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Hill Top Colliery

Forest of Rossendale


Hill Top was opened out firstly in 1948, and was the only colliery driven by the NCB in the Rossendale valley. It was designed as one of those short life drift mines so popular with the NCB at the time. Situated high on the moors on the Yorkshire - Lancashire border, it was the second highest in the western area, the highest being Deerplay Colliery, to which it was later adjoined underground.


Initial development works were later carried out by men from the closed Moorfield Colliery, Accrington. The manager, Bill Dewhurst, also came from that colliery. Two drifts were driven approximately 500 yards down to a large block of virgin coal in the Union mine (Lancashire term for a seam) which averaged 4'6". The first districts were driven towards the rise, and were mechanised pillar and stalls, using a Dissington coal cutter, and the Duckbill loaders. The headings were 12' wide. When they had reached their extremity a slice was retreat mined out towards the heading end.

Original hill top drift (NCB) early 1960s


Conventional longwall faces were opened up using AB fifteen cutters, (still used at Hay Royds and Monument), with all the coal coming to the surface by conveyor. Union coal is quite high in sulphur, and therefore a lot went to Widnes for use in the chemical industry. In 1964, the first shearer loaders were introduced into the pit and were successful, except for the picks being blunted on the hard ironstone nodules, which were common in the Union seam. About 200 men were employed in the colliery, mostly Bacup and Accrington men, and it has been said by most of the men that it was a good pit to work at.


Billy Clayton riding in the main drift of Grimebridge, 1980s

By 1966, all available reserves had been worked and sadly the colliery closed, leaving just two others in Rossendale. The neighbouring Deerplay mine closed two years later, whilst the last, Old Meadows, closed in 1969.

This was by no means the end of the Rossendale mines, as one miner from the NCB Grimebridge Colliery, which closed around 1964, wondered what it would be like to own his own mine, and after fourteen years of closure, William (Billy) Clayton,

and his business partner, Rodney Mitchall started work on Grimebridge Colliery in 1978. At first Billy Clayton worked underground on his own, and Mitchall on the surface until they could afford to hire men.
The new company, Clayton & Mitchall Ltd employed around 31 men in the early eighties, and expanded into Tan Lan Colliery in Mold, North Wales. Things rapidly deteriorated, and by 1987 just Billy Clayton remained, and he was helped by a retired coal board electrician, who worked for three years without pay. The only good thing to come out of these awful times was that the old proverb, "a friend in need" still found a place at Grimebridge.

Despite an enforced, long closure in 1990 - 92, Grimebridge kept working in one form or another., until the summer of 1996, when, whilst employing six men, a lack of remaining reserves and financial pressure caused the mine's final closure.

After an absence of about a year, the Grimebridge Colliery Co. Ltd obtained the Hill Top licence, and in the summer of 1997, commenced to drive two drifts into a large block of virgin coal left between the old Hill Top workings and an opencast site that ran across the outcrop on Heald Moor. As it was, the crop edge of the old Deerplay Colliery was also being worked.

Billy clayton's son at hill top coalface, 1997


The Present

The faces are currently working the Union seam, 4'6" or thereabouts, and CAPs are used. Unfortunately, the coal is exceptionally hard, a good collier will struggle to mine six tonnes a day, and the price the company receives means small profit margins.
The biggest problem for these small mines is the lack of manpower, as nobody wants to work in them anymore. In truth, Hill Top now has no workforce, save Billy Clayton, as all the other men have had go in search of properly paid work.

The Future

Sadly, though reserves of over 150,000 tonnes remain, the lack of manpower has forced the colliery to remain largely inactive, last year's production being less than 50 tonnes. However, experiments into forms of machinery are taking place. Billy Clayton, despite being past retirement age, is said to be very enthusiastic, and as long as he carries on running the mine on his own, there should be a working colliery in Lancashire.

Alex Potts©2004
All photographs on this page © Thomas Imgrund



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