Coal mining in Bristol

(c) Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

The outlook was black, gaunt and smoky against the skyline. The buzz and musical

clamour of the circular saw, swiftly cutting timber and pit props to length, driven by an

engine with a deep-voiced exhaust added to the industrial orchestra.

Ben Tillett, Memories and Reflections, 1931

The Bristol coal-field was one of the earliest to be mined.

Coal was an important fuel for heating homes and providing power for Bristol's expanding industries. It was first dug in Kingswood and the region's green spaces were gradually occupied by collieries with engine houses, winding gear and a maze of shafts up to 300 metres deep.

Another coal mining centre was created around the coal seams on land owned the Smyth family. This development attracted workers from the surrounding depressed agricultural areas, leading to the small town of Bedminster growing into a large suburb of Bristol with over 70,000 inhabitants by 1884.

The Dean Lane Colliery in Bedminster employed over 400 men and some children. The men were paid £2-3 per week and the children sometimes as little as 4d a day. About one man a month died in accidents in the mine.

The housing conditions, in the packed new terraces, were basic and encouraged disease. The work was hard and often dangerous, with the Bedminster mines known for 'after damp' which could suffocate, as well as for rock falls and explosions. Bristol's coal industry declined in the late 1800s and few traces remain.

Hard Won Coal

Coal seams in the Bristol coal-field are narrow, often less than 60 cm thick, so the coal was often difficult to get to and mining less profitable than in other areas. Nevertheless many places around Bristol were mined, particularly Easton, Kingswood, Bedminster and Ashton.