West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History




Four Pontefract youths left home on Tuesday afternoon for a walk which ended, after a most exciting and terrifying experience, on the following afternoon, after they had spent 24 hours in pitch darkness, lost in some disused sand quarries.

The four youths were: Arthur Smith (17), Fred Smith (15), and Thomas Haigh (16), all of Monkhill Houses, and George Edward Newlove (14) of Old Cottages, Mill Dam, Pontefract. The two Smiths are cousins, and all are pony drivers, Haigh at the Featherstone Main Colliery, and the others at the Prince of Wales Colliery.

The scene of their adventure was the disused sand quarry belonging to Mr. W. Conder, of Old Hall, and situated at Fairy Hill.

An “Advertiser” representative gathered the following story from the parents of Newlove:

The boys left home soon after 2-0 on Tuesday afternoon, without saying where they were going. As they had not returned at 9-30 a search was instituted. At first it was thought they had gone bathing, and the various search parties, altogether some fifty or sixty strong, confined their activities to the local swimming ponds. Their efforts being unsuccessful, the searchers went further afield, as far as Wentbridge and Ferrybridge.

As Conder’s Quarries are popular – but quite prohibited – playgrounds, search parties led by P.C. Ridley, scoured the outer tunnels during the early hours of Wednesday morning, shouting and blowing whistles, but they received no reply.

Mr. Newlove, however, was confident that the boys were inside the quarries, and led another search party, consisting of himself, Messrs W. Asquith, J. Smith (brother of Fred), W. Heywood (uncle of Newlove), T. Spurr, and others, who set out on Wednesday afternoon.

Armed with pit lamps and brandy and a long ball of string, they set about their work systematically. Mr. Newlove tied the string to a post at one of the entrances to the quarry workings, and then the party set about their search, unwinding the string as they went, and thereby providing a definite means of retracing their steps.

When they had journeyed some considerable distance into the workings they came to a “fall”, and it was only with difficulty that the searchers were able to climb through the small aperture which remained.

Their perseverance, however, received its reward, for a little further on they came across the four youths who were huddled together on the floor, cold and very miserable. They were soon brought out to daylight again and one of the first questions asked (by Newlove) was “What day is it?” When they were told it was Wednesday they expressed great surprise.

They had, said Mrs Newlove, quite resigned themselves to their fate and lay, with their arms round each other, prepared to “die together”.

The story given by Fred Smith was as follows:

“We were going for a walk,” he said, “but then decided to go into the old quarry. We had been there once before. We had only half a candle and two matches between us. We explored the place for some time. Then we dropped the candle and had to use our last match to light it again. Then we realised that we had lost our way, and that our candle was burning low. We got through some water, which was knee deep, on to dry land. Just before the candle burnt out, Arthur Smith took off his braces and lighted them, and we were going to use our shirts in the same way, when the light went out. We shouted, but received no answer, and then Newlove said ‘Let us pray’, and he then prayed for deliverance. It was very cold, and I think we must have gone to sleep. It seemed a dreadfully long time. I remember my cousins dog coming to us. It licked our faces and then went off again. We thought we had been dreaming, but afterwards learned that the dog had been in. After we had been waiting for hours, I thought I heard somebody, and I said, ‘Listen,’ We heard some people shouting, and they gradually got nearer. Then I saw a light through a hole and I shouted, and somebody got hold of us and pulled us out.”

Newlove’s father, describing the finding of the boys said:

“They were in a dangerous spot, because there was no timber at all there, and it looked as though it might fall in at any moment. We first caught sight of their hands. They were very glad to get out. They had quite given themselves up and were crying when we got to them. We gave them some brandy to warm them, because they were very cold and their feet were wet and blue. It would be about twenty-four hours after they first went in, and I don’t think they will go there again in a hurry. They would never have got out if we hadn’t found them. My boy went to the Salvation Army and was converted last night."

The above account, reproduced from the Pontefract Advertiser 12th May 1923 was kindly loaned to us by Mr. John O.E. Holmes.


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