Somerset Coal

We went on a brilliant walk last weekend, starting in Pensford, taking in the Stanton Drew Stone Circles and the village, and then along to Stanton Wick and Pensford Colliery and back down to where we had started.

It was strange to be so deeply affected by first ancient Neolithic ruins of life and worship, and then the modern ruins of coal mining. Everything about them is so different, and yet they share the Chew Valley and both stand as a record of the people who have lived here.

A brief history of the various historical monuments of the area can be found here, in the Banes placemaking plan.

The Old Colliery is now the only large scale remains of the 20th century mining industry in North Somerset.

6977769656_309245481d_zWe wandered into its ruins, trying to find the old public right of way down the hill our book insisted was there — as like its author we believe in standing firm on old rights of way. It is no longer accessible, but we found a footpath down the road beyond the piece of the colliery that is now a private residence, and it does join the old path the miners took as described in our old book.

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This Colliery employed over 400 people.

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A Dirty Job, but we had to do it’ – The Bristol Post

There is a letter in The Bristol Post from Leon Thomas who once worked here as he studied, now a lecturer at University of Sydney, and then a professor of mining engineering in the University of New South Wales.

The carbide lamps show we were still a naked-light pit, and I recollect electric cap lamps came in for officials in about 1950 and the mine changed over to safety-lamp operation soon after. There had been an explosion at a naked-light pit in the North of England, and the NCB stopped all naked-light pits in the 1950s.

Pensford had just installed its first belt conveyor face in late 1949, and the signal whistle around the neck of the third person from the left in the front standing row was used by the puffler – face charge hand – to give stop/start signals for the belt, and to warn the colliers that it was starting. There has been an incredible increase in mechanisation since those days.

I remember the name of only two other people after this long period. Second and third from the right in the front row are the Packer brothers, reputedly the two highest-paid men in the pit. They worked as partners in a stall. The one on the left is Bill Packer, who worked in bare feet. There was no mandatory safety footwear in those days, or mandatory fibre helmets. Both Packer brothers are wearing the old canvas hats. Bill scavenged old boots out of the scrap heap in the pithead baths so that his toes would not get stamped on while waiting for the man-riding dolly cars or the cage. But he had worked at the face in bare feet since his youth at the Mells and Vobster pits with their very steep seams where bare toes could get a better grip on the timber props that were set almost like a ladder, and on the slippery floor. He was an inveterate gambler on horses but, to my recollection, not particularly successful.

I also remember him getting a bad gash on one of his shins, requiring three stitches after he had finished his shift, and he was back at work the following morning. He could not afford sick leave, with his numerous family and a bookmaker to support, and he was really tough. The photo was taken in front of the banksman’s cabin, alongside the downcast shaft. You can see on the wall the large bell that repeated the shaft winding signals.

Somerset archives contain some other real riches connected with the mining industry, but to return to the Banes placemaking plan, the mine was extensive, reaching:

towards Stanton Drew and Byemills, through to the Station Approach area of Pensford, to Publow Church, out to Lords Wood and included a drift mine at Common Wood, Hunstrete.

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Old Colliery Buildings

The Old Colliery now comprises an extensive range of unusual redbrick buildings, including the former Winding Engine House (known as The Winding House), that has been converted as a private residence.

The remaining red brick buildings are standing redundant and comprise:

Larger road fronted building – known as The Power House (where electricity was generated prior to SWEB installing a substation)

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Smaller road fronted building was the blacksmith workshops and stores for miners tools and other necessities.

Small building to rear of The Power House is the hauling engine house from which 2.5 miles of wire rope hauled the 500wt tubs between Pensford Colliery and Bromley Colliery along the tramway. Part of the tramway embankment wall and embankment have also survived.

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The small single storey building (located in Filer’s Coaches yard) was the weighbridge, electricians’ workshop and small store.

On the opposite side of the road, the bath house has been rebuild, only a section of the rear wall remains as original, and was incorporated into the design.

The brick lined tunnel also remains, which miners walked to give them easy access to and from Pensford village.

Brick lined tunnel! We saw no hint of that. But we did find memories of an industrial past already being swallowed by the woods:

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the old concrete stiles used by the miners

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The memories of a community grown up around this industry, even if the coal and soot and steam are gone. The website does mention that a collection of stories and oral histories of the collieries are being collected, which would be a wonderful thing. Especially as all but a few marks of the jobs and the lives that shaped this place for so long have been erased, and a much wealthier group of people is clearly moving in to enjoy the newly verdant countryside:

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