Wombwell Main Company Limited
Wombwell Main began life from August 1853 as a private partnership of Dr Robert Dymond (1799-1858), of Bolton Hall, Samuel Roberts, Junior, of Queens Tower, Sheffield (1800-1887), Robert Baxter (1802-1889), Solicitor of Doncaster, and Charles Bartholomew (1806-1895), Engineer, based in Rotherham – a combination of wealthy industrial interests involved in the River Dun Navigation the South Yorkshire Railway Company. A group which would also be in play at Cortonwood and other Barnsley coalfield pits.
Developed from 1853, two shafts were initially sunk 227 yards to the Barnsley seam (No.1, 11ft 6in in diameter started Dec 1853 and finsihed Oct 1854; No.2, 12ft diameter). These were joined by a third shaft in 1862 (No.3, 12ft, 6in). As the colliery developed, No. 3 was sunk down to the Parkgate and then deeper still, to the Silkstone seam, and No.1 was also sunk further, to the Parkgate, with work lasting from April 1892 until April 1893.
The concern became a private limited company, registered on 7th April 1865 with a capital of £125,000, increased to £155,000 in 1870. In 1912 the authorised capital was £155,000 in 1,550 shares of £100 each, of which 1,500 shares were issued and fully paid. The colliery’s working area extended to some 1,300 acres.
For many years the Chairman was the descendant and namesake of the original partner, Samuel Roberts, D.L., JP, MP of Queen’s Tower, Sheffield, who was knighted in 1917.
The Directors included:
- Charles William Bartholomew, of Blakesley Hall, Towcester (descendant of original partner)
- John Jarratt, of Elmfield, Doncaster
- Arthur Rock Tyas, of Swaithe, Barnsley
- Charles Herbert Cobbold, of Needle Wood, Barnsley
The Colliery Manager was C. H. Elliott, and Company Secretary George Snell jnr.
Snippets from the history of the colliery
Prior to Nationalisation in 1947, the following reports are taken from contemporaneous records of work planned and carried out at the pit.
Extracts from company reports from C. E. Rhodes & Sons, Consulting Mining Engineers, from Rotherham
Copy Report Book Jan 1912-Oct 1913
[pp.262-270] 23rd December 1912
S. Roberts Esq., Queen’s Tower, Sheffield
Dear Mr Roberts,
In accordance with your request, and after having discussed the matter with my Father, I beg to report upon the question of By-Product Coke Ovens and Washery for the Wombwell Main Colliery Limited.
It is desirable in the first place to consider the life of the colliery in the present seams, and I will therefore deal with this at the outset.
In the Parkgate Seam there are approximately 880 acres yet to work. Calculating on the average output for the last two years, and supposing that this output can be kept up until the exhaustion of the whole area of Parkgate Seam it would be worked out in approximately 13 years. Taking into consideration, however, the fact that the whole of the coal after the expiration of the next three or four years, when rise workings will be finished, would have to be hauled from the dip, I do not think that it would be possible to work out the area as quickly as the above estimate represents.
Apart from this, you will see that working the dip coal only means bringing the whole of your output from what I might term your leasehold estate, in contra-distinction to the Wombwell Lease proper, which expires in 1952.
I have discussed the question with my Father on many occasions, and I agree with him that the proper policy at your Collieries is to develop the Fenton Coal in your own estate to the utmost capacity, and work sufficient Parkgate Coal in addition to keep the shafts and plant going at the present output, which we think, having regard to the results over a series of years, should be considered the maximum.
By developing this Fenton Coal on the lines indicated, you have sufficient area in that and the Parkgate to maintain the present output for upward of 25 years.
It is possible also that by leasing the Fenton Coal under a similar area to the Parkgate, an possibly working one of the other thin seams, t is quite reasonable to suppose that an output could be kept up to the end of the Wombwell Lease in 1952.
The only way in which the life of the colliery can be prolonged is by developing on these lines, and it is certain, in our judgment, that the only way to deal with the output so as to give satisfactory results in the future is to put down a Washery and Bye-Product Coking Plant.
The output at the present time is about 450,000 tons a year, and the estimated quantity of small that would go through, say, a 3/4 ” mesh, would be about 25%, or, say, 112,500 tons per annum, or 2,160 tons per week. This quantity of coal, if washed, would lose about 15% in weight by the dirt taken out, thus reducing the quantity to be dealt with to approximately 1,800 tons per week. This quantity of coal coked in bye-product ovens would produce from 66% to 70% of saleable coke, or, say, 1,20 tons per week.
A Washery to deal with this quantity of coal would not be an expensive matter, but if the most is to be made of the Colliery, I consider you should go in for a scheme to wash all your small coals, that is, all going through say a 1 1/2″ mesh.
It is true that at the moment a good deal of your coal is being sold as unscreened, but having regard to all the circumstances I do not think the most is made of it by disposing of it in that manner even today, and I consider that in contemplating a washer you should put one down so as to deal in the most economical manner with all the small coal you produce. The number of men and boys now employed in picking the small coal by hand is very large, and there would be a substantial economy in dispensing with them even if the small when washed was put back into the large. This method of dealing with coal has been adopted at several collieries, and the results have in every case fully justified the expenditure.
The estimated quantity of small coal that you would have to deal with would be about 250,000 tons a year, and this would require a washer of from 70 to 80 tons per hour capacity.
A complete “Baum” Washery, driven electrically, to deal with this quantity would cost £17,610, to which would have to be added the cost of excavations and a proportion of the cost of the electric generating plant, which i dealt with later in this report. Estimating the cost of the foundations at £1,000, brings the cost of the washery to £18,610. I have no doubt that on the whole the ‘Baum’ is the best plant on the market, but the cost of any other type would be approximately the same, a tender from the Coppee Company being within a few pounds of the above.
It might at the moment be desirable to adopt a similar plant to that at Wath Main, which consists of a washery complete and all its accessories to ultimately deal with 75 tons per hour, but at present only fitted with machinery for 50 tons per hour. If this scheme were adopted the price for the washer would be reduced by some £2,500, but having regard to the time which it will take to get it to work, and that by that date a good many of your unscreened contracts will be running out, I should advise the adoption of the complete scheme in the first instance.
To deal with the 112,500 tons of coking coal referred to it would be necessary to put down a battery of 50 coke ovens, together with the requisite bye-product recovery plant, including that for the recovery of benzol.
I have obtained three tenders from the Simon-Carves Co., the Simplex Coke Oven Co., and the Coppee Co., respectively, for a plant on these lines, and, whilst not at the moment, from the information contained in the tenders, being prepared to recommend the adoption of either one or another of the plants as in my opinion there is very little to choose in their respective efficiencies, the cost of a battery of ovens as named would be approximately £46,000 complete, with the necessary foundations, etc, whichever plant was adopted.
You might, if you desired, in the first instance put down only 25 ovens, but this would involve an expenditure of £34,500, including foundations, etc, and the production, so far as actual recovery of bye-products is concerned, for the smaller plant, would be of course half that obtained with the larger plant, but the net return would be considerably less than half, having regard to the increased capital expenditure per ton of coal carbonised, and to the fact that practically the same labour, with the exception of the mere coke quenchers and loaders, would be required for the smaller plant as for the larger, and if you can see your way, therefore, I should advise you to adopt the complete scheme at once, as it will take in any case from twelve to sixteen months to erect after the contract is placed.
In addition to the expenditure enumerated in the foregoing, it will be necessary to provide for the requisite electric power to drive the washery and the subsidiary apparatus at the coke ovens, and in providing this power consideration should be paid to the requirements for pumping which were brought forward at your last meeting.
Having regard to the fact that your youngest boiler is some 13 years old, and that heavy repairs to boilers generally are inevitable in the near future, the most economical method of raising the necessary power would be to put down a mixed-pressure turbine in connection with the exhaust steam from the No 1 Pit Winding engines.
The horse power that could be recovered, with suitable arrangements on these engines, would be upwards of 1000, but it would not be necessary to put down a plant to deal with the whole of the exhaust available.
A plant to provide 380 electric horse power which would be ample both for the washer, coke ovens, and the pumping, besides providing a reserve of power to replace the screen engines by electric motors should it be found desirable, could be put down for approximately £3,800, including the necessary condenser, switch-board, cooling tower, house, foundations, etc, and a further 380HP unit could be put down for an additional £2,040.
In case, however, it was not decided to put the electric plant down of a design suitable for easy duplication, the price of the first 380HP unit would be reduced to £3,500, and a similar sum would have to be spent should it in the future be found necessary to duplicate the plant.
If the whole of the foregoing suggestions are adopted it will involve the expenditure of a sum made up as follows:-
50 Ovens, with bye-product plant, including recovery of sulphate of ammonia, tar, and benzol. Coal Compressing, charging, and coke discharging machine, chimney, buildings, etc, etc £37,750
Water cooling and recovery £1,570
5 boilers £3,900
Coal bunker and conveyor to ovens £3,516
Electric Plant in duplicate, including foundations, fixing, etc £5,840
Foundations, contingencies, etc £3,814
It is possible that some reduction may be made in the foregoing figures should you decide to do part of the work, e.g. provision of boilers etc, yourselves, but seeing that the existing colliery staff are fully occupied and that they have had no experience in bye-product coke ovens and work in connection therewith, it would probably be desirable to let the whole scheme to the Contractors, whoever they may be, should you decide to proceed with the work, the colliery people simply preparing the site ready for the Contractor.
Assuming the colliery is developed in the future on the lines indicated in the first part of this report, you have a life of at least 25 years at your present output, and the annual amount necessary to provide a fund for the redemption of the capital of £75,000 within the period in question, would be £3,000 per year without interest, or, a sinking fund of £1,800 a year at 4%, and this I think is a safe method of dealing with depreciation.
It is difficult to reduce to figures what the exact saving resulting from the adoption of a washer would be, and I do not calculate on any direct benefit from the mere coking operations except that the ovens will provide a constant outlet at a market price for the small coal which in ordinary times is difficult to dispose of, and I therefore deal with the profit on bye-products alone, which I estimate at 3s/0d per ton of coal carbonised based on less than present prices, and which would be, from carbonising 112,500 tons of coal per annum, £16,875 a year, which would yield a return of £13,875 per annum after providing for the redemption of capital within 25 years, or a return of approximately 18%, without, as I have said, calculating anything in the way of direct profits from the washing and coking operations themselves, as apart from the profits derivable from the bye-products.
Having regard to the fact that coal will have to be conveyed from the pit to the washer and from the washer to the ovens it will be desirable to place the ovens as near to the pits as possible, and the site of the old ovens is one of the most suitable that could be found. This would, however, involve their being erected upon land which is at present held under lease from Captain Wentworth for ‘colliery purposes’. I gather that you would prefer to buy a piece of land to place ovens upon so that they may be carried on as a separate undertaking after the expiration of the lease, but that you fear that if the plant is placed upon ‘colliery purposes’ land you would probably have to pay more than would be the case should you purchase land outside such area. This view may or may not be correct, but the whole of the land now used for colliery purposes, including the proposed site of the ovens, is upon the shaft pillar, and a site upon Captain Wentworth’s ‘ordinary’ estate would necessitate the leaving of extra coal to support it. It is not in my opinion, having regard to the life of the colliery, and to the results that would be obtained from the ovens during that period, absolutely necessary to put the ovens on freehold land, but if this object can be attained without a heavy expenditure it is as well that the site should be purchased, and the area required would not exceed two acres.
Any further information I shall be glad to afford,
I am, yours faithfully
Report Book Oct 1913-July 1915
3rd April 1914
To the Chairman and Directors of the Wombwell Main Company Limited,
I have to report upon the results for the months of January and February.
In January the pit worked 26 days, losing one day for the New year holiday. The output was 47,918 tons, or an increase of over 6,000 tons compared with December.
The cost is in consequence down 2.28d per ton, 1.42d of this being in wages.
In February the Colliery worked 24 days, or full time, producing 44,489 tons. The cost compared with January being down .48d per ton.
I have nothing to report as to the underground workings which are in order.
I enclose a tracing shewing the workings in the Parkgate Seam in the neighbourhood of Tingle Bridge. Mr Elliott thought it might be possible to work a small area of Earl Fitzwilliam’s coal in this direction as shewn on the tracing, coloured red. You will see, however, that this coal is cut off from your present faces by the Dearne & Dove Canal and the Elsecar Branch of the Great Central Railway and if a pillar to support such Canal and Railway has to be left, I do not think it will be worth while breaking through it to work such a comparatively small area of coal.
The coal under the Dearne & Dove Canal is in lease to you from Mr Storey, and notice of the approach of your workings should therefore be given.
Good progress on the whole has been made with the erection of the coking plant, but unfortunately the construction of the ovens has been stopped for the last fortnight owing to want of bricks.
We have written strongly to Messrs Simon Carves upon the subject, and they are doing all they can to urge forward a supply. The delay, I understand, is due to a series of breakdowns at the makers’ works and congestion on the Belgian railways.
I do not think, however, that any delay in the completion of the plant need be feared, as the whole of the workmen have been engaged in work on other portions of the plant.
Good progress is being made with the washery, which should be completed and ready for work during the next five or six weeks.
A quarter’s instalment upon the contract in respect of the above plant became due on the 32st ultimo. and Mr H. Rhodes has certified for a further payment of £4,500.
The electric pump in the Barnsley Seam has performed its work satisfactorily, although it is not up to the guarantee as to efficiency. Mr H. Rhodes is therefore interviewing the makers on Saturday with reference to the non-compliance with such guarantee, etc. Steam in the meantime has been shut off from No.2 pit.
I am, Gentlemen,
24th September 1914
During the month of July the Colliery worked 21 days, with an average output of 1,926 tons per day.
The wages cost is practically the same as for the previous month, and would have been less except for the items “Alteration to Sidings” and “Melton Field Seam”, which show a slight increase.
The fixed charges are also slightly up; the total cost compared with the previous month being up .62d per ton.
In August, owing to the outbreak of the War, the Colliery only worked 13 days, with an average daily output of 1913 tons, the decrease in average output being due to the calling up of the Territorials and Reservists. The effect of the decrease in output has been to increase the wages cost by a little under 4d per ton, of which .65d is represented by the Melton Field. The item “Alteration of Sidings” amounting to .23d in July has now disappeared. The fixed charges are also up 1.3d per ton, but as I said in my previous report the costs as a whole reflect great credit.
I have nothing to report as to the underground workings.
Earl Fitzwilliam’s Parkgate Coal at Hemingfield
According to the instructions of the Chairman, my Son is now discussing the acquisition of this coal with Earl Fitzwilliam’s advisers, who seem to think that the rent proposed of £100 per acre is a low one. My son has pointed out to Mr Durnford that the seam at Wombwell is not anything like so good as that on Earl Fitzwilliam’s side of the boundary fault, and has suggested that he should make an inspection of it.
Mr Durnford has not yet been over, but says he will place the matter before Mr Talbot and write again. I do not think, however, that you should pay more than the figure I have suggested, viz £100 per acre, as that is even more than you are getting from your Sub-Lessees, and more than you pay under any of your leases.
The coking plant is completed, with the exception of a few details, and, after consultation with the Chairman, it has been arranged that the warming up of the ovens should begin on October 1st. You should be in a position, therefore, to begin to produce coke about the middle of November.
The Washery is also completed, but has not been turned round yet owing to the electric connection not being finished. It is possible some of the machinery may be running by the time of your meeting.
I have nothing further to report, and
I am, Gentlemen,
Yours faithfully C.E. Rhodes
18th December 1914
The Coke Ovens and Washery started operations about the middle of November, and the whole plant appears to be of excellent design. Wit the exception of slight alterations to the door-lifting gear, and other parts of the ovens, etc. which Messrs Simon Carves are proceeding to carry out, the plant is working very satisfactorily. The coke produced is of excellent quality, and although the results of a full month’s working of the bye-product plant are not yet available, there is every reason to believe that the estimate as to the yield of the various bye-products will be fully realised. […]
Earl Fitzwilliam’s Parkgate Coal, Hemingfield
Mr Durnford forwarded an agreement prepared by Messrs Newman & Bond which differed materially from the form of agreement I submitted to him. I sent this agreement on to your Solicitors and they have made considerable alterations in it. I approved the draft as altered, and have now sent it to Mr Durnford. In the meantime the coal is being entered.
Copy Report Book March 1917-November 1918
10th January 1918
…Since I last reported I have received the costs sheets for the months of September, October and November.
In September the pit worked 22 1/2 days, the total output being 37,508 tons. The wages costs shew an increase of 5.57d per ton compared with the previous month, but the War Wage of 1s/6d per day to men and 9d to boys which came into operation as and from September 17th is responsible for 4.62d of this increase. The other charges shew a reduction, and the net cost compared with August would have been down by rather more than 2 2/3d per ton had it not been for the incidence of the War Wage. Actually, however, the total cost for September is up 1.7d compared with the previous month.
In October the pit worked full time, producing 46,821 tons. The wages costs, including the War Wage, are up 1s/1.42d compared with August. The actual cost of the War Wage for the month of October was £3,229, or 1s/4.55d per ton. Excluding the War Wage, therefore, the wages costs for October are 2.13d less than for August, and the other charges are down 2.14d, so that the total cost for October, notwithstanding the charge of 1s/4.55d per ton for the War Wage, is only 11 1/4d per ton higher than for August; compared with September it is up 9 1/2d per ton.
In November the pit worked full time, producing 44,747 tons. The wages costs are up 2d per ton compared with the previous month, the other charges shew a reduction of 1d, and the total cost is up 1d per ton compared with October.
The coke ovens worked well, and the yield of coke and the various bye-products is quite up to the standard. The War Wage, however, has had the effect of increasing the average wages cost by about 1s/- per ton.
I have nothing to report on the underground workings, which are in order.
As anticipated in previous reports, the coal in the East Dip District is working very much better owing to the faces having got further away from the level side.
The output from the Fenton, or New Silkstone, Seam is now practically equal to that from the Parkgate, and the developments in the Fenton are proceeding satisfactorily. In the North Levels the seam is improving in thickness and the dirt is getting somewhat thinner, but on the South the section remains practically the same.
A drift has been put up into the seam about half a mile to the dip of the shaft out of the Parkgate South Dips, and the seam there proved of normal section. Arrangements are being made to open out a panel in this district, lowering the coal down the drift in question. It will then be hauled along with the Parkgate to the shaft. The Parkgate output in this district will soon fall off, and this arrangement will have the effect of utilising the haulage road, which is a thoroughly good one, and at the same time reduce the cost of hauling the Parkgate, and will also save the maintenance of roads in the Fenton.
The new electrically-driven fan is fixed and also the motor, but the starting up is being delayed owing to the non-delivery of a piece of cable.
I have nothing further to report, and
I am, Gentlemen, Yours faithfully, C.E. Rhodes
[pp.375-378] 26th July 1918
…Speaking generally, the increased cost of production at Wombwell compares favourably with that of other collieries in the district, as your output has not fallen to anything like the same extent. In July 1914, when 21 days were worked, the average output per day was 1,936 tons (I take July for comparison because very short time was worked in June 1914). In June 1915 the average output per day was 1,774 tons, in June 1916, 1,737 tons; in June 1917, 1,730 tons; and in June 1918, 1,450 tons, a net reduction compared with pre-war conditions of 25 per cent, whereas it is not at all uncommon to find outputs reduced by 50 per cent.
With such a reduction in output it is of course impossible to maintain reasonable costs, and as this reduced output is solely owing to want of men it appears very unlikely that any relief is going to be obtained in the immediate future. […]
26th September 1918
…I fear, however, the results for August will be very unsatisfactory, owing to the strike on account of the question of surface men’s hours, and the unrest which has followed it.
The shopmen and surface labourers are only working 51 hours per week as against 54, pending a settlement of the whole question by an independent Arbitrator, whose decision is to be given before October 1st, meantime, the men are completely out of hand, ignoring the recognised mealtimes, and leaving off work at 2.24pm each day; the result naturally being that surface work all round is interfered with very considerably.
The attendance of the men underground is rather better, but a very large amount of time is still lost for no cause. There is no doubt that they resent very strongly having to pay income tax, and that as a matter of fact in many cases they keep their work down to a point which avoids paying it. […]
Report Book May 1926-Dec 1931
15th December 1926
To the Chairman and Directors of the Wombwell Main Company Limited,
You will be quite aware of the various negotiations which led to the termination of the National Coal Strike, and it is unnecessary, therefore, for me to refer to them, except to say that a settlement was arrived at on November 29th based upon a 7 1/2 hour working day.
In anticipation of a settlement a few men had been got to work, and the bulk of the men returned on the morning of the 1st instant.
The re-arrangement of work consequent upon the increase in the time of the working shift has acted quite smoothly from the commencement, and as at other collieries, there is no sign that the local good feeling between the management and men has in any way suffered from the long cessation of work.
Considering the length of the stoppage the colliery was in remarkably good order, and normal outputs may now be said to have been attained.
With the exception of a few places at the extreme north of the North Level out of the North Dips, the whole of the places in this seam are now at work.
With regard to the faces in the North Dips which are standing, it is intended to re-open them by a new level which was in progress of being made before the stoppage, in order to cut off some 900 to 1,000 yards of a long circuitous haulage road.
I inspected the district in question during the stoppage and have also done so since the resumption of work, and quite agree with the conclusion to which the management have come.
Some time ago a drift was driven out of the North Dips into the Fenton Seam in order to open out a new district, but the return air-way was only partially completed. It is now intended to proceed with this work.
The whole of the faces in this seam have been got to work, and conditions are rapidly approaching the normal.
In the South Level the dirt continues to increase in thickness, and I fear it will not be possible to work any of this seam economically beyond the boundary of the Company’s freehold estate.
In the North District the workings from Barrow Colliery in the area of Parkgate Coal sub-leased to that Company are coming up under the area which the main North Level was intended to open out. The Barrow Company are quite within their rights in working the coal in the manner they are doing, but it may be necessary to temporarily suspend the working of the Fenton Seam in this district until the Barrow workings have finished. The point, however, has only come to my notice within the last few days, and I have not yet had an opportunity of discussing the question at length with your manager.
The extension of the working day by half-an-hour has had a remarkable effect upon the working of this seam, the output on the 10th instant having exceeded 300 tons.
The statutory limitation of the working day to 7 hours handicapped the working of machine-got coals to an extent that has hardly been realised, and I look forward to considerable improvement in the cost of working this seam under the new arrangement of hours.
The surface works and machinery in general are in good order.
The Mines Inspectorate has from time to time raised the question of the air-locks in the No.3 Pit, and suggests that the present method is not an up-to-date one. They are raising similar objections all up and down the country where upcast shafts are closed in as in the case at Wombwell, but in my opinion the Inspectors are taking up what might be described as a “scare” attitude in this matter owing to an accident at a colliery in Derbyshire caused by the obvious neglect of the most elementary precautions as to inspections.
Except for the fact that it would be a good opportunity to dispense with a good deal of inflammable material by constructing an up-to-date air-lock, I see no reason why the present arrangement should not remain, but a scheme has been got out and will be brought forward for your consideration should the Inspectorate again raise the question.
Coking and Washing Plant
The coking plant has kept more or less in operation during the whole of the stoppage, and is now being gradually got into full working order. The plant generally is in good working order.
Since this plant was designed and erected considerable improvements have been made in the arrangements for draining the small coal, and in modern Baum Washeries the draining band has been eliminated and a system of quiet motion jigging screens, known as slurry jiggers, for, as it were, shaking the water out of the washed coal introduced in their stead. At one or two collieries with which I am connected it has been found economical to dispense with the draining band, thus not only removing an apparatus of which the cost of upkeep is considerable, but producing a drier cokingslack by means of the introduction of these slurry jiggers, with advantageous effects both as to output of coke and bye-products and maintenance of the ovens.
The draining band at Wombwell at the moment is in good order, but should extensive repairs be required in the future it would undoubtedly pay to replace it by up-to-date slurry jiggers. I recommend, therefore, that the makers of this apparatus should be approached with a view to getting out a design and quotation for the necessary alterations, and at the same time the probably saving to be gained by the adoption of slurry jiggers can be investigated and the particulars placed before you.
I have nothing further to report, and I am, Gentlemen,
Yours faithfully, Harry Rhodes
M.E. ‘The Yorkshire Coalfield. XLIV. – Wombwell Main Colliery’, Colliery Guardian and journal of the coal and iron trades, London, Vol.LXXIV, 6th August 1897, p.237