This is an interactive map, point to a location with your mouse to see basic information, click to go to that page.
The society is pleased to acknowledge Geoff Hayes’ donation of his collection of comprehensive notes, diagrams and photographs relating to Wigan collieries and associated engineering works. Most of this material, now in the NMRS Records, has been digitised and is available here.
Copyright © NMRS Records: G. Hayes Collection
|Amberswood||1840||(c1880)||Not shown on the map|
|Bawkhouse||Haigh||1919||Not shown on the map|
|Bickershaw||Bickershaw||1872||1992||Not shown on the map|
|Bickerstaffe||1899||1936||Not shown on the map|
|Brynn Hall||Bryn Gates||1859||1945|
|Edith & Mabel||Hindley||1891||1920||Not shown on the map|
|Gypsy Pits||1894||1924||Not shown on the map|
|Holland||Rainford||1848||1939||Not shown on the map|
|Ince Hall||Ince||1838||c1897||Not shown on the map|
|Long Lane||Ashton-in-Makerfield||1892||1955||Not shown on the map|
|Rainford||Rainford||c1865||1929||Not shown on the map|
|Rose Bridge||c1830s||1941||Not shown on the map|
|Swan Lane||Hindley||c1864||1927||Not shown on the map|
|Tawd Vale||Skelmersdale||1875||1923||Not shown on the map|
|West Leigh||West Leigh||c1870||1937|
Wigan Collieries and Engineering (at the end of the Nineteenth Century)
The following notes have been compiled in an attempt to set down in one place information which has been drawn from a variety of sources on collieries of the Wigan Coalfield and the closely associated engineering works.
Production from the Wigan Coalfield was at its peak or nearly so at the end of the nineteenth century. Output from the Lancashire and Cheshire coalfields as a whole peaked in 1907. This figure included a number of new collieries and new developments which had very recently come into production. From then on it was all downhill but it was to be more than eighty years before the last of the collieries finally expired.
At the end of the nineteenth century a number of collieries in the Wigan coalfield had begun to modernise their surface plant. This initially was by the installation of air compressors and ventilating fans. Some of this machinery was of impressive size. The large scale introduction of compressed air meant some reduction in heavy labour underground as small haulage engines powered by compressed air could be readily installed to replace manpower. Ventilation by fans was rapidly replacing furnace ventilation which resulted in improved safety and working conditions. However, the part that coal dust played in underground explosions was not yet understood and in spite of improved ventilation massive explosions still occurred.
In the 1890’s the first tentative steps were being taken towards the use of electricity in the Wigan Coalfield. Because of the interest of Ludovic, the then Earl of Crawford, in electrical energy – he was a Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers – the development of electrical power in the Wigan
Coal & Iron Company’s collieries was quite rapid in the early twentieth century. Whilst these notes are intended to present a picture of the Wigan Coalfield at the end of the nineteenth century, for completeness, where information has been available, the subsequent developments in the twentieth century have been included.
Readers will probably get the impression that many collieries in the Wigan Coalfield had become very old fashioned even by the standards of the time, at the end of the 1890s. Some of them certainly remained so and their demise came fairly soon. Modernised or not, the main decimation of the collieries came in the 1920s and 1930s when dozens were closed. In spite of the modernisations referred to the collieries were still very labour intensive. Even a small colliery would employ 200 to 300 persons. As an example, the very modestly sized Westhoughton Coal & Cannel Co. Ltd. employed 920 persons for an output of 200,000 tons per annum. The extent of social deprivation caused by these large scale closures can well be imagined. The local textile industry was also in a similarly depressed state.
The principal player in the Wigan Coalfield was the Wigan Coal & Iron Co. Ltd formed in 1865 from an amalgamation of the Kirkless Hall Coal & Iron Co., The Earl of Crawford’s Collieries, the Standish & Shevington Cannel Co. and Broomfield Colliery. John Lancaster, already involved at Kirkless and Standish, was appointed Chairman. A secondary but important player was the Pearson & Knowles Coal & Iron Co. Ltd who extended their influence in 1907 by the acquisition of controlling interests in the Moss Hall Coal Co. Ltd and the Wigan Junction Colliery Co. Ltd. In spite of the formation of these major concerns there were nevertheless still a large number of other companies operating in the coalfield.
The peak of prosperity was in the years immediately before the First World War but as an indicator of the subsequent rapid decline after the War, the Wigan Coal & Iron Co. Ltd. were suffering heavy losses year on year in the 1920s. In order to survive, the coal interests of the Wigan Coal & Iron Co. Ltd and Pearson & Knowles were amalgamated to form the Wigan Coal Corporation in 1930. The bankrupt Cross, Tetley & Co. Ltd. (Bamfurlong and Mains collieries) was absorbed in 1934. The iron and steel components of the two companies were amalgamated with the Partington Steel & Iron Co. Ltd, Irlam to form the Lancashire Steel Corporation. This resulted in the immediate closure of the Kirkless ironworks.
Most collieries in the Wigan Coalfield invested in improved surface plant in the period 1900 – 1914 and much of this must have had a very short working life in view of the wholesale colliery closures in the 1920s and 1930s. About twenty five collieries in the Wigan Coalfield survived to become Nationalised in 1947. A substantial amount of investment was put into the coalfield by the National Coal Board. This upsurge in the fortunes of the coalfield was but temporary and the final demise was rapid after 1960. At the end of the decade only two collieries had survived.
In this compilation, the boundaries of the Wigan Coalfield have been taken as the LNWR Bolton – Kenyon Junction railway in the east, Garswood and the Great Central Railway Lowton – St Helens line to the south and Coppull to the north. To the west the isolated small Skelmersdale coalfield has been included with the western boundary formed by the massive Boundary Fault west of Skelmersdale.
Not all of the collieries that were operating at the end of the nineteenth century have been described due to the lack of technical information. However, these were relatively small concerns. Likewise with a number of engineering shops and foundries which made a respectable living on the coalfield.
On digesting the following notes, the reader may be able to conjecture the industrial scene in the Wigan Coalfield. Noise, dust and smoke, the last being emitted from literally hundreds of boiler fires. Not least was the sulphurous contribution made by the colliery waste tips – the “pit rucks” – which had a habit of catching fire due to spontaneous combustion.
Landlords & Colliery Companies
The full story of the coal owning landlords and those individuals, partners and companies who exploited the Wigan coalfield is complex and very long, stretching back as far as the 14th. Century. As may be imagined the story has a goodly share of intrigues, fortunes made and also many bankruptcies.
The following notes are a very (extremely) brief overview of the estate owning lords and other gentry and those who worked the collieries. Commencing north of Wigan the coverage rotates in a clockwise direction using Wigan as the centre and describing segments of the coalfield in turn. The detached Skelmersdale district has a small section of it’s own. This part of the coalfield seemed to have more than it’s fair share of financial failures.
- Standish & Coppull
- Haigh & Aspull
- Kirkless Hall
- Ince, Hindley, Westhoughton & Leigh
- Platt Bridge, Abram & Bickershaw
- Edge Green, Bamfurlong & Ince Moss
- Garswood & Brynn
- Orrell, Winstanley & Pemberton
- Douglas Bank, Norley & Worsley Mesnes
- Skelmersdale and District
- The Wigan Coal & Iron Co. Ltd