Photographs on this page © James Findlay
Unusual in that the pit has never been nationalised, "The Colliery"
actually is composed of two interconnected drifts Wrytree and Castle,
in West Northumberland.
It seems something of a scam was worked in order to get round the terms
of the Private Licence mines arrangements which permitted only 50 men
to employed at a private mine. Each drift was constituted as a separate
mine and the overall operation was able therefore to employ 100 men.
The workings have a long history, although discovering it is proving
difficult. The NUM appears to have organised these mines traditionally
and representatives sat on the Regional Executive Committee. The press
however at the time of RJB NCB buyout was talking of a local TGWU representative
at the pit. Dave Temple of TUPS tells us that a forthcoming book by an
old Northumbrian miner will detail his work at the colliery and perhaps
tell us more of its history.
Formerly large parts of the workings were in the take of Byron Colliery,
and Roachburn Colliery, both of which closed in 1908, the former following
a disaster in that year, although as yet we have been unable to find any
The pit relies on traditional conventional mining skills, working pockets
of coal from the former takes, in the Little Limestone seam using Board
and Pillar work, hand filling and limited mechanised mining where applicable.
The current operation comes from a longwall face. About 130 men work at
the pit but the Coal Report estimates this will fall to 97 .All production
goes to RJB mining who had previously owned the pit and seems to have
been their first mining acquisition.
Current reserves will exhaust in two years, but development plans to
the south are expected to open up in excess of 10 million tonnes and give
the pit another twenty years life.
This area obviously has a rich mining history and we are trying to unfold
more of it, any information on the pit and its coal work would be welcome.
This information on Blenkinsopp was sent to Miners Advice by Clive
Seal, Manager Ayle Colliery. (Hopefully Clive will furnish us with the
details of Ayle Colliery so that we can add the information to these pages.)
Many thanks to Clive for allowing us to use this item.
Blenkinsopp has opened and closed at least 3 times. From 1860-1908 Byron
Colliery was called Blenkinsopp as it worked that royalty.
Byron re opened after the disaster in 1908 employing about 80 men working
coal above water level from the old fan shaft. The drift was reopened
1920 then also the Castle drift until early 1930's.
The colliery was never nationalised as it was closed at the time. Re
opened by the Wardle family who had owned other pits in the area. First
reopened Gapshields, then Wry Tree and finally Castle.
A licenced mine could employ 30 men if it had a proper certificated manager.
I am told that at one time it was classed as 3 separate mines (which it
was) Wrytree, Fell End (a very old colliery who's shaft was used to ventilate
Wrytree) And Castle.
It was the first colliery owned by RJB when he purchased it off the Wardel's
and was the first licenced mine to operate power loading. Budge sold it
back (nominal sum) to the Wardles and the colliery manager around 1996.
It was also about the best paid pit in the country.
During it's long life (pre 1750) it has had an array of prominent mining
engineers inspecting it for the owners, John Buddle, George Stephenson
(who described it as one of the best coal works he had ever seen); and
James Findlay is currently employed at the Blenkinsopp/Wrytree
Mine. Sadly, the mine has been earmarked for closure this year,
James has been busy recording as much information
about the mine as possible, including taking hundreds of photographs
which will serve as a pictorial record of the last moments of this,
one of Britain's most historical mines.
Here are James's own words:
I work at the last remaining drift mine in Northumberland
(and shortly to close).
Blenkinsopp and Wrytree coal mine which are both connected underground
are located in the village of Greenhead, two miles from the town
of Haltwhistle, halfway between Newcastle and Carlisle on the A69.
The mine dates from the middle 1800s (on the drift entrance it
shows 1842) although it is possible that it predates this maybe
even as early as the 15th century!
||The pit is relatively small employing 80 men at
the present although when I first started there was about 125.
Most of the machinery is fairly old with some dating to about
the 1940s ! The last ten to eight years have seen some more
modern machines and practices being the introduction of a longwall
shearer face and dosco dintheaders. There are also several Emico
tracked loading shovels for stone work (prior to this it all
stone work was filled away with shovels!)
There are two unique features of the mine, at the
Blenkinsopp side the drift entrance is less than 20 metres away
from a castle (haunted!) which then runs under a caravan site.
The other feature is that it is the only mine I know that works
in a seam with a limestone roof with average heights of 5' 6".
This caused several problems when working the longwall shearers
as the roof never fell like normal faces but stopped up and caused
vast areas of goaf. However every so often these goafs would drop
suddenly with stone larger than cars dropping and causing immense
damage to the roof supports.
As I have said the pit is now closing with one last face
to be won out and is due to finish in May (2002) with the
capping of the drift and ventilation shafts in August.
The pit has seen some large geological faults with one large
one, the Whin Dyke needing to be breached to access 8 million
tons of reserve. This dyke was driven through in several place
but were met by smaller faults which slowed down progress.
The quality of coal was not very good either with it's being
so near to the fault.
Ellington the other mine in Northumberland also went
through the same dyke and came across the same problem of poor quality
coal although it improved the further away they went. Alas the pit
was running out of time and money to be able to get to the reserves.
To see more of James' photographs of Blenkinsopp,
take a look at our Image Library - The
Addendum November 2007
The original Blenkinsopp colliery worked from shallow shafts
and drifts a few yards to the south of the Castle drift and
was worked by the Thompsons for Lord Carlisle. The lease was
taken up in 1814 for 21 years. When it was almost up Thomson
got wind that Lord Carlisle would not get the renewal so he
worked it so as to leave no easy coal for the new lessees,
Foster & Dixon, who took over in 1835. Lord Carlisle of
course had other mines in the Tindale fells area to the west.
The Castle drift was driven in 1842 by Foster & Dixon.
I am unsure of the subsequent history but it closed in 1888-9
due to flooding.
Byron drift was driven in 1867 by the Thompsons and came into
production in 1869. It was a few hundred yards north of the
Castle drift and the workings were separated by a fault. The
drift headed roughly WSW to eventually link up with Roachburn.
The old Roachburn pit was sunk 1860-3 (alongside the B6292
about 4 miles SW of Blenkinsopp) and I don't have much detail
on that. The new Roachburn shaft was sunk in 1895 on the same
site. It was said to be "just as difficult to work and
as wet" as the old pit.
The "disaster" which you referred to was actually
at Roachburn. Workings under Denton Fell were steeply rising
and increasing amounts of water were being met. Coal was worked
right through to the clay with no barriers left, a practice
which had caused no previous problems. On 28th January 1908
a holing was made but in this instance it was under standing
surface water known as the "Backstand Ponds". This
caused an inrush of peat, moss, sand and clay which quickly
filled the workings. Most of the men escaped but one man,James
William Wharton, hewer was missing. Matthew Hilliard, back
overman and Robert Pattinson, deputy overman went to look
for him. None of the three were ever seen again. Because of
the connection with Byron that drift was also flooded. Some
of the men there were re-employed at the newly developing
Thirlwall just across the A69 but Roachburn was lost.
Some work was done in the area in the 20s and 30s. A small
drift was opened in the surface depression from the 1908 accident
to work accessible coal but the main mine was never recovered,
despite a few million tons remaining. Later workings in the
Byron area centred on Gapshields, about a mile west of Blenkinsopp
S of the A69.
Many thanks to John Brown for sending us this information.