barnsley Main Collieries Ltd.

The remainder of the decade saw the building of pithead baths, new headgear, coke ovens and a 
canteen.

In the post-war years the colliery witnessed reconstruction in 1953 and alterations during 1962 and 1971. A Sheffield Telegraph article dated March 16, 1962, was headed The million tons a year pit. Barrow – Pride of the North.

It was explained that modern high-speed output resulting from 100 per cent mechanisation had boosted production to such an extent that the colliery had earned the unofficial title ‘Show Pit of the North’.

During the previous year the pit’s 1,273 men produced a saleable output of 835,016 tons of coal. “From June to the end of the year, the Swallow Wood 9’s face alone produced a face output per man shift of 19 tons and at one time it went as high as 22.5.

This performance is considered a national record for a 3-foot seam,’ said the newspaper.

Soccer legend Jack Charlton returned to his roots on October 6, 1983, when he visited Barrow colliery. He was born in the mining area of Washington, Tyne and Wear, so was no stranger to the pits. The visit was arranged to thank him 
for his help in raising money
for injured apprentice Philip Whiteley.

After the year-long 1984-1985 strike, NUM leader Arthur Scargill led miners back to work under the Barrow colliery banner on March 5, 1985 – then turned back as they were met by flying pickets from the Kent coalfield, telling the press: ‘I don’t cross picket lines.’

Barrow Colliery worked some of its coal from the old Barnsley Main colliery from the early 1970s. Coal was raised from Barrow colliery but miners gained access from the refurbished Barnsley Main.

Coal from the Barrow faces was exhausted by 1975 and production eventually ended at Barrow colliery/Barnsley Main on July 19, 1991.