Coal Mining

KINGSWOOD & SOUNDWELL Local History Site

Coal mines at Warmley, looking outwards from the city, with the church at the back on the right.

 

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COAL MINING

 

Some local pits, their locations and date of closure::

 

 

Lower Soundwell - Chiphouse Road -1853

Soundwell Middle Pit

Upper Soundwell - Gladstone Street

New Cheltenham - Spring Hill

Deep Pit (Tyler's Pit until 1838) - Deep Pit Road -1936

Speedwell - Speedwell Road (fire station)

Belgium - Duncombe Road -1902

Hopewell Hill

Sheppard's - Broad Street, Staple Hill

Pendennis

Siston Hill - 1875

Wallsend (or Mangotsfield New Colliery)

The Miniature

Crown - Warmley, main road -1888

Goldney

Flash

Tennis Court - site of Kingsfield School

Grimsbury -1832

Old Cockroad

Smith's

Gee Moor

Thompson's (or Batchellor's)

Barrs Court (or Hollyguest)

Shot Patch (or Shop Patch)

Owl's Head

Jefferies

Whitehall

Hanham

Air Ballon

White's Hill

Royal Oak

Victoria

Forest Road

Parker's ground

 

 

More to follow

 

Easton Pit. Just outside the area, but probably similar to the local collieries.

Lower Soundwell Colliery was at the bottom of Chiphouse Road, behind the cottages on Station Road, although these date from 1869. The pit had closed in 1853. Prospect farmhouse, on the left, was built in 1896.

 

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From the Gloucestershire Inquests for 2 February 1795

 

On Monday last a very melancholy accident happened near Warmley, in this county. As twelve men were at work in a coal pit, a body of water from an adjoining pit suddenly burst into their works, which instantly rose to the height of ten fathoms, and five of the number were unfortunately drowned, three of whom have left wives and families to lament the fatal catastrophe: the others were taken out alive without receiving much injury, to the astonishment of all present.

 

 

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Gloucestershire Inquest 4 January 1796

 

On Monday last two inquests were taken before Mr Joyner of Berkeley, on the bodies of WM JOHNSON, aged 37, and THOMAS PREWETT, aged 17, both of the parish of St George in this county, coal miners, who, in attemting to down a coal pit, belonging to his Grace the Duke of Beaufort, in a single cart, the rope unfortunately broke, and they fell near 70 fathom and were killed on the spot. Verdicts, Accidental Death.

 

 

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A major mining disaster, reported in the Bristol Mercury of Saturday 1 November 1845.

 

FATAL ACCIDENT AT UPPER SOUNDWELL COLLIERY

 

We regret to state that a frightful accident, involving the loss of no less than five lives, occurred on Saturday last at the Soundwell-coalpit, near Fishponds, about four miles from this city. The report of the accident speedily spread through the vicinity, and caused the utmost consternation among the families of those persons engaged in the works, who ran frantically to the neighbourhood of the pit in order that they might learn the extent of the calamity. It appears that on the Saturday afternoon the workment employed at the Upper Soundwell-pit, the property of Mr. Samuel Whittuck, were leaving their work, and five of their number had entered the basket or "cart", as it is termed by the coal-miners, for the purpose of being drawn up to the mouth of the pit, when the rope suddenly broke, and they were precipitated to the bottom. In addition to the five who had entered the cart, a sixth man was getting into it, and was also dragged down with it. Four of the unfortunate men were killed instantly, and the fifth expired after lingering in great agony for three-quarters of an hour. The man who had not entered the basket was dreadfully mangled, his arm being fractured in so bad a manner as to require immediate amputaion, which was skilfully performed, and the poor sufferer is now going on favourably. The alarm having been given, a rope was procured as soon as possible from another pit, and the bodies were drawn up, presenting a frightful spectacle. The scene at this moment was truly heart-rending, the mouth of the pit being surrounded by children calling for their fathers, and wives for their husbands. The names of the five men killed by this distressing accident are William Harris, 60 years of age, leaving a wife and large family, most of whom are, however, married; Thomas Bird, aged 40, leaving a wife and five children; Wm. Bassett, aged between 69 and 70; Benjamin Wiltshire, 33, leaving a wife and three children; and John Porter, 30, leaving a wife and six children. The man who has been injured is named George Britten, and also has a wife and large family.

 

INQUEST

 

The coroner's inquest on the bodies of the five unfortunate men who perished in the above accident, was commenced on Wednesday last, at the Horse-Shoe inn, Downend, before W.J.Ellis, Esq., coroner, and a respectable jury.

 

The first day nothing was done beyond viewing the bodies, after which the enquiry was adjourned till yesterday when it was renewed.

 

The first witness called was George Wiltshire, who stated that he was a collier by trade and brother to one of the deceased men. On Saturday last he was at work in the Soundwell-pit, and at 1 o'clock, when it was time to go up out of the pit, he saw the colliers who were killed get into the cart. He was about to enter it with them, but a man behind him pulled at a sack which he had thrown over his shoulders to keep off the wet. He turned round and said to him, "don't do that," and before he had time to get into the cart it fell. Brittan (the survivor), was standing on the edge of it and was dragged down with it. The cart had not begun to be hoisted - the men were waiting for the signal. The rope was a bad one and did not look fit to haul the cart up and down. On Saturday fortnight it broke while hauling up a cart of coal, and since then the men had all been afraid of it. Could not say that anything had been said about it to the overlooker of the works. The men had talked about its being unsafe among themselves and had said they would not go up and down with it - but they did go as they had no other work and did not want to lose their bread. The rope was an old one. Did not remember when it was first put up. Could not tell how long a rope ought to wear. It was pulled up and down a good many times a day - sometimes as many as 50 times a day, and sometimes oftener than that. A flat rope was used. The depth of the pit was 200 fathoms, and the men fell between 12 and 13 fathoms.

 

By the Jury - Last Tuesday week I told the bailiff that I did not like to go down, as the rope was not safe, and I asked him to come and look at it; he said he did not like it himself, and that I should go down by the adjoining pit. Nothing was done after this to make the rope secure. We did not stand out from work at all because we would not go down with that rope; we consider that ten men a journey is the proper number to go up and down, but there was an order given for only eight to go: I suppose that this was because they were afraid of the rope; the bailiff never threatened any one who complained should lose his work; I do not remember the rope being changed at all; I have worked at the colliery 23 years, and at that pit about five years.

 

By the Coroner - I never recollect any of the men telling the master or overlooker that they were afraid to go down the pit; the bailiff was not present when the men made the remarks about the badness of the rope; I made a complaint to Mr. Watts, the underground bailiff, and he said the men had better go down by another pit. Eight men would not weigh as heavy as a cart of coal by five or six cwt.

 

Joseph Garland stated that he was at work in the pit the day the men were killed. Heard them fall and went to their assistance as soon as he could. Found Brittan alive - Bird was dead - Basset gave two or three gasps and then died - Harris and Porter were also dead, and Benjamin Wiltshire was leaning in his brother's arms praying to the Lord to save his poor soul. The rope was lying crowded up in the bottom. It had been unsafe ever since it broke on Saturday fortnight, but the masters did not require the men to go down on it. Witness did not hear of it at the time, but was now told that the men were desired to go down by the other pit. Did not complain to the overlooker, and did not know any one else to do so. The men were ordered up and down in less numbers. There was a join in the rope which the men thought dangerous, and when they complained about it, it was to be mended.

 

By the Jury - Do not know that I should have lost my work if I had complained to the overlooker. After the rope broke on the first Saturday, it was joined with some old rope that had been lying disused for 10 or 12 months. It was only used till a new one could be got. The overlooker let us work that we might not lose our wages. The part of the rope which broke on the second occasion was a part of the same which first broke.

 

Samuel Garland Jun., had heard the men express fears about the rope, but never to the overlooker. About 12 o'clock on the day of the accident, 13 or 14 men came up at one time with the same rope. When the rope was spliced after the first breakage, Mr. Stone, the overlooker, said he did not like the look of it.

 

The Coroner said it was a most extraordinary thing that, although aware of the badness of the rope, and that there were orders for only 8 to go at a journey, 13 or 14 men should be so rash as to ascend at once.

 

Thomas Churchill had come out of the pit the same day with 9 or 10 men and boys with him. He had not thought the rope safe for a fortnight. Was present when the splicing was examined, and the men said they would not like to go up and down on it. The bailiff said they should come down the other pit, and went down the rope himself with some other men.

 

Mr. Marsh deposed that he had been foreman of Mr. Whittuck's coal works for two years and a half. Was not satisfied with the state of the rope, and told the man under him, Wm. Watts, to tell any who were afraid to go up and down with it, to go down by the other pit; did this on the Monday after it first broke, as he did not wish to compel anybody to use the bad rope; also told the men they might go up and down as light as they liked, and charged the engine-man not to grumble if they went three or four at a time; told Mr. John Whittuck a fortnight ago that he should be glad when the new rope was come. as he did not like the old one; Mr. W. said if there was any danger the men were to go down by the other pit; when the rope broke a fortnight ago, witness put on some other rope he had, and repaired it; the men were idle two or three days, and then went to work on the Tuesday; after that no copmplaint was made to him of the rope, nor did he ever know of the men refusing to go down; no one spoke to him about it, but he was not satisfied himself, and gave orders for an eye to be kept on the rope, and if anything was the matter, to stop the work; orders had been given for a new rope seven weeks ago; the depth of the pit was 197 fathoms, the value of a rope about £80, and the weight of it about two tons. It was not usual to have a new rope at a stated time, but when it was wanted. The men did not like to go down by the other pit, because they had the trouble of going 330 yards underground from one pit to the other.

 

Foreman: You tell us that you thoght the rope dangerous- did you caution the men of the danger?

 

Witness: No.

 

Foreman: Did you issue any order to stop them going down by it?

 

Witness: No. I did not compel them to go down> Any who were afraid might go down by the other pit.

 

Foreman: I think it was your duty as foreman, and knowing the danger, to have warned the men of it, and forbade them going down by that rope.

 

Witness: If I had done that they would have run about the country and said I was starving them and would not let them work.

 

Examination resumed: I ordered 190 fathom of rope of Cook and Thatcher. It was intended to join it with a piece of the old rope. It would have been better to have had a whole new rope. I did not order one as I was afraid Mr. Whittuck would grumble. When he ordered a rope, he generally ordered 80 or 100 fathom.

 

W. Watts, underground bailiff, proved that when the men complained he ordered them to go down by the other pit; only two hearkened to him; Porter, who was killed, was the first to disobey him; he got into the cart and said he would go down; the men said they would rather play than go down the other pit; their only reason was that they would have to walk ten or twelve minutes underground.

 

By a Jurer - Since I gave the men orders not to go down by the bad rope I have gone up and down myself every other day, and have let one or two men at a time go with me.

 

Mr. B. Dodd, colliery-viewer, deposed to having examined the rope from top to bottom; it was in a vey bad state altogether; it had evidently been used for a very long time; this was evident from the number of joins in it; it was a four stranded rope, and in some parts two strands were gone, and in some three strands; in several places the stitching was gone altogether; had often seen ropes worn at the edges, but never saw one worn on the face as that was; would not allow any man of his to up and down by such a rope; should consider that it must have been in a very dangerous state for some time past.

 

George Ball stated that he was foreman at Messrs Terrell and Son's rope-factory, and had been so for thirty years; had examined the rope, and never before saw one in use which was in so bad a condition from wear; concurred with Mr. Dodd as to its unfitness and dangerous condition, many parts of it must have been worn out for twelve months past; there were seventeen parts of it which were very much affected, and which he wondered had not gone before; they had often far better ropes bought to Messrs. Terrell's yard as old junk; witness lived in a neighbourhood where there were eleven pits, and often went round and looked at the ropes; never before saw one in such a condition as that was.

 

This being the whole of the evidence, the jury-room was cleared for the jury to consider their verdict, and at twenty minutes to five o'clock they returned the following verdict:-

 

"Accidental Death, with a deodand * of £100 on the rope. The jury cannot refrain from expressing their opinion that there has been very great neglect on the part of the proprietor of the pit, J. Whittuck, Esq., and the overlooker, Charles Stone, in not having provided a sufficient rope for the safety of the men in ascending and descending the said pit."

 

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This man [George Britten] states that he never lost consiousness at all; that upon striking against the bottom of the pit he rebounded to some height, and then fell into the cart, which tilted up on one side. He soon found that his arm was hanging by a bit of flesh; being an inveterate smoker he pulled out his tobacco-box, filled his pipe, struck a light and kindled it and leant back against the pit and began smoking. He was found in this position, and the surgeon states that as soon as his arm was amputated he requested permission to have another pipe, which he was permitted to do.

 

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(Reproduced courtesy of The British Newspaper Archive)

 

* A deodand is confiscation of an object that has caused death.