Situated atop rich deposits of high-quality black bed coal, the parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton has a history of small-scale mining operations dating back to at least the Middle Ages. However, for roughly a hundred years between the early Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, the area became home to several much larger commercial mining enterprises. At one point, these collieries employed over five hundred people in the two villages, including boys as young as twelve who had been brought from Scotland or Ireland and were fostered by local families.
In 1838, the colliers of the district formed the Clifton Brass Band as a source of recreation. In his Story of the Ancient Parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Reverend Harold Pobjoy recounts a story that once, for no adequately explained reason, all the Band’s instruments were thrown down an abandoned mine shaft at Gin Pit Hill (named after the horse-worked windless mechanism which brought up the coal), an area just adjacent to Clifton Common today. It was said that on certain nights, village children passing the workings would be terrified by the sound of ghostly music rising from the depths.
Evidently the mining families were a superstitious lot, as the following story from Hartshead Pit vividly demonstrates. This colliery once operated in the vicinity of Soap House Farm from 1861 until 1935 and was one of the largest in the area, employing over two hundred people below ground at the height of productivity in 1908. However, during the National Coal Strike of 1912 it fell silent like all the rest and in order to obtain fuel, the women and children of the surrounding villages were forced to spend their days gleaning coal from the waste tips of the pit.
One day, they had nearly finished bagging up all they could find when twilight began to fall. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner for 16th September 1929 recounts what happened next: “Suddenly a ‘ghost’ appeared at the edge of the tip, mouthing horribly and gesticulating with it shapeless arms. There was a scream, sacks of coal were dropped and the gatherers fled in terror… Half-an-hour later the more intrepid of them gingerly made their way back to the tip and went to retrieve their coal, the results of a day’s work. But it had gone—sacks and everything!”