The Bristol region was one of the first places to use coal as a fuel in industrial applications. First it was used in soap manufacture and then in glass making, brewing , pottery and in many other ways.
The area of Kingswood supplied the first coal. Kingswood was then a heathland to the east of the city which was once a Royal Forest. The coal was first mined in outcrops or 'bell pits'
The local coal industry began to shrink as good quality coal from S Wales and the Midlands proved too strong a competition.
The last local colliery to close was Kilmerdon/Writhlington
near Radstock in 1975.
Methane gas was rare in Kingswood District. Men worked by light of a naked flame of a candle stuck in their hats by T-shaped iron holders.2
Boys were used in thin seams where men could not go. Boys were used, for the most part as tuggers and pushers. Tubs of coal were pulled by boys who were harnessed to them. The harness was attached to the tub by a chain which went between the boys legs and attached to a hook on the tub. Government Inquiry in 1841 to look into conditions of boys. Elijah Waring was the official sent to Kingswood as part of the Inquiry. Waring said that the method of 'tugging' struck him as being 'very painful. An overseer compared the boys to horses whose necks were tender when first broken to the collar. Most of the boys said that it had once hurt them but that they were now fully fledged miners. Boys aged 10 and 11 were commonplace. Abraham Brain was 10 and had been working underground for a year and earned 3d a day. He had no shoes and complained of a tightness in his chest. The youngest miner he found was only seven and a half and had been working for a year in Easton.2
1865 - Wages dispute against Brain & Co. 150 colliers summonsed by Co for going on strike. Samuel Cool taken by Lawford's Gate Magistrates as a test case. Found in favour of men. Carrier Pigeons bedecked with blue ribbons to denote victory sent flying into Kingswood.
1873 (?) June 3 , 4,000 men on strike in the Bristol District.
June 6 - Strike at Ashton, Easton & Whitehall
1874. General strike throughout coalfield
The Leonard family were large land owners or tenants who in 1842 at the time of the St. George Tithe map, were holding 72acres of land in St. George. They were buying mining rights on all available land and were involved in Easton Colliery. Some members of the family were engaged in Market Gardening, and at one time were working land where St. Mark's Church, Easton was built' 4 St. Mark's Church '....was consecrated on May 18th 1848 (the Parish being formed by order in Council on 11th February 1848) It was taken out of the parishes of Stapleton and St. George and at first it was much larger than it is now, as it then included all the present parishes of All Hallows, St. Anne's, Greenbank, and part of St. Thomas, Eastville. Being largely open fields and market gardens, its population then was only about 2000.'' 5 p6
'Charles Breddy ....(b)1833 (or earlier) ....had three wives and ten children....his first being Mary Cook who died in 1872. He then married Sarah Ann Leonard, daughter of Isaac Leonard, Market Gardiner.' p114 (Was Sarah Ann related to the Mine owning Leonard family?)
|1821||'Coal Merchants; Roberts, Hare(?) and Leonard, Hillsbridge, nr. Temple Gate - Matthew's Directory, p192. Same reference appears in 1824-27 inc.|
|1824||Easton Colliery mentioned in a book by Buckland & Conybeare|
|1837||William Boult, coalminer, res Stapleton Rd (B1), Bristol Poll Book, out Parish of St. Philip and St. Jacob.|
|1830||Pit owned by Davidson and Waters. Messers Leonard, Betts and Boult owned a nearby pit in Easton. Later the two firms united to become 'The Easton Coal Company.' It afterwards was continued by R Leonard, Wm. Boult and George H Leonard and traded as Leonard, Boult & Co. Matthew's|
|1833||'Coal Merchants', Leonard, Betts and Boult, Lower Easton Colliery, one mile from Bristol Directory, p205. (also in years 1834-37 inc.)|
|1853||Leonard, Boult and Co, Easton Colliery (Prices), from Matthew's Directory, advertised as 'Late Easton Coal Company')|
|Block (all large)||per ton 13/-|
|Half and Half||10/-|
|To Lower Parts of the City||1/6d|
|1855||Mentioned in Hunts, 'Mineral Statistics in the UK'|
|1880||Whitehall Pit opened by the Company.1|
|1880||Jan 1, it became a Limited Liability Company. Principle partners being Mr. Leonard and two of Mr. Boult's nephews.1|
|1881||Leonard, Boult and Co, Easton, Whitehall and Hanham Colliery.|
|1883||Leonard, Boult and Co, Easton Colliery, Matthew's ad|
|1883||Description of Mine in 'Bristol Times & Mirror'. (by this time, at least, the workings of the Easton & Whitehall pits are connected by an underground roadway 2 - 3 miles long. Towards the Whitehall shaft there were two 30 horsepower engines in an underground engine-house. The engines were used for pulling trams up inclines. They were 380yds below the surface.). WB Monks Senior (1831-1892), Mine Manager, described as giving the reporters a 'cheerful and kindly greeting' - he was to commit suicide in 1892. In 1883 his son, WB Monks junior, is also reported to be working at the pit - Monks jnr obtained his mining engineer's certificate at the age of 21, 'one of the very few who succeeded' in doing so at such an age.|
|1907||Was trading as 'The Bedminster, Easton, Kingswood and Parkfield Collieries Ltd.2 Directors listed as John Ryan Bennett, Alfred Henry Bennett and George Hancock. Head Office Easton Colliery, off Stapleton Road, Colliery Proprietors and Coke & Patent Fuel Manufacturers. Collieries at Dean Lane Bedminster; Great Western, Feeder Rd; Easton; Kingswood; Parkfield. Branch offices in Bristol; Midland Road, St. Philips; 107 Whiteladies Road, Clifton. Depots; Dean Lane Colliery, Bedminster; East Street, Bedminster; Harbour Railway, Bristol Docks; Midland Station, St. Philips; Montpelier Station; Hanham Colliery; Bitton Station; Kingswood Colliery; Parkfield Colliery.|
|1912||Mine shown as 'Disused' on OS Map|
|1913||3 acre site of Easton Colliery and Offices sold by auction.|
Ben Tillett (b1860) describes his recollections of Easton Pit
'I was born in Easton, Bristol on 11 September 1860 in a tiny house in John Street, not many yards from Easton Coal Pit.
'It was a drab and mean street and most of its inhabitants worked in the pit. The outlook was black, gaunt and smoky against the sky line. The buzz and musical clamour of the circular saw, swiftly cutting timber and pit props to length, driven by an engine with a deep-voiced exhaust added to the industrial orchestra.' p23
'I remember a mountain of coal forever being enlarged by tipping drums and tanks on wheels that fell over the heap with a swishing sound of shingle.' p23
'I remember the pit's mouth, the clicking of the small truck - a sound that came back to me years afterwards when I heard the click of the cell door when the jailers peered through.' p23
'One of my relatives, a collier Pruett by name, who could fight and pray and curse with the same vehemence that he could preach, cured me of my plan to go down the pit. He took me down into the seemingly bottomless pit and terrified me. I saw awesome blackness: spluttering candles on greasy caps, dirt and mud, pools of filthy water, stifling heat, the rush and tempest of everyone pushing, bawling, shouting and cursing...
'I played at the pit mouth, receiving a share of food, drinks of tea, many rough clouts, and many more kind and tender expressions of sympathy.' p25.
Area of some 5 acres (when sold at auction only 3 acres)
Boilerhouse -5 'Lancashire' boilers - each with double furnaces (mention of plans to install two more all powered by pit's own coal - 'in this respect the proprietors show a greater amount of faith in their own output than some we have heard of.'
Engine Room - 2 vertical engines of 150 nominal horse power to operate cages in the mine. (description of safety devices). The wheels above the pit were 11'3" in diameter.
Pumping Engine - a 20 hp nominal horizontal steam engine. Cylinder was 67 inches in diameter with a 9ft stroke. the engine pumps about 40 gallons of water at every stroke - the water going into the local sewer system. It worked 12 out of every 24 hours.
Ventilation fan - works on a 20 hp nominal horizontal steam engine. It was 25 feet in diameter and drove about 30,000 feet of air/minute through the mine. It worked continually except for a few hours on a Saturday evening or Sunday.
Tram hauling engine - an 'old fashioned steam engine' was used on the surface to haul trams (up to 8 at a time) up some of the steep underground inclines.
Saw Mills - men used circular saws to cut timber for propping up the roofs and walls - the ends were squared by machines so reducing the work to be done underground. Sawdust was used as bedding for the horses underground. Waste timber was used as firewood, old timber brought from underground is sawn and chopped and put into bundles and was sold by girls who hawked them in baskets from door to door. The stock of timber on the surface was 'enormous' and the quantity used 'almost incredible'. The timber came chiefly from Bordeaux but also from Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Monmouth and Gloucestershire. The purchase of timber was an important aspect of the mine's operation.
Wicker basket workshop - the wicker baskets were fitted out very much like a sleigh with a 'smooth semi-circular steel arrangement'. the baskets were used by boys in those workings which were too narrow for trams to enter. When full, each basket would contain 1cwt of coal. Because of piecework the boys were under pressure to work as quickly as possible as they slid and slithered down inclines pulling the basket by a chain attached to a rope around his waist. The boys 'earned on average three times as much as a boy of his age earns in a factory'.
Smithy - attend to the steam engines which are many and above and below ground, look after tram rails (of which there are 20-30 miles underground) - this involves 'curving' which is a very frequent operation, - making and sharpening the miners tools, make the cages and ironwork for the underground doors, etc. To heat their furnaces the smithies use a small steam engine 'in a corner up aloft'.
Pit shaft - about 11ft in diameter and 1,080ft deep. Coal arrives at the surface in two laden trams (each containing 9cwt of coal) which are met by two men who unload and quickly replace with two empty trams. The two full trams are weighed at the weighbridge and the weight is checked - the miners are on piecework their output is recorded by their number they've put on the side of the trams.
After weighing the coal was taken and tipped down
a bank near Coalpit-lane ready for collection and distribution to the customers
of Bristol & Clifton. Especially in the winter the lines of carts for
the collection of coal would be long indeed. Two men weighed out the small
quantities of coal for retail on the site. Local grocers and shopkeepers
used to hire out small hand wagons for local people to carry their coal
in - they charged a half-penny an hour to hire them.
Time to 'man-ride' down the shaft was 'a minute and
At the bottom of the shaft there was a 'substantial
brick-built tunnel' at the end of this archway the timber shoring starts.
A roadway leads through a 'lofty passage' to the stables which can hold
20 horses which are 9ft high and 'well furnished and whitelined. Their
fodder is chopped up and mixed at a workshop on the surface. Their water
comes from a spring which appears about 40 fathoms down the pit shaft.
All the supplies come by tram-cars. Some of the horses have not been 'up
top' for 10 - 15 years.
Hewing coal: men working with pickaxes and spades
in a choking atmosphere and nearly naked at the coal face. Several men
usually work together at the face; one cuts the coal, another fills the
tram and a third pushes the tram to the bottom of the incline. When 4 trams
are filled a signal was given to the engine-driver on the surface and they
are taken upwards.
Thick seams - the reporters saw working in a 16'
seam and that these were not liked; it meant that the seam would correspondingly
'fall away', a fall of a small piece of roof from such a height could seriously
injure or kill a miner whereas in lower workings it would do little or
no harm, it was also difficult to timber, it took skill to work the coal
out from between the bands of unwanted 'rubbish and dirt'
1 'Work in Bristol', Bristol Times and Mirror reprinted
2 'Supplement to Killed in a Coalpit', DP Lindegaard
3 'Memories and Reflections', Ben Tillett
4 'Market Gardening in Bristol', GW Roberts
5 'The St. Mark (Lower Easton) Story', Lionel W Ellery,
Time to 'man-ride' down the shaft was 'a minute and a quarter'.1
At the bottom of the shaft there was a 'substantial brick-built tunnel' at the end of this archway the timber shoring starts. A roadway leads through a 'lofty passage' to the stables which can hold 20 horses which are 9ft high and 'well furnished and whitelined. Their fodder is chopped up and mixed at a workshop on the surface. Their water comes from a spring which appears about 40 fathoms down the pit shaft. All the supplies come by tram-cars. Some of the horses have not been 'up top' for 10 - 15 years.
Hewing coal: men working with pickaxes and spades in a choking atmosphere and nearly naked at the coal face. Several men usually work together at the face; one cuts the coal, another fills the tram and a third pushes the tram to the bottom of the incline. When 4 trams are filled a signal was given to the engine-driver on the surface and they are taken upwards.
Thick seams - the reporters saw working in a 16' seam and that these were not liked; it meant that the seam would correspondingly 'fall away', a fall of a small piece of roof from such a height could seriously injure or kill a miner whereas in lower workings it would do little or no harm, it was also difficult to timber, it took skill to work the coal out from between the bands of unwanted 'rubbish and dirt'