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Transcript Bickershaw Centenary Brochure




Centenary Brochure NCB Western Area

[Background of this page is an image of Bickershaw colliery]

Welcome to Bickershaw


A message from the General Manager - Mr. Joe French


I am pleased to take this opportunity of welcoming all our visitors to Bickershaw Colliery. The colliery has a mining tradition dating back well over a century, and in all that time has remained in the forefront of the industrial life of the area. I am sure this long and proud association will continue for many years to come.


The planning and preparation of a centenary event of this kind is a major task and I am personally indebted to the organising committee and all those people who have made a contribution.


There have been many changes and technical advances in the industry over the years. Miners today are highly skilled, working with sophisticated machinery — far removed from old pick-and-shovel days. I hope you enjoy your brief look at modern mining today.




[Two images one of the General Manager in a shirt and tie against a plain background, and the other of a younger miner in his lamp on the surface]


Mining in the Leigh area is comparatively recent compared with other parts of the Lancashire coalfield. By the beginning of the 19th century coal was being worked at Barlows Coal Pits and in 1847 John Hindley and Company had coal pits at Pickley Green. All the coal worked was in the Westleigh and Bedford area, where the seams outcropped.

Also during the 19th century, coal was worked from numerous shallow workings in Bickershaw and Abram by the Abram and Bickershaw coal companies. During the 1840s a new coal company was formed to work reserves under the Bickershaw estate in an agreement between the owner, John Whitley, and Abraham Ackers, who owned the Abram Coal Company. The new company was called Ackers Whitley.


By 1840 the winding of coal by horse gins had been superseded by the steam engine, the steam being generated by egg or vertical boilers. The coal from the Bickershaw and Abram pits was transported by tramway to the canal at Plank Lane where previously there had been a glass works. The wagons were firstly drawn by horses but later on by two steam locomotives — the Bee and the Wasp. The average outputs from these collieries was in the region of 1,000 tons per week.

[Sepia toned picture of the colliery as it was]

New shafts

As the reserves of coal diminished, the Ackers Whitley Coal Company decided to sink new shafts. The advent of bigger and better steam engines meant shafts could be sunk to much greater depths. The site of Plank Lane was ideal because it already had coal wharfs for loading the canal barges, and the Wigan Junction Railway Company (later to becomethe Central Line) was being formed to link Wigan and Manchester, giving easy transport to ready markets in Liverpool and Manchester. Ackers Whitley purchased land in Plank Lane and commenced the sinking of No. 1 Plank Lane shaft in1872 and No. 2 shaft was started shortly afterwards. Both shafts were 16ft diameter and were sunk to the Bickershaw 7ft seam (White and Black), No. 1 shaft being 489 yards deep and No. 2 shaft 492 yards. Both shafts were completed in 1877 and Bickershaw Colliery became a producing unit. The seams worked from these two shafts were the Crombouke Pemberton 5ft and the White and Black.

Also in 1877 the sinking of No. 3 and 4 shafts was started. The shafts, 18ft in diameter, were completed to the King Coal seam at 690 yards in 1881 and from this level the Wigan seams were worked extensively.

[Image of a group of women posing to be photographed, all are wearing headscarfs and aprons of some sort]

Caption: Pit brow lasses (left) were employed to pick and sort the coal by hand. Today the job is done mechanically in a modernised coal preparation plant that can handle 550 tons per hour.

£1,000 grant

As well as working coal under their own land, Ackers Whitley worked coal under land belonging to the William France Charity, and the prevailing system of royalties so enriched the income that the trustees were able to grant £1,000 in 1890 to the building of Leigh Technical College and a further grant of £500 in 1895.

In 1907 sinking commenced on No. 5 shaft, 305 yards deep, to give access to the Ince Yard seam. In 1921 this fifth shaft was deepened by 29 yards to reach the Crombouke seam.

In 1931 the general trade depression effected a grouping of the pits in the area. The new unit assumed the trade name of Bickershaw Collieries under the Chairmanship of Major E. Hart, who had previously succeeded his father, Augustus Hart, as Chairman of the Bickershaw Collieries Coal Company.


Whilst with the Bickershaw Collieries Coal Company he had formed a retired miners pension fund and had also founded the Bickershaw Coliieries Sports Club. At the newly formed Bickershaw Colliery he formed the Bickershaw Colliery Brass Band. It was under his leadership and guidance that Bickershaw Colliery was extensively reorganised in the 1930s.

Under the scheme, which was completed by 1938, the No. 3 shaft was deepened to 778 yards to the Haig Yard seam and No. 4 shaft deepened to 779 yards. This opened up the Peacock and Plodder seams and the Wigan seams to the east of the Pennington Faults. A new electric winding engine and 10-ton capacity skips were installed in No. 4 shaft, and on the surface a new boiler plant, power house, railway buildings and a screening and coal cleaning plant were Installed


After the Second World War and nationalisation in 1947 a futher reorganisation scheme was planned to gain access to additional reserves of good quality coal. The scheme got under way in March 1951 and involved driving two horizontal tunnels in a southerly direction from near Nos. 3 and 4 shaft pit bottom Fach tunnel is 16ft wide by 13ft high and about 2,750 yards long.

Driving two tunnels of this size — and at the same time continuing normal production from the pit — was a massive operation. Eventually the tunnels intersected the Crornbouke seam in 1960 and two more faces were opened out for production.


Two further tunnels, each about 1,500 yards long, have since been driven in a westerly direction from the main horizontal tunnels, gaining access to the White and Black seam in the south western field.

[Three images one of a single man in a control room, another of a single man in a lamproom, the third of a single man underground next to powered supports]

Caption: Lighting systems (see bottom picture on the right) have recently been developed for the coal face. Top right: The lamp room, where the batteries for miners’ cap lamps are stored and recharged on racks between shifts. Top left: In the control room, where the underground transportation systems are monitored.

New washery

In 1952 the No. 5 headgears were demolished and the shaft filled in. In 1955 a new coal washery plant was built with a capacity of 400 tons per hour.

A minor reorganisation scheme was also completed in 1967 which involved the concentration of all produc- tion and coal winding in the Nos. 3 and 4 shafts, leaving Nos. 1 and 2 shafts for ventilation purposes. In 1973 new roadways opened up lucrative reserves In the Rams seam, which is still being worked today.


[Two images one of a boy and a pit pony, the other of two men using picks to get coal].

Caption: One-hundred years ago miners won the coal by hand —  with pick and shovel, vividly portrayed in the photograph below, while, left, the only form of underground transportation was the pit pony. Many of these animals spent their lives underground, hauling coal from the face to the pit bottom for winding up the shaft.


[Image of coal being cut using machinery, three miners are visible int he image as are powered supports]

Caption: Today machines like this one (above) on a big production face at Bickershaw, produce nearly 94 per cent of all coal in Britain. These Power loaders cut the coal and automatically load it on to conveyors for the journey out of the pit. Powered roof supports provide a safe working area for the men on the coal face.

£3m scheme to link three pits



A £3m development scheme has created the North-West's first mining complex — centred on Bickershaw Colliery and ensuring a big future for the pit.


The scheme, just completed, has involved driving extensive underground roadways to link Bickershaw’s workings with those of neighbouring Parsonage (Leigh) and Golborne collieries. Combined output is expected to be 1 ¼-million tons.


Bickershaw, with its superior surface facilities, is now handling the entire output from all three pits — over 27,000 tons per week. Seven miles of underground conveyor belting transport the coal to Bickershaw.


Nerve centre of the huge coal winding operating is ELSIE – Electronic Lighting, Signaling, Indicating Equipment – which controls the coal flow from eight widely-separated faces and monitors underground conditions.


A £90,000 surface rapid loading scheme has also been installed to speed the coal to power stations.  Under th e system a string of continuously-coupled wangons, each capable of holding 30 tons of coal, can be loaded or unloaded with 1,000 tons of coal in less than 30 minutes.

[Image of an older man sitting at a control station]

Winding engineman Jim Close — at the receiving end of 27,000 tons of coal a week which come up the Bickershaw shafts. It is the coalfield’s biggest winding operation.  


Facts about Bickershaw Colliery

* The colliery employs 974 miners — 674 underground — drawn mainly from the Wigan and Leigh areas.

* There are two coal faces in production, in the White and Black and Rams seams — 220 yards and 190 yards long respectively.

* A conventional coal face at Bickershaw costs about £400,000 to equip.

* Output in the financial year just ended was 350,302 tons, achieved at an overall productivity rate — output per manshift — of 33.6 cwts.

* Eighty per cent of the output goes for electricity generation. The remainder is for domestic and industrial use.

* Although the pit shafts are in Leigh, the Coal preparation plant and sidings of the colliery are in Abram.

* Steam locomotives have been used at Bickershaw continuously for 150 years - a British record.


Coal By-products

Linoleum, photo chemicals, brake linings, damp course, smokeless fuel briquettes, electrodes, tar paints, road tar, timber preservatives, plastics, mothballs, detergents, fruit tree sprays, explosives, dyes, ammonia, disinfectants, wool scouring, adhesives, antiseptics, ammonia, explosives, ammonium sulphate, battery electrolyte, galvanising, photo chemicals, anailine dyes, nylon, paint solvent, saccharine, printing ink solvents, rubber chemicals, paint solvent.                 

The ‘tree’ shows the many different uses of coal by-products — ranging from making paints to nylon and asprin.

[The byproducts are listed using the image of a tree as the background]


Steam is a major source of power for shaft winding at Bickershaw. The original winding engine, manufactured by T. Woods and Sons (Wigan) in 1875, is still in use on No. 1 shaft and consists of a twin-cylinder, direct-coupled horizontal engine with a 6ft stroke, providing a maximum working steam pressure of 105 psi. The engine has a parallel-type drum 17ftin diameter and 8ft 7in wide, and drives headgear  pulleys 20ft across.


A similar engine, made by Walker Brothers of Wigan and installed in 1891, provides the power for No. 3 shaft. This engine has a 7ft stroke and a maximum working steam pressure of 110 psi. Each clutch-type drum is 18ft in diameter and 4ft 0½ in wide. The engines on Nos. 2 and 4 shafts are electrically driven.



Steam locomotives are also used for surface siding and shunting operations. The Hunslet, ‘Austerity’-type locomotives have a maximum laden weight of 48 tons and an 0-6-0 wheel arrangement. They are named Respite, Gwynneth, and Hurricane.

[Image of a man operating a large machinary]

The steam winding engine on the 778 yards deep No. 3 shaft which has a maximum Winding speed of 43ft per second.

Enjoyment for all the family

[Image of a miners welfare.  Bar in the background and people sitting in charis in the foreground]

Leigh Miners Welfare Institute, Twist Lane Leigh, is a focal point of entertainment nad leisure for the whole community, featuring a concert room with seating for 400 people, cocktail bar, private room for functions and a games room with snooker, darts and pool.


Concerts are held every Sunday, and dances on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Institute boasts a 5,000-strong membership which, although drawn from all walks of life, includes the combined workforce of three local collieries, Bickershaw, Parsonage and Parkside.

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