FOREST OF WYRE COALFIELD

The following are articles on the coalfield from the SCMC Journals and elsewhere. Click on the title in the index below.

1. Coal Nationalisation 50 Years On
2. Forest of Wyre Coalfield
3. Forest of Wyre Coalfield - Mine Statistics
4. George Ferriday and the 1912 Accident at Billingsley Colliery
5. Mining in Hunthouse Wood, Mamble, Worcestershire
6. Prior's Moor, Billingsley


"Mining in Hunthouse Wood, Mamble, Worcestershire"

David Poyner, Andrew Santer & Robert Evans, SCMC Journal No.5

Introduction

The parish of Mamble in Worcestershire lies on the Wyre Forest Coalfield and has seen mining from at least the 17th Century. The largest complex of mines is located close to the village centre, along the Marlbrook valley. However, coal has been worked at other locations in the parish including Hunthouse Wood, which lies to the south and is bordered by the Dumbleton Brook on its east and south sides. The name Hunthouse Wood is now applied collectively to a series of dense woods which clothe the steep slope of the brook and its tributaries and today is largely owned and run as a nature reserve by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust. However, it has had an interesting industrial past, as will be reviewed below.

Geology

Hunthouse Wood lies on the edge of the southern basin of the Wyre Forest coalfield and coal seams outcrop along its southern edge. In this basin, known as the Mamble Coalfield, only Upper Coal Measures (the Highley Beds) are present and lie unconformably on the underlying Old Red Sandstone. Two important coal seams occur in Hunthouse Wood which have been worked commecially as household coals as well as the more traditional uses such as hop-drying and brick-making. They lie in an east-west belt of measures stretching across the Mamble Coalfield, in which the coal seams thicken appreciably and improve in quality. The Hunthouse Wood area also sees an improvement in floor and roof conditions in the higher of the two seams, the Main or Five Foot, in which most of the working has taken place. The lower seam, the Hard Mine Coal, is, as its name implies, rather hard and difficult to work. Both coals attain a thickness of about 6ft, including bands of parting.

The main stratigraphic feature in the sequence is a band of sandstone, 100ft thick, known as the the "Thick Sandstone". This, along with a thin band of limestone rich in the fossil Spirobis and a band of purple and red mottled clay, the "Horseflesh Clay", provides a useful marker in interpreting the geology of the locality. The most significant tectonic feature of Hunthouse Wood is that it is located in a trough fault, with a throw of about 50ft. This means that the Hard Mine coal outside of the fault is almost on the same horizon as the Main Coal within it. This was elucidated in the Second World War by Geoffrey Bramall, managing director of the Bayton Colliery Company, and has had considerable implications for the history of mining.

Pre-Mining History

Hunthouse Wood formed the boundary of the Saxon manors of Sodington and 'Broc'. In the 13th Century some of the woodland was granted to one Wynwaru as part of a farm or 'wic', hence the name Winwrick's Wood. For a period Hunthouse Farm (perhaps the manor of Broc) may have been a hunting lodge. Subsequently the names have lost their meanings and become transposed, leading to the presence of Winrick's Wood Colliery in Hunthouse Wood.

By the end of the Middle Ages the wood had become part of the lands of the Blount family of Sodington and Mawley Hall and it was to remain in this family until well into this century. Little is known of its use for much of this period. The land is wet and slopes steeply, so was of little agricultural value. Most retained its semi-natural cover with only some coppicing until felling took place between the wars.

Historical Evidence for Mining

The first records of mining in this part of Mamble which have so far come to light are the notebooks of the geologist Sir Roderick Murchison, who visited the area in 1833. He noted the presence of shallow mines at Hunthouse. In 1842 Berrows Worcester Journal reports the death of a boy who fell down a pit shaft at Frith Common, a settlement about ( mile west of Hunthouse Wood. It is likely that these mines were the fore-runners of the large late-19th century complex that was known as Buckets Leasow Colliery, and which worked the coal from the outcrop south of Hunthouse Farm almost towards the ground of the Mamble Colliery itself. Both of these were owned by the Blount Family and were subsequently leased to the Aston family. Buckets Leasow remained a primitive colliery with handwinding until its closure in 1907, employing about 20 men in its latter years. It is important to note that it did not include any part of Hunthouse Wood it its workings and it is not certain whether Murchison's colliery in 1833 was within the wood or close to the farm. Thus there is no certain documentary evidence for pre-20th century mining in Hunthouse Wood.

Matters become much clearer with the founding of the Bayton Colliery Company, registered in December 1914. Although this actually took over a mine in Bayton village, known as Bayton No.l on the Sakenhurst Estate of the Guerney family, the real target was to lease the minerals of the Mawley Estate; 1500 acres including Hunthouse Wood. The First World War meant that this was not achieved until 1921 but almost immediately the company began to sink a shaft just to the north of Mamble village; Bayton No. 2 or the "Eggbox Pit", so-called because of its square-section, timber lined shaft. Unfortunately it was not a success and it closed in 1923, shortly followed by No. 1, where reserves had been exhausted. The Bayton Colliery Company was left without a working colliery to its name and was forced to do some rapid prospecting. It was decided that the outcrop in Hunthouse Dingle was the best prospect for rapid coal production and in April 1924 a pair of drifts were driven in an outcrop of the Main Coal. The mine exceeded expectations and so the site was developed in a more extensive way. In 1925 a tramway was laid to the mine from the road and in 1926 a third drift was opened further to the south in the woods.

In 1928 the workings were so extensive from the first two drifts that it was decided to sink shafts down to them, to improve ventillation and working efficiency. In the event, it was necessary only to put down a single shaft and, on completion of this, a road was laid out to it, allowing the companies own fleet of lorries direct access to the pit head and eliminating the need for the tramway. The mine was now known as Bayton No.3 or Winwrick's Wood. At some point a shaft was also sunk to the more southerly drift in the wood.

In the early 1930s, the company's interests lay elsewhere, with a trial sinking at Stildon Manor (Bayton No.4), the purchase of the small Hollins Colliery in Pensax and a rather unsuccessful colliery nearer Mamble Village (New Mamble or Bayton No.5). However, No.3 remained the mainstay of the company and in April 1936 a start was made on a fresh pair of shafts to extend the workings further to the north. These were to be Bayton No.6, or Hunthouse Colliery. This went well but in August 1937 water broke through a small fault and flooded the existing workings of No.3. Given that this was shortly to be abandoned in favour of No.6, no attempt was made to pump the old mine dry and the miners were transferred to New Mamble (the other mine of the company then in operation) until No.6 was finished.

This finally opened in June 1939, and the expectation was that New Mamble would soon close. However, the Second World War intervened to make this a very protracted process. It was not possible to secure the promised electricity supply at No. 6, leaving it short of power. Furthermore, Government permission could not be obtained to close down New Mamble, even though it was making a loss. The power shortage was eventually solved by the purchase of two gas engines. These drove the compressors to supply the compressed air picks used at the face. However, the Ministry of Fuel and Power still refused permission to close New Mamble until the company agreed to reopen the drifts to provide work for those men too old to cope with No.6. Thus in 1944 one drift was driven parallel to those of 1924 and another closer to that of 1926, to clean out the coal that had previously been left. A lorry road was also put down to these.

At the time of sinking of the 1944 drifts, Geoffrey Bramall of the Bayton Colliery Company became convinced that the best coal lay to their north-east. A detailed survey of the geology of the brook valley suggested the presence of the trough fault and he proved this by driving a trial level at 45( from the mouth of one of the 1924 workings. This, starting out in the Main Coal, passed through the fault into the Hard Mine, proving Bramall's conjecture. Bramall then turned to the area east of the trough fault and explored the outcrop of the Main Coal with a series of triaIs. Arising out these, a production drift was started in November 1946, following the draining of a bog which lay in its path. The first entrance to this mine was on the outcrop, close to the brook and was served by a tramway. This was subsequently used for drainage, with a cross-measure drift being driven to the surface further to the west to meet up with a surface road for lorry access. Subsequently a shaft was sunk into its workings, presumably to aid ventilation. Sometime between 1947 and 1950 a further production drift, No.9 Drift (not to be confused with No.9 Shaft), was opened alongside the brook, midway between the 1924 and 1946 drifts. This worked the Main coal previously proved by one of the trials referrred to above.

After the war, electricity finally arrived in November 1945, although an electric winding engine was not installed until some years later. The coal industry was nationalised in August 1947 but at first the Bayton Colliery Company retained its independence, working as a small mine under a series of temporary licenses from the National Coal Board. However, operations at Bayton were too large for the company to escape the NCB's clutches and, after an uncomfortable 18 month relationship, the Bayton Colliery Company abandoned the struggle and made the mine over to the NCB. They continued to operate a brickworks and coal haulage business until the 1960s. The NCB seem to have made a sorry mess of running the pit and closed it in February 1950. As a small and isolated mine, it stood little chance of survival in the new order.

Although the NCB had no interest in working the Worcestershire half of the Wyre Forest Coalfield, others were not so easily discouraged. The Mole family of Clows Top had worked at the local collieries since the previous century and had made several attempts in the inter-war period to open mines in the area. With the withdrawal of both the Bayton Colliery Company and the NCB, they took their chance and obtained a license to work the coal in the vicinity of No. 8 drift as a small mine. Rather than re-use the drifts, they sank two new shafts, (officially Bayton Nos.10 and 11, following on from the nomenclature of the Bayton Colliery Company), although the mine was always known as Hunthouse. Production began in 1954, using a mixture of largely second-hand plant driven by compressed air or electricity. As a licensed mine, usually 30 men were employed underground. In 1963 an additional shaft (No.12) was sunk and fitted with a pump to improve drainage. The mine closed in 1972, nominally because of flooding. Attempts to re-open it as a going concern came to nothing, although the site was not cleared until 1979.

Surface Remains

As noted above, documentary evidence for pre-1924 working is insubstantial and inconclusive. However, there is clear archaeological evidence for earlier mining. Along most of the outcrop are traces of coal digging, with signs of spoil tips and drift mines in several places. Old workings were discovered when No.8 drift was being opened out in 1946, where the coal had been taken from the upper part of the Main Coal seam. In the east of the site, the workings seem fairly haphazard, but in the west they seem to have been laid out to a plan. Along the valley-side are two parallel lines of shafts, each on its own terrace, which also carry access tracks. The shafts are laid out at approximately 50 yard intervals. Exact details are difficult to recover, as the area has been affected by ground slippage and was of course partly re-worked in the 1920s. However, there are perhaps up to 5 or 6 shafts in each row. On the level ground by the side of the brook there are substantial spoil mounds, perhaps arising from the shafts .

The area of the 1924 drifts is well preserved at the eastern end. There are the foundations of the haulage engine, still with holding down bolts, and the office. The mouth of No.2 drift is discernible, and No.7 cross-measure drift put down in 1944 can be followed for some distance to where it has collapsed. When the drifts finally closed here the mouths were sealed by bulldozing and so the western end of the site is harder to interpret. A number of artefacts remain, including a vertical boiler and the base of a wooden tub in the brook, a steel arch, a wheel set, and numerous lengths of rail. The tramway incline that served the 1924 mines is well preserved for most of its length and at the top of the bank there are brick foundations of unknown function; perhaps part of a brake-drum assembly or a creeper. Further along is a bank made up of the bodies of steel tubs, now badly corroded. These are perhaps more likely to date from the 1940s.

At the site of the shaft of No.3, there is no sign of the shaft itself. At some point, the stream which ran alongside the pithead has been culverted and perhaps at this point the site was tided up. However, the site remains as an obvious platform, with large mounds of burnt ash. There are signs that this has been quarried for hardcore at some time. There are a quantity of concrete arches on the site, that are probably left over from culverting the stream, and also two much rusted A-frames of unknown provenance. The lorry road down to this site is obvious, as is its continuation to the 1924/44 drifts. The lowest section of this is distorted by land slippage and the main track now curves away to the east, cutting through the line of the 1925 incline.

At the site of Hunthouse No.6, there is a prominent spoil tip and, adjacent to it, the foundations of the land sale screens. The shafts have been capped and most of the site built over. However, nearest to the lane which originally served as the tramway and then road to the earlier mines are the brick-built compressor and gas engine house and the stables. These have survived by being converted into a house and garage. The roofs have been raised but the original walls are quite distinct. Further along the track, buried in conifers which screen the saw-mill, is a horizontal boiler almost completely sunk in the ground. At the site of No.8 drift, the incline of c.1946 is well preserved for most of its length. It is associated with several large lengths of approx. 9" flanged pipes and rail sections. At its base, the first drift entrance is obvious as a line of subsidence. Just off this is a (filled) brick-lined shaft, shown on all plans of the workings, perhaps put down either for exploratory purposes or to aid ventilation. The later entrance to the drift is marked by two low brick retaining wall and a short length of subsidence. The access road is largely visible, but seems to have been washed away by a stream close to the drift mouth.

Further north in the wood is the site of No.9 shaft, sunk to ventilate the workings. This is now marked by a flooded hollow but lying besides it are the remains of a hand windlass. This consists of an iron roll supported on two wooden frames, and was formerly encased in a sheet-iron hut. This was apparently purchased secondhand and never used. The site of the Mole Brothers' Hunthouse Colliery was completely cleared, except for No.12 shaft set in the wood. The Pulsometer Pump was left in situ and the flooded shaft used as an emergency source of water for the sawmill which replaced the mine. A steel gantry stands over the shaft, carrying an electric motor which was used to move the pump up and down. The gantry itself may have been purchased second-hand from the Rockmoor Coal gassification experimental site, set up in 1951. Close by is a sinking kibble. Hunthouse Colliery was salvaged by Bewdley Museum before its demolition, and this now has a number of artefacts in store, including a cage and tub.

There is an enigmatic collection of remains close to the entrance to the nature reserve, in the north of the site. These essentially consist of a number of deeply worn holloways leading south-east down the hillside to Dumbleton brook. They may well have been formed over a considerable period as part of a route through the wood to Pensax and perhaps also for timber hauling purposes. Some are overlain by the 1946 incline to No.8 drift. However, one cuts through this, showing the route was re-established post-1947. At the top of the bank is a brick and concrete foundation of some kind of building of unknown function. Next to this are a compressed air receiver and a water-tube vertical boiler. These can be identified on a 1946 inventory of Hunthouse No.6 colliery. A little further north are another series of holloways leading down the hill, their lower ends now obscured by land slips. In one of these are the remains of pipes and rails suggesting it had been associated with coal mining. Detailed records of the activities of the Bayton Colliery Company survive but less is known of the NCB period or the early days of the Mole Brothers' operations. It is possible that the tracks may have been pressed into service during these times, perhaps as access to No.9 or other drifts. The remains of No.9 drift have not yet been positively identified but, together with the associated trial drifts, they are probably at the northern edge of earlier outcrop working.

Conclusions

Hunthouse Wood has had a long history, being exploited both for its timber and coal. Plans to extend the workings into areas yet untouched came to nothing in post-war years and much coal remains. An attempt to resume mining in 1990 failed in the face of local (commuter) opposition and County Council policy.

There are good remains surviving from all periods of mining history. The coal mines are well documented during the interwar period but much less is known about activities outside this period. Further study of the physical remains may help to shed light on this. Although Hunthouse Wood Nature Reserve is open to access at all times please note that many of the remains of Hunthouse Colliery (Nos.8-12) lie on private land and the goodwill of the landowner depends on the respect of his privacy.


"Coal Nationalisation 50 Years On"

David Coxill, SCMC Journal No.5

Following the passing of the Nationalisation of the Coal Industry Act 1946, after it was initially delayed by opposition in the House of Lords, valuation reports of the coal industry's assets for each coalfield were prepared in order that the appropriate level of compensation could be paid to the private owners. The report for the East Shropshire Coalfield (Coalbrookdale, Shrewsbury and Forest of Wyre) was written by George Price. He was a mining engineer from Sheffield and the report gives us a valuable insight as to the state of the industry at that time. It also allows us to reflect on expectations for the future and how it all turned out.

At the time of nationalisation, only one deep mine was working, Alveley Colliery operated by Highley Mining Co Ltd. The coalfield extends from Bridgnorth in the north to the Abberley Hills in the south, actually crossing the county border into Herefordshire. The Highley Group of the Upper Coal Measures contains thin sulphurous coals which were only rarely worked around Bayton and Mamble. Beneath these, the Kinlet Group of the Productive Coal Measures contained "sweet" good quality coal seams that were widely worked. The principle seams were the Five-Foot (or Broach) Coal, Halfyard Coal, Four-Foot Coal and Two-Foot Coal. Only the Broach was being worked in 1946.

The Highley Mining Company was formed in 1870 and coal production at Highley Mine (SO745830) began in 1874. A second colliery was sunk at Kinlet in 1896 and continued until it was forced to close in 1937 through roof problems and heavy faulting. During the 1930s, it was decided to develop the area east of Highley Colliery and so the Alveley Colliery was sunk on the eastern bank of the River Severn in 1935-37. Production commenced in 1938 and full output was reached six years later at 275,000 tons per annum. The two mines were interconnected and, after 1940, Highley Colliery served only as ventilation shafts for Alveley Colliery. The new mine was modern for its day, being electrified from the start, so there was no need for boilers. Coal face working was fully mechanised and, in 1947, the capital cost of Alveley Colliery was 206,937. There were 289 men working at the coal face, 135 for haulage and another 561 underground making, with the 180 employed at surface, a total workforce of 741 men.

Alveley worked to the north, south and east directions but not to the west, where the Highley mine was. A natural boundary of the prospect to the east was the Romsley Fault but this appears to have been penetrated at a much later date.

The future of Alveley looked promising and it was for about 20 years. At its peak in the 1930s it employed over 1,250 men, producing about 280,000 tons per annum. Then in 1968 the quality of the coal deteriorated dramatically at a time when there was a national over supply and a major pit closure programme being implemented by Harold Wilson's second administration (1966-70) to remedy the situation. Had the quality problem occurred during or immediately after World War II, or during the mid-1970s when there were energy crises through blending, then it might not have mattered. However, coming at a time of oversupply, the mine was closed as uneconomic in January 1969.

At the time of nationalisation, it was estimated that up to the Romsley Fault the estimated reserves were 22 million tonnes for the Brooch Coal, 10 million tonnes for the New Mine Coal and 15 million tonnes for the Flying Reed Coal, making a total of 47 million tonnes. At most, only 15% of these reserves were worked.


"Forest of Wyre Coalfield"

Robert Evans, David Poyner, & Steve Powell, "Mining in Shropshire"

To most people, the Wyre Forest conjures up a vision of woods and farmland so they are often surprised to learn that beneath this area lies the Wyre Forest or South Shropshire Coalfield. It is some 30 kilometres long and up to 10 kilometres wide at certain points, having been mined on surface outcrops and to depths approaching 300 metres in places. The deposits start around Bridgnorth-Harpswood in the north and spread down to Abberley in the south, where faulting and changes in rock structure cut off the workable seams.

Near to the surface, there are three seams which produced a sulphurous coal - Brock Hall, Hard Mine and Main Sulphur Seams, the latter producing a fair household coal. Deeper still are found four other seams - Broach, Half Yard, Four Foot and Two Foot Seams, together with ironstone and fireclay.

Mining probably started in the Middle Ages with coal being dug from surface outcrops, short levels or stream beds where coal deposits were exposed. They were mostly worked by miners/farmers, who grew crops in summer and mined coal in winter when there was little farmwork to do. Most of it would have been for their personal consumption but they would have been able to sell some locally to offset costs. By 1594, however, a proper colliery was being worked at Chetton on behalf of Thomas Hord of Bridgnorth and in 1613, Francis Lacon of Kinlet let his mines to John Slaney of London and Sir Percival Willoughby of Woollaton. These partners intended to develop the collieries and introduce a railway but quarrelled over the lease and parted.

The majority of collieries at this time were worked from shallow shafts, not more than 100ft deep, from which men and coal were wound by hand windlass, or occasionally a horse gin. Sometimes drift mines were worked, where tunnels were driven into the side of a hill to intersect the coal seam. None of these enterprises would have employed more than a handful of men or produced more than 100 tons of coal per year. They were working poor quality seams and much better coal was available in neighbouring coalfields which attracted more investment.

At the start of the 19th century, there were dramatic, if ultimately short lived, developments at Billingsley and Highley. As demand for coal by local industry grew, a large estate at Billingsley was acquired by Sir William Pulteney, MP for Shrewsbury and a patron of Thomas Telford. He brought in the mining engineer George Johnson to develop the coal mines and, by 1796, there was a large coal works linked to a wharf on the River Severn by a 2 mile horse drawn railway. Unfortunately, the mines ran into financial difficulties and closed in 1801. A long series of court cases followed, not helped by the disappearance of Johnson's chief partner, who fled to France with all the books of the enterprise. The mines were reopened in 1803 by a consortium of local businessmen who sold them to an ironmaster George Stokes in 1810. The latter could not make them pay and they closed again when Stokes went bankrupt two years later.

In 1804, Stanley Colliery was opened near Highley by John and Benjamin Thompson. The brothers were ironfounders but the coal produced was too sulphurous for smelting. It found instead a market in Bewdley, Worcester and beyond for household use, hop drying, lime burning and brick making. By 1810 the colliery had three shafts and a winding engine, having reached a depth of 330ft. It was sold in 1812 but eventually closed in 1822 when the coal ran out after it hit geological faults.

Although most workings were shallow, several deep exploratory shafts were sunk in the 19th century including those at Compton and Shatterford, the latter being sunk eventually to 1380ft. Little coal was found but there was good quality clay which was mined for a brick and pottery works for several years. The small scale of working changed with the construction of the Severn Valley Railway in 1862. This provided a cheap method of transport to markets outside the area and the emphasis changed from personal consumption to external sale.

In the early 1860s, the landlord of the Cape of Good Hope Inn in Billingsley began prospecting for coal in the locality. In 1873, the shaft hit a five foot seam of coal which was to change the fortunes of the coalfield. A public company was formed in 1873 to finance the mining but faced ignominy when the Chairman was sentenced to six months hard labour for fraud! It was relaunched but fared little better since the partners ended up suing each other for libel and one of the clerks was arrested at Liverpool, boarding a ship with the company's petty cash.

The colliery was operated on a small scale by Alfred Gibbs (the former chief clerk) until 1910, when it was purchased by the newly formed Billingsley Colliery Company. A lot of money was spent on re-equipping both underground and surface (see Figures 57-58), where a railway was built to connect the colliery with the main line. Following the First World War, the company struggled to meet costs and there were serious geological problems, with numerous faults full of water and gas. The colliery was sold in 1915 to the Highley Mining Company who operated it until its closure during the 1921 Strike. The official statistics indicate that ironstone was mined as well but an old collier has the opinion that the only ironstone that came up the shaft was buried deep in the tubs and disguised as coal!

The Highley Mining Company was formed by several members of the Viggars family, who were engaged in the coal trade at Silverdale, Staffordshire. From the mid-1870s, they opened a brick works at Highley and began sinking trial shafts. The company was reformed in 1877 when the Viggars were joined by the Scrivener family of Newcastle-under-Lyme. In 1878, two 9ft diameter shafts were sunk and these hit the four foot thick Brooch Seam at a depth of 888ft. By 1900, about 240 men and boys were employed and this had increased to 670 by 1937. To serve the new Highley Colliery, railway sidings were created south of Highley station and a standard gauge incline was constructed up the hillside to the colliery. This meant that main line railway trucks could be filled directly with coal from the colliery. Coal was soon being sent down the incline to the Severn Valley Railway and thence to feed the steam engines of the carpet factories in Kidderminster. Clay and shale from the waste tips were also turned into bricks for local builders.

Highley Colliery continued to run at a profit for many years and, in the early 1890s, it was decided to develop a new colliery at Kinlet. This had two shafts of 9ft and 16ft diameter, which finally reached the Brooch Seam at a depth of 927ft. A huge brick winding house was erected in 1896 (see FIgures 59-60) with a twin cylinder horizontal steam winder inside. To serve the colliery, a short branch was taken off the Severn Valley railway in 1900, worked by a small locomotive named Kinlet. Because of the steep strata, there was an underground rope haulage system which was powered by a steam engine at the shaft top. Waste material from the shaft sinking was used to create a large embankment at the pit top and a series of screens to clean the coal were built over the railway sidings.

In the early 1880s, there were two mines on Chelmarsh Common and a two storey engine house stood here until it was demolished in 1985. It is possible that these mines were connected with the grandiose plans at Billingsley Colliery but little is known about them.

By the early 1930s, Kinlet Colliery faced problems with faulting of the coal and unstable roofs. Highley Colliery, however, was very profitable and greatly mechanised with electricity underground and coal cutters. The only problem was that workings were heading under the River Severn towards Alveley and further away from the shafts. In 1935, a new shaft was started at Alveley for coal and man winding, with a concrete headgear and electric winder. It was connected to the Highley workings in 1937, at which time Kinlet Colliery was closed and the men transferred to Highley. Men and coal winding were then progressively transferred to Alveley and by 1940 Highley Colliery was closed, although the shafts at Highley were retained for ventilation. Coal was taken over the River Severn to a screening plant by a rope-worked tramway. The colliery was taken over by the NCB in 1947 and ten years later it employed 1000 men with an annual output of 300,000 tons. Geological problems and loss of markets led to the eventual closure in 1969, with several million tons of untouched coal reserves.


"Forest of Wyre Coalfield - Mine Statistics"

David Poyner

Data taken from Lists of Mines (in the Mineral Statistics published as Parliamentary papers) for the years 1854-81, 1888-1915, 1917-38, 1945, 1948, 1950. Owners from 1856, men from 1894.

This data is simply transcribed from the the above records. Apart from any mistakes I may have introduced doing this, it also reflects the errors made by the intial compilers. Thus Hurdington, 1856-72 is actually Eardington, which worked from 1843-1861!. I would be happy to help any researcher who has queries about this data.

David Poyner - Email : D.R.Poyner@aston.ac.uk

Mine

Working Period

Owner

Managers

Underground & Surface Workers

Coal Seam

Abberley

1856-1876, 1880-1908

 

1866-67

James Molliet

1868-74

J Jones

1875

John Bailey

1876

Booth & Hardcastle

1880-1908

W Norwood

1894 22 (7)

1895 22 (5)

1900 17 (5)

Top

Bottom

Alveley

1935-69

1935-45

Highley Mining Co

1946-69

NCB

1935

H V Eardley

1936-7

C Nicholas

1938

T Stonehouse

1945-48

S H Machin

1950

R J Hasbury

1937 24 (15)

1938 562 (214)

1945 619 (232)

1948 623 (191)

1950 637 (232)

 

Arley

1854-1872

Capt Pelley

     

Arley Wood

1921-22

1921

Roberts & Co

1922

W G Maiden

1921

J J Jones

1921 7 (1)

 

Barrats Farm

1923-26

1923

Old Hall Colliery Co

1926

F J Davies

1923

C Priest

1926

F E Davies

1923 9 (2)

1924 4 (3)

Silver Brooch

Sweet Coal

Bayton

1871-93

1871-2

J Crump

1873-4

Rev D Davies

1875-7

T Wyatt & Son

1888-93

Tolleys & Co

     

Bayton No.1 & 2

1910-23

Bayton Colliery Co

1910

F Wright

1914

H Blakemoor

1921

A R Buffrey

1922

W L Moody

1913 90 (18)

1914 91 (18)

1915 57 (15)

1916 70 (18)

1922 67 (17)

Three Quarters

Hard Mine

Bayton No 3, Hunthouse Level

1924-37

Bayton Colliery Co

W L Moody

1924 3 (7)

1925 18 (12)

1926 35 (25)

1927 35 (41)

1930 35 (41)

1932 88 (49)

Five Foot

Bayton No 4, Stildon Pit

1930-36

Bayton Colliery Co

W L Moody

1930 7 (6)

 

Bayton No 5, New Mamble

1934-44

Bayton Colliery Co

1934-36

W L Moody

1937-8

A R Buffrey

1934 3 (5)

1935 13 (11)

1936 28 (13)

1937 81 (21)

Top

Five Foot

Bayton No 6

1937-50

1937-45

Bayton Colliery Co

1946-50

NCB

W L Moody

1938 3 (4)

1945 59 (30)

1948 56 (25)

Five Foot

Bayton No 6

Drift A (Mamble)

1938-50

1937-45

Bayton Colliery Co

1946-50

NCB

W L Moody

1948 11 (4)

Five Foot

Hard Mine

Beehive (Abberley Mitre)

1909-11

Beehive Colliery Co

 

1909 6 (2)

Top

Bottom

Bell

1870-2

Bell Colliery Co

     

Birch Hill Farm

1922-4

J H Armishaw

     

Billingsley

1868-1921

1868-75

Wm Birchley

1876-7

Billingsley Colliery Co

1878-1909

Severn Valley Colliery Co

1910-15

Billingsley Colliery Co

1916-21

Highley Colliery Co

1884-94

A Gibbs

1895-1910

F W Gibbs

1910-15

L E P Russ

1917-21

C C Nicholas

1894 20 (4)

1895 24 (4)

1898 25 (4)

1908 20 (4)

1910 38 (28)

1911 93 (39)

1912 74 (57)

1913 151 (87)

1915 137 (65)

1917 117 (44)

1918 151 (42)

1919 200 (530)

1921 219 (47)

Five Foot

Four Foot

Two Foot

Half Yard

Brooch

Deep

Shallow

Blakemoor

1864-99

1864-5

Mrs Davies

1866

Wm Dixon & Co

1867-72

Mrs Davies

1873

Wm Davis

1898-9

T C Dalley

 

1898 3 (2)

 

Buckets Leasow

1873-1921

1873-4

Ed Blount

1875-93

Thos Aston

1894-1921

Ed Aston

 

1894 18 (8)

1895 15 (8)

1908 12 (4)

1914 12 (4)

1917 6 (3)

 

Chorley

1934-38

1934-6

C & P Blewitt

1936

Blewitt & Sons

1937-8

Chorley Colliery Co

1935-6

J H Humphries

1937-8

J H Newey

1934 4 (4)

1935 14 (16)

1936 45 (22)

1937 46 (18)

Four Foot

Top

Bottom

Chorley Drift (Woodside)

1922-28

1922-4

A Lebeter & F Pepper

1925-7

Chorley Colliery Co

1928

Chas Home

 

1922 2 (2)

1923 3 (3)

1924 8 (4)

1925 6 (3)

1926 12 (2)

1928 3 (1)

 

Empire

1925

Ed Aston

   

Silver Brooch

Fieldbrook (Slope)

1921-29

1921-4

Arthur Jones

1929

Hurdiss & Fletcher

 

1921 19 (14)

1922 30 (16)

1925 11 (4)

1927 16 (10)

Top

Gybhouse

1867-1923

1867-72

W Hanbury

1888

W Davies

1889-90

Elijah Davies

1891-4

John Davies

1922-3

John Clarke

   

Five Foot

Harcourt

1856-1923

1856-81

Robert Jones

1923

Thos Halsall & Co

 

1923 2 (2)

Four Foot

Highley (H&M)

1880-1969

1880-1945

Highley Colliery

1946-69

NCB

1888

C Lawton

1889

W Galley

1890

J Wainwright

1891-1910

T Bramley

1911-15

H V Eardley

1917-37

C C Nicholas

1894 137 (44)

1895 146 (41)

1896 151 (35)

1898 204 (40)

1899 188 (40)

1900 161 (42)

1902 200 (41)

1905 258 (49)

1907 277 (51)

1910 301 (50)

1911 340 (61)

1914 330 (61)

1915 265 (63)

1917 323 (73)

1918 362 (70)

1919 378 (93)

1920 403 (102)

1927 404 (101)

1930 359 (127)

1932 447 (121)

1934 470 (124)

1937 534 (136)

Brooch

Four Foot

Hollins

1895-1936

1895-1930

S Yarnold

1931-6

Bayton Colliery Co

 

1900 27 (10)

1911 30 (13)

1914 30 (11)

1917 30 (3)

1921 30 (14)

1927 34 (15)

1931 30 (10)

1932 37 (12)

Six Foot

Higher

Lower

Five Foot

Soft

Holyacre

1865-72

W Norwood

     

Hurdington

1856-72

Mrs Depper

     

Kinlet

1892-1936

Highley Colliery Co

 

1894 12 (6)

1895 18 (21)

1896 30 (36)

1898 122 (34)

1901 150 (39)

1904 240 (37)

1907 267 (44)

1914 262 (44)

1915 233 (32)

1917 258 (40)

1919 285 (42)

1920 345 (41)

1926 282 (69)

1930 267 (72)

Brooch

New Mine

Mamble

1864-1925

1864-6 + 1870-2

S G Blunt

1873-4

Ed Blount

1875-93

Thos Aston

1894-1925

Ed Aston

 

1894 9 (4)

1895 6 (2)

1900 9 (0)

1906 10 (4)

1920 13 (8)

1921 18 (12)

1922 20 (7)

 

Manor

1925-6

A J Jones

A R Buffrey

1925 13 (6)

Yard

Mill Farm

1877-99

W Wyatt

 

1894 3 (2)

1895 3 (2)

 

Newlands (Pensax)

1925-27

A J Jones

A R Buffrey

1925 12 (7)

 

Old Hall

(Rock)

1856-1931

1856-57

Ed Ree

1864-72

Messrs Hopcutt

1873-6

Ed Ree

1877-81

Wm Davis

1888-90

Wm Bickley

1891

Wm Bickley Jr

1892-3

J R Lindsey

1894-5

Lindsey & Slater

1896

Standing

1897-1900

C Broom

1928

F Mole

1929-31

R G Mole

 

1894 19 (4)

1895 19 (4)

1899 2 (2)

1929 6 (3)

1930 2 (1)

Yard

Old Hall (Stourport)

1856-72

Sir Ed Blount

     

Penn Hall

1877-81

Lewis Bros

     

Pensax

1854-76

1854-64

Pensax Colliery Co

1866

John Higginsbottom

1867-72

Pensax Colliery Co

1873-6

J Higginbottom

     

Pensax Common

1895

Chas Pensax

   

Higher Mine

Poole House

1866-1900

1866-7

James Molliet

1868-74

J Jones

1876-81

Booth & Hardcastle

1888-92

James Hardcastle

1893-5

S Yarnold

 

1894 23 (5)

Higher Mine

Lower Mine

Porchbrook Drift (Abberley)

1926-7

A J Jones

AR Buffrey

1926-7 30 (8)

Top

Yard

Rock

1907-9

Alfred Sidney

     

Rockmoor

1876-98

1876-81

F Rogers

1891

George Mole

1892

Rockmoor Colliery Co

1893

Bewdley Colliery Co.

1894-5

Rockmoor Coal & Coke Co

1896-8

T C Calley

1895

J Whitehouse

1894 34 (23)

1895 53 (16)

1896 29 (6)

 

Sakenhurst

1892-1909

1892-4

C W Wickstead

1895-1900

W L Viggars

1901-2

Bayton Coal, Coke & Brick Co

1904-9

J A Smallshant

 

1894 15 (7)

1895 10 (4)

1899 8 (3)

1901 4 (2)

1902 8 (4)

1905 16 (4)

1907 26 (5)

Hard Mine

Shatterford

1854-1936

1854-72

J Jones

1875-6

Thos Bertram

1923-4

G Heath

1933-6

Shatterford & Kidderminster Colliery Co.

1923

J W Jones

1933-34

H J Newey

1935

V Parry

 

1923 2 (4)

1933 9 (16)

1934 24 (25)

1935 55 (20)

 

Three Foot

Fireclay

Yard

Snead

1906

A J Davies

 

1906 4 (2)

Top

Bottom

Tasley

1872-5

T Cartwright

     

Upper Snead

1910

Beehive Colliery Co.

     

Winwoods

1926-27

Edwin Tolley

1926

W Turner

1927

Edwin Tolley

1926 3 (2)

Kingswood

Yew Tree

1898-9

T C Dalley

 

1898 5 (5)

 


"Prior's Moor, Billingsley"

David Poyner & Robert Evans, "SCMC Journal No.6"

Introduction

Priors Moor is located in Billingsley where two small brooks (now known as Ray's and Scott's Brooks) unite to form Bynd Brook, although in this article we will go slightly beyond the historic boundaries of the estate. The site has long been known, at least locally, as the site of the screens of Billingsley Colliery and the terminus of the standard gauge railway that took the coal from the mine to the Severn Valley Railway in Kinlet. Following some inept path repairs on the Jack Mytton Way and with evidence of tree clearance, we became sufficiently concerned to survey the site in case it was about to suffer serious damage. Fortunately this has not yet occurred and the survey revealed a number of features pointing to a much longer industrial history for the area.

Geology

Priors Moor is mainly situated on Productive Coal Measure strata, formerly referred to as the Kinlet Beds. However, the only coal which outcrops on the site is to the west of the main road where a fault brings in a the Highley Beds of Upper Coal Measure age. The rest of the site is dominated by outcrops of thick sandstone and the brooks have cut steep valleys exposing these beds. The area is wooded and it is unlikely that it has ever been used for agriculture.

History

Billingsley was granted to the Abbey of Shrewsbury in Medieval times and presumably the name "Prior's Moor" reflects that. Its subsequent history is obscure until much later. In the late 1750s the Bridgnorth to Cleobury Mortimer turnpike was opened and this road now cuts through the site. However a map published in 1754 before the turnpike was built shows the old main road taking a significantly different course, further to the west on a line now preserved by a public footpath. It seems that the Turnpike Trustees constructed the present road sometime before 1808 (the date of the next available map) to ease the gradients. A map of 1828 shows a second road descending to the junction of the brooks but this is described as being shut up and its significance is unclear.

Although the history of Priors Moor is poorly documented, the surrounding area was being exploited for industrial purposes. In the 17th Century the wood had been coppiced for charcoal, and ironstone mining had been going on since very early times. By the 18th Century coal was also being mined in the south of Billingsley close to Priors Moor. In the 1790s the scale of industry was dramatically transformed when a group of Newcastle business partners opened a coal works, constructing a tramway to the River Severn in Highley to remove their coal to the markets. In 1801 this was followed by the building of a blast furnace about of a mile from Priors Moor. This first phase of industrialisation was short-lived, exhausting 3 sets of proprietors in 15 years (although greatly enriching their lawyers), but the population of Billingsley quadrupled. After 1812 when the furnace when out of blast, many of these individuals moved away but coal mining on a small scale continued until the early 1820s. The preliminary OS drawings at 2":1 mile show a set of buildings at Priors Moor in 1817 and the 1828 map (see above) shows several cottages either still present or "recently demolished". A careful study of local parish registers shows a group of families moving from Billingsley to Highley in 1819, perhaps coinciding with this demolition. The 1828 map also marks a quarry on the site. The Billingsley partners operated a quarry at Highley in 1797 and were probably also responsible for this one at Priors Moor. By the end of the 1830s only one cottage was left at Priors Moor but this was to last for another 100 years. In 1828 Priors Moor was purchased by William Childe of Kinlet and it remains part of the Kinlet Estate.

As noted elsewhere, the late 1860s brought a rival in the local mining industry with the a new colliery close to the Cape of Good Hope finding good quality coal in 1872. However this and subsequent developments left Priors Moor untouched. It was not until the Billingsley Colliery Company of 1910 began operations that new activity started. The Company needed to construct a rail link for their coal and initially the Stottesdon, Kinlet and Billingsley Railway Company was promoted, to connect with the Ditton Priors Light Railway at Stottesdon. When this failed, work began on a line from the Severn Valley Railway, up the Borle Brook and the eastwards to Priors Moor. Here the terminus was built and it was connected to the mine by a rope-worked narrow gauge incline. Tubs descended this from the pit, the coal was screened at Priors Moor and then loaded into railway wagons for despatch to the main line. The screens were notable for having a slack washer; the first in the Wyre Forest Coalfield. The Billingsley Colliery Company also undertook an extensive house-building programme in Highley and leased a brick works in Billingsley. The local roads were unable to cope with the traffic that this created and so the Company constructed an aerial ropeway from the brickyard to Priors Moor. Slack went up the ropeway and bricks came down it to be sent by rail to Highley Station.

As noted in the accompanying article, Billingsley Colliery proved an expensive liability. It was sold in 1915 to the rival Highley Mining Company, who eventually closed it in 1921 after the national coal strike. Although the tramway to the colliery was dismantled the screens buildings remained and the site was leased by the Burwarton Coal and Trading Company, who used it as a landsale wharf, predominantly for coal from Kinlet Colliery. It was the closure of Kinlet in 1937 that finally brought industrial activity at Priors Moor to an end; the site was cleared and it has reverted to scrub, although there is a commercial conifer plantation on the higher slopes.

Archaeological Features

Pre-19th Century

Remains of many different phases are still present at Priors Moor. High on the steep bank north of Bynd brook a prehistoric flint knife was found, although presumably its owner was not involved in mining. As far as industrial history is concerned, it is perhaps best to begin west of the road on the outcrop of Sulphur Coal. This has obviously been worked, although the ground is now very confusing with a series of holloways and low mounds. Most if not all of these workings are just outside the old boundary of the Prior's Moor estate; there may have been mining within the estate itself but a combination of land slips and conifer planting make the ground difficult to read. In the 1930s the surveyors from the Geological Survey interpreted this as evidence of adits and shafts and this seems reasonable. However it is difficult to pin-point individual adits and there are no obvious shaft depressions. At the eastern end, much of the surface is covered in red ash. The quantity of this seems much too great to have come from the workings on this site and has probably been tipped from the early 19th Century mines to repair the embankment of the road.

There is documentary evidence from 1793 of one Richard Chidley supplying coal from Priors Moor to the Kinlet Estate and some at least of the remains may be of his mine. However most of the workings are very close to the course of the main road, and it seems unlikely that the Turnpike would have tolerated their highway being disturbed by mining. On this some of the work may predate the construction of the turnpike, ie 18th Century or earlier.

19th Century

The main features from this period are to be found north and east of the brook. The "stopped-up" road on the 1828 map is still present, having been used for haulage until comparatively recently. There are two quarries north and south of this. The southern quarry is very large and is probably the older of the two; in the early 19th Century a child was killed in the "New Buildings Quarry" when hunting swallows. The upper quarry is harder to date; it roughly coincides with the site of a cottage on the 1828 map, and a track heading north west on the 1882 and 1902 OS maps. It may be late in date. On either side of the road are traces of blast furnace slag, coal and pottery. The slag and coal waste probably came from Billingsley furnace and was used to repair the road; the pottery represents domestic waste.

The 1828 map marks five cottages, four alongside the old road. The southernmost was where there is now a flat space but there are no obvious surface remains. The second is that which remained until this century; it was stone and thatch and there are remains of the foundations. The third and fourth look to have been obliterated by the quarry although there are a few shards of pottery by their site. The fifth cottage on the 1828 map was significantly further east. A track can be followed past the southern quarry, then it is cut into a ledge above the brook. It crosses a minor stream leaving traces of bridge abutments and then opens out into a level area 50 yards long. This is marked by a stone retaining wall running parallel to the brook and a substantial scatter of pottery. Although only one cottage is shown on the 1828 map, there would have been room here for a significant terrace. Furthermore a track leads east to another platform cut in the hillside. Although no pottery was noted on the surface, it would certainly have been big enough for more cottages. It seems possible that Priors Moor was the site of numerous houses, almost certainly for the miners and furnace men at the nearby works. It was a small industrial settlement.

20th Century

The railway and screens have left obvious traces. A comparison of the 1902 OS map with the current alignment of the brook indicates that a substantial remodelling of the valley bottom took place to create the space for the new works. The brook was straightened and its sides built up; it now runs between high stone retaining walls. It is possible that the northern quarry was opened for this work, although another was also operating at New England nearer Highley. The area available for the screens was also extended south of the brook by construction of a substantial concrete retaining wall. The railway kept close to this feature before eventually fanning out into sidings and crossing the brook on a wide bridge which survives.

Interpretation of the screens complex is helped by the survival of several contemporary photographs. It is easiest to first consider the remains on the south of the brook. Moving west to east, the first feature to be encountered is the aerial ropeway terminus. The bases of the ropeway pylons are found either side of the brook and they can also be seen at the very northern edge of the site and elsewhere in Billingsley. A concrete bunker is set in the ground; slack was stored in here, to be picked up by an elevator to be loaded in the ropeway buckets in exchange for bricks. The screens complex proper then begins. The buildings were predominantly corrugated iron sheds mounted on wooden posts, allowing the railway wagons to run underneath. Some post-holes for the supports are still clearly visible, marked by iron brackets which were attached to the timbers. The tramway crossed the brook about 30 feet from the ropeway terminus; the brook retaining wall dips at this point and there is a slight depression in the ground. Here are a set of six 12" holding down bolts of unknown purpose, set in the ground. Between the tramway terminus and the ropeway terminus was a substantial building with some kind of gantry projecting out. Although the ground here is obscured by large chunks of broken concrete, one post hole is visible, fixing its location. The building may have housed some of the motors for the screens machinery and probably also formed part of the circuit for tubs arriving down the tramway.

East of the tramway terminus a series of post holes define a long shed which probably housed the jigs for grading the coal. Moving further along the brook there is a concrete base containing a substantial iron bracket which presumably supported some structure. Beyond this the retaining walls alongside the brook are raised and thickened and there is a substantial concrete platform next to the brook, with 5 large post holes for horizontal timbers. It seems likely that these spanned the brook, supporting an extension of the screens building. One photograph shows a tall building here, with perhaps an elevator leading to its top from the adjacent building, the iron bracket may have supported this elevator). An unusual feature either side of the retaining wall is a slot for timbers to form a "stop lock" to dam the waters of the brook. It seems reasonable to conclude that this complex housed the slack washer, with the stop lock ensuring that water was always available. Moving away from the brook, close to the railway are two concrete plinths which the photographs show supporting a gantry (for a walkway?) or a crane. One large post-hole can be found by the concrete base, and alongside the course of the railway are 3 wooden baulks, about 1'x 1' x 1'. Inspection of one of the photographs shows that these supported another raised shed, with railway tracks and trucks beneath. This must have housed the discharge hoppers for loading the railway wagons and perhaps also had a picking belt for cleaning the coal.

The retaining wall along the brook continues for about another 200ft, and there is a substantial platform of earth and spoil kept up by a low brick retaining wall facing the brook. This must have provided sidings accommodation. Between the brook and the earth platform there is a small brick plinth towards its eastern end and also a scatter of bricks. A photograph shows what seems to be a substantial post in this area, towering above the rest of the buildings. It is not known what function it served. Beyond the platform there is a considerable earth rampart between the railway and the brook extending for several hundred feet until an over-bridge is reached. Beyond the over-bridge was the engine shed (foundations remain) and a weigh-bridge (walls still intact) with apparently more space for sidings. The purpose of the earth rampart is unknown; it may just be spoil from levelling the site, but it seems very well formed if this is the case.

To the north of the brook there is less connected with the screens. The tramway itself went through a cutting and then was supported by a metal gantry on its final few yards to the screens. This has vanished, but tramway route is obvious. Almost opposite the proposed site of the slack washer there is a brick platform which probably housed a pump. A pipe can be traced from this along the north bank of the brook until the end of the retaining wall where until the 1970s it could still be seen crossing the brook, to continue underground to the engine house.

It is possible to make some guesses as to how the screens worked. Tubs arriving down the incline would be immediately unclipped and emptied onto the tippler before being sent back up the incline. The coal would probably be sorted into bests, seconds and slack by a jigging screen and the slack would be taken by elevator to the washer. It would be cleaned by flotation and taken by conveyor to be dumped close to the tippler building. The larger coal would be taken by conveyor to picking belts and then discharged into wagons. The aerial ropeway took slack by an elevator into the buckets, exchanging this for bricks which were discharged by a chute into railway wagons.

Other Features

Just east of where the brook goes under the main road is a short brick culvert, D-shaped, about 3ft high ending after some 4ft in a stone wall. It has been suggested that it was a cellar for a long-vanished cottage.

At the far west of the site where the earth rampart starts, there is a cutting running parallel to the brook, about 3ft wide and 100ft long. It leads to wide flat area by the brook. In appearance it resembles a water course but there is no evidence of a dam or any building at either end. Further investigation is needed.

Conclusions

Priors Moor has had a rather more complicated history than was previously realised. West of the main road are perhaps pre-1750 coal mines. North of the brook is the remains of an early 19th Century industrial hamlet. South of the brook is the 20th Century screens. As little has been recorded about the survival of coal preparation plant, these remains are particularly important. The site is heavily overgrown and much probably lies buried beneath the surface. It is very likely that much more information could be recovered by excavation. Miraculously it has suffered relatively little damage in recent operations. We will continue to keep a close watching brief on it.


"George Ferriday and the 1912 Accident at Billingsley Colliery"

David Poyner, "SCMC Journal No.6"

In the last Annual Journal, Ivor Brown contributed articles on General and Special Rules at Shropshire Collieries and the 1901 Colliery Mine Managers examination in Shropshire. In the first of these articles he noted an accident at Billingsley Colliery in 1912 which resulted in the prosecution of the manager and deputy, commenting that an interesting story probably lay behind it. In the second article he noted that one George Ferriday was one of the two candidates in 1901 who got a second class (undermanager's) certificate. Ivor was indeed right in that the story of the 1912 accident at Billingsley is of interest, not least because the unfortunate deputy involved was none other than George Ferriday.

Billingsley Colliery started life in about 1870 as the creation of William Birchley, the landlord of a local inn called the Cape of Good Hope. Good quality coal was found at the end of 1872 and the mine was sold to the Billingsley Colliery Company in 1875 who aimed to develop it. Unfortunately due to a mixture of unkind geology and poor management this concern and its grandiose successors were abject failures so that by 1882 the concern was in the hands of a liquidator. It was purchased by the chief clerk, Alfred Gibbs, a man of considerable business acumen, who ran it profitably for the next thirty years as a small mine. However Gibbs never entirely abandoned hopes of expansion and, apparently inspired by the possibility of a rail connection with the newly built Cleobury Mortimer and Ditton Priors Light Railway, he succeeded in attracting the attention of some powerful financial backers including two of the leading directors of the powerful Powell Duffryn Colliery Company in South Wales. Accordingly a new Billingsley Colliery Company was registered in 1910 to redevelop the small existing colliery.

The redevelopment at Billingsley involved an almost total rebuilding of the surface buildings, a railway (eventually to the Severn Valley line, not the CMDPLR) and underground new exploration and the introduction of electric power for haulage and coal cutting. Although the old pit had been managed by Frank Gibbs, Alfred's son, in November 1911 Lawrence Russ arrived from the Sneyd Pits, Essington to take control, with Frank being relegated to undermanager. It was probably about this time that Ferriday also arrived from Pendlebury Colliery, Staffs where he had been undermanager. Virtually no coal was being produced as all the work was concentrated on reconstruction. At the start of 1912 this included driving new headings in south west district and creating a motor house close to the pit bottom for the haulage. On Friday 12th January 50 year-old Thomas Homer started work at 10.00pm in a heading in the south-west district. He was working about 50 yards from the top of a jig with John Brewer. At about 1.30am they noticed that the air quality had become poor as smoke would not clear from the shots they had fired. They withdrew to the jig to eat their snapping and see if the air improved. Circulation of air depended on the integrity of a system of sheet iron tubes or troughs as the district was not well-enough developed for the construction of normal return airways. At 2.00am the air was still bad, and by 2.30am they descended the jig to find that the troughs were not working. Arthur McKale, a horse driver then told them that the troughs had been fractured at 1.00am by a shot fired at the motor house. Ferriday had been told of this and arranged for repairs. When he found that no suitable air pipes were available he set off himself to the opposite end of the pit to get some. Crucially he failed to warn anyone in the south-west district that there was no ventilation; indeed he had not been in that district since the change of shift. Furthermore, when his shift ended at 3.00am he left without seeing that the work was complete.

Back at the jig bottom, McKale and Homer remained behind whilst Brewer went to investigate the progress of repairs. On finding that they were still not finished, he sent word for all men to come out of the south west district. Homer unfortunately went back up the jig with McKale to fetch his clothes. As they then walked out at about 3.45am, Homer collapsed close to the pit bottom and died. Ferriday was summonsed and whilst others attempted artificial respiration, he tried to revive Homer with brandy. Unsurprisingly, this was ineffective. It was unclear whether death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning, lack of oxygen or some other cause.

Ferriday was duly censured by the inquest jury for neglect of duty, admonished by the coroner, dismissed by the company and prosecuted for two breaches of the Coal Mines Regulations. He did indeed show a fair degree of incompetence and would be interesting to know just why he gave up an undermanager's job to come to Billingsley in the first instance. However, a number of other factors also emerged. The most serious was that the Company were only employing two deputies to cover three shifts; Ferriday from 5.25pm to 3.00am for afternoons and nights, and a second man from 5.35am to 2.50pm. It was obviously impossible to provide adequate supervision or liaison with such a system. Russ was made the scapegoat for this method of working and was prosecuted by the Mining Inspector. Alfred Gibbs died later that year and Frank also seems to have left the company soon afterwards. Whether the accident was connected with his departure is not known, but the many years later the Gibbs' family were convinced he had been badly treated by the Billingsley Colliery Company. An obvious question is to what extent Russ and his team were under pressure from the directors to cut corners. The Company did have a style that antagonised a number of local interests. The following year they were humiliated in court by the local union over a number of cases of unfair dismissal and injury compensation and they also fell out with the local district and parish councils. As far as I can tell, Russ was not regarded with any malice by the local miners and I suspect the Company was rather lucky that the Inspector did not aim any higher with his prosecutions.

After the accident Mrs Homer was lent 8 by the company for her husband's funeral and then awarded 130 compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. 15 was given immediately to allow her to buy a cow for her small-holding and the rest was to be paid in 2-10-0d instalments per quarter. The Homers lived at Far Forest, 15 miles from Billingsley and Homer lodged close to the mines with a Mrs Badger. Ironically her husband had been the last man to be killed at Billingsley back in 1876, an accident also blamed on the manager. The south-west district produced very little coal with its only face being abandoned in 1913. The mine was taken over in 1915 by the Highley Mining Company; Russ left to take up an appointment with the Assam Railway and Trading Company, surviving the torpedoing of his ship, the Persia, in 1916. The Highley Mining Company appointed Arthur Lebeter as his replacement but closed Billingsley in 1921; Lebeter was killed in a drift mine at Chorley in 1924. The fate of Ferriday is unknown.

Where was the site of Homer's accident?

It appears that little work was done in the south west after Homer's death. From the published accounts it is obvious that Homer was working on a level at the top of a jig. The district is described as follows in the Inspectors report:

" Two miners were employed at the face of what had been a level road, but for 37 yards next the face it had a dip of 8o; 77 yards back from the face a jig had been driven for a distance of 33 yards, rising at 36o, and from the top of the jig a rise level had been driven back for 46 yards. Deceased and his mate worked at the face of this rise level".

The report also says that the iron tubes extended for 450 yards from the pit bottom, and that the motor house was 120 yards from the downcast. The dip of the strata at Billingsley was predominantly about 1 in 8 to the east. The plan uses conventional symbols ie roads not in coal shown as multiple lines, arrows indicate dip side of fault, throw shown in feet. Dates are approximately when working ceased.


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Last revised: 7 November 1998