1) The suffix ‘gate’ is important in this case for it could have two meanings. In the sense of ‘barrier’ or ‘door’, it was a contrivance that had to be opened if water was to pass through, in the sense of ‘road’, it referred to a water course or channel.
The first of these meanings applies to references from the fifteenth century where the spelling ‘yate’ confirms that watergate could be terms similar in meaning to floodgate: 1458-9 pro factura le Wateryattes per Th. Bute in fontans fell, ijs
1579 They lay in pain that the farr watter yate at Roger Gauntes shalbe well made and a good locke kept of it, Dewsbury. On the other hand, in a mining context the watergate was likely to be a drain, saving the pit from flooding and allowing the miners to get coal in relatively dry conditions. The earliest examples noted are from Rainton in Durham where expenses for making a watergate or drain in a pit are recorded in 1368-9, ‘pro uno Watergat pro minera’. The first evidence for such features in Yorkshire is in the court rolls of Wakefield manor: in 1340, the steward or ‘grave’ granted a tenant permission to dig for sea-coal in Alverthorpe and also ‘to make a channel under the earth for draining the water’. The original text is in Latin, but this translation is clear evidence that drains had to be built in some of the earliest pits if coal was to be easily extracted. The first Yorkshire examples of ‘watergate’ in this sense occur in seventeenth-century documents, and one note about coal getting in Barwick in Elmet is particularly detailed. Sir Thomas Gascoigne was working shallow pits there in the mid-1600s and water had evidently been a problem. He says that in 1638 he did … sinke the Ginn pitt deeper and added another pumpe, which allowed him to draw the water 20 yards in all, evidently the depth of the pit. The passage that is directly relevant to the draining operation is worth quoting at length: From Parlington Hollins there is two rowes of bottom cole, and one rowe of hardband to be gotten when the ginns shall draw 20 y[ard]e: which to recover there must be 2 water gates driven, one for the high cole and another for the low cole. The higher water gate must be taken out of the bottom of the Ginn pitt which is about 20 yarde deep … He then comments on the necessity of attending to the water courses lest they be lost or misspent … by mold warpe holes or choked by sedges, etc, for want of scouring. His major concern was the Soughe from the wheele race downe to the Cock [the name of the stream] which if it were obstructed would utterly undoe us. Coal leases in the Bradford area contain additional information about the way problems with water were dealt with. In 1659, pits in Wibsey were leased to Samuel Littlewood of Hunsworth with free liberty … to drive and make Watergates as well for the wayneing of Coales as for avoydinge of water. The inference is that the ‘gates’ here would be wide, serving principally as drains but also allowing coal to be moved out of the pit by some form of vehicle. Littlewood agreed to maintaine and keep the Watergate or Watergates in good and sufficient manner during the said terme of ten years and that would involve maintenance work on the drains. Additional examples are quoted under the headwords ‘fettle’ and ‘fey’.