Topics / Local Industry / Coal Mining

COAL MINING

This section gives an overview of Coal Mining in and around the locality of Griffydam. Extracts have been taken from Samuel T Stewart's book "The Development Of Coal Mining In The Local Area"  and provides a comprehensive account of the industry. The video (containing rare footage from 1911) and the 1950's film, provide a further insight into this important industry and workforce.

Coalminers 1950 Film.jpg

Coal mining was an extremely dangerous profession with miners working in very difficult conditions. Many lives were lost and others received serious injuries. To view records of fatalities occurring in our local mines click on the link below:

 

THE DEVELOPMENT OF COAL MINING  THROUGH THE AGES

 

Nearby Coleorton has a long history of coal mining, almost certainly dating back to the 1200’s. Evidence of deep shaft mining, dating back to Tudor times (1540), were discovered in the Parish in the 1990’s, and coal mining did not come to an end in the village till 1968.  In times gone by, Coleorton must have been a dirty and foreboding village, from all the smoke and the grime that would have been produced. From William Burton’s “Description of Leicestershire” published in 1622, we gather that coal was found on the surface before the days of King Henry III, and distributed around the countryside by donkey pannier. 

It was ‘recorded’ that coal was being worked at Swannington (Leicestershire) in 1204 during the reign of King John. This small Coalfield was fairly isolated and eventually bordered the South Derbyshire Field where coal was known to have been mined in 1208. A Charter of confirmation relating to the village of Swannington, formerly preserved in the Tower of London, confirms the gift of one Philip, son of Eilnod, to Rudolf, son of Gerbold of a piece of land, worth 2 shillings per annum, in Swannington “where cole is gotten”. A lawsuit of 1293 mentions a coal mine operating there also. As Swannington was adjacent to “Overtone” (Coleorton), it can be safely assumed that coal was also being mined / outcropped there as well.

There is reference to coal being mined at Swadlincote (South Derbyshire) in 1208. William de Gresley granted half of his lands in the 5 acres of woods stretching from Leverichgrave to Blakepit where coal was known to be worked, to Robert de Sugkenhull and his wife Petronilla. We are told that two charters of 1374 and 1377 indicate that coal was being mined at Swadlincote.

During the mid thirteenth century one of the most important landowners in the Worthington district was Ralph Bozun. Around 1270, he and his wife granted their lands and coal mines which they contained to Garendon Abbey, probably in the area of “the Smoile” and the adjacent “Worthington Rough” where all the coal seams outcropped. This is to some extent confirmed by the following.

Isabella de Hastings granted certain tithes of coal to the “Convent of Breedon” in South Derbyshire, and worked small diggings at Worthington in 1340, and is recorded in the “Garendon Enspeximus” as follows:-

The gift, grant and confirmation, which Ralph Barron of Claxton and Lora his wife made to the same Abbot and Monks of the whole wood at Worthington with the whole soil to the same adjacent, with the common of pasture, coal mines (minera carboneum) and all other appurtenances" This again probably refers to the outcrop of coal workings of “Worthington Rough” and “The Smoile” where the coal seams outcropped. Isabella de Hastings was responsible for the workings of both coal and iron ore at Gelsmoor in Breedon parish, where all of the coal seams outcropped also.

In the 14th century Sir William de Staunton worked coal and ironstone near to Staunton Harold where several seams outcropped.It is not until 1498 that we have actual documentary evidence contained in a law suit of coal mining at Coleorton, when Thomas and Robert Pocock, “colyers of Overton Saucy” were charged with cutting down John Beaumont trees and underwood valued at 40s in Overton Katermershe. Timber was always a scarce and valuable commodity. Farming was the main livelihoods of the inhabitants of these scattered townships, although, a hundred years later coal mining was an important, though not full-time, occupation of the growing population. This record has the added interest of being the earliest known Leicestershire example of the existence of a specialist group of workers and suggests that mining at Coleorton had by this time become much more than a part time estate activity.

By 1520, there were at least five coal pits being worked in Swannington, but at Coleorton, at least some of the pits were closed by an underground fire.

 

The precise location of early pits is not known, but in view of the fact that no less than seventeen significant seams outcropped within the area, they were widespread from Staunton, Heath End, the Smoile and Newbold in the north to Swannington in the south.

In fact, until the early 1800’s it was not possible to know the exact location of colliery’s as they were given general descriptions like Coleorton, Lount, Swannington etc, and it wasn’t till John Prior’s maps of 1777 became available, that we were able to see the approximate geographical locations of many shafts (pits), even though these still did not include any guidance to colliery names or owners.

The Prior map opposite provides an idea of the geography of the locality at that time, and the amount of mining activity that was taking or had taken place. 

Local 19th Century Coal Mines

 

Sir George Beaumont’s determination to extend the Leicester and Swannington Railway beyond Swannington, stemmed from his desire to revive coal mining on his Coleorton estate and to serve the small collieries operated by Benjamin, Thomas and James Walker on his lands at Newbold and Lount. Around 1830, Benjamin had opened another small mine at the north-west corner of Smoile Wood, which was generally referred to as Smoile Colliery. Much of the coal from these pits were used in local lime and brick and tile works, and it was coal and lime that accounted for much of the freight carried on the new Coleorton Railway from 1834. Beaumont himself may have continued to work some coal at Coleorton, but its continuing decline is well illustrated by the Census returns which show a fall in the population from 848 in 1831 to 601 in 1841, of whom only twenty were listed as coal miners. The demolition of 35 miners’ cottages there during the same period adds further support, the inhabitants probably moving to the thriving collieries at nearby Snibston and Whitwick. Swannington also continued to play little part in the industry at this time, with only forty-five coalminers amongst its forty-five inhabitants in 1841.

 

By 1835, there were collieries operating at Peggs Green, Newbold, Lount, Smoile and Heath End, and possibly at Coleorton and Swannington, but there is no actual proof of the latter two working at this time. With the availability of rail transport, coal mining in the sector was clearly enjoying a revival, but without attaining its previous status. Peggs Green was without doubt the most important of the group in terms of both quality and quantity of coal mined.

 

Owing to the centuries of coal mining that had taken place in the area, all the collieries were therefore difficult to operate. Many of the upper seams had been wholly or partially worked out, and the area was honeycombed by old workings containing copious amounts of water. In the absence of old mine plans and survey records, mining tended to be even more hazardous than normal, as several later reports relating to accidents demonstrate. The collieries in this sector thus tended to be very much the poor relation, overshadowed by their deeper and larger neighbours to the south. Apart from several brickworks, lime works, an Earthenware Pottery in the Parish of Coleorton, near Lount, and the lead works at Staunton, the area failed to develop any major secondary industries.

The status of the industry in the area changed very little until 1850, with the relatively large Peggs Green Colliery of Price and Company, and the small collieries at Lount, Newbold and Smoile run by various members of the Walker family contributing all or most of the output. Increased quantities of coal under Swannington were worked after 1840 by the Whitwick and Snibston Collieries, but there was a notable revival of colliery development in the area after 1850. This was brought about largely by the efforts of Benjamin Walker and William Worswick, a wealthy property owner, coal-merchant and contractor from Leicester, where he owned the manors and halls of Normanton and Birstall and extensive lands at Syston and Thurcaston. Initially, Worswick associated with Walker in the running of Smoile Colliery which was a small concern producing low grade coal mainly for the use in local lime and brick works. It was probably in 1849 that they decided to sink a large new colliery a short distance to the north-west of St.George’s Church, Swannington. Coleorton No.1. or California Colliery as it became known was developed under an agreement with Sir George Beaumont in which they agreed to pay him a half-yearly rent of £693. It was well sited along the Coleorton Railway, and by 1856 was despatching 62,000 tons of coal by rail per annum. Owing to its rapid success, Walker and Worswick had closed Smoile Colliery by 1853, and it was probably in the following year that Walker stopped mining at Newbold Cylinder Pit.

Encouraged by his success at Coleorton, Worswick turned to Swannington, where he decided that there were large quantities of Main Coal and other seams remaining, particularly to the north and west of the village, and beyond the immediate reach of the Whitwick and Snibston Collieries. In December 1852, he accordingly concluded an important agreement with the Trustees of Wyggeston Hospital who owned the land in the area, whereby he agreed to lease the Main Coal under 747 acres at £111 per acre for 35 years, subject to an annual deed rent of £1,332. By the following February, he had started work on the shaft of a new colliery on the east side of Swannington Common which eventually reached the main coal, 7ft 5in  thick, at 474ft. From the outset, Swannington No.1. or Calcutta Colliery suffered from two serious disadvantages, firstly, the important seams above the main coal were found to have been worked previously, secondly, it had a very cramped site, being restricted to the north-east by the Thringstone Fault and to the south by underground barriers that had to be left between Calcutta workings and those of Whitwick and Snibston collieries. Nevertheless, by effective organisation and adequate investment in plant and equipment it became an important colliery, its rail and canal sales amounting to 64,000 tons in 1856 and 79,000 tons in the following year.

Two years later in 1855, possibly recognising the limitations of the Calcutta mine, Worswick associated with Walker to sink yet another large colliery known most commonly as Califat, but was given the official name of Coleorton No.2. Colliery. It was also known as Alabama and Windmill, the latter presumably relating to the smock windmill standing nearby on the Swannington-Thringstone boundary. Although given the official name of Coleorton No.2. Colliery it was actually sunk within Swannington Parish boundary.

 

Shortly afterwards, Worswick and Walker re-opened Smoile Colliery and also became partners in Lount Colliery, thereby bringing under their control practically the whole of the areas coal production. Califat Colliery proved to be a difficult one to operate on account of the numerous old hollows filled with water that lay between the shafts and the old Limby Hall Colliery.

It is clear therefore, that between 1825 and 1860, with the early introduction of rail transport, the Leicestershire Coalfield experienced a remarkable transformation, which changed it from a demoralized group of outdated collieries to a highly productive zone of deep modern collieries that were able to make a significant contribution to the fuel supply of the south-east Midlands and the Home Counties. Further west, the Derbyshire section of the coalfield had to wait until 1849 before a through-railway from Ashby to Burton was opened, and until then, had to continue to rely on canal and road transport.

 

In an attempt to work the deeper seams, and to extract the remnants of seams worked previously, a somewhat bewildering array of short lived pits were sunk in Swannington and Coleorton districts after 1860, particularly by William Worswick. In addition to those already mentioned there was Swannington No.2. (Sinope), Swannington No.3. (Clink)  and Snibston No.3.

 

Swannington No.2. (Sinope Colliery) was sunk in 1851, but by 1877 it had closed. It had sidings to the south side of the Leicester to Burton Midland Railway line.

 

Following their successful opening of California, Calcutta and Califat collieries between 1849 and 1855, Walker and Worswick became two of the most important proprietors in the coalfield. In 1860, their collieries dispatched 140,000 tons of coal by canal and rail, compared with 146,000 tons by the Snibston Company and 108,000 by the Whitwick Company.

Worswick, probably in association with Benjamin or William Walker, continued to operate the collieries at Lount and Smoile, although these were closed in 1868 and 1864 respectively. By 1864, Worswick thus owned or held an interest in at least six local collieries which between them had a productive capacity of 200,000 tons. At the same time, he was also the owner of two collieries in Derbyshire and one in Nottinghamshire. When he died in 1871, his estates and collieries passed to his eldest son, William, who displayed little knowledge of, or interest, in the mining industry.

 

By 1873, California, Calcutta and Califat pits had closed, and shortly afterwards in 1875, a new Colliery officially named Coleorton Number.3., but known locally as the “Bug and Wink” was opened by G. Checkland and Co.

 

It is recorded that between 1874 and 1880, Joseph Smart & Son also worked a small pit and a brickworks at Griffydam

This pyramid of rocks, were approximately 600 feet above sea level. This area is part of the ‘Thringstone Fault’

The map shows 30 pit shafts (designated by circles) in the Coleorton, Newbold and Lount area

Coleorton No.3. Colliery - photograph taken in the early 1900’s.

Two Coleorton “Bug and Wink” miners enjoying a glass of ale. Photograph taken in Pit Lane c.1910. Tom Fairbrother is seated, and he is recorded in the 1901 Coleorton census aged 23 and living with his wife Ada in ‘Rotten Row’

© 2018 Griffydam Village History Group

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