Cradley is less famous for coal mining than chain making, but between 1850 and 1950 the collieries were no less important than the chain works in the local economy and for the legacy they left.
Cradley was, and perhaps still is, most well known for having been one of the foremost towns whose working people were engaged in the hand-made iron chain trade, from the early nineteenth century onwards. However, Cradley was as much a coal mining town as a chain making one. The main expansion of the industry locally was from the 1860s onwards, after the opening of the Stourbridge Railway. Cradley lies at the southern edge of the workable measures of the Staffordshire Thick Seam of coal, in the South Staffordshire coalfield. The seam is up to 10 metres thick in places but is at its thinnest in this area. Some definitions of the geographical area of the Black Country are based on the extent of this famous and most productive coal seam.
Coal was mined from at least the 13th century in this area. The Halesowen Manor Rolls made a reference to mining in 1281. The earliest record of coal being mined in Cradley was in 1640. However, there is evidence of outcrops being exploited at Netherend in the 14th century and this early opencasting of coal continued until the 19th century, when it was superseded by deep mining.
The coal generally occurred in four seams (the Brooch, Thick, Heathen and New Mine Coals), varying in quality and thickness, and separated by layers of ironstone and waste. Under the bottom seam was a fine quality fire clay, and this gave rise to a local brick making industry. The clay was mined at depth, but also from opencast Marl Holes, such as the one known as "Spirit Hole" at Homer Hill.
1. CRADLEY COLLIERIES
Trial boreholes at Wassall Grove, only one mile from Cradley in the direction of the Clent Hills, between 1852 and 1860, proved the lack of workable coal and the shaft was sealed in June 1867.
The Cradley collieries were:
BEECH TREE COLLIERY, at Foxcote, where shafts were first sunk in 1873 but mining only began in about 1922, was closed in August 1958, the last coal mine in the district.
CRADLEY COLLIERY, on the south side of Homer Hill, operated from 1865 to 19th June 1917.
CRADLEY PARK COLLIERY, on the south side of Cradley Park (once a hunting park and the location of Cradley Manor), operated from 1867 to 20th January 1933.
HAYES COLLIERY straddled the boundary between the parishes of Cradley and The Lye. It was producing coal already in 1834 but mining ceased shortly after 1926, certainly by 1928.
HILL BANK COLLIERY, operated from July 1888 to 1905, and was finally abandoned during 1915.
HOMER HILL COLLIERY, produced coal from 1865 to 9th March 1928.
LYDEFIELD COLLIERY, also known as Lyde Green Colliery, was operated from 1835 to about 1874.
MAYPOLE COLLIERY, was abandoned in 1917.
NETHEREND COLLIERY, actually three small collieries very close to each other, operated from at least 1843 until 1922, and were finally abandoned during 1925.
OLDNALL COLLIERY, on the hills above Cradley Park, where coal was mined from 1873 to 1944.
"A History of Coal Mining Around Halesowen" by N.A. Chapman, published by Heartland Press 1999, ISBN 0 9517756.9.6, price £9.00.
"Cradley - A History" by Barry G. Willetts and Hazel M. Clifton, published by Clifford Publications 1997, ISBN 09530214 08.
2. CRADLEY MINING DISASTERS
Ian Wilkinson, whose Coal Mining History Resource Centre web site is an invaluable source of information about all aspects of coal mining, has provided Cradley Links with details of mining deaths in Cradley pits for the period 1850-1914. Please note that the original sources do not always distinguish properly between Cradley and Cradley Heath, and sometimes a Cradley colliery is wrongly described as being in Staffordshire, etc. However, all the data is included here so as not to miss anyone and, in any case, it may have been a Cradley collier who died in a Cradley Heath colliery.
More details can be obtained by e-mailing Ian Winstanley. Ian does not charge for information, but always welcomes donations.
In addition to the names of the deceased miners, the details mostly include the date of death, their particular trades, the name of the mine, and the mine company. For example, the term pikeman refers to the miners who broke up and brought down the 'top coal' in the gallery with a long pikestaff, and bandsmen were those who loaded the fallen coal into tubs in the cage at the pit bottom. More details can be found by searching through the Mining Dictionary, accessible via a link on Ian's web site.
Name Date Age Occupation Mine Owner
S. Wright 10/01/1862 Pikeman Cradley Heath King, Swindell and Co Stourbridge, Worcester
C. Giddins 13/05/1864 Bandsman Cradley A Sparrow Stourbridge, Worcester
A. Westwood 26/04/1867 13 Horsedriver Cradley Messrs Sparrow Cradley, Worcester
E. Robinson 26/11/1868 Collierboy Cradley Park J King and Co Cradley, Worcester
W. Knight 02/12/1870 25 Bandsman Cradley Heath Cooper and Pearsons Stourbridge, Worcester
H.D. Williams 05/02/1872 16 Horsedriver Cradley Cradley Colliery Co Stourbridge, Worcester
J. Jones 22/07/1872 Pickman Cradley Heath Parsons and Cooper Cradley, Worcester
G. Turner 15/04/1873 26 Pickman Cradley Park J King and Co Stourbridge, Worcester
C T. Walker 16/03/1874 Sinker Cradley Station (fireclay) Mobberley and Bayley Cradley, Worcester
Thomas Hogg 11/03/1876 34 Stallman Cradley Hill Hall and Boardman Burton-on-Trent, Derby
Thomas Shaw 25/01/1877 35 Pikeman Cradley Cradley Colliery Co Cradley, Stafford
D. Hingley 30/12/1879 22 Loader Cradley Cradley Colliery Co Cradley, Stafford
Amos Southall 04/05/1882 53 Pikeman Cradley Park King Bros and Co Cradley, Stafford
Thomas Clayton 22/06/1883 34 Pikeman Cradley Heath Parsons and Cooper Cradley Heath, Stafford
Richard Roper 06/07/1888 56 Pikeman Cradley Heath Parsons and Cooper Cradley, Worcester
William Merchant 13/03/1890 24 Pikeman Cradley Heath Parsons and Cooper Cradley Heath, Stafford
Joseph Yardley 21/03/1890 19 Labourer Cradley Joseph King and Co Stourbridge, Worcester
Walter Green 29/07/1907 25 Loader Cradley Park Joseph King and Co Worcester
William Lloyd 03/01/1911 22 Hooker Cradley King Bros (Stourbridge) Ltd Stourbridge, Worcester
Albert Hall 06/05/1912 21 Horse driver Cradley Park King Bros Ltd Worcester
Walter Dunn 08/08/1913 57 Stallman Cradley King Bros Ltd Worcester
Ian's Coal Mining History Resource Centre web site also includes a list of over 1000 individual mining disasters in which 5 or more lives have been lost in Great Britain from 1640 to 1978. Two of the disasters listed were at Homer Hill Colliery in Cradley.
In both cases the addresses of the colliery are slightly incorrect, one referring to Homer Hill being in Stourbridge, and both being wrong in respect of the name of the County (Cradley - and Stourbridge - were in Worcestershire, not Staffordshire or Warwickshire).
The detailed accounts of the two incidents are as follows:
HOMER HILL. Cradley, Staffordshire. 1st. November, 1866.
The colliery belonged to Messrs. Evers and Sons. It was a new pit with the shaft being sunk in 1865 and was 270 yards deep. The fireman went down and found the ventilation all right and about 40 to 50 men were lowered. Mr. Foley the manager went down the shaft and was near the miners when there was violent explosion. Mr. Foley was knocked out by debris. The explosion happened about 500 yards from the bottom of the shaft and the men were burnt and were able to make their way to the shaft and get up the shaft but John Edwards and a man named Guest had to be carried. Sixteen were found to be injured and taken to their homes in carts and visited by the colliery owner.
The inquest on the bodies of William Westwood, John Edwards, George Griffiths, William Gordon, Eland Burnbrook, Jesse Heathcot, Francis Burrell, Daniel Hart and William Buddleton was held before Coroner R. Docker. The deceased were nine of the twelve who died in the explosion.
Edward Dovui said he was working at the pit at the time of the explosion and was loading in the Nine Feet workings about 7.30 when he felt a rush of air and saw the candles blowing. He knew something had happened and he threw himself down and the air was followed by fire. He did not hear any report and he was burnt on the face and hands but he was able to walk to the bottom.
John Andrews, collier, was also loading at the time of the explosion and he was one of the first to go along the road after the pit had been examined. He caught a glimpse of the fire coming down the tunnel but it reached him before he could get down and the fire passed him and went to the bottom of the shaft.
The inquest on the three other men was held at the Bluebell Inn, Quarry Bank, before Mr. W.H. Phillips, Coroner, William Hadock, Solomon Guest and John Poulton. The jury found that the deceased were Accidentally Killed and were of the opinion that the blame rested on the fireman for not examining the back opening properly
Mines Inspectors Report, 1866. Mr. Baker.
HOMER HILL. Stourbridge, Warwickshire. 12th. November, 1867.
The colliery was the property of Messrs. Samuel Evers and Sons and was opened by a pair of seven feet shafts with a sectional area of 44 square feet. The Thick of Ten yard Coal in which the accident occurred was reached by these shafts at a depth of 150 yards. From the shafts two parallel gateroads with large sectional areas, about 50 yards apart were driven to the colliery boundary, a distance of almost 500 yards. At this point the entire thickness of the seam had been cut through.
The volume of air passing through the pit was about 10,000 cubic feet per minute. A small part of this was used to ventilate the top part of the seam in which workings were very limited and the main proportion travelled along the No.2 gateroad to the north workings. At the time of the explosions, it was distributed to ventilate the lower workings in the Nine feet Seam and returned along the No.1 or twin-road to the upcast shaft. The quantity of air was not large but appeared to be enough to sweep the gas from the workings. The only artificial means of ventilation was a small fire grate in the upcast shaft about 40 yards from the surface. The effect of this was to keep the ventilation in one direction and there was no provision made in the ventilation for any emergencies that may have arisen.
The men who died were-
J. Edwards, pikeman,
F.Barrell, bandsman and
J. Heathcock, died on the 13th.
H. Westwood and
W. Harden, both bandsman, and
E. Barnbrook, pikeman, died on the 14th.
S. Guest, bandman, died on the 18th and
W. Battleton, bandsman who died on the same day and
D. Hart and
J. Griffiths, both bandsmen who died on the 19th.
W. Gordon, bandsman, died on the 23rd.
J. Poulton, bandsman, died on the 26th.
Mr. Baker gave an account of the workings after the explosion. He said -
In the company of officers of the colliery, I travelled the northern or No.2 gate road until we arrived at the point up to which the ventilation had been restored and was about 260 yards from the shaft. We then pushed on for 200 yards and we reached the back opening or stall in which the fall of roof had occurred, which according to the information I was given, had taken place on the morning of the explosion. The opening then contained a large quantity of explosive gas evidently issuing from a fissured and very soft part of the coal seam from which the gas that caused the explosion had undoubtedly issued. Nearly all the doors on the cross headings were deranged and others broke and the ventilation destroyed but little or no other damage seemed to have been done in the other workings or machinery, except to the cage and the wire rope. These had been driven by the force of the blast some 70 to 80 yards up the upcast shaft.
"It was fortunate that the workmen were sheltered from the fearful blast by one of the long pillars, otherwise no person in that part of the mine would have been alive to tell the tale. We were told that a loaded skip, the horse and driver, some distance along the No.1 road, killing the horse and so seriously injuring the driver that he died in a day or two after the occurrence. The contents of the skip were scattered in all directions and another skip in No.2 road, standing 400 yards from the scene of the explosion, was forced off the rails."
The evidence at the inquests showed that there had been a very heavy fall amounting to between about two and three hundred tons, which was followed immediately by the explosion. The deputy, Edward Foley, who examined the workings before the explosion stated that he had examined the stall but he could reach only 25 feet which was five or six feet short of the roof and it was possible that there was a large quantity of gas lodge in the roof.
Mr. Baker commented -
The exclusive use of lamps under such circumstances will undoubtedly prevent most, if not all, explosions of this character and it would be well, in the event of any alteration of the existing law, to make provision to enforce so desirable a precaution.
Mines Inspectors Report, 1867. Mr. Baker.
3. INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY: MINE STRUCTURES AND BUILDINGS IN CRADLEY
In April 1977 George Price on behalf of the Friends of the Black Country Museum Mining Group produced an Index of the Mine Structures and Buildings in the Black Country. In the Introduction George comments that underground mining is now a thing of the past in the Black Country, and also that while everything in the Index existed in April 1977, unfortunately the majority are uncared for and may disappear in the near future.
This work includes features at three Cradley collieries, as follows:
MINE ADDRESS National Grid (O.S.) reference Feature Description
Cradley Park Colliery Park Road, Cradley SO 9359 8425 West Shaft Details not discernible, recently capped by N.C.B. Concrete cap, 15ft 9ins by 13ft 6ins by 1ft thick.
SO 9357 8425 Winding Engine House Fragmentary remains of foundations and engine plinth, largely covered by soil.
SO 9355 8426 Catch Pit Boiler feed water catch pit shaft, red mortared brickwork, stretcher bond, circular, internal diameter 6ft 2ins, loose filled to within 3ft 7ins of ground level.
Beech Tree Colliery Foxcote Lane, Cradley SO 9383 8393 Sub Station Blue brickwork in English garden wall bond. Single storey, tiled hipped roof. External dimensions 18ft 11ins by 16ft 4ins by 10ft 4ins high to eaves, 17ft 10ins high to apex. Small rectangular red brick extension to rear with flat concrete roof, external dimensions 16ft 4ins by 5ft 11ins by 9ft 6ins high.
SO 9386 8387 Pit Head Baths Single storey red brickwork in stretcher bond,erected 1950. Low pitched concrete roof. Overall external dimensions 143ft 9ins by 33ft 1in. by 12ft 6ins high to eaves, 14ft 6ins high to apex. Central flat roofed brickwork tower at rear (housing for water tanks), overall height from ground 25ft 6ins.
Oldnall Colliery Oldnall Road, Cradley SO 9327 8385 Winding Engine plinths Two blue brick plinths, 10ft 5ins long by 3ft 7ins wide by 2ft 4ins high and 17ft 0ins long by 3ft 7ins wide by 7ft 0ins high.
SO 9331 8388 Shaft Details not discernible capped with concrete.
Index of Mine Structures and Buildings in the Black Country, by George Price. Published by the Friends of the Black Country Museum Mining Group, Smethwick, 1977.
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