Whenever I do a talk to a local history group or other society there is a fair chance that I will be asked how the Gascoigne family derived their wealth. Well although you wouldn’t know it today one of the main sources of their income resided right where the Garforth Tesco supermarket sits today! The Sisters coal pit, named after the two daughters of Richard Oliver Gascoigne.
However mining is a very hazardous business, even the earliest bell pits, although shallow were dangerous. The Gascoignes had been successfully extracting coal in the local area for many generations ever since the first property was bought in Lasencroft. But the deeper mines like Sisters were an order of magnitude more hazardous.
There were two serious flooding incidents in the late nineteenth century which highlight the dangerous business of extracting coal from hundreds of feet below ground. The first and more serious was the flood of 1873. Essentially the access to the seam of coal hundreds of feet below the surface utilises a vertical shaft through which men, ponies and primitive machines would descend by a winch based mechanism, characterised at the surface by a large winding wheel above the shaft. Whilst the men went down to hack away at the coal, the product would be brought to the surface by the same route.
The coal being mined was the so called “Beeston” seam at around 495 feet below the surface, it lay beneath a layer of sandstone. Water in the sandstone was prevented from entering the mine by the less porous soils beneath the sandstone and above the coal. However to stop water passing down the pit shaft the sides were lined in a cast iron tubbing, extending throughout the sandstone and beyond. A weakness in this scheme was a layer of oak wooden cribbing between two rings of the iron tubbing. On 8th March 1783 a portion collapsed allowing water to flood down into the mine. Within minutes the cascade of water was flooding the underground passageways to the coal face. Luckily despite the massive flow of water seventy men and boys working down the pit managed to escape to the surface. But the mine was flooded and slowly but surely after filling all the cavities the level of water crept up the mine shaft.
The loss of the pit was prevented by an ingenious contraption created by the mine engineer, a Mr Wormald. His hydraulic device was lowered down the mine shaft until it reached the point where the water was flooding in through the collapsed lining, then jacked against the walls until the inflow was stopped and a permanent seal could be made. For this Mr Wormald became something of a local hero, being later gifted a silver service by the grateful residents of Garforth. Without his efforts Garforth may not have developed as it has! The picture is of the service which can be seen at Lotherton Hall. Further information can be found on the Parlington website. www.parlington.co.uk