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Tyne and Wear HER(1163): Willington Colliery, Bigge Pit - Details

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N Tyneside

Willington Colliery, Bigge Pit




Coal Mining Site


Early Modern


Documentary Evidence

Bigge Pit. OS 1st edition mapping shows a Reservoir and an Engine House within the site. Three wagonways (HER 1160, 1162, 1164) passed the site and may have been associated with it. Owned by Messrs Bell and Brown. They met in the 18th century when Matthew Bell was a draper and William Brown went into his shop to buy flannel for his pit-clothes. They set up in partnership as mining speculation. In 1786 Matthew Bell died. His share of the company passed to Matthew III who married Sarah Frances Brandling. Their heir was Matthew Bell IV (born 1793) the MP and Lt Colonel who lived at Woolsington Hall. He became chief owner of Willington Colliery aged 48. On 31 December 1829 4 men were killed by an explosion. By the 1830s the High Main Seam had been worked out by the wasteful use of pillars. 3/4 of the coal was sterile due to creep (rising up of the soft clay floor of the seam to block the airways and transport roads). So in 1831 the Bensham Seam was explored. A shaft was sunk from the High Main. When the seam was broken into a huge quantity of gas was encountered and the resulting explosion killed 3 men and 8 horses. 14 men were burnt. 4 of them later died. The shaft was later vaulted over with iron and bricks to channel the gas to the surface and burned as a flare. The Bensham Seam was opened again in 1840. On 30 March 1840 8 men were burnt, one of them died. Under the ownership of Matthew Bell IV and George Johnson Esq, there was another explosion on 19 April 1841 which killed 32 people and 2 horses. Only 3 men got out alive. John Johnson, the acting viewer and adoptive son of George Johnson, heard the explosion from Willington Cottage, and was at Bigge Pit in twenty minutes. The stables were on fire and the smoke from burning hay had filled the mine. One pony was found alive in the mine. The inquest was held two days later at the Engine Public House, by Coroner Stephen Reed. The candle held by George Campbell had ignited the gas. Willington Colliery was advanced for the time. Coal was drawn in cages rather than corves. There was a separate upcast shaft (Edward Pit). A nine year old boy, Richard Cooper, was blamed for propping open the trapdoor he looked after. The colliery closed in 1889 but reopened in 1913 for another 18 years.




1st edition Ordnance Survey map, 1865, 6 inch scale, Northumberland 89;; Roy Thompson, 2004, Thunder Underground - Northumberland Mine Disasters 1815-65, p 79-83; Tyne and Wear Museums Archaeology, 2012, Land adjacent to Battle Hill Primary School, Battle Hill, Newcastle upon Tyne - Archaeological Assessment; AD Archaeology, 2014, Land next to Battle Hill Primary School, Battle Hill, North Tyneside - Archaeological Evaluation

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