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24 September 2014

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Grange Colliery
The twin headframes of Grange Colliery
Many of Shropshire's towns and villages owe their existence to the county's mining history. The surrounding mines employed the people of the villages, and expanded according to the needs of the mines.

Highley. The history of a south Shropshire mining village.

Bersham Colliery: Although it's on the outskirts of Wrexham, Bersham is very similar to the collieries that once dominated Shropshire. It opened in the 1870s and shut down in 1986, and the pit winding gear and some surface buildings still remain. In 2001 work began on restoration.

Ifton Colliery: The history of this north Shropshire coal mine just outside the village of St Martins and a guide to what there is to see there today.
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Mining introduction

The Shropshire ore fields

What remains today

Mining competition

Breathing new life into an old canal As a new golden age of canals is heralded, we look at the past of the derelict Shrewsbury & Newport Canal - and the plans to restore it to its former glory.


Barite - or barytes as it used to be known - is a heavy white metal which was once used in the manufacture of paint.

Mining has always been a dangerous occupation, and the risks were high for the men who worked in the pits. Dangers included pit collapses, falling down shafts, and gas buildup leading to either suffocation or an explosion.

Mines were originally dug using picks or chisels, but things changed to drills and explosives after the Industrial Revolution.

For many years drilling was carried out manually by teams of two or three miners. One would hold a drill, while his colleague struck the end of it with a sledgehammer. Up to 12 holes would be made and then filled with explosive to blast the ore free.

Towards the end of the 19th Century the process was speeded up considerably with the use of compressors, which allowed compressed air drills to be used.

Today many of the buildings associated with them, such as the miners' homes and pit head engine houses, have gained a new life as sought-after cottages.

But the clues always remain.

Mining in Shropshire

For example, the village of St Martins, in the far north west of the county near Oswestry, grew up around Ifton Colliery, once the largest coal mine in Shropshire.

Originally sunk in the 19th Century, the pit employed more than 1,300 men at its peak, but closed in 1968 due to underground fire problems and the loss of its markets.

The site of the pit was cleared and is now an industrial estate, but just a brief look around the village reveals its history. There's an imposing miners' social club building, built in 1932, on the main road running through the village, and the site of the mine is easy to find - it's on Colliery Road!

Some of the mine buildings remain at the pit head, although they are on private land. These include the pithead baths and the office block, and a small coal tub mounted on rails acts as a memorial to the mine.

Just about everywhere you go in Shropshire, there is some connection with mines and mining.

Coal deposits dot the county, with coalfields around Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Coalbrookdale, the Wyre Forest and the Clee Hills.

Metal deposits were mined at Llanymynerch and in a large swathe of south west Shropshire, with copper mines at Clive and nearby Weston, as well as Eardiston and Harmer Hill.

Overhead mining for barite - then known as barytes - in Sallies Mine in 1946

Limestone was mined at Lilleshall and elsewhere in the county.

In all, from the mining heyday in the Victorian era to the 1960s, when most of the collieries closed, there were more than 80 mines in Shropshire.

And each had its own band of men who worked underground in terrible conditions - pit ponies and children were the norm - its own community, and its own tales of tragedy.

The 'nine men of Madeley' tomb in St Michael's churchyard
The 'nine men of Madeley' tomb in St Michael's churchyard

Accidents were so common as to be a part of life - at the Brick Kiln Leasow Pit in Madeley, for example, in 1864, nine men and boys died when a hoist failed. Their grave can still be seen at St Michael's Church, Madeley.

Although the Coalbrookdale coalfield did not have the big mining disasters that other areas did, thousands of lives were still lost in individual accidents and working in any mine was inherently dangerous. It's hardly surprising that - faced with grim conditions and frequent accidents - the mining communities were very religious.

Death could come from a roof fall, a fire, invisible yet deadly accumulations of gas, or people falling down shafts or winding accidents. Lodgebank Colliery was renamed 'Slaughter Pit' after 1875 when 11 men were killed by gas.

And deaths by accidents were not restricted to the miners themselves, or to when the mines were open. There have been several cases of children falling down old shafts or unwary explorers entering disused mine entrances only to be overcome by gas.

It should also be mentioned that care should still be taken when looking around old mining sites today, as many sites are still dangerous for the unwary.

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