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24 September 2014

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Pithead winding gear at a modern coal mine
Mining remains in Shropshire aren't as obvious as this...

Although they are harder to spot these days, there are plenty of places in and around Shropshire where mining remains can be visited or even toured.Here are a few of them:

Snailbeach Mine The past, present and future of this historic mine, along with a virtual underground tour and details of guided trips.

Tankerville Mine Shropshire Mines Trust took over the site of Tankerville mine in 1996 and are restoring it. Tankerville was home to Watson's Shaft, the deepest in the Shropshire orefield at 1,690ft. This site is also open to the public.

Madeley Wood Pit: This site charts the history of this mine in the Coalbrookdale Coalfield, including the story of local pit ponies.
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Mining introduction

Mining communities

Shropshire ore fields

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.


Accidents were by no means the only health risk faced by miners. Many fell victim to respiratory diseases such as pneumoconiosis, emphysema and chronic bronchitis brought on by a lifetime of breathing in coal dust in confined spaces - a problem that still persists.

Even after the beginning of the 20th Century, boys would be working in the pits at the age of 14. Before it was outlawed, the use of child labour in mines was normal practice.

Pit ponies were used right up until the 1950s, and spent almost their entire lives underground. Once water pumping switched to steam, the ponies were used to transport coal from the coal face to the pit bottom, where it would be brought to the surface.

Like the miners themselves, casualties were common among ponies, which were eventually replaced by diesel locomotives.

Mining in Shropshire

Snailbeach Mine

Snailbeach was the biggest and richest mine in the Shropshire orefield, so it's fitting that so much of it has now been preserved for future generations. It's also an excellent place to visit to get an idea of what a lead mine was like.

Many of the original buildings survive in some form - they were saved from demolition when Shropshire County Council bought the land that most of them stand on. It is now a scheduled ancient monument.

Today the site is managed by the Shropshire Mines Trust, which has done much work to preserve the site, as well as running conducted tours both above and under the ground once a year in September.

Old machinery still lurks at Snailbeach mine

Snailbeach is typical in that its fortunes rose and fell along with the other mines of the area. It was probably mined by the Romans, and by the end of the 18th Century workings would have been deep enough to warrant a steam engine house.

The mine also had its own accident in March 1895. A cage lowering seven men down into George's Shaft broke away from its cable and fell 250 metres, killing everyone inside.

The cage, which had been 2.5 metres tall, had been crushed to a fifth of its original height, yet bizarrely one of the miners' watches was still ticking after the accident.

Soon after the economics of the mine began to wane, and in 1911 the owners took the decision to stop pumping water from the shafts and allow the lower levels to flood. Mining of barite in the upper levels and from the spoil tips continued until the 1950s when the mine closed for good.

Now, after many years of neglect, Snailbeach is being restored.

The interior of Snailbeach mine today

Shropshire County Council bought the site in 1990 and made it safe, also acquiring grants to save some 20 buildings on the site considered to be of historical interest. Snailbeach is said to be the best-preserved lead mine site in the country.

In 1999 the headgear of George's Shaft was replaced, along with the winding wheel. Other items have been taken away for restoration and will return as they are refurbished.

The work has been carried out by the Shropshire Mines Trust, which also runs tours of the site and an open weekend every year in September.

Tankerville Mine

Tankerville is another site that has only recently been earmarked for conservation, well over 100 years after it closed. The site was donated to the Shropshire Mines Trust in 1996.

Like Snailbeach, it's being restored and some underground levels are accessible under supervision. In its heyday Tankerville had the deepest shaft in the Shropshire ore field - at 1,612ft below surface - and a steam engine more than 1,000ft below ground.

The Tar Tunnel

As part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, the Tar Tunnel is the only remaining tunnel in the Ironbridge Gorge that can safely be visited. It was originally built as a tunnel to connect mining levels, but the tunnel-builders were confronted with bitumen coming from the walls and so instead decided to mine the tar.

Visitors are taken along a 100 yard brick-lined section of the tunnel to see the 'tar well'. The tunnel goes further to connect with iron, coal and clay mines, but it isn't safe to go further.

Blists Hill Victorian Town

This working Victorian town, part of the Ironbridge museums complex, includes the coal, ironstone and fireclay mine at Blists Hill. The mine has a restored steam winding engine, which came from nearby Miburgh Mine and the shaft has been re-opened for a depth of 15 yards.

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