How coal was discovered underground despite war, delays and disappointments

Askern miners 1974
Askern miners 1974
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The Doncaster Gazette of June 2, 1922, reported that after many disappointments – including delays due to high wages, labour troubles and coal trade depression – sinking operations resumed at Markham Main Colliery, Armthorpe.

But it was still expected to take about three years to reach coal.

Fourteen years had passed since the development of the coal reserves under Armthorpe, the Fitzwilliam Cantley estates and the Doncaster Corporation Race Common property was mooted.

It was not until the lease passed to Sir AB Markham, who had extensive colliery interests in the Doncaster district, that practical steps were contemplated.

A bore hole was sunk in 1913 and a second one in 1914, when good workable coal measures were proved.

Sinking operations were postponed because of World War I and were not restarted until the early part of 1920 – and then faced more delays and disappointments.

n Sinking operations were started in Askern’s No.1 shaft on December 5, 1911.

A powerful pumping plant was installed to deal with the tremendous influx of water – which sometimes reached 4,000 gallons per minute. On Saturday morning, September 14, 1912, the Barnsley seam was reached at Askern at a depth of 565 yards and the coal was found to be of excellent quality.

This made the fourth occasion on which the Barnsley seam had been tapped in the Doncaster district in little over two years – after Maltby in June 1910, Edlington in July 1911 and Bullcroft in December 1911.

The Doncaster Chronicle of September 6, 1912 mentioned that the whole of the work in the colliery shafts had been done in the most efficient manner (day work) under the superintendence of Sam Howard.

“He has employed the best men in the country he could lay his hands on... the surface work was carried out by Messrs Charles Baker and Sons of Chestefield...the pit is equipped with the latest and very best machinery.’

During 1910-1911 a reinforced concrete ‘heap stead’ was erected at Bentley Colliery over the No1 shaft due to the bad foundations upon which the pit was built.

The construction was about 45ft high up to the level to which the tubs would be raised and there was another 14ft of concrete above. Around 150 tons of steel bars were used.

n The countryside was stirred on Saturday afternoon December 9, 1911 by the sound of half a dozen buzzers announcing that coal had at last been reached at the Bullcroft Colliery sinkings at a depth of 657 yards.

The Bullcroft enterprise was one of the Markham group of new collieries encircling Doncaster.

The coal was beneath the estates of Major Anne, Mr Cooke-Yarborough, and other local landowners. Sinking operations began in May, 1908, and water was soon encountered.

At a depth of 70 yards the rush of water was so great the work had to be stopped.

The strongest pumps seemed useless, so the freezing process worked by the Germans was given a trial.

The waterlogged ground was frozen to a great depth by means of chemicals and sinking then proceeded.

As soon as sinking had passed the danger zone the shaft was encircled by an iron casing, then the ground was thawed and the water held back by the casing.

This work took over a year, and it was not until November 1910 that the shafts were pumped dry and further sinking could be resumed.

At first progress was slow owing to the hardness of the frozen ground, but by March 1911, the workers had sunk beyond its range, and from that time everything had gone like clockwork.

The coal reached on that Saturday in December 1911 was the Barnsley Seam, and it was nine feet thick.