The Forest of Dean.

Bygone Days

Bygone Days


The coal industry expanded during the 18th century with new pits and levels being frequently opened. In 1787 there were 121 coal mines, of which 90 were at work producing 1,816 tons a week and employing 662 free miners. The following year 106 collieries employed 442 miners. The most intensively worked area was from Cinderford to Nailbridge and Serridge to Beechenhurst.

With the expansion of coal mining and the growth in the size of mines disputes in the coalfield became more frequent. Deeper working increased the risk of flooding. The freeminers, often at odds with one another, became embroiled with ‘foreigners’ (as all outsiders were known to the Foresters). The growth of the industry with the intervention of foreigners hastened the collapse of the traditional customary mining system.

Before 1780 foreigners rarely held gales (the term gale came to be applied to the grant of a mine and its land, as well as to the royalty) but it became common for them to buy leases from freeminers. By 1820 foreigners operated all the large mines in the Forest. The dominant figure in the coalfield was Edward Protheroe and he acquired several collieries and having gained control of tramroads purchased Bilson colliery in 1826. He developed Crumpmeadow in 1829 and New Fancy in 1831 and supplied the local ironworks.

Production expanded un the 1840’s and was concentrated in fewer companies and new deep mines sunk. William Crawshay and his son Henry took a lead in mining coal on the east side of the Forest, primarily to feed the Cinderford furnaces. Lightmoor colliery had four shafts working in the 1850’s. Henry took over his father’s mining and smelting interests and became known as ‘iron king’ of the Forest. And he employed 250 hands to dig ore in Buckshaft and Shakemantle mines. He also developed Foxes Bridge colliery at Crabtree hill next to Crumpmeadow colliery.

In 1889 the firm of Henry Crawshay & Co. Ltd was established and Edward Protheroe’s large collieries Bilson and Crumpmeadow were acquired by 1846 by a company headed by Aaron Goold, formerly his agent. Trafalgar colliery near Cinderford was developed by the Brain family and was the first in England electric pumps in 1882, took over the workings of Strip and At It.

The coalfield’s output rose steadily from 145,136 tons in 1841 to 837,893 tons in 1871. In 1870 six collieries (Resolution and Safeguard, Lightmoor, Foxes Bridge, Crumpmeadow, Trafalgar and New Fancy) each produced  more than  50,000 tons and together accounted for three quarters of the field’s output.

More  deep mines began operating early in the 1900’s. Cannop colliery began production in 1909 and in the same year Eastern United near Ruspidge started developing and Arthur and Edward (or Waterloo) was reopened near Lydbrook.

Economic depression reduced production during the 1890’s and the closure of the Cinderford ironworks in 1890 led to the abandonment of Buckshaft  and other ore mines as ore output plummeted.  Wigpools principle mine was abandoned in 1918.

In 1870’s larger collieries were occasionally disrupted by strikes and in 1871 an association of Dean miners was formed in Cinderford. Timothy Mountjoy was the local agent and attempted to protect the interests of the miners as trade unionism spread.

There were a number of fatal accidents in the mines, one of the most serious when four men died as a result of flooding in Union Pit in 1902.

Coal production was interrupted by strikes in the 1920’s but rose to 1,439,000 tons in 1936 but then declined. Trafalgar closed in 1925 followed by Crumpmeadow in 1929 and Foxes Bridge was abandoned in 1930 because of flooding from disused mines. The number of jobs fell from 7,818 in 1920 to 5,276 in 1930. Further jobs were lost by the closure of Lightmoor and New Fancy in 1940 and 1944 respectively. Coal mining still remained the principal source of jobs in the Forest employing 55% of the adult male work force, 84.5% in the Cinderford area.

Following nationalisation of the coal industry in 1946 rising costs, particularly from drainage problems led to the closure of most mines. Eastern United and Waterloo shut in 1959, Cannop in 1960, and the last deep mine, Northern United in 1965.

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