Recalling North Somerset mining 50 years after the last collieries closed
Fifty years ago in September 1973 the last remaining collieries in the North Somerset Coalfield - Kilmersdon & Lower Writhlington - were closed bringing to an end an industry that stretched back to Roman times. Coal mining and the associated railways were integral to the development of Radstock, Midsomer Norton and the surrounding villages from about 1750 onwards and many reminders of this industrial heritage remain in the local landscape and buildings.
Many of the collieries were linked by standard or narrow gauge railways to each other and to the Somerset & Dorset and Great Western lines that passed through the area. The last 2 collieries to close were no exception with Lower Writhington linked to the S&D and Kilmersdon to the GWR via a self- acting incline.
Midsomer Norton volunteer Dave Gilson provided these memories of working as an NCB apprentice in the 1960s:
"I started work as an apprentice with the NCB around Christmas 1961 at the training centre at Old Mills Colliery. We were required to sign up to the NUM trade union as the coal board was a closed shop and you were unable to work without signing up.
We were taken to the coal board central stores in Radstock and issued with our hard hats, steel capped safety boots gloves and carbide lamp. After returning to the training centre at Old Mills our first day’s work was on the colliery sidings clearing snow from the points and rails so the coal trucks could be shunted and given access to the main line. Following on from this we were taken underground to be shown the various workings and taken through a coal face that had been recently closed. This coal face was still being propped with timber supports and was about 100 yards in length and only about 24 inches high. Later we were introduced to work in the workshop on the surface and jobs underground with the older qualified staff.
We were then sent to the Radstock Technical College where we had full time training for a long period only returning to the colliery during the college holidays. The first year of training included both electrical and mechanical tuition then in the second year only electrical. I was then allocated to Norton Hill colliery as part of their electrical team but continued with day release at the college. After a few months working there I was transferred to the “Group Installation Team” which involved working on different projects throughout the Group. The jobs that were undertaken were very varied and interesting. We worked on installing a number of electric winding engines, sub-stations, boiler rooms, shaft cables, pumps etc. I worked at a number of sites including Norton Hill, Old Mills, New Rock, Mendip, Kilmersdon and Writhlington. We also worked at some closed sites removing redundant plant including Harry Stoke (Bristol), Braysdown and Old Welton. We also attended the Britannia School of Mining in South Wales which included more training and visits to a number of collieries and companies manufacturing various items use in the mines such as high voltage armoured cables, chains and wire ropes. At the end of my five year apprenticeship I started day release at the Glamorgan College of Technology in Pontypridd.
Part of my apprenticeship involved 1 month “face training”. I did this at Kilmersdon Colliery and it required me to catch a bus from Redfield Road down to Radstock at 3.50am and then another bus up to Haydon for the start of the shift at the coal face.
As far as the work on the Kilmersdon incline is concerned I remember we had to attend one Sunday to help the fitters and welders repair the track following a runaway so that coal could be lowered down the incline on the Monday. This would have been in the early 1960s."
Ivo Peters visited Kilmersdon Colliery in July 1969 and we're please to include 2 pictures that he took during that visit. The locomotive is Peckett &Sons No 1788 "Kilmersdon" which was located all its working life at the colliery. The locomotive which is owned by the Somerset & Dorset Railwat Trust will be steaming at Midsomer Norton for our Halloween and Santa at the Station events later this year.