Coal has been mined from the South Gloucestershire and East Bristol coalfield for centuries, since at least the 1200’s when coalmining is mentioned in various historic records. The earliest workings were small quarries and shallow pits where people dug the coal that was found at the surface. During the 1600’s and 1700’s there was an increasing demand for coal as it started to be used as fuel for baking and brewing, and by 1750 there were over 140 collieries in and around Bristol.
The industrial revolution created an ever-increasing demand for coal to fuel the rapidly developing manufacturing industries and metal works in Bristol and Kingswood. New coalpits opened, existing shafts were deepened to meet this seemingly neverending demand for coal, and fortunes were made in this dirty but profitable business.
Hole Lane Pit
Hole Lane Pit was located at grid reference ST678718, immediately west of Bath Road; it had a short siding connection, facing to northbound trains, which crossed Bath Road. A branch continued, following the footpath that now leads to Coombes Way, which then served a pit called Bullhall Pit, at ST675719, immediately to the west of the Midland Railway’s Bath branch railway line. These pits are shown on the 1882 Ordnance Survey map but are “disused” by 1904, havingsent the last load of coal by the railway in 1867. The tramway to Bullhall may have been built and operated by the colliery owners. When the Midland Railway route was built parallel to the Avon and Gloucestershire Railway in 1869, a bridge was provided crossing that line to maintain the access.
Former workshops for the coal works are to be found off the High Street, Oldand Common on the west side of the road. What may possibly be smaller workshops are on the other side of the road (eastern side) and are locally referred to as Tappets because they were probably used at a later date as workshops for boot making.
Golden Valley Colliery
Golden Valley included pits at Old Pit, Painters Pit and New Pit. The seams worked were the Millgrit, Rag, Buff and Parrot, the ate rat 1920 ft. In later years Old Pit was used as the pumping pit and Painters as the upcast shaft for ventilation and this can still be seen in Golden Valley along with some traces of mine shafts. The pit finally closed in 1898.
The California Colliery in Oldland was famous for its high-quality coal that was extracted from the Parrott Seam. This coal was particularly popular with blacksmiths because it had a low sulphur content. The mine was re-opened in 1876 on the site of an earlier pit, and a tramway linked the colliery with the route of the Dramway, which had been closed for a number of years. The tramway on the incline was operated by gravity and it was so steep that the weight of the full trucks going down was enough to pull the empty carts back up the slope.
California Pit was located at grid reference ST665714, immediately south of what is now California Road. A new 640 yards deep shaft was sunk in 1876 by Abraham Fussell on the site of an earlier shaft called Blowbottom, part of the Brook Pits group. He renamed it California to indicate profitable prospects comparable to the California Gold Rush of a quarter century earlier. At first it was not rail-connected, and it became disused, but in 1889 it was re-opened and a 450 yards long branch line constructed: it ran generally south-south-east across fields, to a point at Siston Brook (or Warmley Brook) near the present-day Sunnyvale footbridge. It turned north-eastwards down an inclined plane at 1 in 10 to cross the brook and join the main railway line. The inclined plane was self-acting, and was 150 yards long; the junction was known as Tramway Junction. The colliery was closed down in March 1904, following flooding.
A dramway was used to carry the coal to the river Avon where it went by barge tp Bristol or Bath. There were Wharfs at Londonderry Wharf in Willsbridge and Avon Wharf to the south of Bitton.
The lucky children from Bitton Parish in the early nineteenth century were those who worked with their families at pin making, hat making or labouring in the fields. Some like William Short worked at the Golden Valley Colliery where at the age of 11 he earned 4d a day carting a bushel and a half (about 80 lbs) of coal up a ladder using a girdle and chain as shown in the etching below. He said it hurt him at first but he got used to it. Coal dust would have filled his lungs and his knees would be scraped as he crawled through darkness with water dripping down from the tunnel ceiling to soak his ragged clothes. He first went to the pit with his father, John Short, who was also a coal miner. He helped to support a family with seven children, but his hard labour and the coal dust shortened his life – he was to die aged 26.
In 1841 there were eight boys under the age of 13 at the Golden Valley Colliery. They worked from five o’clock in the morning till one p.m., working a vein of about two and half feet. Most of them could read a little and attended Sunday-school. At the near-by Hole Lane Pit at Oldland Common about forty boys were under the age of 13, the youngest had started at the age of just 6. The Children’s Employment Commission, interviewed hundreds of children in coalmines, works and factories. Its findings, reported in 1842, were deeply shocking. Particularly heart rending is the account of John Harvey who was a carter in the Crown Pit at Warmley. He was described at the age of 13 as ‘half-fed, half clothed and stunted in growth. He seldom had as much as he could eat. He did not go to Sunday school because he had no clothes other than his work clothes. Sometimes he worked at night for the sake of getting an extra sixpence, where he went down at 10 o’clock in the evening and up at 6 next morning.’