- Related Webpages
To expand and collapse the navigation please click on the headingsGo to other Related Subject areas
Highley Forum articles on mines and miners
Articles about the mines of Highley, Alveley, Kinlet and Billingsley and the men who worked in them
Industry in Stanley, Highley
The "Engine Shed", the new museum for the Severn Valley Railway, is built on the site of the former Highley Mining Company sidings, opposite Highley Station. This was latterly a landsale yard for coal from Alveley Colliery, although it was constructed in the early 1880s when Highley Colliery was first opened. In fact, the history of the site goes back much further than this and the ground clearance works have brought a number of interesting features to light.
The sidings themselves were connected to Highley Colliery by a rope-worked incline; full wagons of coal descended to the sidings and hence the railway, pulling empties back up to the colliery. The route of the incline is now the footpath linking the Country Park car park with the station and a section of old track can be seen by its side, together with some lengths of wire rope. At the station end, the track goes through a deep stone cutting. The oldest industry in Highley is stone quarrying and the stone ridge has been extensively worked. Indeed, the rock face which can be seen at the bottom of the incline may be part of a medieval quarry. Further along are quarries which date from the end of the 18th Century and which were worked into the 19th Century. These are impressive, with 50’ high rock faces, in some places still showing the marks made by the picks and chisels of the quarrymen. Stone blocks were split off by “plug and feathers”; chisels were used to cut holes about a foot deep every 12 to 16 inches. A series of wedges were then driven into these holes, until a block of rock split off the face. In several places, these holes can still be seen on the rock faces. Other holes on the rock were created not by the quarrymen but by the Home Guard; the face of one of the quarries was used as a rifle range and is scored by bullet marks.
When coal winding was transferred to Alveley in 1940, much of the track was removed but some sidings were retained for the use of coal merchants. There was a weighbridge and office (a tin hut) close to the entrance of the yard, where the coal was usually collected by horse and cart. Staff at the weighbridge were Sammy Howells and Charlie Link. When the National Coal Board took over, all this was swept away. Half the site was covered with tarmac, to improve access for lorries. A new weighbridge and office were constructed. The yard also seems to have been widened. In turn, the weighbridge complex was demolished when the pit closed in 1969.
Some 80 years before the Highley Mining Company, coal was being worked in Highley at the Stanley Colliery. This covered the banks of the Severn between Highley Station and Stanley Cottages. One shaft is still visible; where the incline from the Highley Colliery now finishes, about 10 yards to the south. This was associated with a small spoil tip. Further evidence of the mine can be seen closer to the river. A large spoil tip behind Stanley Cottage is part of Stanley Colliery. This spoil tip can be traced on the other side of the railway. Nestling between the railway embankment and the spoil tips of the stone quarries was a fascinating patch of ground, untouched since the arrival of the railway at the end of the 1850s. There were the remains of a cottage and outbuildings, once occupied by a miner at Stanley. There were also two circular brick pits. At first glance, these resembled colliery shafts but they were too close together and the bricks they were made from were been exposed to great heat. A clue to their function came from the parish register of 1815, which shows Richard Rowley, a limeburner was living in Highley. The structures were his two limekilns. He would have used coal from Stanley Colliery, literally a stones-throw away. He may have used limestone from Arley although it is also found outcropping close to his kilns. The lime he produced may have been used a fertiliser on the land but would also have been used for mortar at the colliery.
Sadly most of the traces of the former history of this site have now been destroyed by the new museum.
Alvelely Colliery Bridge
The old Alveley Colliery bridge was built in 1936/7 in under a year and work continued all winter with no serious mishaps. The key to this was the way in which it was built, as a “balanced cantilever”. Essentially, this means that it was designed as a see-saw. The bridge has three arches; a large one in the middle over the river and two smaller ones either side to connect with the access roads. These are the “land arches”. The bridge was designed so that all the weight rests on the two piers that are either side of the river. The land arches run from these to walls that support the access roads and hold back the approach embankments; the abutment walls. However, these were designed so that they did not carry any of the weight of the bridge, they simply supported the approach roads. The key part of the structure were the two parallel reinforced concrete beams that ran continuously over the piers from Highley to Alveley and which supported the deck (the surface of the bridge over which people walked). As long as the reinforcing held, the bridge was safe.
The bridge led an uneventful life until the 1960s. However, the Severn valley is a notoriously difficult area for buildings. The ground is unstable, frequently slipping towards the river. This had started to take its toll on the bridge; the pressure of the ground was forcing the piers into the river. In addition, the abutment walls had cracks and the deck of the bridge was worn and needed replacing. Thus in 1967 the Coal Board decided it needed major repairs.
The main work was to stabilise the base of the piers. Coffer dams were constructed and the ground was built up to help the piers resist the thrust from the side of the banks. This part of the work passed without incident. The abutment walls were demolished and work started on rebuilding them. Again, this went smoothly, although the bridge apparently flexed visibly when heavy machinery was working on it without whilst the abutment walls were missing. The deck was removed with pneumatic-picks. Unfortunately, over the Highley land arch the picks went in too deep and exposed a joint between the reinforcing rods in the beams that supported the deck. The joints failed spectacularly, the concrete cracked and the beams fell several feet at their landward ends until they came to rest on the partially rebuilt abutment wall. It is believed this incident caused a certain amount of panic at Coal Board Area HQ. Ladders were rigged up to allow men to pass over the dropped beams; without this, an entire shift would have been trapped on the Alveley side of the river. The beams were lifted back into more or less their correct place by jacks and the abutment was hastily rebuilt to support them. Their was still a difference of a few inches between the top of the beam and the level of the approach road from Highley but this was made up by increasing the deck thickness with concrete from 6” to around 9”. The repaired crack was carefully monitored but there is no suggestion that it has moved.
The excitement with the deck replacement meant that the repairs were not finished until October 1968. They meant that the bridge was no longer a balanced cantilever. By the time they were complete, the colliery was in its death-throes, closing in January 1969. Thus ended one of the less cost-effective jobs undertaken by the Coal Board in the West Midlands. It may however be suspected that the Area Engineer’s office was pleased to be rid of the bridge with its now unorthodox structure.
Highley Miners Welfare Hall
At the centre of Highley is the Recreation ground, now the home of the Severn Centre. Until 2005 this was the site of the Welfare Hall. The "Rec" and the Welfare Hall are a legacy of the local mining industry.
To trace the history of the Welfare complex, it is necessary to go back to 1920. In that year, the government set up the Miners Welfare Fund, to finance community improvements in coal mining areas. The coalfields were divided into districts and each mining community could apply to the appropriate district committee for funds for projects. Initially, the Shropshire District Miners Welfare Fund concentrated on providing recreation grounds. In 1923 the Highley Miners Federation obtained the agreement of the “squire”, John Oakley Beddard and the village cricket club for the cricket field and the adjoining patch of land called Priests Pool to be turned into a sports ground and children’s play area. This project was approved by the Welfare Fund in Shrewsbury. However, it was to be another seven years before the project was completed and the “Rec” was born, probably because of cost.
In August 1930, Mrs Robinson, the wife of the doctor, organised a meeting to discuss the formation of a youth club in the village. The colliery manager, Mr Nicholas was in the chair and the Highley and Kinlet Miners Welfare Committee agreed to provide a site free of cost. When the Rec itself was opened a few months later, it was noted that “space has been left for the road for a young men’s institute”. This was presumably for the Welfare Hall, although the Shropshire Welfare Fund was already keen to add halls to the recreation grounds it had developed across the county. The “Rec” itself consisted of a cricket pitch with pavillion, two hard tennis courts and two grass courts. There were flower beds either end of the pavillion and there was also the children’s play area with space for a “bandstand with promenades and putting and croquet lawns”. These were never built but a bowling green was added in 1944, probably on the site of the grass tennis courts. The whole development cost £6500 and was constructed by Messrs Bakers of Codsall. It was opened by the general manager of the Highley Mining Company, Harry Eardley on September 27th 1930, a week after the planned ceremony was abandoned because of rain.
It took another three years before the Welfare Hall arrived. This was built by Lacey’s of Kidderminster and was described as “a hall to seat 260 people constructed of timber framing, roughcast on metal lathing and lined with matchboard and insulated boarding”. It had brick foundations and asbestos roof tiles and cost £1892, including furnishings. It was third welfare hall to be built in Shropshire under the scheme, the previous ones being at St Georges and Ifton. As originally built there was an open veranda on its west side, facing the playing grounds. This was subsequently enclosed, a move that no doubt was justified on practical grounds but which did nothing for the appearance of the building. A porch was also added.
In its early days, the Welfare Hall faced competition from other halls in the village, particularly the Assembly Rooms, just above the New Inn (now the Bache Arms). However, as a large, modern building it soon established itself as the venue for meetings, dances and social events. For example, in August 1934 over 300 children of members of Highley Co-Op assembled outside the store and marched to the “new hall” to be entertained. Miners meetings and safety lectures were held in the hall. In the Second World War, dances following the Highley Nursing Cup featured the Alpha Dance band, J. Newey and his Paramount Dance Orchestra and Highley Brass Band. Generations of Highley folk have met and been entertained in the Welfare. Hopefully the new Community Centre will be as successful.
The Welfare Ground probably represents the single most important legacy of the miners to the present community of Highley. If it were not for their efforts in the 1920s to acquire the land for the village and the work of subsequent years to maintain it, then the present new facilities would not have been possible. Mining was dangerous work. It is appropriate to record the names of those miners who were killed in the local mines; the Welfare Complex owes its existence to their and the their colleagues efforts.
Billingsley Colliery 1871-1921
Highley Colliery 1878-1969
Thomas J Hayes
Owen T Owen
Kinlet Colliery 1892-1936
William Ernest Smith
Chorley Drift 1922-8
Alveley Colliery 1935-1969
Colliery First Aid Competitions
There is a traditional association between miners and sporting activities. In previous generations it was said that whenever England required a new fast bowler, all that was needed was for a selector to shout down a pit shaft in Yorkshire or the North Midlands and one would appear. Equally, the Lanarkshire Coalfield in Scotland was a production line for footballers who would later become legends as managers; Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankley, Jock Stein. Highley was no exception to this; the local football and cricket teams were made up of miners and achieved great success. However sporting spirit could manifest itself in other ways.
Mining was an inherently dangerous job. Fortunately relatively few men were killed at Highley and there were no major disasters. None-the-less, there was inevitably a string of less serious incidents that left men injured. There was a constant need for men trained in first aid; where there were falls of ground the mine rescue team would be required. Before the First World War, lessons in first aid were provided at the colliery and from 1912 a rescue team had to be formed at the pit. To keep both first aiders and the mine rescue team up to scratch, regular training was needed. As neighboring mines throughout the country had their own teams of rescue men and first aiders, some rivalry between pits developed. And so was born the idea of inter-colliery competitions in first aid and mines rescue. This built team spirit and encouraged men to deepen their skills. Not surprisingly, the mine owners and Mines Inspectorate encouraged competitions.
From at least 1934 Mr Cain, the assistant manager at Highley, officiated at the finals of the Cannock Chase Coal Owners Mines Rescue Cup. With his interest in first aid, he probably encouraged Highley to enter competitions. In July 1939, in probably their first attempt, Highley were runners-up in the Shropshire Coal Owners Association competition. In 1940 three Highley teams took 1st, 2nd and 5th places in the competition. A photo exists showing the colliery first aiders posing outside the rescue station at Alveley with the ambulance in the background and their cup in the foreground.
The competitions after Nationalisation are well remembered. These were in two phases. Firstly there was the area competition; effectively the pits in Shropshire and South Staffordshire. This was usually held at the rescue station in Dudley. Success here opened the way to the divisional finals, where teams from all over the West Midlands would compete. Both the rescue and first aid teams had considerable success. In 1950 Alveley came 2nd in the divisional rescue championship to Walsall Wood; the following year positions were reversed when they won the competition. In 1953 a new area junior competition for first aid was established, with Highley coming third. However, there were also individual awards and Bert Walker, the Highley captain, won this trophy. In 1955 the senior first aid team won the area cup and finished runners up in the divisional cup; in 1957 the juniors and seniors both won the area championship and the seniors finished third in the divisional trophy.
Mr Hasbury, the manager at Alveley, was keen for his teams to do well. This provided another incentive for taking part. Instead of working down the pit on a Saturday morning, the crack first-aiders were more likely to be given time off to practice. The competitions, whilst keenly fought, were not without their lighter moments. In the first competitions, the casualties were not made up. Consequently one first aider was far from pleased to have points docked after setting a broken leg, only to be told by the judge that it was the other leg that was meant to be broken. The introduction of artificial blood, to make the casualties more authentic stopped problems such as this but lead to other difficulties. One local first aider, on investigating a casualty, got squirted in the eye by a stream of red liquid, allegedly from a severed artery. He was deducted a token number of points when the casualty shortly after cried out in pain; the judge assumed he had accidentally aggravated the injury. The deduction might have been more severe had the judge noticed that the first aider actually punched the casualty. This however proved remarkably effective at stopping the bleeding…
The last pit pony in the country has now retired, bringing to an end a way of working stretching back over 250 years. Locally, Highley Colliery had over 50 ponies; including those employed at Kinlet and other mines, there must have been in excess of 100 ponies at work underground in the 1920s and 30s. Increased mechanisation meant that the number had shrunk to just 10 at Nationalisation in 1947 and by the early 1950s they had all been phased out. None-the-less, they are recalled by many who worked down the mines.
The job of the ponies was chiefly to draw coal from the face, where it was mined, to the main underground roads which led to the shaft. These roads had mechanical haulage but for many years it was not practical to extend this all the way to the working miners. It was not until conveyor belts were introduced, just before World War 2 at Alveley, that the ponies started to become redundant. The job of driving the ponies was given to boys, from 14 to 18 years old. For many of these, pony driving was their first job underground. It is perhaps not surprising that these youngsters, working alone for most of their time, often became attached to their ponies.
The ponies were kept underground for most of the year, in stables next to the pit bottom. These were whitewashed, warm, well ventilated and lighted. Each horse had its own stable with a nameplate; its gear was kept next to it. The stables were run by the ostlers. The last ostlers at Alveley included my grandfather, Jack Poyner. He was typical of the breed; a countryman used to working with horses and devoted to his charges. His fellow ostler, Job Hammonds of Chelmarsh was similar. They inspected the horses after each shift to check for signs of illness, injury or ill-treatment. They would groom the animals and make sure they were fed and watered. They would summons a farrier if necessary to cold-shoe the animals underground. The animals were brought up for the annual holidays; at the end the ostler with a small group of volunteers would round them up for the difficult journey back down the shaft.
The drivers were each allocated a pony. They would harness their pony and ensure that they were wearing a protective head guard that covered the top of the head and the eyes. The ponies were attached to a pair of iron shafts which in turn were attached to the draw-bar of the tubs which held the coal. The pony would probably have to draw several tubs, but this depended on where it was working in the mine. The pony was meant to be led from the side, but narrow roadways made this difficult. Many boys actually road behind the pony sitting on the shafts; a dangerous practice as if they slipped they would fall under the moving tub. Training was usually non-existent, although they would normally start with “wide-driving”; driving the ponys along large roads rather than the very narrow roads leading to the face.
Individual ponies had their own personalities. Bonus was a particularly small horse-“almost human” and was exhibited at Stourport Carnival. Duke worked underground for 24 years. Jimmy was “a good puller but very slow”, Sambo was “very quick”, Turpin was “bad tempered”. Sparks would head for a manhole and then kick at his driver. Some drivers retaliated; Blucher appeared to have been hit around the head with a lamp because a later driver found he would shy away from a light. However, this seems to have been the exception and most ponies were much better treated then their fellows above ground. Whilst all welcomed the technology that finally allowed their retirement, many missed their companionship.