LOCAL HISTORY NOVEMBER 2021: Coal mining in Mangotsfield
Historian and Mangotsfield Residents' Association member David Blackmore looks at what was once the area's biggest industry
WHAT became known as the great Bristol Coalfield was first discovered about the time Kingswood Forest, under an order of 'dissaforestation', was reduced in size to about 4,500 acres of wood, scrub and waste land in 1228.
It was a considerable belt, about four miles wide, running due north and south.
The whole area later became filled with numerous coal pits and diggings. Some were thoroughly worked out, then abandoned: John Smith of Nibley wrote that in the late 1500s the 7th Lord Berkeley of Rodway Hill House "scarcely escaped with his life" during a hunt when his horse drew up short at an old, unfilled pit.
In the early years the area was divided into 'liberties', where local lords of the manor claimed the right to cut wood or dig coal. In 1669 there were 73 such liberties in the forest.
At the end of the 1600's William Player had a 'liberty' in the Mangotsfield area, covering 571 acres, which passed to Philip Langley of Rodway Hill House. In 1741 there was also a pit near Pomphrey Hill, run by a Mr Fryar, who also kept the Crown Inn in St James Place.
The early workings were shallow, dug from the surface and rarely exceeded 100ft in depth, until the introduction of the steam pumping engine from about 1750, by which time increasing demand meant there were over 140 collieries in and around Bristol.
Many of the present day roads in Mangotsfield were formerly footpaths leading to the various collieries and pits in the area.
The three pre-1750 Sheppard's pits on Mangotsfield Lane (now Mangotsfield Road) and others in the Staple Hill area worked the 'Cock', 'Chick' and 'Hen' coal seams in the Middle Pennant series. By 1843 only one remained.
Church Farm Land Pit, also known as Buller's Pit, worked the "Mangotsfield Great" and "Mangotsfield Little" seams.
Little more than 100 yards away was Church Farm Deep, run from 1870 by the Mangotsfield Colliery Company, with the Deep shaft was sunk to 285ft in 1881 and a new beam pump installed, making it an engine pit for drainage.
The Engine House still stands in Emersons Green, with its inscription "I.A.W. 1881" presumably meaning Isaac White, who had an "ill-starred passion for mining speculation". The pits closed in 1891.
Nearby was the multi-titled Bristol Wallsend, Mangotsfield Common, or Mangotsfield New Colliery. The former name references the 18th century Wallsend-on-Tyne colliery, which had such good-quality coal that the name "Wallsend" was adopted by collieries in other parts.
But the magic certainly did not rub off on this venture, as the 2ft 4in "Mangotsfield Great" vein, at 100ft, was of poor quality and abandoned, after 40 years, in 1907. Not a trace of the colliery remains today, as the site has been covered by houses in Windsor Place and the lower end of Richmond Road.
However, there are probably former miners' cottages in Windsor Place dating back to before 1670, and a converted garage which may possibly be a colliery building.
Three pit shafts on Gladstone Street, Staple Hill, were known collectively as the Staple Hill Pits and worked the deeper part of the Lower series of Sheppard's veins. Their workings eventually interconnected, and flooded in 1852-53.
Soundwell Upper Pit was also known as Upper Whimsey or High Pit; when workings at three other pits eventually interconnected this pit became known as the Downcast Pit. Soundwell Middle Pit was also known as Centre Pit, then Upcast Pit. St. Stephens Close has been built on the old pit area. Soundwell Lower Pit or Old Pit on Chiphouse Road was subsequently known as the winding shaft.
At Pucklechurch, the first shaft was sunk at Brandy Bottom around 1837, while nearby Parkfield Colliery was sunk in 1851, under the ownership of Handel Cossham.
Coal was reached at Parkfield in 1853 but only the upper series of coal veins – the Hard, the Top, the Hollybush and Great veins – were worked.
The quality of the coal mined was extremely good, and was used for gas manufacture and house coal, and by 1896 the colliery employed 292 people underground, and 49 on the surface.
Cossham's company took out a lease on Brandy Bottom in 1871, sinking the southern shaft or New Pit around this time. Brandy Bottom was then connected underground to Parkfield and used for hoisting coal, pumping and ventilation.
It is thought that coal hoisting at Brandy Bottom ceased sometime before the First World War, and the pit was then used for ventilating Parkfield and acting as an emergency exit.
Bristol had faced ever-increasing competition from South Wales as the ports of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea developed, and the opening of the Severn Tunnel in 1886 had spelled the beginning of the end for our local collieries, which could not compete with the cheaper fuel available from South Wales.
Parkfield and Brandy Bottom closed in 1936 as a combination of flooding, increased pumping costs and decreasing reserves made the pit uneconomic. Shortwood Colliery, part of the same complex, closed at the same time, with alternative employment for the many Mangotsfield men who worked there found at the Shortwood Brick Works, clay pit and a number of small stone quarries.
Due to the increasing housing developments in and around Mangotsfield there was little likelihood of coal mining ever recovering its position as a major industry within the parish.
Although as late as 1949 samples of good quality coal were excavated around Mangotsfield, the quantity was considered insufficient to justify full-scale operations. Prospectors had not exhausted all the possibilities, and open cast working was considered, but was never progressed.
Brandy Bottom was made a Scheduled Ancient Monument in January 2001.
Next month: Life in the pits