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2001 to 2004 Astley Green Colliery Museum

Shaft Sinking
Winding Engines
Winding Arrangements
Change of Ownership
Pit Head Baths
Coal Preparation Plant
The history of Astley Green Colliery started some 300 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period. At that time the swampland that was to become Astley Green was situated near the equator. The combination of swampland, equatorial climate and 300 million years of geology were the exact conditions required to produce the coalfields of Great Britain.
By the 15th century the outcropping seams, to the north of Astley Green, were being worked extensively. The 19th century saw the Pilkington Colliery Company, trading as the Clifton and Kersley Coal Company, working collieries in the Irwell valley at Clifton. By the end of the century reserves were running low so they turned their attention to the untapped reserves at Astley Green in the south Lancashire Coalfield, south of Tyldesley under Chat Moss. The depth of the coal seams here and the 30 metres of wet and unstable ground, overlaying them, were very good reasons for these reserves to remain untapped. However the enormous demand for coal at that time made the project viable despite the cost of shaft sinking and the large colliery plant.
On Thursday 7th May 1908 work started on sinking what was later to be known as Number 1 Shaft. For the first time in Britain a method called "drop shaft" was used. The method consisted of forcing tubbing, cylinders of iron with a cutting shoe at the bottom, into the ground using hydraulic jacks. The ground within the shield was then excavated. The next section of tubbing was then attached and the process was repeated until the 6.4 metres diameter shaft reached more stable ground at a depth of 30 metres. A large masonry thrust pillar was constructed to provide a weight to resist the force of hydraulic jacks pushing down the tubbing. A temporary wooden headgear was used, during sinking phase, to lift the spoil and transport men and materials to and from the workings.
Below 30 metres the strata became more stable but was still very wet. For this reason the use of tubbing continued until a depth of 122 metres was reached. Unlike the first 30 metres, the ground was first excavated then the tubbing was lowered down the shaft and attached to the section above. Below 122 metres the shaft was lined with brick.
Pit bottom is 814 metres, it was reached without loss of life in 1912.
Number 1 Headgear
The temporary headgears used during sinking were of wooden construction and only about half the height of the permanent steel structures. The Number1 shaft was intended principally for winding just over 8 tonnes of coal every two minutes from a depth of 801 metres. The headgear for this shaft is an impressive lattice steel riveted structure nearly 30 metres high. It was built by Head Wrightson of Stockton on Tees and completed by 1912. The two winding pulleys are 6.4 metres in diameter and the whole structure weighs 122 tonnes.
Number 2 headgear used rolled steel girders and was of lighter construction reflecting its principal duty to transport men and materials. After nationalisation, both shafts wound coal but Number 2 only from the "Worsley Four feet seam" at a depth of 263 metres.
Number 1 Winding EngineThe winding duty for the Number 1 shaft required the installation of one of the largest steam winding engines used in Britain. It was manufactured by Yates and Thom of Blackburn and installed between 1910 and 1912. It has four cylinders in twin tandem compound arrangement which developed nearly 2.5 Mega Watts at 58 rpm. The rope speed was 26 metres per second when winding coal.
The Number 2 engine was also built by Yates and Thom but it was only half the size of the Number 1 engine with two cylinders in cross compound arrangement. The delivery of the engine was delayed by the first world war and it was not operational until 1919.
Each shaft had two cages each suspended from a steel wire rope which passed over the headgear pulleys and then down into the engine house to the drum of the winding engine. The cages had three decks each of which accommodated 4 tubs. After nationalisation the tubs were replaced with 3 tonne capacity mine cars with one on each deck. Also, Number 2 shaft was equipped with skips which were filled at the "Worsley 4 Foot Seam" from a conveyor and discharged onto another conveyor at the surface. This made operation of Number 2 pit much easier since the ventilation arrangements required the tubs to be passed through an air lock at the surface.
Boiler during constructionThe large steam requirement of the colliery was met by 16 Lancashire boilers supplied by Yates and Thom. Economisers were fitted into the flues of the two chimneys to heat the boiler feed water and thus improve economy. Later, methane was tapped from the workings and used successfully on 6 boilers. In the 1960s a high pressure water tube boiler, made by Martin Stoker, was added with its own chimney giving the colliery 3 high rise chimneys.
Compressed air was used extensively underground and this was generated from steam driven compressors. Electricity was used at the colliery from the beginning. The total capacity was 3000 kW from steam turbine generators. The turbines used a combination of high pressure steam from the boilers and low pressure exhaust steam from the winding engines.
A large steam driven fan from Walker Brothers of Wigan was installed adjacent to Number 2 shaft. This caused fresh air to be drawn down the Number 1 shaft, directed around the workings and then up Number 2 shaft. In winter a brazier was located at the Number 1 shaft intake to warm the air before it passed down the shaft to prevent the pipes from freezing.
Steam cranes on the Bridgewater canal
Underground, the coal was moved in tubs which were attached to wire ropes driven by haulage engines. Diesel locomotives were eventually introduced for hauling both coal and man riding cars. Conveyors became increasingly used both at the coal face and also in the main roadways.
On the surface the coal was moved to the screens initially in the tubs, latterly the tubs were emptied onto a conveyor, near the shaft, using a "tippler". Coal from the screens was moved principally by railway down the colliery branch line to the Manchester to Liverpool main line. However the adjacent Bridgewater canal provided a convenient link to the power stations at Trafford Park and Stretford. Local deliveries were initially by horse and cart later by motor lorry.
In 1928 a number of local collieries merged to form the Manchester Collieries Ltd. This brought about several overdue developments underground at Astley as well as providing shared facilities such as the rescue station at Boothstown and workshops at Walkden Yard.
In 1947 came Nationalisation and again a surge of new development, which continued up to closure.
A comprehensive pit head baths, canteen and medical centre was designed for the Miners' Welfare Committee by architect C. Kemp, Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and constructed in 1935-36 at a cost of over 24,000. The site chosen was at the entrance to the colliery yard, by the side of the road through Higher Green. The layout followed the then most modern practice. Shower bath cubicles, heated lockers for clean and pit clothes were provided to accommodate 2000 workmen. The building, with the exception of the officials' baths, was paid for entirely by the Miners' Welfare Fund. The men were to subscribe 3d., 1.25p., each week towards the cost of running and maintaining the baths, the Company subscribing an equal amount.
A hospital Fund was set up in 1918 to which the workers subscribed Id., less than 0.5p., each week. Local hospitals received funds as well as convalescent homes in Buxton and Southport.
Pit Brow Lassies
Coal straight from the pit, "run of mine", varied in size and contained rock and dirt. The coal was washed in huge wash boxes where it was mixed with water and agitated by compressed air. The lighter coal separated from the heavier rock and clay. The coal was then graded in various sizes on the screens.
The coal preparation plant, CPP, was continually updated as new processes became available. However, the initial removal of rock and dirt was done manually for many years. The coal was delivered onto "picking belts" which ran between rows of workers. Until 1955 women, the Lancashire "Pit Brow Lassies", were employed on the screens for this work.
The colliery during demolitionReports in the 1950s gave Astley Green a very bright future, indeed it was something of a "show" pit with visits from royalty and heads of industry. However by the late 1960s production targets were becoming more difficult to meet and a target of just over 2.5 tonnes per man shift was the final straw, this target could not be reached and the inevitable happened.
The last coal was wound on 3rd April 1970 and demolition was underway by the end of the year.