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Billingsley Colliery

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Billingsley Colliery, Billingsley (SO717843)

Coal

 

During the 18th Century, as demand for coal by local industry grew, a large estate at Billingsley was acquired by Sir William Pulteney. He brought in the mining engineer George Johnson to develop the coal mines and, by 1796, there was a large coal works linked to a wharf on the River Severn by a 2½ mile horse drawn railway. Unfortunately, the mines ran into financial difficulties and closed in 1801. A long series of court cases followed, not helped by the disappearance of Johnson's chief partner who fled to France with all the books of the enterprise. The mines were reopened in 1803 by a consortium of local businessmen who sold them to an ironmaster George Stokes in 1810. The latter could not make them pay and they closed again when Stokes went bankrupt two years later. In the early 1860s, the landlord of the Cape of Good Hope Inn in Billingsley began prospecting for coal in the locality.  In 1873, the shaft hit a 5ft seam of coal and a public company was formed to finance the mining. It was a scam, however, and the Chairman was sentenced to 6 months hard labour for fraud.  The company was re-launched but fared little better since the partners ended up suing each other for libel and one of the clerks was arrested at Liverpool, boarding a ship with the company's petty cash.  The colliery was operated on a small scale from 1876 by Alfred Gibbs (the former chief clerk) trading as the Severn Valley Colliery Company. In 1896 there was an explosion of firedamp caused by an unguarded candle but nobody was injured. in 1910, it was purchased by the newly formed Billingsley Colliery Company.

 

The Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News of April 16th 1910 recorded “A South Wales company, writes Mr.John Randall of Madeley, Salop, has bought Billingsley, which is situated a few miles south of Bridgnorth, and is about to lay down a line of railway to connect its mineral property with the Severn Valley Line at Eardington, formerly celebrated for the largest charcoal works in the kingdom carried on here by Mr. James Foster of Stanton Castle, who made excellent gun iron, charcoal wire, and horse-nails. They were subsequently removed by the late William Orme Foster to Stourbridge. Lord Barnard and Lord Boyne, both of whom have properties in the neighbourhood are believed to be interested in the new company. Lord Boyne has already made a railway as far as Burwarton, and he is about to continue it to Eardington to meet the company's new line, and link both with the with Severn Valley line about a mile south of Bridgnorth. The erection of cottages for the workmen to be employed has already been commenced, and every effort will be made to prove and develop the mineral resources of the district. A Liverpool company built blast furnaces here many years ago near the Severn, and considerable works were formerly carried on, as indicated by the old grass-grown mounds and workmen's cottages now in ruins. This company sank several shafts in the following order:- First, coal three, feet thick; second, 1ft. 6in.; clods and ironstone, 3ft. 6in.; and a third coal, which thins out to 1ft. 6in.; four feet of shale then occur, and a measure of 2ft. then conducts to fourth coal, which is 2ft. thick. In the "Victoria History of Shropshire" Mr. Randall gives the section of a shaft in which occur many more coals than those given above, but they differ very much both in thickness and in quality. The iron ores of Billingsley are of exceptionally good quality, and Sir Roderick Murchison pronounced them equal to any of the mining districts of Staffordshire. There is also an excellent fire-clay equal to any in the kingdom, which should be a great boon to the china works of Worcester, and the glass works of Stourbridge”.

 

In 1912 there was a disaster when a man was killed by gas. On Friday 12th January, 50 year-old Thomas Homer started work at 10.00pm in a heading in the south-west district. He was working about 50 yards from the top of a jig with John Brewer. At about 1.30am they noticed that the air quality had become poor as smoke would not clear from the shots they had fired. They withdrew to the jig to eat their snapping and see if the air improved. Circulation of air depended on the integrity of a system of sheet iron tubes or troughs as the district was not well-enough developed for the construction of normal return airways. At 2.00am the air was still bad, and by 2.30am they descended the jig to find that the troughs were not working. Arthur McKale, a horse driver then told them that the troughs had been fractured at 1.00am by a shot fired at the motor house. Ferriday had been told of this and arranged for repairs. When he found that no suitable air pipes were available he set off himself to the opposite end of the pit to get some. Crucially he failed to warn anyone in the south-west district that there was no ventilation; indeed he had not been in that district since the change of shift. Furthermore, when his shift ended at 3.00am he left without seeing that the work was complete. 

 

Back at the jig bottom, McKale and Homer remained behind whilst Brewer went to investigate the progress of repairs. On finding that they were still not finished, he sent word for all men to come out of the south west district. Homer unfortunately went back up the jig with McKale to fetch his clothes. As they then walked out at about 3.45am, Homer collapsed close to the pit bottom and died. Ferriday was summonsed and whilst others attempted artificial respiration, he tried to revive Homer with brandy. Unsurprisingly, this was ineffective. It was unclear whether death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning, lack of oxygen or some other cause. 

 

Ferriday was duly censured by the inquest jury for neglect of duty, admonished by the coroner, dismissed by the company and prosecuted for two breaches of the Coal Mines Regulations. He did indeed show a fair degree of incompetence and would be interesting to know just why he gave up an undermanager's job to come to Billingsley in the first instance.

 

However, a number of other factors also emerged. The most serious was that the Company were only employing two deputies to cover three shifts; Ferriday from 5.25pm to 3.00am for afternoons and nights, and a second man from 5.35am to 2.50pm. It was obviously impossible to provide adequate supervision or liaison with such a system. Russ was made the scapegoat for this method of working and was prosecuted by the Mining Inspector. Alfred Gibbs died later that year and Frank also seems to have left the company soon afterwards. Whether the accident was connected with his departure is not known, but the many years later the Gibbs' family were convinced he had been badly treated by the Billingsley Colliery Company. An obvious question is to what extent Russ and his team were under pressure from the directors to cut corners. The Company did have a style that antagonised a number of local interests. The following year they were humiliated in court by the local union over a number of cases of unfair dismissal and injury compensation and they also fell out with the local district and parish councils. Russ was not regarded with any malice by the local miners and I suspect the Company was rather lucky that the Inspector did not aim any higher with his prosecutions. 

 

After the accident Mrs Homer was lent £8 by the company for her husband's funeral and then awarded £130 compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. £15 was given immediately to allow her to buy a cow for her small-holding and the rest was to be paid in £2-10-0d instalments per quarter. The Homers lived at Far Forest, 15 miles from Billingsley and Homer lodged close to the mines with a Mrs Badger. Ironically her husband had been the last man to be killed at Billingsley back in 1876, an accident also blamed on the manager. The south-west district produced very little coal with its only face being abandoned in 1913. The mine was taken over in 1915 by the Highley Mining Company; Russ left to take up an appointment with the Assam Railway and Trading Company, surviving the torpedoing of his ship, the Persia, in 1916. The Highley Mining Company appointed Arthur Lebeter as his replacement but closed Billingsley in 1921; Lebeter was killed in a drift mine at Chorley in 1924. The fate of Ferriday is unknown. 

 

It appears that little work was done in the south west after Homer's death. From the published accounts it is obvious that Homer was working on a level at the top of a jig. The district is described as follows in the Inspectors report: 

 

" Two miners were employed at the face of what had been a level road, but for 37 yards next the face it had a dip of 8o; 77 yards back from the face a jig had been driven for a distance of 33 yards, rising at 36o, and from the top of the jig a rise level had been driven back for 46 yards. Deceased and his mate worked at the face of this rise level". 

 

The report also says that the iron tubes extended for 450 yards from the pit bottom, and that the motor house was 120 yards from the downcast. The dip of the strata at Billingsley was predominantly about 1 in 8 to the east. The plan uses conventional symbols ie roads not in coal shown as multiple lines, arrows indicate dip side of fault, throw shown in feet. Dates are approximately when working ceased.

 

A lot of money was then spent on re-equipping both underground and surface, a railway being built to connect the colliery with the main line.  Following the First World War, the company struggled to meet costs and there were serious geological problems, with numerous faults full of water and gas.  The colliery was sold in 1915 to the Highley Mining Company, who operated it until its closure during the 1921 Strike.  The official statistics indicate that ironstone was mined as well but an old collier has the opinion that the only ironstone that came up the shaft was buried deep in the tubs and disguised as coal. The seams worked at the mine were Five Foot, Four Foot, Two Foot, Half Yard, Brooch, Deep and Shallow. Figures from the Mineral Statistics are :-

 

Year

Owner

Manager

Underground Workers

Surface Workers

1868

William Birchley

 

 

 

1876

Alfred Gibbs

 

 

 

1878

Severn Valley Colliery Company

Alfred Gibbs

 

 

1894

20

4

1895

F W Gibbs

24

4

1898

25

4

1908

20

4

1910

Billingsley Colliery Company

L E P Russ

38

28

1911

93

39

1912

74

57

1913

151

87

1915

137

65

1917

Highley Colliery Company

C C Nicholas

117

44

1918

151

42

1919

200

53

1921

219

47

 

SO717835

Site of screens (C20)

SO717835

Aerial ropeway base (C20)

SO717835

Engine beds (C20)

SO717835

Tramway to SVR (C20)

SO717835

Tramway bridge (C20)

SO717843

Surveyors office (C20)

SO717843

Power house (C20)

SO717843

Lamp room (C20)

SO717843

Blacksmiths (C20)

SO717843

Sawmill (C20)

SO717843

Garage (C20)

SO717843

Incline to screens (C19)

SO718840

Powder house (C19)

SO719834

Tramway bridge (C20)

SO719834

Weighbridge (C20)

SO724833

Tramway bridge (C20)

SO727838

Tramway bridge (C20)

SO727838

Tramway bridge (C20)

SO734824

Tramway bridge (C20)

SO735823

Tramway bridge (C20)

SO717843

Shaft (capped)

SO717843

Shaft (capped)