Coal seams lay beneath the whole of Spen Valley. Almost everywhere coal has been extracted once upon a time.
Until the industrial revolution in the mid 18th century coal was usually taken directly from the surface by shovel and pick from workings called “day holes” and “bell pits”. But then demand rocketed to feed the appetite of the expanding towns and cities and steam powered machinery.
1854 maps show almost 50 mines and pits (the same thing). These involve a shaft down which men and boys were lowered in cages. [The minimum age was raised to 10 in 1842]. Sometimes a level access could be gained from a valley side, as from Fusden Wood under the Cliffe Lane area of Gomersal. Victoria Colliery was in Cook Lane, Heckmondwike, but most were among the fields.
Coal mining was grim and dangerous. Take the 1850s. There were 33 fatalities at pits in Spen Valley including 7 at Soap House Pit (Hartshead). John Briggs age 10 and Henry Garner – listed as a “boy” – were both crushed beneath coal tubs. Thomas Needham 14 was also crushed, beneath a fall of coal. Three men fell down the shaft and a methane explosion claimed the seventh.
Pits were especially numerous around Liversedge, Scholes and Hunsworth. Many were owned by either the Low Moor or the Bowling iron companies. Many were connected by wagonways where horses pulled coal wagons along rails.
The Low Moor rails south of Scholes converged on a crossing of Whitehall Road opposite Grasmere Road where the remains of the wagonway banking can still be seen. Horse power was later replaced by fixed engines and cables which pulled the loaded wagons along the track.
Three collieries were connected to the main railway. Park Pit, south of Heckmondwike, Stanley Pit at Primrose Lane and the other at Strawberry Bank Colliery, accessed off Huddersfield Road.
Some former pits have been built on. Roberttown School is the site of Prospect Pit and Cleckheaton Colliery at Hunsworth is a small industrial estate. Others such as Birkenshaw and West End (Cleckheaton) collieries are housing estates.
Nodules of iron pyrites were encountered whilst mining. These were collected and supplied to copperas works in Child Lane, Roberttown (opposite the New Inn) and at Moorside near the Pack Horse where the recreation ground is still known as “t’coppras” to older locals. Nothing to do with copper, the nodules were used to produce a black dye and sulphuric acid.
Many spoil heaps were removed when the M62 was built, such as High Moor Lane Colliery by the cricket field. Others were taken to cover refuse at landfill sites, for example close by East Bierley. Some were soiled and grassed using government grants, such as at Branch Road, Scholes. A rare survivor is the small spoil heap at Whitaker Pit, Hartshead Moor Top, where old bell pits can also be seen in the wood. The main open space at Oakwell Hall Country Park is the vast landscaped spoil heap of Gomersal Colliery.
Quarrying is even older than coal mining. Local stone was often suitable for building or slating a roof or for field walls and was widely exploited such as at Smithies Lane and Cawley Lane, Heckmondwike. Flags were produced in Quarry Lane where Hightown View now stands. Clay pits supplied brickworks; one is shown at White Lea Road and another at Windybank Lane where a water filled clay pit survived into the 1980s.
The biggest quarry was however a coal quarry. This was Coates Pit opencast coal site operated by the National Coal Board in the 1950s between Birkby Brow and Old Popplewell, Scholes. 60 years later the area remains devoid of hedgerows and trees.
Myths and Legends
The story is that miners risked bad luck if they took the coal from seams beneath a church. So you would think churches still have the coal beneath them. Right? But research by the Civic Society has found that coal from all three seams beneath Roberttown, including All saints Church, has been taken. The Blocking Bed coal in the 1870s; the Black Bed coal in 1910 and the Better Bed coal in 1918.