Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter VII

From Graces Guide



Under this head may be included the colliery areas of Lancashire and Cheshire. It is one of the older coal districts of this country, in which the better and more easily worked seams are approaching exhaustion. In Lancashire the workable coal extends from Burnley in the north to Oldham and Ashton on the Cheshire border on the southeast, and to Wigan and St. Helens on the south-west. Stockport is the centre of the Cheshire district. There are more than three thousand million tons of coal still available in Lancashire, while Cheshire brings up this total to over four thousand million tons, of which probably a thousand millions could not be worked at a profit.

Most of the coal is found in seams of 24 in. thick and upwards, though many seams of good quality, but not more than 18 in. thick, are worked to-day. The average output for the last twenty-five years has not exceeded 20,000,000 tons per annum, which is produced by 100,000 men. The depth of some of the most valuable seams is great. The coal known as the "Arley Mine" is found at a depth of 750 yards but above that there are numerous seams of house coal, steam coal, gas and coking coal, and cannel. Owing to the dip of some of these seams, however, the colliery workings are often at a much lower level. The Bradford colliery near Manchester is worked at 900 yards deep, while the workings to the dip of one of Andrew Knowles and Sons' collieries have reached a depth of 1,170 yards. This involves a temperature at the face, even under the best conditions of ventilation, of something like 93 degrees Fahr.

It is not probable that, having regard to the competition of North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, where coal is much more cheaply got and whence it is easily transported to Lancashire, this coalfield will continue to be a very profitable one. Near Wigan most of the better mines are worked out; the same is the case at St. Helens, and the newly developed sinkings there through the new red sandstone to a great depth have necessitated heavy expenditure. In the Manchester, Bolton, Bury, Stockport and Oldham districts the best coal has been exhausted. In north-west Lancashire seams are thin and the collieries provide only a small tonnage, as in the case of the Burnley and Accrington districts. Few new collieries have been established in recent years. Consequently the workings of the older pits extend far underground. This means an hour's walk for the miner to get from the pit bottom to his working place.

Records show that small pits were worked in Lancashire in the seventeenth century, and that 150 years ago there were fifteen or twenty pits to the west of Manchester, and many others at Wigan, Bolton, Oldham, Ashton and Dukinfield. At the present time there are 222 collieries working in Lancashire, and 18 in Cheshire, belonging to 125 separate owners in the case of Lancashire and to 15 in Cheshire. Of these, sixty employ more than 200 men, fourteen employ between 1,000 and 2,000, and eighteen employ more than 2,000 hands. The development of the coalfield has been due in every case to private enterprise, and has arisen, in most cases, from very small beginnings.

As that portion of England of which Manchester is the centre is the greatest industrial district in the world, with a larger population than any other area of its size, it can be well understood that there is a great demand for coal. It is the centre of the cotton industry and other textile manufactures, engineering, iron and chemical works, and a variety of other industries. The larger towns are Salford, Patricroft, Leigh, Tyldesley, Altrincham, Stockport, Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Bolton, Wigan, Bury and Rochdale. At a greater distance are smaller towns such as St. Helens, Prescott, Burnley and Accrington, with every kind of industry, and, finally, the great shipping ports of Liverpool and Birkenhead.

The consumption of the Lancashire coalfield is therefore largely of a local character, though a certain quantity is shipped abroad. There is, however, a large and growing demand for all classes of fuel in Lancashire—coke for foundry work, and boiler slack for the cotton mills, for the chemical works and for the engineering establishments in the county. Locomotive fuel and, of course, house coal are in great demand, in a county where the working classes enjoy a degree of prosperity in normal times not exceeded in any other part of this country. By-product coke-ovens have been laid down by some of the larger collieries as well as modern washeries for separating nuts, pea-nuts, and "dant," as slack is called in Lancashire. It cannot, however, be said that the by-product plants of Lancashire compare in any way with those of Durham and South Yorkshire, as the demand for boiler slack in Lancashire is so great that in some cases it pays better to sell it to consumers than to utilise it for coke, especially as Lancashire coke does not command the same price as the best class of that made in Durham and South Yorkshire.

Wigan Coal and Iron Co

Perhaps the best known, and certainly the largest, colliery firm in the county is the Wigan Coal and Iron Co, which employs over 9,000 men. The pits, which had been worked by John Lancaster for many years, were acquired in 1865 by Lord Lindsay, the owner of the Haigh Colliery, and the present company was then formed. The Earl of Crawford and Balcarres is the Chairman, and his family own more than half the shares. In his park at Haigh Hall there is a pit quite 400 years old. The Company owns large furnaces and iron-works near Wigan and the Manton Colliery in Nottinghamshire.

Bridgewater Collieries

In some respects the Bridgewater Collieries firm of Worsley, near Manchester, is the most interesting of the Lancashire coal concerns, and has, though only registered as a limited company in 1923, considerable historical interest. The collieries were sunk about 150 years ago on a small scale by Dame Dorothy Legh, and were afterwards worked by the great Duke of Bridgewater from about the year 1790. As there were then no adequate means of carrying the coal to outside markets, the Duke conceived the idea of making a canal, and, under the guidance of Brindley, the engineer, the well-known Bridgewater Canal, the first canal in this country, was made for the specific purpose of carrying coal from these pits to Manchester, Liverpool and other towns. On the death of the Duke in 1803 the collieries were placed with the estates under a trust for a hundred years. The trustees gradually developed the collieries on a large scale, until in the year 1903 the trust expired, and as the dukedom had become extinct, the Earl of Ellesmere came into possession. He continued to work the collieries as a private concern until they were acquired by the present limited company, which was formed in 1923. The Company owns ten collieries with a very large output of coal, and employs 7,000 hands. The construction of the Bridgewater Canal afforded cheap conveyance of coal to Manchester and other Lancashire towns for the supply of engineering works, cotton mills and textile industries, and gave a great impetus to the development of the county, especially in the early part of the nineteenth century, as the railway between Manchester and Liverpool was only surveyed after the year 1824 and opened for traffic in 1830.

Richard Evans and Co

Richard Evans and Co of Haydock, St. Helens, was founded in 1830 by Richard Evans, who added other smaller collieries to his holding, which was worked under that name. His sons, Joseph and Josiah, joined the firm, and, on the death of Richard in 1864 and Josiah in 1873, Joseph Evans remained the sole owner and worked the pits until, in 1879, the present Company was formed. The output is 1,000,000 tons from seven pits, which employ 5,900 men.

Clifton and Kearsley Coal Co

The Clifton and Kearsley Coal Co is a private company, owning collieries which in the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth were worked on a small scale by the Fletcher family, whose consulting engineer was Brindley. The Pilkington family bought the concern in 1858. From 1908 the operations of the Company were extended to Astley, where a new pit was sunk to a depth of 890 yards. This is quite one of the most up-to-date colliery concerns in Lancashire, employing 4,000 men.

Sutton Heath and Lea Green Collieries

The Sutton Heath and Lea Green Collieries were started over seventy-five years ago at St. Helens, and were worked by James Bradley until 1888, when the first Company was formed. Modern pits were sunk about 1893 to a depth of about 500 yards. The present Company, registered in 1920, has an annual output of 750,000 tons, and amongst its largest shareholders is the firm of Richard Evans and Co.

Pearson and Knowles Coal and Iron Co

The Pearson and Knowles Coal and Iron Co of Ince, near Wigan (referred to in the following chapter), was registered in 1874 to take over a private concern owned by George Pearson and Thomas Knowles. In addition to five collieries, viz. the Coppall, the Moss, the Low Hall, the Wigan Junction and the Maypole, which it acquired in 1874, it has, during the last twenty years, sunk new pits, and it now owns ten collieries, with an annual output of about 1,500,000 tons, employing 3,600 men. The more modern pits are sunk to a depth of about 700 yards, and are being worked down to the Arley mine coal. The Company owns all the shares in the Wigan Junction Colliery Co and, under the Chairmanship of Sir Peter Rylands this Company established and now owns the Partington Steel and Iron Co, with its large blast furnaces. It has also acquired the wire-rope working firm of Rylands Brothers. The nominal share capital consists of £2,500,000 Preference and Ordinary Shares, and £1,000,000 of Debentures. The control of the Company has been acquired by Sir William Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. The capital is now under reconstruction.

Andrew Knowles and Sons

The firm of Andrew Knowles and Sons of Pendlebury owns four collieries employing 3,500 men. They were taken over from a private concern in the year 1873. The older collieries at Clifton were sunk in the early part of the nineteenth century by Andrew Knowles. After his death in 1847, his sons, Robert and Thomas, carried on the business. The eldest grandson of the first Andrew Knowles was Chairman of the present Company until his death in 1890. He was succeeded by other members of the same family. The old colliery at Pendleton was sunk about 120 years ago by John Fitzgerald. Robert Stephenson was the engineer and manager in 1832, and his brother, the famous George Stephenson, was the consulting engineer. The output even in 1832 was only 26,000 tons, which were wound up the shaft in baskets. The modern pits were sunk a little to the west of the great Irwell Valley fault, which throws the coal measures down 1,000 yards below the red sandstone on the east side. The Pendleton colliery is still working in the Rams mine coal at a depth of 1,200 yards. The Chairman of the Company is Mr. Edward F. Melly.

Fletcher Burrows and Co

The first colliery, owned now by Fletcher Burrows and Co of Atherton, was sunk by John Fletcher in 1776, and worked by his family till 1860, when John Burrows joined the firm, which was registered as a limited company in 1892. The grandsons of John Fletcher are still directing the business. The deepest pit is 600 yards the firm's output is 500,000 tons per annum.

Chamber Colliery Co

An interesting old colliery belongs to the Chamber Colliery Co of Oldham. It is the leading colliery in that district, and still remains the private property of the Lees family. The pits were first sunk about 1750 by James Lees of Clarkesfield, but a Company was formed in 1877, the shares in which still remain in the possession of the family. This Company, which has an output of about 220,000 tons, was the first firm to put down steam-pumping plant at its Fairbottom Colliery in the latter part of the eighteenth century. This plant was erected by James Watt, and was considered to be his first improvement on the Newcomen engine. It was an atmospheric steam-pumping engine working at the extraordinarily low pressure of 1.5 lb. to the square inch, and was known as "Fairbottom bobs."

Executors of John Hargreaves

"The Executors of John Hargreaves" is the name of the leading colliery firm in the Burnley district. It is registered as a private limited company. The pits were sunk over 100 years ago by Colonel Hargreaves, and descended to his sons-in-law, the Rev. William Thursby and General Scarlett. They were succeeded by Sir John Thursby, the Governing Director, and his family. On Sir John's death, Richard Landless became Governing Director and Chairman. The collieries employ about 3,300 hands.

Other colliery firms of leading importance include George Hargreaves and Co of Rossendale and Accrington, with a history of over 100 years; the Ashton Moss Colliery of Audenshaw, established in 1876, which was the first firm in Lancashire to sink its pits through the red rock and prove the coal measures in the Permian strata; and the Denton Colliery Co, which originated 150 years ago on a small scale.

See Also


Sources of Information