The term Howe Bridge Colliery embraced a number of pits, including Lovers’ Lane, Eckersley Fold, Victoria, Puffer, Volunteer and Crombouke Day-Eye. Of these Victoria, Puffer and Volunteer survived to be taken over by Manchester Collieries and together formed the Howe Bridge Colliery of its later days.

Lover’s Lane closed in 1898 followed in 1907 by the Crombouke Day-Eye. The latter event also indicates that Eckersley Fold would finally close at the same time. From that time Howe Bridge Colliery comprised the Victoria, Puffer and Volunteer pits. The Volunteer was the up cast ventilation shaft, sunk to the Seven Feet Mine at 145 yards and was 13 feet diameter. Originally the ventilation current was produced by a furnace. Two fans were subsequently installed at this shaft and the older fan was a Waddle, 9ft diameter by 18in wide. This was directly driven by a non-condensing Tangye engine with a 12in x 10in single cylinder. The fan was rated at 60,000 cubic feet of air per circulated against 2 inch water gauge. The second fan was a ‘Sirocco’ made by Davidson of Belfast, rated at 110,000 cfm at 3 inch water gauge and this was regarded as the main fan. In 1946 however, it was running well below capacity, circulating 30,000cfm at 1.3 inch water gauge. The engine was a 16in x 28in Tangye single cylinder horizontal.

The Puffer Pit, nine feet diameter was also sunk to the Seven Feet Mine at 145 yards. From 1862 until 1925, pumping was performed at this shaft by the ‘Colonel’, a 60in x 10ft stroke equal beam pumping engine with condenser. Two lifts of ram pumps were installed in the shaft, a 15 inch at the shaft bottom and a 16 inch at the Rams Mine horizon, 50 yards from the surface. Latterly the shaft was for emergency use. A small horizontal twin cylinder winding engine, 10in x 18in, was in use, having a parallel winding drum, 5ft diameter by 2ft 0in wide, winding a single deck cage.

Coal winding was carried out at the Victoria pit, which was 12 feet diameter and sunk 149 yards to reach the Seven Feet Mine. Winding capacity was 120 tons per hour at two tons per wind. The cages were double deck, carrying two tubs on each deck. To guide the cages, wire rope conductors were provided, four to each cage. Cage winding was replaced by skips in 1954, two skips each of two tons capacity being installed in September of that year. This was no more than the tub winding capacity but manpower and decking times were reduced, this latter increasing the overall shaft capacity. The winding engine was a twin cylinder horizontal, 20in x 48in and fitted with a parallel winding drum 10ft 7in diameter by 4ft 10in wide. The builder of the engine is unrecorded but the date was probably 1879.

Locally, the Victoria pit was known as the ‘Bicycle Pit’, due to the arrangement of the timber headgear erected in 1879. The cage paths were in line with the centre line of the winding engine instead of at right angles as was more usual. For this reason the headgear pulleys were not side-by-side but were offset giving some resemblance to a bicycle. The headgears at the other two shafts were very unremarkable affairs in contrast. At the Volunteer pit there were not even any cages and access was by kibble. A small 8in x 14in twin cylinder horizontal winding engine with a 3ft diameter by 2ft rope drum provided the motive power. This small engine was made by Wood & Gee of Wigan. Another feature of note at the colliery whilst the ‘Colonel’ pumping engine was in operation was its large engine house built in brick and with a slated hipped roof.

Under Manchester Collieries ownership extensive introduction of electricity for power purposes underground was carried out. By 1946, all the main pumps and haulages were electrically driven. There were five pumps, ranging in power from 25 to 138 horse-power and four haulages up to 60 horse-power. Fourteen compressed air-driven pumps and 20 haulages remained in service for the smaller duties.

The Manchester Collieries electrification scheme used alternating current for which the supply was purchased from the Lancashire Electric Power Company. Previously, direct current had been used with generation at the colliery by a steam engine set. This was supplemented by an AC/DC motor generator set for which the alternating current supply was obtained from the nearby power station of the Lancashire United Transport & Power Company.

Three steam driven air compressors were installed at the colliery. A Belliss & Morcom high-speed type of 1500 cubic feet per minute compressed to 70psi capacity was installed in 1927. There was also a non-condensing Ingersoll 2000cfm compressor. The main compressor was a Walker Bros. cross-compound 2-stage compressor with Corliss valves and Dobson trip gear on the steam cylinders. This engine had been transferred from the former Bridgewater Collieries Ltd Wharton Hall Colliery in 1934. Its rated capacity was 2500cfm.

Steam was provided by five Lancashire boilers pressed to 100psi. This was a very simple installation with neither superheaters nor economisers. The boilers were hand fired on plain bar furnaces, natural draught being provided by an octagonal section chimney, 128 feet in height. Unlike the majority of collieries, good quality lump coal was used on the boilers. Provision of boiler feed pumps was lavish, there being no less than five. Two of these were Weir ‘Simplex’ pumps, one a Tangye pump and the remaining two were ‘Duplex’ pumps. Feed water was surface water, some obtained locally and some from Green Vale. Green Vale was 1.5 miles from the colliery and is an indication of the difficulties in obtaining sufficient water to supply a large steam plant.

To deal with the coal output, two sets of screens were provided, each capable of dealing with 90 tons per hour. The screens had been built by Messrs Heenan & Froude in the last years of the 19th century and were later extensively rebuilt by Fletcher, Burrows themselves. There was no coal washer but coal requiring washing could be dealt with at Gibfield or Chanters collieries.

Coal production in the last year of Manchester Collieries ownership was 129,272 tons, this being from the Rams and the Brassey seams. The reserves were estimated at 1.6 million tons which at the then current production rate gave a projected life to 1959. Following exhaustion of these seams it was intended to work the Bin Mine which had estimated reserves of 4.6 million tons. It was proposed that this seam would be worked by a drift from the surface.

In 1948 the workforce comprised 341 employed underground and 139 at the surface. The 1958 figures were 326 underground and 81 at the surface, the latter figure especially denotes the improvement brought about by the introduction of skip winding.

Howe Bridge Colliery closed in September 1959 without the Bin Mine scheme being implemented, an indicator of the rapid changes which were soon to follow in the coal industry.

To appreciate the extent of working in this part of the coalfield it is necessary to go back to at least 1769 when John Fletcher in partnership with one Fildes was working pits in the Atherton district. Pits at Lovers’ Lane were active in the first quarter of the 19th century. The whole enterprise was given a boost by the opening of the Bolton & Leigh Railway in March 1830 and even more so by the extension to Kenyon in 1831 to join up with the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. Sinking commenced at the Howe Bridge Colliery in 1845, whilst the nearby Lovers’ Lane Colliery was still working and continued until 1898.

Three shafts were sunk at Lovers’ Lane, although by the early 1890s only one appears to have been in use, this being a downcast shaft, with up cast ventilation provided by the furnace at Howe Bridge Volunteer Pit. The Lovers’ Lane shaft then in use, 10 feet diameter, had been sunk to the ‘Wigan Six Feet Mine’ at 902 feet from the surface. The term ‘Five Feet Mine’ was also used here, this being the Hindley Green Five Feet, which was the same as the Wigan Six Feet, which in turn was the Trencherbone Mine. The winding engine was a twin cylinder horizontal, 28in x 60in, fitted with a conical winding drum 15 feet to 17 feet diameter, with a brake path 17 feet diameter. Two cages were wound, each having four decks, carrying one tub on each deck. Each cage was guided by two timber conductors. Water was wound in tanks at week-ends from the pit bottom.

At the Howe Bridge Colliery site, a day-eye or drift was driven in the Crombouke Mine, descending at 1 in 5 southwards, on the full dip of the seam. The Brassey Mine was also worked from this drift. In the early 1890s the Crombouke Day-Eye was worked on the single rope direct haulage system by a 25in x 48in twin cylinder horizontal haulage engine. The winding drum was 6ft diameter by 2ft 6in wide mounted on the crankshaft. Each run was made up of 32 tubs of 9cwt capacity, the length of the haulage being 1800 yards. Underground, two endless rope level haulages were in operation, both being worked by twin cylinder compressed air engines, one with 12in x 18in cylinders and the other with 8in x 12in cylinders.

The Howe Bridge Victoria Pit was working the Seven Feet Mine. The winding engine was a twin cylinder horizontal 22in x 48in with conical winding drums 9ft to 12ft diameter and a 12 feet flywheel which also acted as the brake drum. This engine, built about 1879, with subsequent rebuildings and modifications, was probably the engine still in service at the closure in 1959. Underground haulage on the down brow from the Victoria Pit was on the double direct rope system, with runs of 24 full tubs ascending at the same time as 24 empties descending. The haulage engine was placed at the surface and was a 20in x 48in twin cylinder horizontal. There were also two long level haulages, one 2000 yards long and the other 1700 yards. Both of these haulages were on the endless rope system operated by compressed air engines.

Until 1892, compressed air was supplied by three small compressors. In that year, a cross-compound horizontal compressor was installed, with steam cylinders 23in and 36in by 54in stroke. The two air cylinders were single stage, 25in x 54in. This compressor was possibly re-placed in 1934 by the two-stage machine obtained from Wharton Hall Colliery.

Six hundred yards to the east of Howe Bridge Colliery and beyond the Leigh to Atherton road, were the old Eckersley Fold pits. These were shallow pits and the south shaft went down to 152 feet, intersecting the Bulldog Mine at 95 feet and the Bin Mine at 113 feet. The Bulldog Mine was one of the Ince Series of seams and to the east of the Eckersley Fold shafts, it merged with the Bin Mine. In the early 1890s, one of the shafts was being used as an upcast ventilation shaft for the Victoria Pit and the Crombouke Day-Eye. A Waddle fan, 40 feet diameter was provided and this was driven directly by a 32in x 48in single cylinder engine with condenser, running at 58 rpm.

The Atherton collieries were the western outpost of the Manchester coalfields and were bounded to the south-west, west and north by the Wigan coalfield. To the south-east were Bedford and the Astley & Tyldesley collieries whilst due east were the collieries around Shakerley. All of these collieries were started in the period from the 1840s to the 1870s in an area liberally sprinkled with old shafts as from a pepper pot.

Ft Ins
Brassey Mine 83 9
Six Foot Mine (Rams Mine) 169 6
Seven Foot Mine (Black & White Mine) 436 1
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