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13 November 2014

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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > Coal Mining > Cannock Chase Coalfield & Its Coal

Miners "riding the chain" (image courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust)

Miners "riding the chain"

Cannock Chase Coalfield & Its Coal

The Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society was formed with the express purpose of coming up with definitive books about the South Staffordshire coalfield and its collieries and the miners who worked them… as they tell us here.

The last mine in Cannock Chase closed in 1993 and now there is little evidence left of the mining heritage upon which the district had been developed. 
So, in 2002 a group of us - all like-minded men, who had worked in the mining industry within the Cannock Chase Coalfield - decided to create a book about our coal mines. 

The original thought was for a photographic record covering some 30 to 40 mines, but, as events unfolded, we decided to write a definitive history of the mines (supported by photographs) so that the mining heritage would not be forgotten. 
The idea was quickly taken up by other mining colleagues and in the final analysis 12 of us combined our various skills; and each one took up an aspect in which they had personal interest.

We concentrated on the area of the coalfield, a roughly triangular shape, with its 12 mile base between Wolverhampton and Walsall along the Bentley Fault, and its apex culminating some ten miles north at Rugeley.

Digging up the past

Such a project requires finances and although we had offers from local entrepreneurs we elected to apply to the Lottery’s Local Heritage Initiative. 
This required formal application and we formed the 'Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society'. 
A plan was formulated with estimated costs which included printing of books and development of a web site. 

Our contribution was to be mainly our time to the research.

This research was mainly based on personal knowledge and the mining records held at the Coal Authority, the County Records Office and local libraries. 
We commenced but it soon became obvious that there were more mines than we had anticipated (!), and in due course we uncovered records of over 400 mines and 1,000s of shafts. 

As the information was gathered we knew we had quite a major project and our original estimates needed revision. We applied and achieved additional monies from the Lottery Fund bringing our total budget to £20,000.

The original information we gathered amounted to some 700 to 800 pages on A4 paper and we were informed this was not practical in one volume. 
The information was condensed and eventually our A4 sized book of 346 pages was published in December 2005 to great acclaim.

Find out more

But what of the other information? 
We decided to continue our research and publish separate books on the various pits.  We have currently published another 12 books and have sold in the region of 8,000 books in total.  See a list of those books at the bottom of this page.

Of these books we always donate free copies to various Staffordshire organisations such as schools, libraries, museums, the County Records Office, William Salt Library, other Historic Societies, the Coal Authority, British Library, and people who have contributed. 
Without doubt the history of the Cannock Chase Coalfield is now well documented and will not be forgotten!

Curious points of note

In our researches we came across curious facts, which would have possibly been forgotten otherwise. They make for interesting reading.

For example...

In the 1920s and 1930s oil was being produced from coal mined at Cannock & Leacroft Colliery...

The Cannock Chase Rescue Service was formed in 1913 and was at the forefront of the rescue service. 
During the First World War they helped the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) with gas testing and breathing equipment at Porton Down. 
In 1939 the Navy requested their help to retrieve 35 bodies trapped in the ill fated Thetis Submarine; and in 1973 after pioneering the use of sub-aqua equipment for use underground they were the first to use the expertise at the Lofthouse Disaster in Yorkshire.

Cannock Chase has seen its own disasters.
The worst disaster was in 1872 when 22 men lost their lives at the flooding of Pelsall Colliery. 
In 1911, five men were killed due to a fire at Old Hednesford Colliery; and in 1930 14 men were killed at the Grove Colliery by an explosion. 
At West Cannock Colliery 6 men were killed by an explosion in 1933. 

There were many more of lesser magnitude - but every life lost is a personal tragedy.

Mining Heroes

In 1933 there were about 20,000 miners employed in Cannock Chase producing around 5 to 6 million tons per year. 

There have been many incidents of bravery down the years but notably:-
Samuel and David Booker received the George Medal for their attempts to rescue miners overcome by gas at Littleton Colliery in 1937.
In 1953 Jimmy Tatton was awarded the Order of Industrial Heroism (the equivalent of the VC) for the bravery he showed in the rescue of a fellow worker at Walsall Wood Colliery.
Also at Walsall Wood Colliery, Ernie Passam shielded a trapped miner with his body, and in the process got buried himself, until they were both dug out safely.  Ernie received the Order of Industrial Heroism in 1955, and in 1956 he was awarded the British Empire Medal.

Books produced by 'The Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society'

Work is ongoing on the final publications.  Currently we have:-

The Cannock Chase Coalfield and its Coal Mines: Various Authors (as listed below)
Cannock Chase Colliery Company 1859-1955: Peter Barker
Chronicles of the East Cannock Colliery Company 1870-1957: Alan Dean
West Cannock Colliery Compan:y Alan Dean
William Harrison Limited: Mick Drury
Conduit and Littleton Collieries: Mick Drury
Other Mines: Mick Drury
Cannock & Rugeley Colliery Company Ltd 1864-1973: Ken Edwards
Brereton Collieries 1791-1960: Ken Edwards
Fair Oak Colliery Company 1871-1884: Ken Edwards
The Coppice Colliery (Brereton) 1842-1908 (Commemorative Issue): Ken Edwards
Lea Hall Colliery 1948-1990: Ken Edwards and Graham Warburton (who sadly died before its publication)
Cannock & Leacroft Colliery and Coppice Colliery: Den Jackson
Water Problems, Opencast: Mick Lucas (Graphics and Editor)
Holly Bank and Hilton Main Collieries: Trevor Matthews
Coal Mining in the Eastern Section of Walsall Metropolitan Borough: Brian Rollins
Education, Training and Rescue: Jack Sunley and Maurice Davies

It was not possible to deal with the men of the mines extensively, so many of our books, whilst they are a good read, are the history of the mines and include some technical information.

last updated: 28/04/2009 at 15:11
created: 21/04/2009

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