Development of Coal Mining in North Staffordshire

It is in Holditch (near Chesterton) that we find the earliest evidence of coalmining in the area. Excavations on the Roman site there indicate that the local coal and ironstone were being worked as long ago as 2 AD.
Much later, we find references to coal and ironstone mining in the manor of Tunstall (1282), Shelton (1297) and in the manor of Keele (1333).

Coal outcropped (or rose naturally to the surface) in some areas, and locals gathered it up as easily as picking wayside daisies.

In late 18th century Burslem, ‘‘all the clays and much of the coals for the 22 ovens were obtained from holes in the streets and sides of the lane.'' Elsewhere, bell pits were sunk. These were shallow shafts which in section looked like a bell. Such a pit was discovered in 1995 during excavations for the new A50 through Longton.

In 1686, Dr Plot wrote about ‘‘The gaining of coal by foot railes'', wherein a near-horizontal or sloping shaft was driven into a hillside, the roof being supported by wooden props. However, with the advent of the earliest mechanisation and deep mining, the North Staffordshire coal industry really began to flourish, with areas such as Silverdale and Tunstall becoming hotbeds of mining activity from around 1830 onwards.
There was certainly a growing need for the black diamonds. At the close of the 17th century, the Cheshire salt industry required coal, as did the developing local market. The link between pits and pots was a strong one during the days of coal-firing, and when miners at Longton and Shelton took industrial action in 1842, the manufacture of pottery came to a virtual standstill.

Mention here of Shelton reminds us that another voracious consumer of coal was the iron industry, so that Lord Granville's furnaces at ‘‘Shelton Bar'' needed to be served by a large ring of local pits which included Slippery Lane, Racecourse and Hanley Deep. From the late 18th century, the growing network of canals gave the coal industry a very significant boost, as coal and iron — bulky commodities at the best of times — could now be transported cheaply and more rapidly.

However, this prosperity certainly came at a price, and the truth is that economic development outpaced social growth. Once-rustic Hanley and Shelton became (in parts) a mass of squalid colliery buildings and serpentine internal railway lines, whilst the miles of underground workings directly gave rise to widespread subsidence.

Based on an article by local historian MERVYN EDWARDS

on natural resources.



questions/comments? email: Steve Birks