CALIFORNIA COLLIERY (COLEORTON No.1)

1849 was the year of the California gold rush, and a rather smaller rush for riches took place the following year adjacent to the Coleorton Railway, when Benjamin Walker and William Worswick constructed the California Colliery at Peggs Green. However antiquated the Coleorton Railway may have appeared by this time, it proved its worth in transporting materials to the colliery site, despite the fact that this had to be reached by a short branch line on a gradient of about 1 in 30. In March 1850, iron bars, fish belly rails and building materials were delivered, presumably for the branch line and engine house. They were followed on April 26th by 7¼ tons of “engine works”, and in October by “engine castings” and a beam weighing 10 tons 12 cwt, presumably for the colliery pumping engine. The following May saw a boiler and flywheels taken to the site of the “machine fan”.

 

The California “coal rush” began in February 1851, with production rising quickly to about 3,000 tons per month. It peaked at 3,878 tons in March 1854, the high water mark for both the colliery and the little railway system. Presumably, to help with the haulage of this coal, Walker built a stable for his horses alongside the railway at Swannington. This era of prosperity was unfortunately short lived. The mining areas below California were riddled with old workings, impeding progress at every turn, and by the end of the year production of coal had fell away to a very low level. The California Colliery does not seem to have closed completely, and between 1865 and 1873 was shipping an average of about 100 tons per month over the railway. A surviving plan shows that during this period, they were taking coal from the Main Seams under Coleorton Moor. The galleries stretched out in awkward fingers between areas of old workings. One can only feel admiration for the courage of the miners who went to work each day in such dangerous conditions.

 

It should not be forgotten that California also had its own brickworks adjacent to the colliery but little is known about them.

 

The New Inn was built across the road from California Colliery and Brickworks, and along with the George Inn on Loughborough Rd, are the only surviving pubs now in the locality which were built adjacent to a colliery.  The Angel and the Kings Arms on Coleorton Moor may be considered to be colliery pubs as they were not too far from the Coleorton No.3. Colliery (“Bug & Wink”) and Swannington No.1. Colliery (Sinope), respectively.

Section from the 1903 O/S map showing the location of California Colliery (Coleorton No.1.) and Brick Works (marked A) plus the Coleorton Railway embankment

© 2018 Griffydam Village History Group

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