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An Overview of Coal Mining in South Gloucestershire

By Steve Grudgings & David Hardwick

Location

The coalfield in South Gloucestershire is in effect the northern section of the Bristol and Somerset coalfield running from Cromhall in the North to Radstock in the South. Whilst the coal industry was never the predominant employer in our area in the same way as it was in the Rhonnda or South Yorkshire, it was nevertheless very important locally.

You have only to look at the local geological maps to realise the number and density of the coal workings.

The coalfield extends into Bristol and under beyond the river Avon into Somerset. Distinct areas of working can be identified:

  1. Yate and District
  2. Coalpit Heath and District
  3. Shortwood & Pucklechurch
  4. Siston & Warmley
  5. Oldland Common & District
  6. Hanham & Eastern Kingswood
  7. Soundwell & Mangotsfield
  8. North Bristol & Fishponds
  9. Speedwell & St George
  10. Easton & Whitehall
  11. South Bristol

Further afield and now separated (but perhaps once originally part of the same area) are:

  • The Nailsea Coalfield
  • Bath/Twerton region
  • Somerset Coalfield
  • The Forest of Dean

History

The earliest records currently known to exist are licences issued to dig for coal in Kingswood Chase in the thirteenth century. The early workings were shallow, rarely exceeding 100 feet in depth until the introduction of the Newcomen steam pumping engine from about 1750 on. The industry flourished in the early part of the 19th century up to the arrival of main line railways. These were a mixed blessing providing both a route to export coal but also for imports from other areas such as the Midlands and South Wales. The quality of the local coal was, in some cases, such that even though it was harder to work than areas where the seams were thicker it was still profitable. Westerleigh coal in particular being remarked upon for it's suitability as a steam coal.

The Last collieries

The last deep pit to close in South Gloucestershire was Frog Lane at Coalpit Heath in 1949. There was an attempt by the National Coal Board to work a drift mine at Harry Stoke, which operated from 1959-1963 but closed due to difficult ground conditions.

What Remains

In many ways we are fortunate that the local mines closed so long ago that much of the remaining buildings passed into agricultural use and survived in some form rather than being demolished and the site cleared as has happened with more modern pits. Whilst by definition the majority of remains are underground, these surface remains were one of the main prompts for the establishment of the SGMRG in 2001 and recording and preservation works have been carried out on several sites since.

The most obvious features are to be found around Parkfield (chimneys, spoil heaps and engine houses), Ram Hill and Henfield (dramway and engine houses), Engine Common in Yate (engine houses and spoil heaps) and Cromhall Common. (engine house). At Rangeworthy there is also the Oldwood Pit site where the SGMRG periodically hold open days.

PLEASE NOTE - most of these sites are on private land. If you want more information about access etc please make contact using the contact page of this website.

What also survives is the 'folk memory' of local mining. The SGMRG have launched a joint Oral History Project with the Yate Oral History Project and are recording memories of miners, relatives and those connected with the industry locally. If you know of an ex-miner or someone with interesting information who would be willing to be interviewed, please make contact.



Other websites covering the extended coalfields of the West are:


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