Mining Experts Meet Up
Experts get bonus as shaft opens
Mining history experts got close to an old shaft in Coalpit Heath when it opened up in a road yards from a conference they were attending. The enthusiasts, some from as far away as Australia, had been meeting at the Miners Institute for a weekend of talks and tours of the area's former collieries.
But it was given added interest when they discovered the subsidence in Woodend Road was caused by the collapse of the shaft, allowing members of the National Association of Mining Heritage Organisations (NAMHO) to examine the hole in the road.
The conference was hosted by the South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group and other local organisations. Research group chairman, Steve Grudgings, said: "Never before has the NAMHO conference been faced with that sort of in-your-face, real-time mining heritage being discovered. "We don't know the cause of the subsidence and the Coal Authority is investigating. We have our ideas but these need to be tested. It was an exciting talking point to see the road subside close to where the delegates were parking."
Another member of the group, Andy Brander, said the shaft had collapsed about a foot down but the hole underneath was bigger. He said another shaft collapsed recently on the Mays Hill industrial estate.
South Gloucestershire has a long mining history and although the date of the earliest mining is not known, coal was worked until 1963. Most of the mining was for coal, but ochre, celestine, iron, lead and stone were also mined in the area. Thornbury and Yate MP Steve Webb opened the conference, which included a talk by TV archaeologist and Bristol University professor, Mark Horton.
Mining legacy there for all to discover
SOUTH Gloucestershire's mining history and legacy will be brought to life with talks, walks and underground visits this weekend.
The South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group (SGMRG), Friends of Ram Hill Colliery and Hades Caving Club are hosting the National Association of Mining History Organisation annual conference this weekend. From tomorrow,at the Miners Institure, Coalpit Heath, there will be talks from experts including TV Archaeologist Mark Horton. The conference will show the variety of mineral resources the Bristol area was rich in, from coal mining, stone quarrying, lead mining in the Mendips and copper ores in the Quantock hills.
Steve Grudgings, SGMRG chairman, said: "The weekend talks programme will cover many aspects of local mining history including coal, which in the 19th and early 20th century was extensively worked around Bristol and was a significant employer. Surface walks will show delegates the many mining structures that remain and the work of the host organisations in their preservation, conservation and interpretation of those remains."
The Conference is part of the growing process that recognises the importance of the area's mining legacy. Members of the public may attend the talks programme which costs £5 for half a day. For more information visit http://namhoconference.org.uk/2010.
Frog Lane Book - What are the missing names?
Frog Lane Book Review stirs up memories
Frog Lane Colliery Book Review
Oldwood Pit Open Day, September 2009
Museum explores mining past
THORNBURY museum is giving local people the chance to explore the town's mining past.
For the next few weeks visitors to Thornbury Museum will get to enjoy a special exhibition on the deep pit coal mining at Frog Lane Colliery at Coalpit Heath. The exhibition, entitled Frog Lane - Sixty Years On, is a 60th anniversary tribute to the mines, the miners and their way of life.
The exhibition features photographs, several dating from 1906, of the men working and eating underground, extracts from interviews with men who worked in the Frog Lane Colliery, as well as descriptions from miners' families of their lives back then.
Sandi Shallcross, chairman of Thornbury and District Heritage Trust, said: "The Museum is delighted to host this fascinating exhibition, which has been put together by South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group and Yate and District Heritage Centre. This is a really good example of partnership in action."
The exhibition Frog Lane - Sixty Years On is at Thornbury Museum until early September. The Museum is open Tuesday to Friday (1-4pm) and Saturday (10am-4pm). For more information, call the Museum on 01454 857774 or visit the website www.thornburymuseum.org.uk.
View selected comments from the Thornbury Museum visitors book.
Wigan Girls Play in Thornbury
A play called the Wigan Girls was put on in Thornbury by ACT (Arts and Community in Thornbury Ltd). The play is all about women's rights to work in the mines - the true story of the Pit Girl's fight for work and dignity. Many of the publicity photos were taken at locations around Bristol with the help of SGMRG.
Frog Lane Book Launch - 60 years on
The Boundary Magazine, delivered free in the Yate and Chipping Sodbury Areas ran a double page article on the Frog Lane launch Party.
Frog Lane Exhibition moves to the Yate Heritage Centre.
Event marks 60th anniversary of pit closure
Former coal miners launched an exhibition at Coalpit Heath village hall to mark the 60th anniversary of the closure of the pit at Frog Lane.
Members of the South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group also launched a new book, Frog Lane Colliery Sixty Years On, about life at the colliery, its history and detailed maps and plans of the workings.
Former miners and the people of Coalpit Heath also remember what it was like to work there and the dangers involved. The colliery was the last major coal mining pit in the Yate and Coalpit Heath area.
Saturday's exhibition, which had photos and mining artefacts, was the first in a series of events and activities to mark the anniversary.
Pictured left are former miners Fred Woodruff, 82; Sid Horder, 89; and Stan Williams, 80, at the launch; and above, an image from the book and its cover. For more information and to get involved in future events, visit www.sgmrg.co.uk.
Frog Lane Book Launch - 60 years on
Mine roadshow unearths memories
A roadshow for former miners who worked in the Frog Lane pit in Coalpit Heath is being held this weekend. It will be the last of two events organised ahead of the 60th anniversary of the pit's closure. Organisers of the first get-together said it had generated some fascinating details and photographs thanks to the former miners and the families of pit workers who took part. It is hoped the second roadshow will bring in even more material, which will be used when the anniversary is celebrated next year.
Frog Lane 1949-2009 is being billed as a major event that will include a book being produced, the staging of an exhibition and a programme of mining events and activities. South Gloucestershire Miners Research Group is working with Yate and District Heritage Centre and local community and history groups on the project. They said the colliery was the last major mining concern in the Yate and Coalpit Heath area and anyone who worked there was invited to get involved so they could provide first-hand details of what it was like to work in the pit.
Anyone else with memories of the mine operating is also welcome to go along to the Miner's Institute, Badminton Road, Coalpit Heath on Saturday from noon to 5pm.
Coal mining in South Gloucestershire dates back to the 13th century, with shallow pits rather than deep mines being worked up to the 17th century as part of extensive coal seams which stretched from Cromhall, near Thornbury, to Radstock and under Bristol. Deeper shafts were dug as technology advanced and by the 1840s the Coalpit Heath area had eight pits. Frog Lane was sunk in 1853, where mining was concentrated by the end of the 19th century, but it closed when the main seams were worked out. Frank Thornell, 75, still lives in Coalpit Heath, where he started his mining career. He said: "We worked with picks about 200ft down on a 4ft coalface, using wooden props to hold the roof up." Mr Thornell worked at Frog Lane until it closed and then switched to pits in Somerset. He is now busy writing his memoirs.
Yate councillor Chris Willmore said: "The first roadshow last month unearthed some fantastic oral history from people involved with the mine and an unique photo archive. We hope we can do even better on Saturday."
Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the closure of the Frog Lane pit, the last to operate in the South Gloucestershire coalfield. Local historians plan to mark the occasion with a book, an exhibition, a CD and other events, and are currently busy gathering photos, press cuttings and records. One way of contacting them will be a road show from noon to 5pm on Saturday, November 29, at the Miners' Institute on Badminton Road, Coalpit Heath.
One former miner already very much on their radar is Frank Thornell, who still lives in Coalpit Heath, not far from the house where he was born in 1933, near the village pub, the Ring O'Bells. As he had three sisters and was the only boy in the family, his mother Annie doted on him.
Frank, who is busy writing his memoirs, is proud to have grown up in the village and of being one of the fraternity of miners. "Lady Smythe from Ashton Court owned all the land about here," he explains. "My father Charlie looked after her properties before going down the pit when he was in his 30s, and my mother later worked in the pit canteen. When I left school at 14, I went to work locally for ES and A Robinson, the big Bristol paper and packaging people, but about six months later my father said to me 'I think you ought to come and work down the pit'. It wasn't just the money, though 'driving the roads' at night - blasting ways through to the coal face for the miners - paid better than in the day. But it was hard and quite dangerous work. The main reason I decided to go down the pit was because a lot of my mates were starting down there. I thought I'd try it to see what it was really like. It could be dangerous work, but I think the miners - there were about 250 of us in all - enjoyed life in the pits. I had to train for six months in Old Mills, Paulton, near Radstock - we got the bus there and back every day - before I could work on the face. They told me how the coal seams ended at Cromall because of a fault."
"At our pit, Frog Lane, the two main seams were almost worked out, which left just the Hollybush, with poor roof conditions. I started out as a brickie's mate underground, but I managed to get a lot of falling stone mixed in with the cement. I then started helping to pull drams (tubs on wheels) of coal on and off the cage. I couldn't wait to get to the coal face. They were good miners, but it was difficult to find one to teach you. We had 12 pit ponies working with us, pulling the drams. Coal mining in South Gloucestershire is first recorded back in the 13th century. Bounded by Yate and Frampton Cotterell, Coalpit Heath is now a pleasant commuter village, but until 1949 it lived up to its name on part of an extensive seam that stretched under Bristol from Cromall in the north down to Radstock in Somerset."
As technology advanced in the 18th and 19th centuries, deeper shafts were dug. By the 1840s, the Coalpit Heath area had eight pits, all owned by Sir John Smythe of Ashton Court, who had inherited the mineral rights. By now, 65,000 tons of coal were extracted annually and sent to Bristol via a dramway - trucks drawn by horses along a track to the Avon at Keynsham - and then by water. But this lasted only nine years before a steam railway connected the pits - Mays Hill, Ram Hill, Ram Engine, Churchleaze 1 and 2, Orchard and New Engine - direct to Bristol.
Frog Lane was not sunk until 1853. As we have seen, this closed in 1949 - but it wasn't quite the end. Between 1959 and 1963, the National Coal Board operated a drift mine at Harry Stoke, though its short life tells us that it was not a success.
Today, most evidence of what went on is at Ram Hill, which still has the remains of a steam engine house, a horse gin, a mineshaft, the dramway terminus and the reservoir at Bitterwell.
Organising next year's anniversary celebrations and this Saturday's road show are South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group, Yate and District Heritage Centre and other local groups. If you can't make the road show but would like to know more, call Steve Grudgings by phoning 07768 381502.
Frog Lane Publicity - Working the Coal
Gerry Brooke looks back at life in the South Gloucestershire coal mines.
COAL mining in South Gloucestershire - just shallow pits rather than deep mines - first gets a mention way back in the 13th century. Day holes and bell pits, as they were known, continued to be worked throughout the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. These pits were part of extensive coal seams which stretched right under Bristol from nearby Cromhall right down to Radstock in Somerset.
As technology advanced during the 18th and 19th centuries, so deeper shafts were able to be dug. Further pioneering advances such as steam engines - Devonian Thomas Newcomen installed his first workable engine in 1712 - which could pump out flood water, enabled mines to be sunk to even greater depths. By the 1840s, there were four steam engines working in the Coalpit Heath area, which by then had eight pits, all owned by Sir John Smythe of Ashton Court who had inherited the mineral rights. By now, 65,000 tons of coal were being extracted annually with transportation to Bristol being via a dramway - trucks drawn by horses along a track to the river Avon at Keynsham - and then by water.
But this system only lasted nine years before a proper steam railway connected the pits - Mays Hill, Ram Hill, Ram Engine, Churchleaze (1 and 2), Orchard and New Engine - direct to Bristol. Frog Lane, the last pit to close in 1949, was not sunk until 1853. But life for the 18th-century miner and his family wasn't all just work. In 1739, the preacher George Whitfield wrote in his journal: "The place where I preached at Coalpit Heath being near the maypole, I took occasion to warn them of mis-spending their time revelling and dancing. "Oh, that all such entertainment were put a stop to."
In those days there were 300 colliers working in the pits - nearly 50 of them boys under the age of 13 and another 50 under 18. The miners were paid £1 for a 10-hour, six-day shift, with the boys' pay less than half that. The lads were employed to pull wooden tubs - plus up to two hundredweight of coal - by a belt fastened around their waist plus a chain, the infamous "guss and crook".
Since the galleries were low - most coal seams were only between two and three feet high - the lads often had to crawl along the passages with the chain between their legs. Smaller boys tugged the tubs while others pushed. Thankfully there was no gas in the pits, which meant that candles could be used quite freely.
The coal, at first carried out in baskets on the miners' backs, was later raised to the surface using a windlass and rope set up over the shaft. Bucket hooks meant that several baskets could be raised at a time. The "Whimsey", which came into use about 1870, was a large horizontal drum around which a rope was coiled. Operated by a horse it meant that up to 30 tons of coal could be raised each day.
By the end of the 19th century, mining was concentrated at Frog Lane pit, but production finally ceased in 1949, when the main seams were all worked out. But this wasn't quite the end - between 1959 and 1963 the National Coal Board operated the Harry Stoke Drift Mine, but this was not a success.
Ram Hill still has the remains of a steam engine house, a horse gin, a mine shaft, the Dramway terminus, the reservoir (Bitterwell Lake) and a boiler house.
Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the closure of the Frog Lane pit, and South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group (SGMRG), Yate and District Heritage Centre plus local community and heritage groups are joining forces to mark the event. There is to be a book, an exhibition, a CD and numerous other events and activities.
Do you know anybody who worked in the pit? Or anyone who has any photos or records of a family member who worked there? The combined groups will be holding a road show on Saturday, November 29, between noon and 5pm at the Miners' Institute on Badminton Road, and would like to meet up with anybody who can help. If you would like to know more, then contact Steve Grudgings of SGMRG on 07768 381502, or visit www.sgmrg.co.uk.
A Coalpit Heath miner - Frank Thornell
Gerry Brooke talks to one of the last South Glucestershire coal miners - Frank Thornell.
OLD miner Frank Thornell still lives in Coalpit Heath, not far from the house where he was born in 1933, near the village pub, the Ring O'Bells.Having three sisters and being the only boy in the family, his mother, Annie, doted on him. Frank, who is busy writing his memoirs, is proud to have grown up in the village and of being one of the fraternity of miners.
"Lady Smythe from Ashton Court owned all the land about here," he explained over a welcome cup of tea. "My father, Charlie, looked after her properties before going down the pit when he was in his 30s. My mother later worked in the pit canteen."
"When I left school at 14 I went to work for Robinson's, the paper box people, but about six months later my father said to me: 'I think you ought to come and work down the pit'. It wasn't just the money, which was generally poor. The main reason I decided to go down the pit was because a lot of my mates were starting down there. I thought I'd try it and see what it was like. It could be dangerous work, but I think the miners - there were about 250 of us in all - enjoyed life in the pits."
"I had to train for six months in Old Mills, Paulton, near Radstock - we got the bus there and back every day - before I could work on the face. They told me how the coal seams ended at Cromall because of a fault. At our pit, Frog Lane, the two main seams were almost worked out, which left just the Hollybush, with poor roof conditions."
"I started out as a brickie's mate, underground, but managed to get a lot of falling stone mixed in with the cement. I then started helping to pull drams (tubs on wheels) of coal on and off the cage. I couldn't wait to get to the coal face. They were good miners, but it was difficult to find one to teach you. We had 12 pit ponies working with us, pulling the drams," says Frank. "They were stabled underground and only came to the surface for a few weeks
each summer. Blinded by the daylight we had to put sacks over their heads for a while. One of my summer jobs was to make hay and bring it in for them."
"The only mechanisation at Frog Lane was a conveyor belt. The horses pulled the coal out on rails. We worked with picks - about 200 feet down on a four-foot coal face - using wooden props to hold the roof up. We had to put up a lot of timber because the stone and coal was so loose. Of course, metal props wouldn't snap, or even give you any warning that anything was wrong, like a roof collapse."
"Working up to Yate we could hear the trains going overhead. What we bought out - about 3,500 tons a month - was excellent quality house coal, almost as good as the Derbyshire bright, the best house coal in the country. One perk was free coal to take home for our fires."
"Unlike at Pensford, we had no pit head baths, which meant you had to wash the dust off when you got home. You hoped your wife or mother had some hot water ready. The miners worked three shifts." Doing the early one, 6am to 2pm, meant that Frank had his afternoons free. "I used to play soocer for Frampton Cotterell Juniors and then Iron Acton FC," he says. "I would also go shooting."
"After I'd worked two years at Coalpit Heath (it was closed as uneconomic in 1949) I then went to Pensford colliery. I was there for 10 years and had to catch the coach every morning at 5am." Then came stints in pits at Midsomer Norton and Radstock, with Frank ending his mining life at the National Coal Board's (NCB) Harry Stoke drift mine at Stoke Gifford. "That was a terrible mine," explains Frank. "It should never have opened. There was more stone than coal coming out." The NCB must have agreed - the mine closed in 1963, a decade after it opened.
As I finished my tea and started putting my coat on Frank showed me some unusual rocks in his front garden. "I spent some years digging celestine or spar," he explained. "It's a rare mineral, used for fireworks and in industry. It was only mined in two places in the world, and one was around Yate. I finally got a job at Newman's of Yate - it's now the Creda factory - before I retired at 62."
I asked a cheerful Frank if he ever felt that his life had been in danger. "Well, I got buried three times when the roof fell in at both Pensford and Harry Stoke, and I'm still alive. But that was just my luck."
Miners' memories of last South Gloucestershire pit
A search has started for former miners to help mark 60 years since the closure of the last colliery in South Gloucestershire.
Local history enthusiasts and community groups are planning an exhibition about the Frog Lane pit, which shut in 1949. They are keen for ex-miners or their relatives to contribute insights into what it was like to work in the industry. There are two roadshows taking place for people who lived near the mine and have memories it working to tell historians about it. The first is tomorrow night, with the second at the end of next month.
"Frog Lane 1949-2009 will be a major event next year and we need people's help to make it the biggest possible," said Yate councillor Chris Willmore. "We would especially be interested in meeting anyone with any pictures, documents or artefacts linked to life in the pit and Coalpit Heath during that time."
Organisers want to display photographs to show life in the pit. Flash photographs were normally banned at collieries because of the risk of explosion but the Frog Lane mine was gas free, allowing miners and pit ponies to be pictured at the coal face.
Thursday's roadshow is in the Miner's Institute, Badminton Road, Coalpit Heath, from 7pm-9pm. The second will be at the same venue on November 29 from noon to 5pm.
Oldwood 2008 - Working life spent underground
The Gazette ran a full page on the Oldwood Pit Open day in September 2008.
Kingswood Coal - A Mine of Information
Evening Post interview with Steve Grudgings on 29th April 2008 about SGMRG's new publication 'Kingswood Coal'.
Kingswood Coal is available for £6 plus £1 p&p.
Oldwood Open Day September 2007
Publicity for our Open Days in September 2007:
Poised to Revive Mining Heritage
On 11th April 2007 David Hardwick made front page news, appearing in the South Gloucestershire Observer (and other local newspapers). David said the proposed restoration project at Ram Hill Colliery was "something for the community to get involved in". View the article (pdf 21KB).
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