This company came into being on 2nd December 1865. The constituents of the new company comprised the Haigh, Aspull and Holland collieries of the Earl of Crawford & Balcarres, the Standish & Shevington Coal & Cannel Co., the Broomfield and Langtree collieries of Alfred Hewlett and the collieries and ironworks of the Kirkless Hall Coal & Iron Company. John Taylor’s collieries at Standish were absorbed on 1st January 1866. The Wigan Coal & Iron Co. Ltd, when constituted, was the largest joint stock company in Britain.
The inspiration for the formation of the new company is said to have come from Elias Dorning, a Wigan mining engineering consultant. It had been hoped that Pears on & Knowles would join in but in the end they declined and followed their own processes of amalgamations and take-overs.
Successive Earls of Crawford & Balcarres served as chairman of the Wigan Coal & Iron Co. Ltd. Alfred Hewlett, who had been Mining Agent to the Earl of Crawford & Balcarres from 1860, became Managing Director. During the early years of the WC&I Co. Ltd. John Lancaster, founder of the Kirkless Hall company also played a leading role but following a dispute with the Earl in 1870, severed his links and moved on to develop interests in South Wales, the East Midlands and in Scotland. Also prominent in the early years were the Percys, one of whom, C.M. Percy was the founder of the Wigan Mining & Technical College.
From its formation until the end of the 19th century, there was enormous expansion in the activities of the company, both in coal mining and in iron (and later steel) production. Most of the pre-1850s pits were closed during this period and production concentrated in new and larger collieries. Iron ore was also mined in Algeria, Belleek in Co. Fermanagh and at Lindal near Barrow-in-Furness. These ventures were relatively short lived and the last of mines, Lindal, was sold off around the turn of the century. A large export trade in coal was built up and to assist in this, a small fleet of colliers was operated.
Towards the end of the 19th century it was becoming obvious that the best reserves in the Wigan coalfield were well on the way to becoming exhausted. In an effort to secure the long term future of the company a large area of coal was leased from the Duke of Newcastle near Worksop, in Nottinghamshire. A new but moribund colliery at Clockface near St Helens was taken over and developed. Finally, a new colliery, Parsonage, at Leigh was commenced in 1914 in order to work part of the concealed South East Lancashire coalfield.
In the changed conditions after World War I, the company was soon in financial difficulties. The 1920s saw heavy losses and a huge bank overdraft. The Governor of the Bank of England became involved in a rescue operation. An amalgamation of coal, iron and steel interests was agreed and this took place in 1930. The coal mining activities of the Wigan Coal & Iron Co. Ltd, the Pearson & Knowles Coal & Iron Co. Ltd (including the subsidiaries the Moss Hall Coal Co. Ltd and the Wigan Junction Coal Co. Ltd) were merged to form the Wigan Coal Corporation. The bankrupt Cross, Tetley & Co. Ltd was absorbed in 1934.
Of the iron and steel activities an amalgamation took place at the same time between the W.C.&I.Co. Ltd, Pearson & Knowles, Rylands Bros. and the Partington Steel & Iron Works Ltd to form the Lancashire Steel Corporation. The Earl of Crawford & Balcarres became Chairman of the Wigan Coal Corporation. Both of the Corporations continued until their respective industries were nationalised.Return to previous page