History Chatterley Whitfield
Chatterley Whitfield was a colliery for a little more than a hundred years. The summary of Whitfield’s history was put together by Jim Worgan, who wishes to record the help provided by Bill Jack.
If you or you know of anybody who would be willing to add their recollections of the site, then please get in touch and we can share them on the following page: Chatterley Whitfield Memories
- A Brief History of Chatterley Whitfield
- Pre 1863
- 1863 to 1876
- 1876 to 1884
- 1881 Pit Disaster
- 1884 to 1920s
- 1920s to 1947
- 1930 Site Audit
- 1947 to 1968
- New Pit Head Baths Opens
- Technical details of plant and facilities as at April 1969
- 1969 to 1986
- 1986 TO 1993
- 1993 to Present
History A Brief History of Chatterley Whitfield
Chatterley Whitfield is one of the most important sites in the Potteries: it is one of the most complete former colliery sites in Europe, and has been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a host of buildings on the site have Listed Building status. In its heyday, Chatterley Whitfield was one of the most productive sites in the country, and indeed, was the first colliery in the country to achieve an annual output of one million tons. This was achieved in 1937 and again in 1939.
The colliery lies on the Potteries coalfield, the largest of the North Staffordshire coalfields. The early potters favoured the Great Row seam which outcrops quite often towards the Pennine boundary, and this helped to determine the location of the Potteries towns of Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Fenton and Longton, while the western edge of the seam runs south-west from Biddulph for some twenty miles.
It is thought that the first extraction of coal in the Chatterley Whitfield area may have occurred in the fourteenth century by the Cistercian monks of Hulton Abbey from the other side of the East Valley; there is evidence to suggest that they mined coal from bell pits in nearby Ridgway. However, the first recorded evidence of mining activity dates from 1750, when a coal merchant from Burslem worked the area.
By the mid 1800s, a colliery had started to develop, and there was an on-site engine house, wharf, carpenter’s shop, and a brickworks. During the 1850s, prominent local businessman Hugh Henshall Williamson expanded production, and after initially working footrails, he sank a number of shafts including the Bellringer, the Ten Foot, and the Engine Pit. Further expansion took place following the opening of the Biddulph Valley Railway in 1860, and in 1865, a consortium of businessmen from Tunstall acquired the colliery and formed the Whitfield Colliery Company Limited.
Just seven years later in 1872, the managing director of the Chatterley Coal and Iron Company – C.J. Homer – acquired the site and invested heavily in railway infrastructure. This led to insolvency and the voluntary liquidation of the company by 1878. Production continued via an administrator until 1890 when the business was purchased by a newly formed Manchester-based company, the North of England Trustee Debenture and Asset Corporation, who continued to mine from the site until the coal industry was nationalised.
The colliery suffered badly during the recession of the late 1920s and early 1930s, but as the economy recovered in the years leading up to the Second World War, over £300,000 was invested in new plant, workshops and railway equipment, and it was in 1939 that Chatterley Whitfield became the first colliery in Britain to achieve an annual output of one million tons.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the coal industry was nationalised, and the colliery saw significant modernisation. At the dawn of the Swinging Sixties, ambitious plans were developed to merge Chatterley Whitfield with the nearby Norton and Victoria collieries to create a ‘super colliery’, that – it was envisaged – would be capable of an annual production of two million tons. However, this would have required investment of over £3,000,000, and so the plans were never implemented.
Chatterley Whitfield ceased production and closed its doors to working miners on 25th March 1977, and the remaining coal seams were worked from Wolstanton colliery.
The following year, the site reopened as the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum, with access to the underground workings via the Winstanley Shaft, and it’s peak, it attracted 70,000 visitors a year. However, in May 1986, Wolstanton colliery was closed, leading to fears that the Chatterley Whitfield workings would flood and there would be a build up of gas.
As a result, the National Coal Board invested £1,000,000 in the construction of a simulated “underground experience” in former railway cuttings near to the Institute Winding House. In August 1993, the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum was put into liquidation, and the site returned to the owner of the site’s freehold – Stoke-on-Trent City Council. In November of that year, the site was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and a number of buildings on the site were listed at Grade II and Grade II*.
From 1994, work began to secure a new future for the site, and in 2000, the Chatterley Whitfield Partnership was formed (an informal arrangement between the City Council, English Heritage, and local MP Joan Walley) to deliver a new strategy for Chatterley Whitfield. In 2002, the site received a major boost through its inclusion within English Partnerships’ National Coalfield Programme.
Over £20,000,000 has been invested to date in projects to regenerate Chatterley Whitfield. The principal partners to the project include Stoke-on-Trent City Council, English Heritage, the Homes and Communities Agency, and the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield.
The vision for the future of Chatterley Whitfield is that of a destination containing a vibrant mix of commercial and non-commercial uses that “captures the essential and unique historic character of the site”, and the two main elements of the project are the creation of a “sustainable business park”, and a new “heritage country park”. Recognising that the site’s unique heritage value is fundamental to its future development, three primary goals were identified, being to:
• Secure the long-term survival of the whole complex;
• Achieve and safeguard an appropriate setting for the historic colliery; and
• Make the site accessible, understandable, and enjoyable to the public.
History Pre 1863
The date at which coal was first mined systematically in the Whitfield area is not known, but there are references to mining in the manor of Tunstall from the late 13th century onwards. A local tradition claims that the monks of the Hulton Abbey came to nearby Ridgeway during the 14th and 15th centuries, to work coal from some of the eight seams outcropping half a mile east of Whitfield. These early workings were known as ‘footrails’ and were driven down from the surface.
Shaw’s ‘History of the Potteries’ tells us that in 1750, Ralph Leigh of Burslem collected coal from Whitfield twice a day. His six horses each carried between two and three hundredweights of coal along lanes which were impassable to wagons. These draughts of coal were each worth about seven pence (3p) and Leigh received one shilling (5p) a day for his services.
In 1838, Thomas Hargreaves conducted a survey and valuation of the colliery at Whitfield on behalf of its proprietors, representatives of the late William Harrison. At this time there were an engine house, coal wharf, carpenters’ shop and brickworks on the site. The buildings, machinery and coal stocks were collectively values at £154 7s. 6d. (£154.37.5p).
Hugh Henshall Williamson, a local man who lived nearby at Greenway Bank Hall, was mining in the Whitfield area by 1853. His mining activities at this period are somewhat uncertain, but it is most probable that Williamson first made use of existing mining sites and shallow shafts. In 1853 it is fairly certain that he was working the Cockshead and Seven Feet Banbury seams at the Ridgeway footrails. It is also probable that he was using the Bellringer shaft, which was 79 yards deep, to work the bellringer seam, and the Ragman and Engine shafts, each 50 yards deep, to work the Ragman seam.
In 1854 the local coalmasters forced the North Staffordshire Railway Company to construct the Biddulph Valley branch line after proposing to build the railway themselves, a situation which the NSR did not favour. Work on the construction of the railway did not start until 1858, the line being partly opened for mineral traffic in 1859, and completed in 1860, passing within half a mile of Whitfield.
Anticipating the completion of the railway, Hugh Henshall Williamson sank the Prince Albert shaft to work the Holly Lane and Hardmine seams and another shaft to work both the Bowling Alley and Ten Feet seams. On the opening of the railway he immediately constructed his own rail link from the shafts at Whitfield and footrails at Ridgeway, to Chell Sidings alongside the NSR Biddulph Valley Line. Wagons loaded with coal were lowered by brake down to the sidings and horses were used to haul empty wagons back up to the colliery.
History 1863 to 1876
In 1863 the Ragman shaft was deepened to the Ten Feet seam at a depth of 150 yards. At this time one winding engine served the Ragman, Engine and Bellringer shafts. Coal was wound up the shafts in 8cwt. tubs hooked onto the winding rope by chains. The men were also raised and lowered in these tubs; a dangerous but common practice used before the introduction of cages.
As the coal workings became deeper, ventilation was a major problem, especially in seams giving off large quantities of the highly explosive gas methane. In 1868 the Whitfield colliers were still using candles, an obviously dangerous practice.
Hugh Henshall Williamson died in December 1867. In November of that year, just before his death, the colliery changed hands and a group known as the ‘Gentlemen of Tunstall’ took it over, forming the first limited liability company to operate the mine. The Whitfield Colliery Company Limited bought both the colliery and a 214 acre estate for £40,000 and a prospectus issued in 1868 indicates that the capital for the proposed company was to be £25,000.
The new owners of Whitfield immediately set about the task of improving the shafts by deepening the Engine Pit to the same level as the Ragman Pit (148 yards) and widening both shafts to accommodate two cages. each shaft was provided with its own steam winding engine and the use of the Bellringer shaft was discontinued.
The life of the Whitfield Colliery Company Limited was of limited duration, coming to an end in 1872. At about this time the Chatterley Iron Company Limited, who owned blast furnaces, an oil distilling plant and a colliery working ironstone, in the Chatterley Valley, west of Tunstall, were looking for an adequate supply of coal for its furnaces. In early 1873 Mr C J Homer, its Managing Director, purchased the Whitfield Colliery on behalf of his company. On taking over, the new owners lost no time in starting a project to develop workings in the rich Cockshead seam of coal, and in 1874 they began to widen and deepen the old Bellringer shaft to a depth of 440 yards.
Shortly after the sinking work began, the North Staffordshire Institute of Mining Engineers made a visit to the colliery, and to commemorate the occasion the Bellringer shaft was re-named the Institute. In 1874 the colliery company also started to widen and deepen an old shaft, originally sunk by Hugh Henshall WIlliamson in the 1850s and sited to the north-east of the Institute. This shaft was to act as the upcast for the Institute Pit and was named the Laura, after Mr C J Homer’s daughter. Both shafts were completed in 1876.
History 1876 to 1884
As the output of coal at Whitfield increased, it became necessary to improve the coal transport system. Despite opposition from the North Staffordshire Railway, the company started to construct a private railway in 1873 to run from Whitfield to Pinnox where sidings were to join up with the lower Tunstall Branch of the NS Railway. The line was finally completed in 1878 and considerably reduced the cost of transporting coal from Whitfield to the blast funaces at Chatterley.
In 1876 the company ran into serious financial difficulties. The heavy capital expenditure of the earlier years and a recession in in trade began to take their effect. To overcome this, a policy of rigorous economy was introduced and numerous small pits were closed. This policy was strongly opposed by Mr C J Homer and he resigned over the issue. However, as the economies began to take effect and the output of coal increased, the company was able to weather the storm.
Unfortunately, just as the company was recovering, it was beset by further misfortunes. In 1880, the oil distillery at Chatterley was destroyed by fire and in February 1881 there was a serious fire and explosion at Whitfield. The latter fire was caused by the misuse of an underground blacksmith’s furnace which resulted in an explosion, killing 24 men.
The force of the explosion caused the collapse of the Laura Pit and the entire shaft and pit top were abandoned. At the same time the Institute shaft had to be partly filled, in an effort to extinguish the fire. Later, an enquiry into the explosion was held at the nearby Norton Arms, while at Staffords Assizes the Manager, Mr Thompson, defended himself against a charge of manslaughter and was acquitted.
In an effort to recover lost output, the Middle Pit shaft (formerly the Ragman) was deepened to the Hardmine seam in 1881, and a new upcast shaft to replace the Laura was sunk to the Cockshead seam. The latter shaft was completed in 1883 and named the Platt Pit after one of the Directors of the Company. In 1884 the company was again beset by heavy financial difficulties and an application was made to the Court for permission for its closure. The application was eventually withdrawn, the company’s affairs being placed under the control of three liquidators. One of these was the previous Company Secretary, John Renshaw Wain. It was his son, Edwards Brownfield Wain, who was to lead the Company to its ‘Goldern Age’.
History 1881 Pit Disaster
Feruary 1881 there was a serious fire and explosion at Whitfield. The latter fire was caused by the misuse of an underground blacksmith’s furnace which resulted in an explosion, killing 24 men.
The force of the explosion caused the collapse of the Laura Pit and the entire shaft and pit top were abandoned. At the same time the Institute shaft had to be partly filled, in an effort to extinguish the fire. Later, an enquiry into the explosion was held at the nearby Norton Arms, while at Stafford Assizes the Manager, Mr Thompson, defended himself against a charge of manslaughter and was acquitted.
In an effort to recover lost output, the Middle Pit shaft (formerly the Ragman) was deepened to the Hardmine seam in 1881, and a new up-cast shaft to replace the Laura was sunk to the Cockshead seam.
Here is a more detailed report on the incident:
CHATTERLEY WHITFIELD COLLIERY
EXPLOSION ON THE 7Th FEB 1881
Researched By John Lumsdon
Twenty-one persons were killed and several injured by an explosion, which occurred about 3.15, am on the 7th Feb 1881, at the Whitfield Colliery of the Chatterley Iron Company, near Hanley. An inquest held on the 8th, 9th, and 14th June, terminated in a verdict of manslaughter (by 13 out of a jury of 14) against Mr. E. Thomson, the manager of the colliery. The questions principally discussed at the inquest related to the conduct of the manager during the hour preceding the actual explosion. It was alleged that he had been guilty of negligence in allowing the men who were killed to remain too long underground after danger had become apparent, and the majority of the jury adopted this suggestion.
The colliery is situated near the outcrop of the North Staffordshire coalfield, and is worked in different seams by entirely separate and distinct shafts and workings. The explosion occurred in the Coxhead Seam, which is about 7 feet thick, and dips at an inclination of about 1 in 3. It is worked by two shafts. The downcast shaft is called the Institute Pit, and is about 410 yards deep to the seam. The up cast shaft is situated about 215 yards to the rise of the downcast, and is called the Laura Pit. It strikes the seam at a depth of about 330 yards. The main ways consist of long horizontal galleries at different levels, connected by dips or roads rising at a steep inclination from the lower to the higher galleries.
The system of working is board and pillar. The workings extend over 250 acres. The output was about 800 tons a day. The number of persons employed was 350. There was only one working shift on each day. The ventilation was by three furnaces fed entirely by fresh air. The ordinary velocity of the air along the working faces was 1000 feet per minute; the quantity of the air was ample. The colliery was fiery and dusty.
The origin of the disaster was not in doubt. When the colliery was first worked a smithy was placed in the main in-take at a short distance (about 70 yards) from the bottom of the downcast shaft. A flu consisting of 10-inch iron piping carried off the hot air and smoke from the smithy fire. For about 15 yards from the smithy this flue was carried on the level along the main in-take, and then it turned off into a side passage, and so through a pair of doors up to a steep travelling way or dip, rising towards the level of the up-cast shaft, and forming part of the return airways of the colliery. 20 yards above the doors this travelling way was crossed by a crosscut road of small dimensions. The flue turned off from the travelling dip into this crosscut through a small door. There was always much coal dust in this crosscut and the outside of the flue was usually coated with dust or of soot, or both.
In the opinion of Mr. Wynne, the Inspector of Mines for the district, it is, under almost any circumstances, improper to place a smithy underground in a fiery mine; but in its original position any danger from the heating of the flue was diminished by the circumstance that the first 10 or 15 yards leading immediately from the smithy fire, were in the main in-take near the downcast shaft, and at all times exposed to the cooling effect of the fresh air from the downcast at the coolest part of the mine.
About May 1880 in the course of opening out the mine, it was found by the manager that certain intended alterations of the main in-take would be obstructed by the smithy, which he therefore removed out of the main in-take into a room or excavation made for it in the side of the intake. The effect was that the flue not only was shortened by 15 to 20 yards, but also was removed entirely out of the cooling current of the main in-take air into a comparatively warm and still situation. This change, in Mr. Wynne’s opinion, involved a considerable increase of danger of fire from the heating of the flue.
The regulations for the use of the smithy did not very clearly appear, but it seems to have been usual and perhaps common for men and boys to light the smithy fire at night for the purpose of cleaning wire gauzes, or other purposes of the colliery. It was stated to be the practice to take the flue to pieces and to clean it both inside and outside every month. At the time of the explosion one of the monthly intervals had not quite expired, and the flu had certainly not been examined for three or four weeks. Whether it had been duly cleaned at the commencement of the monthly interval, or in any former month, could not be ascertained, it being stated that the duty of cleaning it lay upon one of the men who was lost.
The evening before the explosion was unusually cold. The fire in the smithy was lighted about 10.30 or 11pm. by some of the boys. It was in dispute whether they lighted it for warmth (which they would have no right to do) or for purpose of work. There was evidence that they fed it with coal (instead of breeze), which was said to be unusual, and it was a larger fire than usual, and that the boys were blowing it. They were cautioned by one of the men about 11 pm. that the fire was larger than was safe. A small portion of the flue was then red hot.
About 1am an alarm was given that smoke was spreading into the roadways. On examination the crosscut in which the flue terminated was found to be on fire. Water was brought and efforts were made to extinguish the fire; but there were no fire hoses or extinguishers or other apparatus, and only six buckets. The fire soon obtained a complete mastery in the crosscut, and issued out into the travelling dip, up which the smoke and fire began to rise; and all efforts to extinguish the fire were from that time necessarily abandoned at about 2.30 am.
Three quarters of an hour later at 3.15 am a violent explosion occurred, affecting both shafts and probably destroying at once all who were underground, as well as injuring some who were on the pit bank or in the cage. The immediate causes of the explosion can only be conjecture, but in the opinion of Mr. Wynne, the Inspector and Mr. Sawyer, the Assistant Inspector, it was certain to happen sooner or later from one or another causes. It may have been wholly or partly the effect of ignition of coal dust, or what the manager called “unconsumed smoke,” or both, by the strong draught of fire streaming up the steep roadway towards the level of the up-cast; or it may have been wholly or partly the effect of gas.
During the attempts to extinguish the fire the pair of doors already mentioned, which separated the in-take from the travelling dip in the return, were necessarily in frequent movement for the purpose of passing water through. If as was probably the case, the doors were occasionally open at the same time this would make a short cut for the air from the down-cast to the up-cast, and would momentarily stop or derange the ventilation throughout a great part of the mine. Then so soon as the fire became strong towards the up-cast, it would greatly increases the draught and cause a large pull of air from all parts of the workings, and it would probably draw out whatever gas there may have been in the goafs or faces.
No great quantity of gas would be required to produce destructive effects in the immediate neighbourhood of the fire.
In the course of the inquiry it appeared that the manager had habitually been guilty of breaches of the general rules with respect to shots. It had been an ordinary practice to fire shots in the daytime with the ordinary shift of 200 to 300 men underground, at such places, and under such conditions with respect to gas, that the plain letter of the general rule was contravened. The manager professed to believe that shots might lawfully be fired at any time unless gas was observable at the actual time of blasting. This improper practice was stopped in January by a notice from the Inspector of Mines.
At the inquiry on the 14th June, Mr. Whynne, HM Inspector, said;
“When the manager of this colliery introduced the notion of having a forge in the pit, he ought to have taken extraordinary care himself that no danger could arise from it, as most likely no one else had ever seen a forge in a pit and would not see the danger that experienced persons would at once perceive; and I am bound to say, that had my attention been called to the matter, I would have protested against so dangerous an innovation, especially when the position of the forge was changed; for it was a very different thing when the first ten yards of the pipe passed through an atmosphere sometimes as low as 40 degrees, to what it would be when the air around the pipe would be nearly twice as warm.
In my opinion the pipe itself became foul with soot, which the sparks from the forge ignited; and as the pipes in the return air would be loaded outside with coal dust, the heat from the pipes would set the dust on fire, most likely at a point just through the door in the crosscut where there would be no current, and it may have been that the door was the first wood to take fire. The opening and shutting of the doors on the main travelling brow would partially cause the air to pass directly from the down-cast pit to the up-cast, and thus cause a partial lull in the ventilation at the far end of the workings where gas was known to be produced, and when those doors were closed and the men ceased working, the whole of the air would take its usual course and bring the gas direct on to the fire.
When the manager left the pit the fire had already got beyond control, and considering the situation of the fire in the return air-way in the immediate neighbourhood of the up-cast in a fiery mine, it was as clear as anything can be made clear to an intelligent manager that an explosion was imminent, and a minute should not be lost in sending every man and boy out of the pit.”
The coroner in his summing up to the jury said: I shall have to direct you to take into your consideration the fact that you are only sitting here to inquire into the death of three men, one of them being a man named Samuel Vickers, who at the time of the explosion was at the shaft bottom and the other two being John Thompson, the manager’s son and Henry Boulton, who were in the cage for the purpose of descending, at the time of the explosion. So that you will only have to consider the evidence so far as it bears upon the death of those three men. It seems rather a curious arrangement that the other men having been killed, we are not able to take into consideration the cause of their death, but that is, as the law stands, our duty, so that we shall have to abide by it.
He went on to explain the evidence of both Inspectors of Mines, that the ventilation at the pit was adequate. But his next point was the furnace, and in this case there cannot be the slightest doubt that the explosion was occasioned by the heating of the flue from the smithy which set fire to the coal in the cross-cut and that in the spreading of the fire, from which some place or other gas was communicated to the fire and so caused the explosion. During the excitement of trying to put out this fire the two ventilation doors, for a large proportion of the time were left open thus causing a short circuit of the ventilation, thereby allowing gas to accumulate there. When it was found the men were unable to subdue the fire and closed the doors, normal ventilation was restored and the accumulated gas was then carried on to the fire and exploded, causing the deaths of the miners.
The coroner made two other points, first as to the question of the smithy. There is no doubt that in this district a smithy has never before been heard of at the bottom of a colliery. The Coxhead seam gives off a great quantity of gas, and anything that would give an unnecessary light of any description was a very bad thing to have at the bottom of the pit.
The other important question to be considered, relates to the steps that were taken by Mr. Thompson after the fire was out of control, to protect the lives of the workmen who were down the pit. One witness Mr. Atherton, said Mr. Thompson, the manager came up from the pit about 25 minutes before the explosion and was much exited, and said the mine is lost and the company ruined. He called Stubbs to arrange a scaffold to draw the horses out and Mr. Slater to prepare the stables. Others were told to make great haste and get out the horses as soon as they could.
Mr. Hollingshead, the prosecutor, said he intended to confine the evidence to the matters bearing upon the question whether or not Mr. Thompson, after he saw there was no hope of saving the pit, took the necessary precautions to save the men which he ought to have taken.
A fire was discovered in the part of the workings between the Laura and Institute pits soon after midnight and Mr. Thompson, who was at once sent for, came to the colliery about 1.30 am. He descended the pit and remained there until a little after 2.30 am He endeavoured to put out the fire but it was represented to him that the fire could not be conquered and he sent up a number of men and returned himself to the pit bank. He left others in the pit and his explanation of this was they were free agents and could leave the pit when they pleased.
Mr. Hollingshead contended that when the manager saw the danger it was his absolute duty to see that everyone was got out of the mine without a moment’s delay. He read the 12th and 13th special rules, the former of which laid down that every overman or fireman is hereby expressly ordered in all cases to give his first and chief attention to ensuring the safety of the lives and limbs of those under his respective charge and suspend any and all operations attended with unusual risk; and to stop the working of any pit that may not appear safe until the removal of the danger.
The 14th special rule requires the overman or fireman “If at any time during the day any part of the pit shall be reported as unsafe, to withdraw the workmen (except such are appointed to remedy the defect) from that part of the pit until a proper and safe state of ventilation has been restored.”
He substituted manager for overman or fireman because the manager when in the mine is supreme and all others were subservient to his orders. While in the pit he was solely responsible for the safety of people under him and it was his bounded duty to do everything in his power to ensure their safety and to remain with them to the last.
When he got to the surface the defendant remarked that the pit was lost and the company ruined and it was his first duty to get the men out, but though he ordered the horses to be brought up he gave no order with reference to men. He must have contemplated an explosion and it was his bounded duty to withdraw the men at once.
(The case was adjourned for a week)
The verdict of the jury as delivered by the foreman, was in the following terms;
“The jury think the smithy was a mistake and a great error of judgement. Also we find that Mr. Thompson did not take sufficient care of the men under his charge, by not withdrawing them from the pit, and by not preventing Henry Boulton and Samuel Vickers from descending the pit, he knowing the dangerous state of the mine at the time, and we find him guilty of culpable negligence, thereby causing the deaths of Samuel Vickers and Henry Boulton. I may say that this is the verdict of 13 out of 14 of the jury.”
After the explosion the fire then appears to have extended throughout the workings igniting the solid coal so that it raged to such an extent that the flames leaped out of the mouth of the pit some 30 or 40 yards upwards in the air. With no ventilation the gas on Monday night gathered quickly so that two more explosions occurred blowing out the covering put on the downcast shaft with the view of putting out the fire. Of course there was no hope whatsoever that any person could be alive in the pit, so on Tuesday it was determined to throw down a large quantity of rubbish into the shaft but this did not appear to have the desired effect. It was then considered desirable to flood the workings with heavy volumes of water and thus extinguish the fire.
Finding the Bodies
Staffordshire Sentinel 21st October 1887, many of our readers will remember the disaster at Chatterley Whitfield in 1881. A fire originating in the smithy underground, spread through the coal workings. Whilst an attempt was being made to save the horses an explosion took place killing or entombing 21 men and boys. The fire from the workings, upwards of 400 yards deep, raged for hours up the up-cast shaft destroying everything of combustible nature about the pit top, and the flames which reached many yards in the air, were only damped down by the running in of the sides of the pit shaft.
After more than six years of costly and dangerous labour, the bottom of the down-cast pit where the men and horses were at the time of the explosion, had been reached, an entirely new pit nearly 450 yards deep has been sunk and the scene of the fire in the old working carefully “stopped off”. At the bottom of the down-cast pit was a large brick arched tunnel, about 20 feet high and at the dead or east end of this tunnel, was the lamp house, fitted up with iron shelves, it was in this space (which had been under water a long time) that an opening last night was made through the brick wall sufficient for a man to get though. On entering the lamp house, the bone of, it is calculated, 4 men were found scattered about amongst the debris. Two skulls, quite clear of flesh were the first to be brought out. Two jaw bones were found on the top shelf. A boot was picked up from a pool of water and laid on the table, before it was noticed, that it contained a foot.
Every respect is being paid to the remains as they are found, and as soon as possible, they will be interned. A large quantity of debris has to be removed and repairs to the brick arching done, before further explorations, which are under the direction of the manager (Mr. E.B. Wain) can be continued.
Extract from the Sentinel March 1st 1919
A touching incident, recalling a colliery explosion at Chatterley Whitfield 38 years ago occurred recently when miners in the workings of the pit discovered the bodies of two of the victims of that disaster. The deceased were George Dale aged 33 of Bradeley and his brother Joseph Dale aged 22. They belonged to a well know and highly respected family in the Smallthorne district, many of their relatives, including the widow and daughter of George Dale and a sister and brothers of the two men still residing there.
The remains of the deceased were enclosed in the same coffin and were interned at the Smallthorne Cemetery, the reverent Jas Shepard officiated.
The Colliery Company kindly made all the arrangements for the funeral, were represented by Mr. E. B. Bain the agent, and Mr. E. Thomson; the manager. Mr. Wain received the following letter of thanks from the family:
At the request of the widow and daughter of the late George and Joseph Dale, write to express our sincere thanks to you, and through you, to the directors of the Whitfield Colliery company for the reverence and respect you have shown to the remains of the late George and Joseph Dale, and for the kindly you have given, in order that they might have a decent Christian burial. Also we express our sincere thanks to your officials and workmen, who carried out the recovery of the remains with such reverence and respect.
The explosion at Whitfield took place on Monday, February 7th 1881 and some 24 lives were lost, about half a dozen bodies not being recovered. It was reported that a fire started down the mine on Sunday night in the blacksmith’s shop situated about midway between the Institute and Laura shafts. The men in the pit did their utmost to extinguish the flames, but in spite of all their endeavours, the fire spread.
The explosion happened about three o clock on the Monday morning, the report being heard two or three miles distance. The fire continued to rage furiously, flames issuing from the shafts as though from a gigantic furnace. It was found necessary to tip earth down the shaft to stifle them. Later streams were diverted to the scene and the mine thereby flooded.
During these 38 years the particular workings had not been reopened, but work had been proceeding in the neighbourhood and the roads leading to these places, and it was thus that the two bodies had been discovered.
History 1884 to 1920s
Much of the success of the recovery can be directly attributed to Edwards Brownfield Wain, who had been appointed Undermanager in 1882. He soon introduced the more productive longwall working of the coalfaces in place of the more traditional ‘pillar and stall’ system. He was appointed Colliery Manager in 1886 and by 1890 the Company was once more paying its way. In the same year, the liquidators came to an understanding with the North of England Trustee, Debenture and Assets Corporation Limited of Manchester, who agreed to purchase the Old Chatterley Iron Company.
The new Company became Chatterley Whitfield Collieries Limited and a great period of expansion began. So much so that by 1899 the colliery produced in excess of 950,000 tons of saleable coal. The fortunes of the Chatterley Iron Company began to decline as a result and operations at the Chatterley site had ceased by the early part of the 20th Century. The dawn of the 20th Century, however, promised a great future for Chatterley Whitfield Colliery. It is interesting to note, however, that in the 21st Century, many local people still refer to it by its old name of Whitfield Colliery.
The colliery continued to prosper but, following a minor explosion in 1912 which fortunately resulted in no fatalities, it became obvious that additional ventilation was required. It was therefore decided to sink a new ventilation shaft and work commenced in April 1913. The shaft was 5 yards in diameter and 700 feet deep. It was completed in 1914. The heapstead and winding engine house were constructed entirely of brick to a German design and is unique in British coal mining. It is believed that the German construction workers were interned during the First World War.
The shaft was named after the Company’s Mining Engineer, Mr Robert Winstanley. As a direct result, the Prince Albert shaft, located behind the present Hesketh Shaft, and the Engine Pit, located between the newly sunk Winstanley Shaft and the Middle Pit, were closed and filled.
The Winstanley shaft was barely finished when plans werre drawn up for a new deep shaft to maintain and operate the north and south Cockshead dips which in the Institute shaft had reached a length of 2092 yards from the pit bottom.
After much consideration, the new shaft was sunk to the east of the Platt shaft and preparatory work started in 1914. Shaft sinking commenced in June 1915 and was completed by May 1917 to a depth of 640 yards. It was named after Colonel George Hesketh who was the Chairman of the Board of Directors. A massive horizontal steam winding engine, which still exists, was installed by the Worsley Mesnes company of Manchester in the Winding Engine House to become one of the principal coal winding shafts. A new power house was also constructed as part of the complex. In 1923 the original parallel drum was replaced by a bi-cylinder drum which made the winding of coal much easier.
History 1920s to 1947
Up to 1915, all the coal at Whitfield had to be hewn from the coal face without the aid of machinery. In that year, however, electrically-driven coal cutters and compressed air shaker conveyors were introduced to help remove some of the physical work required to mine and transport the coal from the face.
In 1920 an ex-army hut provided the colliery with its first canteen facilities and work began on a new lamp room to house the heavy electric lamps which were gradually being introduced and used in addition to the conventional oil safety lamps.
The late 1920s and early 1930s were difficult times for colliery owners and miners alike. During the general strike of 1926, convoys of motor lorries travelled to Whitfield from all over the country to buy the small coal that was stocked at the Colliery. In 1929 only 193 days were worked and during the Depression 300 Whitfield miners were made redundant. North Staffordshire collieries worked on a tonnage quota system during this period and when the monthly quota had been produced they had to stop work.
By 1932 all underground haulage had been mechanised and most pit ponies taken out of the pit. Steel supports began to replace the traditional timber pit props. These originally were not universally accepted because miners complained that whereas timber supports creaked when they began to break, which acted as a warning, steel supports did not. Eventually, however, steel supports were accepted. There were also technological advances with coal cutters and conveyors which were becoming increasingly necessary as tonnage began to increase.
In 1934 a modern office block was constructed to replace the old Head Offices of the Company in Pinnox Street in Tunstall and most staff were transferred to Whitfield. Those remaining at Pinnox Street dealt with the transfer of loaded and unload trains to the North Staffordshire Railway in Tunstall. This also brought to an end the Saturday ‘Pay Train’ whereby the wages were taken from Pinnox Street to Whitfield for payment on Saturday afternoon. The Colliery pay week was from Wednesday to Tuesday.
At the same time, a new fitting and electric shop replaced the old one under the Middle Pit Power House which had become inadequate. In 1938 a new boiler house containing ten Lancashire boilers fueled by pulverised coal and considered to be one of the best in Britain was brought into use. In the same year, the Pithead Baths, containing 3,817 ‘clean’ and 3,817 ‘dirty’ lockers, and canteen were brought into use.
The 1930s were momentous for Whitfield because not only were there over 4,000 men employed, but in 1937 it became the first colliery in Britain to mine one million saleable tons in one year, a feat it also achieved in 1938.
From 1938 onwards and during the Second World War, there was little change until the mines were Nationalised in 1947.
History 1930 Site Audit
COAL WINDING SHAFTS – 1930
Hesketh Pit – 1917
640 yards to the decking level, capacity of the cage – six 10cwt tubs, these tubs being pushed into the cage by hand both on the surface and underground.
Shaft capacity per eleven shifts, approximately eleven thousand tons.
Diameter of shaft twenty one feet.
440 yards to the decking level, capacity of the cage – four 10cwt tubs, these tubs being pushed into the cage by hand both on the surface and underground.
Shaft capacity per eleven shifts, approximately ten thousand tons.
Diameter of shaft sixteen feet.
1910 new steel headgear installed
Middle Pit 1850 WORKING SHAFT TILL 1917
240 yards to the decking level, capacity of the cage – three decks with two 8cwt tubs in each deck, these tubs being pushed into the cage by hand both on the surface and underground.
Shaft capacity per eleven shifts, approximately eight thousand tons.
Diameter of shaft twelve feet with wooden cage guides.
UPCAST SHAFTS -1930
440 yards to the decking level, two deck cage, upcast shaft for both the Hesketh and Institute shafts. Diameter of the shaft – sixteen feet.
240 yards to the decking level, up-cast shaft along with the Engine Pit for all the workings in the Middle Pit. Diameter of the shaft – sixteen feet with steel rope guides.
110 yards to the decking level, up-cast shaft along with the Winstanley shaft for all the workings in the Middle pit. Diameter of the shaft – nine feet.
Steam Raislng Boilers
Middle Pit Range
15 Hand-fired. Lancashire boilers, permissable working pressure = 100lbs.
0nly 12 boilers in use normally.
Number of stokers required per 24 hours = 24.
Number of coal and ash men required per 24 hours = 18
Total number of men required to man these boilers per 24 hours = 42
5 Hand-fired. Lancashire boilers, permissable working pressure = 200lbs.
Only 4 boilers normally in use. Cost of working the boilers per 24 hour period = £109.00
1. Katie, six wheels, purchased in 1876
2. Alice, six wheels, purchased in 1876
3. Pollie, six wheels, purchased in 1881
4. Dolly, four wheels, purchased in 1891
5. Roger, six wheels, purchased in 1896
6. Phoenix, four wheels, purchased in 1899
7. Edward, six wheels, purchased in 1902
8. Alexandra, six wheels, purchased in 1910
9. George, six wheels, purchased in 1910
10. Minnie, six wheels, purchased in 1912
Number of Railway Wagons
290 of 12 ton capacity
881 of 10 ton capacity
500 of 8 ton capacity
426 of the 8 ton capacity wagons are in use for local traffic only.
Number of railway wagons repaired from January to June 1930 = 87
Number of men and boys employed on wagon repairs = 41 Total wages paid for railway wagon repairs in same six month period = £2,475 4/3d
Number of Horses and Ponies
Underground = 34
Surface = 8
Cost of keeping one horse or pony week = 9/6d. (48 pence in new money)
Miles of Railway track belonging to the colliery on the main line and siding = 24 miles
Number of Motor Vehicles
One Albion 26 horse power lorry
Four Ford 20 horse power lorries
One Ford 16 horse power lorry
One Ford 21 horse power Ambulance
One Austin 12 horse power private car
One Essex 17 horse power private car
What was it like underground…….. Well in 1930 there was 50 miles, yes 50 miles of underground roadways kept in repair. Then I was told that Chatterley Whitfield was a wet pit and they had to pump water so it could continue to operate. In 1930 they had 16 underground pumps and the average amount of water pumped out of the mine in a 24 hour period was 542,000 gallons…….This water was pumped into a pond on the surface and the water re-pumped to the boilers and washeries.
History 1947 to 1968
After 1947 a policy of modernisation took place throughout the whole mining industry. In 1952 mine cars and locomotive haulage were introduced underground at Whitfield and a new mine car circuit installed on the surface. The building to accomodate this is still standing.
With the advent of cheap oil supplies from abroad in the late 1950s, contraction in the coalmining industry began to take place. The collieries most affected by this were the older ones where the best coal had been worked out and at which it was dificult to mine coal economically. Chatterley Whitfield was one of the victims of this period, output declining from over one million tons per year in 1937 to 408,000 tons in 1965.
Coal drawing stopped at the Institute shaft in 1955 and the Middle Pit in 1968.
History New Pit Head Baths Opens
During our work with the archives we found this book:
The former pithead baths and canteen complex, of 1936-7 with later additions, at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as a very rare surviving example of the large-scale provision of welfare facilities for miners and as a product of the systematic programme of building pithead baths by the Miners Welfare Committee; * Architecture: a streamlined, modernistic composition of volumetric forms which express the building’s functional components; * Fixtures and fittings: the survival of vulnerable fittings such as lockers, shower cubicles, tiles and signage which offer an insight into the function of the various spaces; * Group value: its visual relationship with the Grade II listed office and laboratory building, lamp house and fitters’ shop, and as a component of the country’s best surviving collieries from the industry’s period of peak production.
Although provision for pithead baths was advocated by Royal Commission mining reports of 1907 and 1919, only around thirty had been constructed in Britain by the late Twenties. The Miners’ Welfare Committee (MWC) was formed in 1921 to administer the Miner’s Welfare Fund which was established the previous year; one of its principal objectives being the provision of pithead baths. In 1937 £657,690, two thirds of the total grants from the fund for that year, was allocated to the construction of such buildings. By the end of that year, 208 baths had been completed providing facilities for nearly 275,000 miners, and a further 70 baths were under construction.
The pithead baths (18) at Chatterley Whitfield was constructed in 1936-37 at a cost of £36,000. Prior to its construction there were no washing facilities of any description at Chatterley Whitfield. When built, it was the second largest pithead baths in the country, providing accommodation for over 3,000 men. It opened in January 1938 and was described as ‘undoubtedly the finest of their kind in the country’. There were three distinct but inter-connected zones to the first floor: the clean locker area where miners would leave their home clothes, the area containing dirty lockers where pit clothes were stored, and thirdly the shower area. The locker areas are said to have each contained 3,817 lockers, a number of which survive. The ground floor provided offices and laboratories, and also contained a canteen (19) and a medical centre (20). The three-storey tower at the west end of the baths acted as a calorifier (storage vessel with the capacity to generate heat within a mass of stored water) at ground and first floors, and as a plenum chamber (part of the heating and ventilation system) above. The canteen was extended with a ‘feeding centre’ circa 1950, though this was subsequently converted to a mine rescue station for disaster management, and a noise laboratory was added at the west end of the complex. Part of the pithead baths complex was used for storage and visitor accommodation during the tenure of the mining museum in the late C20.
Pithead baths (18), canteen (19) and medical centre (20) of 1936-37 in a Modernist style by the Miners’ Welfare Committee. Mid-C20 additions of a mine rescue centre (21) and single-storey annexe, formerly a photographic laboratory.
MATERIALS: a reinforced concrete frame encased in red brick with an internal facing of brick and blockwork. Parapets in decorative brickwork with concrete copings, and a concrete cantilevered overhang to some single-storey areas. The flat roofs are concrete and bitumen felted and there are pitched, steel-framed rooflights.
PLAN: irregular L-shaped plan with a single-storey range to the west. The building is principally of two storeys with a three-storey tower and a single-storey entrance range (south) which also housed the canteen and medical centre.
EXTERIOR: the south elevation comprises a single-storey entrance range with the canteen to the right having a curved end to its east end which incorporates five four-light windows with metal frames. To the left of the entrance this range has a continuous window of four bays with a different glazing pattern. Behind the entrance is the two-storey pithead baths which extends northwards. Its south elevation has a tall stair window of three lights at first-floor level, the mullions of the windows expressed in brick within a recessed brick panel from above the window head to the wall top. This range doubles in width at the rear of the entrance bay, and then extends eastwards at two-storey height, terminating at a three-storey, square tower which stands forward of the main range. There is a tall transomed window extending almost the full height of the east side wall of the tower. An L- shaped single-storey range, formerly darkroom facilities for the colliery laboratory, extends westwards and is lit by metal-framed top-hung casements. An L- shaped single-storey range, formerly darkroom facilities for the colliery laboratory, extends westwards and is lit by metal-framed top-hung casements. Attached to the north-east corner of the canteen is the mine rescue centre of 1950.
INTERIOR: the entrance hall is partly clad in grey glazed tiles and a wall plaque commemorates the construction of the building. Doorways to the left and right lead to the former first-aid centre and canteen respectively. The canteen has a serving counter running almost the length of the room and a suspended ceiling. There are staircases of reinforced concrete at each end of the two-storey pithead baths which have brick-faced stairwells and lower walls faced with grey glazed tiles. In the lobby by the south staircase are three wall-mounted drinking fountains. The ground floor of the baths has a spine corridor with rooms, formed by blockwork and glazed partitions, leading off it. Its first floor is divided into three principal areas, with two retaining shower stalls and some of double-tiered slatted steel lockers. The shower area has walls clad in white tiles and is divided into blocks of shower cubicles, each denoted by different coloured tiles. Many of the stalls retain their metal coat hooks, but the shower heads and associated pipework are gone. There is also the shower attendants’ office which has a window hatch and retains its key cabinet. The mine rescue centre was not inspected internally (2013).
History Technical details of plant and facilities as at April 1969
Chatterley Whitfield Colliery
Technical details of plant and facilities as at April 1969
HESKETH – DEPTH 653 YARDS
Function as a Down Cast 20 feet in diameter, brick lining with rope guides.
Type of Headgear : Steel Lattice
Number of winders : 1
Type of Winder : Steam Drum
Winding Depth : 647 yards
Date of Installation : 1915
System of Winding : Two Cage
Nominal Capacity: Coal Capacity : 30 cwts
Cars per Deck : Two
Number of Decks : Two
Shaft Capacity Tons/Hr : 280
PLATT – DEPTH 428 YARDS
Function as a Up Cast 14 feet in diameter, brick lining with rope guides.
Type of Headgear : Steel Lattice
Number of winders : 1
Type of Winder : Electric Drum
Horse Power : 125
Winding Depth : 417 yards
Date of Installation : 1966
System of Winding : One Cage
Cars per Deck : One
INSTITUTE – DEPTH 430 YARDS
Function as a Up Cast 16 feet in diameter, brick lining with rope guides.
Type of Headgear : Steel Lattice
Number of winders : 1
Type of Winder : Electric Drum
Horse Power : 270
Winding Depth : 420 yards
Date of Installation : 1966
System of Winding : One Cage
Cars per Deck : One
MIDDLE – DEPTH 260 YARDS
Function as a Down Cast 12 feet in diameter, brick lining with wooden rail guides.
Type of Headgear : Steel Lattice
Winding Depth : 242 yards
NOT IN USE
WINSTANLEY – DEPTH 249 YARDS
Function as a Up Cast 15 feet in diameter, brick lining with rope guides.
Type of Headgear : Brickwork
Number of winders : 1
Type of Winder : Electric Drum
Horse Power : 125
Winding Depth : 241 yards
Date of Installation : 1966
System of Winding : Two Cage
Number of Decks : One
PLATT UP CAST
Type : Walker D1.RF
Horsepower : 600
Date of Installation : 1938
Capacity: Range of Fan : 237,100 Cubic Feet per Minute at 6.9 W.G.
Type of drive : Vee Rope
Prime Mover : Electric
INSTITUTE UP CAST
Type : Aerox
Horsepower : 1500
Date of Installation : 1965
Capacity: Range of Fan : 500,000 Cubic Feet per Minute at 13.2 W.G.
Type of drive : Gear Box
Prime Mover : Electric
STEAM RAISING PLANT
Type of Boilers : Lancashire
Number of Boilers : Ten
Function : Winding, Power, Generation and Space Heating
Method of Firing: 2 Methane Gas, 8 Chain Grate Stokers
Pressure : 200 P.S.I.
Capacity lbs/Steam/Hour : 100,000
Date of Installation : 1937
Source of Power : Midland Electric Board
Maximim demand : 5,650 K.V.A.
Voltage Colliery : 3.3 K.V.
AIR COMPRESSORS X 2
Location : Hesketh and Platt Surface
Type : Turbine
Capacity: 6,000 Cubic Feet per Minute
Horse Power : 1350
Type of Drive : Electric Gearbox
Pressure : 60 ilbs
Function : Decking Plane and Underground use
Date of Installation : 1967
DIRT STORAGE PLANT – NOT USED
Mansfield underground crusher, 80 tons per hour – Size of crushed material 2 1/2″
Screening Plant : Slow Speed Jigging Screens
Number of Picking Units: Two
Size of Picking Belts : 54 ”
Sizes and Qualities Produced : 4″ Best Coal, 5″ House Coal, 5″ to 3″ Cobbles
Washery Plant : Greaves Cobbles & Slack Washers
Type of Plant : Mechanical Jig
Capacity of Wash Boxes : 90Tons per Hour – 120 Tons per Hour
Size Range : 5″ to 1 1/2″ and 1 1/2 ” to 0″
Size of Untreated Smalls : 1″ to 0″
Sizes Produced : 5″ – 3″, 3″ – 1 1/2″, 1 1/2″ – 1″, 1″ – 1/2″, 1/2″ – 0″ (Washed), 1″ – 0″ (Untreated)
Qualities : Best Cobble, Best Nuts, No 2. Gas Nuts, Gas Beans, Washed Coking Smalls, Untreated Smalls
Loading Facilities : Suitable for wagons upto 24 1/2 Tons
Wagon Movement : Gravity
Type : Wagon
Number of Bunkers : Nil
Wagon Capacity : 99
Nominal Weekly Sales : 3500 Tons
Number of Reception Tracks : 6
Wagon Capacity : 115
Number of Dispatch Tracks : 9
Wagon Capacity : 175
Tonnage Capacity : 2275 Tons
Baths Capacity : 3,168 Lockers ( 2,069 in use)
Medical Centre ; Good
Workshops : Good
Stores : Good
Locomotive Shed ; Good
Number of Locomotives ; 2
Type ; Diesel
UNDERGROUND MAIN TRANSPORT
Type of Haulage : Locomotive and Rope Haulage
Track Gauge : 24 inches
Type of Locomotives ; Diesel
Roading Dimensions : 14 feet, 15 feet and 10 feet
Seam Access : By Drift
District Haulage : Conveyors
Supplies Facility : Rope Haulage
History 1969 to 1986
In 1974 it was decided that Whitfield coal could be more easily worked from Wolstanton Colliery and an underground roadway was driven to join the two pits. In 1976 coal drawing at Chatterley Whitfield came to an end. After coal production stopped at Chatterley Whitfield in 1976 a brave venture was started by an independent charitable trust to turn the colliery into Britain’s first underground mining museum. Before any visitors could take this underground trip much preparation work had to be done on site. Derelict buildings were renovated, the underground galleries were made safe, for visitors and mining machinery restored in its original working condition in order to show in great realism the life and working conditions of local miners and to preserve an example of the country’s industrial heritage.
So in 1979 the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum opened and it soon gained a reputation of being Britain’s best known mining museum attracting over 70,000 visitors a year and contributing to the local tourism.
Underground tours were conducted until the nearby pit at Wolstanton closed.
WHY DID THE UNDERGROUND TOURS HAVE TO STOP ?
Mining in the Potteries Coalfield began with a large number of small pits. As the easy coal was won, pits had to become deeper to reach new seams. Mining also became mechanised and therefore a much more expensive industry. The number of collieries decreased, but their individual sizes became larger.
Chatterley Whitfield was a major colliery in the 1930’s ringed by other pits. Each had it’s own set of pumps to keep the workings dry and these lowered the water level in the WHOLE area. But over the last fifty years (1986), the collieries around Chatterley Whitfield closed one by one. The north of the coalfield is mainly worked out.
In 1976 Chatterley Whitfield eventually closed and within three years the Mining Museum was opened.
Visitors descended down the Winstanley shaft a drop of 700 feet and explored a series of workings at this depth. These workings were only a fraction of the total extent of Chatterley Whitfield. The Institute Shaft is 1320 feet deep and the Hesketh Shaft descends nearly 2,000 feet. Workings extended for miles and in the 1930’s were in the region of 50 miles.
Towards the end of Chatterley Whitfield’s last days it was connected to the nearby pit of Wolstanton via a 4 mile underground passage way. Wolstanton had shafts descending up to 3,000 feet and as it was the last working pit in the area, it was responsible for pumping. This had a direct effect on Chatterley Whitfield as it was high at 2,000 feet the pumping drained the ‘Higher’.
In 1930 they had 16 underground pumps and the average amount of water pumped out of the mine in a 24 hour period was 542,000 gallons…….This water was pumped into a pond on the surface and the water repumped to the boilers and washeries.
HOWEVER in 1981 Wolstanton Colliery stopped coal production. After months of salvage work the pumps were turned off in MAY 1984. This meant that the water present would gradually rise to its natural level and slowly flood the abandoned workings at Wolstanton and then eventually Chatterley Whitfield. The cost of pumping was too high and could not be met by the museum.
The water would take years to rise to the level of the old Chatterley Whitfield tour at 700 feet below ground, BUT there was another problem……GAS !
Coal gives off Methane (Fire-Damp), a gas formed digging the decay of plants which produced the coal millions of years ago. The gas is imprisoned or absorbed within the coal, but mining disturbs the ground and releases the gas. The gas is colourless and highly explosive. If there is sufficient in the air it reduces the amount of oxygen and causes suffocation.
As Methane is lighter than air it builds up under the roof of the mine. In a working pit the ventilation fans prevent this from happening, but when the fans stop the methane build up in the abandoned workings.
As the water slowly rose following the closure of Wolstanton the Methane levels were monitored through a pipe in the Hesketh Shaft. The signs were not good, as it was forecast the levels rose and with the levels also being effect by weather conditions it was decided that all the shafts MUST be capped and sealed, keeping the methane trapped below underground.
These two problems – the water levels and gas meant that is was unsafe to allow visitors to use the old underground working of Chatterley Whitfield.
The solution – A purpose Built mining experience – THE NEW PIT………… This opened on 20th August 1986
The Museum operated for twelve years, and in 1986 an new underground experience was created, the museum but finally closed in August 1991.
History 1986 TO 1993
THE NEW PIT
When British Coal seal the shafts of an old colliery they usually fill them right up to the surface. However it was quickly realised that at Chatterley Whitfield, the Museum would need a new underground tour and British Coal did all they could to help.
The first part of the plan was to plug two shafts well below the surface. The thick layer of concrete will prevent gas from rising any higher, and it meant that the museum could still use the tops of the shafts – One shaft for visitors to experience the miner’s cage ride to work and the other shaft to demonstrate coal winding.
From the pit bottom area the Museum then started on a most unusual project – to build a new mine, using some shallow workings and the railway cutting, which would show the history of mining from 1850 to the present day.As you can see from the plan, the new mine takes you on a journey through time, and shows on the way the development from simple, hand manual work to the sophisticated industry of today. (1986)
On the way you will see many aspects of how the coal was ‘won’, the conditions on which a men spent their working live lives and the organisation of the pit. You will walk alone old timbered roadways through stabling of the pit ponies, past the mechanical caol cutter face that made Chatterley Whitfield prosper and along a modern locomotive roadway filled with massive up to date machinery…..
The new Experience survived till the 9th August 1993, when the museum was closed and put into the hands of the liquidators…….
History 1993 to Present
1993 – Chatterley Whitfield site scheduled as an Ancient Monument with some of the buildings being listed by English Heritage, as Scheduled, those being:
- Platt Winding House
- Platt Shaft and Headgear
- Chimney Stack
- Old Power House
- Hesketh Heaptead
- Hesketh Winding House
- Electrician’s Workshop and Ostler’s Store
- Winstanley Headgear and Heaptead
- Institute shaft and Winding Gear
- Institute Winding House
- Main Boiler House
- Weigh Bridge and Weigh Plates
- Main Tub Hall
- Walker Fan House and Drift
The Listed building:
- Area Shaft Building
- Main Office
- Pit Head Baths
- Lamp House
- Mechanical and Electrical Fitter’s Shop
MONDAY 9TH AUGUST 1993 the Musuem CLOSED
1999: Chatterley Whitfield Regeneration Partnership was created and it has resulted in a £4.5 million scheme to reconstruct the access road, and a complete refurbishment of the Colliery Office Block. The former tip has been landscaped and forms part of a country park.
2017 UPDATE ….. What is happening to the former Colliery and Museum. In two words NOTHING VISIBLE…….. The site is being taken over by nature, with a large number of trees on the site, and the building are being attacked by the roots and trees growing in the brickwork and roof areas. When you walk round on a weekly basis, you can see the decay and as the building were only built for a specific purpose and had a short life expectancy, then before long they will be gone. Buildings like the Hesketh Heapstead and the Power House are looking particularly bad, but also the unique Winstanley Heapstead is being ravaged by trees.