The Sinking of Baggeridge Colliery

(The 'Mighty Financial Undertaking')

Taken from the article of the same name by Richard Newnham
The Blackcountryman volume 1 Issue 1

In the early years of the nineteenth century the rich mineral resources of the Black Country had been described as 'inexhaustible'. As industry intensified, increasing demands for coal and iron led to a more vigorous exploration of the coalfield. The ease of mining the coal and the richness of the seams led to much wasteful mining. Up to 1/3 of the coal was often left in the ground, slack and small coal was rarely used. Such mining produced a large number of small pits, often working for only a few years. This led to abandoned workings that were left to fill with water, forming vast underground lakes, always a hazard to miners working and unexpectedly breaking into these caverns.

Baggeridge Colliery as seen from the air

For many years flooding halted work in many Black Country pits. The richest seams themselves had been worked out. Consequently, writers toward the close of the century began to talk of a time when the mining of coal in the Black Country would cease. With this, it is said, the industrial development of the area would be permanently damaged.

The Black Country coalfield is bounded on the east and west by two faults. Between them the various seams of coal often come together, divided only by thin beds of share or 'partings' to form the famous 'thick coal'. Where this occurs, the thickness of the coal can exceed 30 feet.

Mining engineers had already investigated the possibility of the existence of coal at a much deeper level beyond the eastern fault. The sinking of Sandwell colliery in West Bromwich and Hamstead colliery at Great Barr had shown that it was possible to find coal in this area. In 1895 in a technical paper entitled "The Mineral Resources of South Staffordshire" Herbert W Hughes, mining engineer to the Earl of Dudley, forecast that coal would also be found beyond the western fault. Many geologists, however, suggested that the coal would lie at such a depth as to make its discovery impossible without considerable financial investment. Only Lord Dudley owned a sufficient acreage of ground to undertake the necessary work to test Mr. Hughes' theory.

The area chosen for the first borings was Baggeridge Wood, a well known local beauty spot and itself very near to the seat of the Earl of Dudley at Himley. First experiments in November 1896 were unsuccessful: the bore rods broke, leaving the crown, containing diamonds then worth £200, in the ground.

Further borings were made some distance away, and the engineers awaited the result with anxiety. Coal was discovered at a depth of about 600 yards. This was found to be of a similar nature to the 'thick' coal and its associated seams known at a much shallower level in the Black Country itself. In this way Mr. Hughes was proved right.

The construction of the colliery's first shaft was begun in February 1899, and in July 1902 a seam of coal 24 feet thick was discovered.

A second shaft found the same seam of coal in 1910. This considerable delay in completing the first works of the colliery was the result of the sinkers meeting what was described as 'a perfect sea of water' while sinking the second shaft. For 19 months the workers fought against the water without making a single inch of progress; the water was finally kept out by the use of cast-iron segment plates fixed for 40 yards in the shaft. The principal winding shaft was 17 feet in diameter and special methods for unloading the coal involved the use of both German and English technical ideas.

This attempt to utilise at the pit the most modern machinery was also illustrated by the equipment used to raise the cages. 10 boilers were used to provide steam for the plant, 4 generating plants provided electricity that supplied power throughout the colliery. The colliery was equipped to deal with an output of 3120 tons each 8 hour shift. The winding engines were supplied by Messrs Frazer and Chalmers of Erith, who had earlier made the engines for the Sandwell Park Colliery and the compressors at the Mond Gas Works, Dudley Port.

The total investment over this long period of time before the pit produced any coal was well described as 'a mighty financial undertaking'.

While the colliery was being sunk, further work was undertaken to provide outlets for the coal to be produced. The Great Western Railway Company and Lord Dudley's private railway built extensions so that coal could reach Round Oak, The Wallows and other selling points: a line was built to connect Ashwood Basin to allow canal boats to receive Baggeridge coal. It was expected that when the colliery was in full production employment would be available for 1000 workers.

The sinking of Baggeridge Colliery was to be the last great attempt to exploit the famous 'thick coal' of the Black Country.

The romantic story of its early days and the tenacity and skill of those who took part in this work make a fitting end to the history of pit sinking in the area. Their hopes of finding work locally for a hundred years have not been realised: their energy and persistence in undertaking the search for coal at Baggeridge will not easily be forgotten.

Back in 1968 when Baggeridge Colliery closed the newly formed Black Country Society issued a special medallion, 1.5" in diameter, in bronze, showing on one side the head of William, Earl of Dudley, and on the other a view of the pit-head gear of the colliery.

The medallion came in a case together with a short history of the colliery.

Only 2000 were struck, each numbered. They were sold for 25 shillings each (£1.25 in decimal currency).

The article reproduced above generated a fair amount of interest in subsequent magazines. In volume 1, issue 2 of The Blackcountryman a former general manager of the colliery (from 1926 to 1937) put pen to paper to give an insight. The letter is reproduced below

Baggeridge Shafts

The water encountered in the sinking of the shafts was not held back by iron segments as mentioned in the article on the Baggeridge Colliery.

Instead of iron segments a special method of brick lining was put in which the sinkers called "coffering". This method consisted of building the outer and the inner courses in the ordinary way with the trowel, these courses were kept in advance of the middle courses. Into the angular space was poured liquid cement and the inner courses were embedded into position.

Had iron segments been installed I should most certainly have seen them.

I have another very good reason for remembering this, as my brother, who was apprenticed to one of the Earl of Dudley's colliery managers, obtained permission to see the sinkers at work. He took particulars and was able to answer a question on the subject set for his colliery manager's certificate of competency, or for his qualification as a mines inspector, to the satisfaction of the examiner who asked him if he had any information on "coffering".

Incidentally, there was a third shaft at Baggeridge sunk to the water-bearing rocks. The South Staffordshire Waterworks Company installed a steam-driven generator and an electric pump at the bottom of this shaft, the water being pumped to the Sedgley reservoir, the colliery taking their water for steam raising and other purposes. The water company in addition paid a rate for the metered supply.

When I went to Baggeridge the water company were not taking any water, as a newly appointed agent had asked for an increase in the rate. Instead of agreeing to this the company gave notice to terminate the agreement. I endeavored to get the company to take the water again on their own terms, as electric power was being wasted in running the pump with an artificial head imposed - but they had made other arrangements.

It seemed to me a great pity to allow such excellent water to run to waste with only the fish in the Himley park lakes to appreciate it!

(HD Poole aged 90 in 1968 when this letter was written)

Joanne Warby

I was wondering if you have any information on the 25 Year Club for Baggeridge Bridge. My father in-law Arthur Warby worked there from 1952 until 1977 and I am trying to find out some history and get some pictures of Baggerridge to add to my story of his life. He was a fitter. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Kind regards Joanne Warby.

If anyone has any information on the "25 year Club" please email me at the address at the foot of the page. I will pass on your message to Joanne.

Some Useful Links

Geology & Extraction History of the Non-Aggregate Mineral Resources of Staffordshire
David Coxill, SCMC Journal No.3
Search for "Baggeridge to find technical details
Mining History Network Bibliography ... The Midlands
Self explanatory
Civilian Locos 1951 to 1952
{dead link 9 Jan 2012}
Details of some of the locomotives in use at Baggeridge
Baggeridge Brick Company History {dead link 9 Jan 2012} Baggeridge pit spawned Baggeridge Brick, read the history
Warspite (formerly No. 8 'Sir Robert Peel')
{dead link 9 Jan 2012}
One of the engines used at Baggeridge, a detailed history
Gospel End History - Baggeridge Country Park What happened once the colliery closed, with pictures
Jack Smart's memories of 80 years in Madeley A miner who worked for a time at Baggeridge - his history
Penn Common - by Bev Parker History of the area adjacent to the Baggeridge site
Closing of Baggeridge Colliery From Volume 1, Issue 3 The Blackcountryman
The Thick Coal Seams of South Staffordshire Taken from article by HD Poole, General Manager of Baggeridge Colliery from 1926-1937
Mines Drainage Article by B Poole giving information on the importance of drainage and the use of Newcomen steam engines to facilitate drainage.
Lord Dudley and the making of the Black Country An article by TJ Raybould on how the Dudley family helped shape the industry in the region.
How was coal formed? Short piece by Bob Hart Possibly a controversial theory, what do you think?

Mick Pearson 2003

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