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Herbert Fletcher of Bolton 1842-1895

by Kenneth Wood

Herbert Fletcher - Mining engineer, clean air crusader and supporter of workers' rights

'The cleverest mining engineer in Lancashire'

When Herbert Fletcher, colliery owner, mining engineer and social reformer, died at the age of 53 in the early autumn of 1895, he was mourned by rich and poor, coal owners and colliers, high Tories and Socialists. A man of infinite interests and charm, he had a zest for life rarely seen in one person and enjoyed a reputation as an unusually considerate coal mine owner. His major flaw, which brought him on more than one occasion in conflict with the Mines Inspectorate, was a stubborn streak.

It was Fletcher's love of an active life which led to his death. Entering Ladyshore colliery yard on the morning of September 16, 1895, he saw a bicycle leaning against a wall and said he would take a ride. Before he had gone very far he was heard to say something about being short of breath. He then fell to the ground and died soon afterwards. Fletcher's pet dog, a constant companion, stood by his master. and would not leave the body.

Fletcher, who died a bachelor, was a member of a family whose mining interests in the Bolton area went back to at least the 16th Century. He was the son of John Fletcher and one of the 50 grandchildren of Colonel Ralph Fletcher, 1759-1832, suppressor of civil rights movements and one of the magistrates whose decisions led to the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. A greater contrast between grandfather and grandson would be hard to find.

Herbert was a mining engineer born and bred and over the years was involved in the running of Ladyshore Colliery, Little Lever, and in pits at Clifton, Kearsley, Atherton and the Burnley area. He lived in style at the Hollins, in the Haulgh, Bolton. He was a pioneer of longwall mining in Lancashire, and as early as 1869 was planning to introduce it at the Atherton pits of John Fletcher and Others. His inventive mind turned to many mining problems and intriguing clues to some of his ideas suggest he was a man before his time.

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