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May 16, 2017 |

Chatterley Whitfield – By James Lamb

Within Britain, coal occurs in huge deposits over vast areas and this has given rise to a variety of coalfields that extend from the north of England to the Kent coast. The technology of coal mining became increasingly complex through time with the gradual mechanisation of the majority of mining operations. The application of steam winding and steam pumping throughout the 18TH CENTURY and 19TH CENTURY gave access to greater quantities of coal at increased depths. This in turn stimulated techniques in shaft winding, coal screening and grading, pit-top organisation and headgear form. Power for underground purposes could be supplied in a number of different ways including steam engines, and from the mid-19TH CENTURY underground machinery was increasingly operated by compressed air. During the early 20TH CENTURY this was slowly replaced by the generator house as collieries gradually became electrified. Ventilation is of particular importance in coal mines and by the mid-19TH CENTURY, steam-driven fans were introduced.

The buildings and structures associated with these processes dominate the ‘modern’ collieries of the late 19TH CENTURY onwards. Naturally, these surface arrangements never remained entirely static and continued to be modified and improved with electrification gradually replacing redundant steam engines, especially after nationalisation.

The coal seams in the Chatterley Whitfield area may have been worked from the medieval period but the development of the present colliery site did not begin until the mid-19TH CENTURY following the opening of the North Staffordshire Railway’s Biddulph Valley line. Abandoned shallow shafts on the Whitfield Estate were widened and deepened by landowner Hugh Henshall Williamson, and a short railway line was built to connect the colliery with the Biddulph Valley line. From the mid-19TH CENTURY the mine workings were focussed around a number of shafts which were laid out on a south-west to north-east alignment. Two of these shafts – Laura and Albert – were situated to the east of the extant colliery site; they have been capped, their buildings cleared, and the ground has been levelled.

Bellringer was one of the earliest shafts and was sunk in around 1840. It was widened and deepened in 1874-6 when it was re-named Institute, and it drew coal until 1955. Middle Pit, which was called Ragman until it was deepened in around 1881, was one of the colliery’s main drawing shafts. Its winding house was constructed in 1895. This was later demolished, but a replacement winding house was built as a museum exhibit in 1985. The shaft was capped and infilled in the 1960s. Engine Pit (sunk in the 1850s) is located to the south-west of Middle Pit. Its shaft has been capped and infilled, and the winding house, which is shown on the 1898 OS map, was demolished in the early 20TH CENTURY. It was located in the area now occupied by the Winstanley heapstead. A new upcast shaft – Platt – was sunk in 1883 to reach the Cockshead seam following the collapse and abandonment of Laura Pit in 1881. The heapstead around Platt was largely developed over a ten-year period: a winding house of 1883; a fan house containing a steam-driven fan which was added in 1884; and a twin-cylinder steam engine which was installed in 1894 to power the underground rope haulage system. Its timber headgear was replaced by one in steel in about 1920. In c.1960 the Platt fan house was decommissioned and from this date the shaft was ventilated by the Walker fan house to the north-west.

A railway sidings area was first established during the mid-19TH CENTURY when the rail link was laid between the Biddulph Valley Line and Chatterley Whitfield Colliery. The Ordnance Survey maps of 1884 and 1889 depict the expansion of these sidings, while a paper dated 1894 describes the arrangement of sidings as having separate tracks ‘for each of the ten classes of coal’. Wagons loaded with coal were lowered by brake down to the sidings and horses were used to haul the empty wagons back up to the colliery. The current layout is thought to date largely from the mid-20TH CENTURY and included an elevated coal screening plant and a de-dusting plant which were erected over part of the sidings, but had been demolished by the 1980s. During the museum’s tenure, after visitor access to the mine workings was no longer possible due to flooding, an ‘underground visitor experience’ was created over part of the sidings; this was demolished in 2006. Bridges over the cutting, some carrying rail tracks, provided access to the land beyond where there was a spoil tip during the 19TH CENTURY, though this was levelled in the early 20TH CENTURY and further railway sidings were laid out here.

In c.1872 the colliery was purchased by the Chatterley Coal and Iron Company with the intention that Whitfield coal be used in the manufacture of iron, and in 1891 it became Chatterley Whitfield Collieries Limited. A programme of modification and improvements took place which brought the colliery to the forefront of mine electrification and mechanisation processes.

The Winstanley shaft was sunk in 1913-14 following a minor explosion in Middle Pit and also in response to concerns about ventilation in the workings served by Engine and Middle Pits. There had been a rapid expansion in the mine workings between 1903 and 1913 and neither of these shafts met the minimum ventilation requirements established by the Coal Mines Act of 1911. Winstanley opened in 1914 and served as a downcast (ventilation) shaft, but also carried men and material. The Winstanley shaft was completed in January 1914 and was coupled up to the fan as an upcast shaft in February 1915. There is no evidence to suggest who was responsible for the construction of the brick-encased heapstead which was built on the site of the winding house for Engine Pit. Maps depict stables to the north of the Winstanley heapstead which were extant until at least 1958.

In 1914-1917, soon after the Winstanley shaft was opened, another new shaft – Hesketh – was sunk in the eastern part of the colliery. It was designed to serve the much deeper coal seems below those worked by the other shafts and was used for drawing coal and for carrying men. Following a contraction in production during the labour unrest of the 1920s and the Depression of the 1930s, there was renewed investment in Chatterley Whitfield, including the mechanisation of underground haulage and the construction of new office accommodation and a pithead baths complex. In 1937 it became the first colliery to extract over one million tonnes of coal in a year. Following the nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947 there was further investment, most notably the introduction of mine cars and locomotive haulage in 1952. From the 1960s, however, production at the site fell and in the 1970s it was decided to work the remaining coal from Wolstanton Colliery. Production ceased in 1976 but the site was opened as a museum two years later. This ensured the survival of the buildings, but the museum closed due to financial difficulties in 1993 and the site has been largely unused since then.

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