The Thick Coal Seams of South Staffordshire

HD Poole from The Blackcountryman Magazine Volume 1, Issue 3

The term "thick coal seam" may convey an impression that the seam of coal is solid and massive and 8-10 yards in thickness. It is, in fact not one seam but a number of separate and distinct seams or layers of coal numbering from 10-15. The seams have been given names by the miners who recognised distinctive characteristics in each seam. It is difficult to give reasons for all the names.


Benches This seam was very often left unworked for, being a strong coal, it prevented the unwelcome intrusion of the soft clay-like measures from beneath
Dice Above benches, coal which easily broke up into cubical pieces and was easy to remove
Slipper Seams of good quality coal
Patchells Seams about 12 inches thick
Stone frequently had a stone or dirt parting on top of it. This parting varied in thickness and in the Blackheath district was several feet in thickness, necessitating working the lower section and then dropping the stone and using it as the floor for the top section.
Veins Had special markings, not very good coal
Fine coal of better quality
Brazils hard and inferiour in quality. It would break up into large cubical pieces or blocks, the author saw a substantial wall built with this material.
Heath Usually the best qulaity of coal. Evident to the earlier miners who worked considerable areas of the top section and the Slipper and Sawyer of the lower section, leaving the middle section to posterity.

The first attempts at working the thick coal to replace the use of timber for fuel were along the lines of outcrop onto the surface. It was simply a question of removing the soil to expose coal. It may be coal had already been used as fuel because it could be found on sea beaches where outcrops of seams occur in cliffs. Waves were the cause of breaking up of the coal and together with adjacent rock shaped into pebbles of various sizes. This was known as "sea coal". Although there were vast quantities of this in the course of time miners were forced to follow the seam down, and in order to reduce the amount of spoil to expose the coal, were forced to begin sinking small shafts. On reaching coal the shaft was continued but at a gradually enlarging diameter until reaching the bottom of the seam. These were known as "bell pits", and the reason can be seen from the illustration below.

When bell pits had had there day they were replaced by the sinking of shafts to greater depths and the introduction of systematic methods of working the top and bottom of the seam. The miner now became a skilled craftsman who took great pride in his work and, as rules and regulations were non-existent, his time was his own concern. It is most probable his wife worked the hand windlass to wind the coal to the surface.

The skill and neatness of the miner - probably from about the 14th century - were researched from first hand study by the original author of the article. He was able as a young student to inspect the stalls or working places, as these were approached by workings from an active coalmine. The coal being of a strong nature and the height and width of the stall being small, the working places were found exactly as left many years before. At this time any coal was acceptable and the slack or small coal had a ready market for steam raising. On entering an ancient stall, one was impressed by the care and precision of the miner. Vertical and smooth sides; neat undercutting in the coal to prepare for extraction; an occasional small recess in the side of the stall to hold his tobacco pipe in a safe place, also his 3-handled drinking cup of which examples can be seen in museums in the midlands. A miner's pick was also found and the writer was impressed by the heavy weight of this tool.

On one occasion a small shaft was found and bones were exposed. The first thought was perhaps that these belonged to a miner, but on further investigation they were found to be of a deer and the small skeleton of an off-spring. The position of this shaft was carefully marked on the mining plan and it was found that an old turnpike road was immediately over it. Just one more incident in a lifelong fascination with coal!

The author of this article - HD Poole - was General Manager of Baggeridge Colliery from 1926 to 1937. The illustrations used were taken from the article mentioned at the top of the page. Mr Poole was 90 years old in 1968, I would like to hear from anyone who could put me in contact with his family, as I am sure they will have many memories that they may wish to share.

Mick Pearson





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