MEMORY LANE: How coal pits once littered the landscape of the Keighley area

Robin Longbottom examines how coal mining was once a hugely important industry in the Keighley area

UNTIL the middle of the 19th century, Howden Road – from Silsden to Riddlesden and West Morton – was known as Coal Pit Lane.

It is hard to imagine that the South Craven and Keighley area was once dotted with coal mines. However, coal had been mined since at least the 16th century and pits are recorded at Silsden, Riddlesden, East Morton, Oakworth and Stanbury.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of steam engines, coal became an important local product.

The Silsden Coal Pits were on Rough Holden, below Rivock Edge, and promoted by the Earl of Thanet who owned the land and leased it to mining companies.

Pits known as bell pits were dug and the coal around the pit was mined, then another nearby pit was dug and the procedure repeated. Waste from the excavation of new shafts was then used to fill in the old ones and left the pockmarked landscape we see in Rough Holden today. In the 1830s the pits were managed by the Holden Park Coal Company, a partnership between William Lund, Joshua Craven and Joshua Brigg of Keighley and John Cross, a mining agent from Huncoat in Lancashire. John Cross presumably supervised the daily work in the pits. By 1838 all accessible coal had been exhausted and the partnership dissolved.

When the Holden Park coal pits closed, several small pits opened up in the area around Sykes Head in Oakworth. We have a brief but first-hand account of it by James “Pie” Leach, who lived in Bogthorn and ventured into the coal business in the late 1830s. He relates that a man called Hopkinson, known as of “Owd Small Coils”, came to Oakworth from Cottingley and opened the pits. At first, Leach worked as his banker, a surface worker who lifted buckets up and down, disposed of trash, and sorted coal for shipment. When Hopkinson retired, Leach and two others worked in the pits for a year or two before the sites became unprofitable and closed.

In 1861 an attempt was made to find coal on Stanbury Moor. Richard Fawcett, Bradford auctioneer and speculator, formed a stock company called Stanbury Coal, Iron and Lead Mining Company Ltd. He secured a lease for the moor from the Stanbury Freeholders for 14 years at £10 a year, but the company ran into financial difficulties and eventually went out of business.

Perhaps the most successful mining company in the area was the Morton Banks Colliery in Riddlesden. Coal had been mined on land owned by the Leach family of West Riddlesden Hall since at least the mid-18th century. Thomas Leach was a shareholder and promoter of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and had built a road from his pits to the canal quay to export it. The pits were then north of High Cote and west of Low Woodhead. After running into financial difficulties in the 1780s, the Morton Banks Colliery Company was formed and by the 1800s was extracting coal from deep mines accessible from shafts above the River Aire at Stockbridge. In 1808 a steam engine was used to raise both men and coal into a deep shaft and pump the water. The business operated successfully until 1866 when it ceased operations and sold its assets, which included two steam engines – one 90 hp and another 40 hp – three engine boilers, a gear pit heads, pump rods, pit props, ropes, chains, pickaxes, shovels and puzzles. .

Two subsequent attempts were made to reopen the mines at Riddlesden. One was in 1895 under Rivock Edge, but after 18 months the shaft was abandoned due to “waterlogging”. A second attempt was made in the 1920s, but this too ended in failure.

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