The Aberford Railway: The Early 19th Century

Sir Thomas Gascoigne died in 1810 and his estates passed to Richard Oliver, who quickly assumed the name and arms of the Gascoigne family. Richard Oliver Gascoigne would solve the Garforth coal distribution problems. Fenwick became the new coal viewer in 1813. Although based in County Durham, he visited on a regular basis and brought a great deal of expertise to the collieries. By this point, only one pit remained working at Barnbow and the existing Parlington pits were within a few years of being worked out. He urged the sinking of new pits, and a new pit was sunk near Church Garforth to the Middleton Little and Middleton Main seams. Although these were considered inferior to the Beeston seam being worked at Parlington, they were cheaper to work. The area around this new pit was subject to the recent Garforth Inclosure Act of 1810. This act re-distributed the land but maintained Gascoigne's mineral rights. Gascoigne was only required to compensate the land owners for soil disturbance (e.g. due to tramways and engines). Importantly, the Act allowed Gascoigne to cut a new drainage sough.

John Watson took over from Fenwick in 1819, during a time of agricultural and commercial depression. Demand for the Garforth coal was at very low levels, and Watson quickly reduced wages and the numbers of workers. As well as a reduction due to economic conditions, the Garforth collieries were seeing competition from collieries in Barnsley and Silkstone. These could get their better, cheaper coal to Boroughbridge and Knaresborough. Garforth continued to sell to Knaresborough, but the Boroughbridge market was permanently lost at about this time. Fortunately the River Wharfe was not an effective route above Tadcaster, and much of the Wharfedale market remained open.

In 1822 the last of the Parlington pits closed and sales dropped to 25,477 tons. This compares to 40,000 tons production in 1820. In order to take advantage of the better Beeston coal, the Parlington pits had been worked longer than originally expected. John Watson decided to sink a new pit at Hawks Nest, and ordered the Garforth driftway to be extended to meet up with the future shaft.

The coal trade improved in 1823, and many of the workers from the drift were moved to coal hewing. New employees were added in 1824. Production reached 33,000 tons in 1824, but fell as they met competition from Samuel Ward in 1827. Samuel Ward had been working a less than successful colliery at Manston, and Watson had assumed that this would flood when the pumps at Parlington were stopped. This probably happened, but Watson had not predicted that Ward would sink a new shaft into the Beeston just east of Crossgates. The opening in 1827 coincided with the opening of the new Leeds-Collingham turnpike (now the A58) which cut a direct and fast route across the countryside towards Wetherby. Ward was suddenly able to produce a better quality of coal than Garforth, and with a supply route to Wetherby that was at least two miles shorter. Hence the Garforth sales to the Wetherby area declined. In 1828, Garforth reported a new low in total sales of 23,000 tons.

Sales continued to drop, and reached 20,665 tons in 1831. William Wharton took the post of colliery agent in 1831, and on 12th February wrote to Watson:

They find a good deal of difficulty in proceeding with the drift thro' the Old Hollows - Now what strikes me to be desirable, is to bore 20 fathoms or more at the bottom of the last drift staple hole & ascertain as far as possible thereby whether there is any quantity of water in the sandstone at that place, & if not why not sink close by, to the Lower seam & lay a railway by way of Parlington to Aberford wh. will bring there best coals much nearer to the Tadcaster & Wetherby markets than Mr Waud's Coals, wh. seem to me to be driving ours out of this market - It strikes me also that this new Railway will be of much service in forming a direct communication for heavy goods, Corn, etc bet. Aberford and Leeds, by way of the new Railway & the carts coming from Tadcaster could bring goods from Tadcaster to Aberford to be forwarded from there by the Railway at trifling cost.

In other communications, Wharton explained that such a railway should bring back the trade to Wetherby, Tadcaster, and Knaresborough. The proposals were accepted, and Watson began sinking the new shaft in June 1831. Water was hit in the Slack Bank sandstone, and was diverted to the drift through a system of tubbing. The drift became a drainage tunnel that proved useful into the 20th century. The first pit was named Isabella after Richard Gascoigne's eldest daughter. A second pit was sunk a few years later, and this was named Elizabeth after his younger daughter.

John Watson died in 1832 and did not live to see Isabella open in 1833. Wharton became the new coal viewer and in August 1833 started to write the specifications for the new railway.

Next page: The Aberford Railway.

Introduction Gascoignes Early 19th Century Aberford Railway Steam Locomotives Final Years Route Further Reading