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Primitive coal mining in Buckley District: working the bell-pits"


see also 1.308 and 1.599

from "An Industrial and Pottery Walk round Buckley", which is in the library.




As late as the late 19th Century, shallow coal seams were mined at Burntwood, Dinghouse, and Spon Green where crude horse whimseys were used. They were known as bell-pits. Until housing expanded during the 1960s, these early mining processes could be seen in the area. I identified them in all three places.


A hard core walk was constructed of the same length as the depth of the shallow vertical shaft, which penetrated the coal seam. The coal was reached by a ladder or adit and timber shear legs placed over the top of the shaft with a pulley. A cable, fastened to a "hobbit", that is a metal bucket, was passed over the pulley and passed from the pit bottom to a horse or donkey on the surface, leading a small truck of the same weight as the hobbit and cable.


As the horse proceeded to the far end of the hard-core walk, it raised the hobbit containing the coal to the surface. After the coal was emptied, the animal proceeded to the top of the shaft, and the operation was repeated. The loaded truck hauled by the animal cancelled out the dead weight of the hobbit, hence the animal only had to raise the weight of the coal.


Coal was typically mined around the immediate area of the shaft base, as to extend further would have been dangerous. It was scooped out to form an excavated "bell". When danger of collapse occured, the site was abandoned and another excavation was started nearby. Often this collection of excavations linked up. As the areas expanded, disused shafts collapsed leaving a wide area of depressions partly filled by surrounding subsided earth. In time vegetation and saplings took root and the surface area appeared as a pitted area of scrub, trees and brambles. The horse-runs were still distinguishable as well as the beaten-down ground surroundings.


An old friend of mine, Charles Cunnah, who was 90 at the time I was searching for them, started work as a lad, leading horses to and fro along such horse-runs.

Author: Bentley, James


Year = 1850

Gender = Mixed

Landscape = Urban

Work = Mining

Extra = Animals

Extra = Visual Arts

Extra = Pre 1900

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