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British Industrial History

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Elsecar Collieries

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The Elsecar Collieries were a series of coal mines sunk in and around Elsecar, a small village to the south of Barnsley in what is now South Yorkshire, but was traditionally in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

The last operating mine Elsecar Main closed in 1984 and with its closure ended 230 years of mining in the village

1750 The colliery was started by Richard Bingley but it was taken over 1752 by the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham and by 1757 comprised of 8 pits located in and around Elsecar Green. The pits were sunk to a depth of 15 metres to exploit the Barnsley Bed.

The pits were worked using a horse gin – a horse powered winch. During the collieries initial phase from 1750 until about 1795 it employed around 9 men.

In 1782 the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham died and his estates were inherited by his cousin the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam. The 4th Earl Fitzwilliam expanded Elsecar Old Colliery with addition of steam winding engines in 1796 and by 1848 the pit was employing 87 Men & Boys. The colliery was renamed Elsecar High Colliery in the same year. By now the colliery was centred around the Milton Foundry.

The colliery closed in following exhaustion of the seam in the area 1888

The Elsecar New Colliery was was sunk around 1795 by Earl Fitzwilliam in the area to the South of the existing Elsecar Workshops and the site is still marked by the colliery’s original Newcomen Engine. The colliery was probably sunk to allow the Fitzwilliam’s to expand their coal production and exploit the new transport opportunities presented by the Elsecar branch of the Dearne & Dove Canal which was given parliamentary approval in 1793 and reached Elsecar in 1799.

Prior to the completion of the canal; coal was either sold locally or shipped by cart to Kilnhurst on the river Don The colliery consisted of 3 shafts, 2 coal winding shafts and 1 pumping shafts. The shafts ran to a depth of 120 feet where they reached the Barnsley seam. The steam winding engines were installed in 1796 and a second pumping engine was added in 1823 when the shafts were sunk further to reach the Parkgate seam.

The colliery was expanded further in 1837 with the addition of a new shaft at Jump which was known as the Jump pit. By 1848 when the colliery was renamed Elsecar Mid Colliery 121 men and boys were employed. This colliery was abandoned in the mid 1850’s as the Simon Wood Colliery started production.

Work to sink the Elsecar Low Colliery or Hemingfield Colliery stared around 1840 but took 6-8 years to complete and the first significant coal was mined in 1848 when 1,000 tonnes a day was being extracted. The major difficulty was the penetration of water into the workings and dealing with the large amounts of firedamp present.

The colliery consisted of two shafts; a working shaft and a smaller diameter pumping shaft for draining the colliery. The colliery suffered a significant accident on the 21st December 1852 a firedamp explosion killed 10 miners and injured 12. The inquiry found that the explosion had been caused by reckless behaviour of the colliers; a ventilation door had been propped open which resulted in firedamp accumulating and some colliers using unguarded safety lamps. The Earl Fitzwilliams Mine Superintendent, Benjamin Biram was criticized by the inquiry for absence of printed rules in the colliery, inadequate maintenance of the lamps and poor supervision of the workforce but the judge did praise the ventilation arrangements in the pit which prevented extensive loss of life like those that accompanied explosions in other pits in the area

The Simon Wood Colliery was sunk in 1853 to 85 meters to the Barnsley bed. This colliery with two shafts replaced the Elsecar Mid Colliery and continued production until 1903 when it in turn was replaced by the Elsecar Main Colliery.

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