By Jim Worgan

The Whitfield Estate was acquired by Hugh Henshall Williamson in 1834 although little is known of his activities in the area. By 1853, however, he was working 2 small footrails at Ridgeway near to Ball Green to the East of the present Colliery. Sensing the advantages of the coming of the Biddulph Valley Railway from Stoke, he sank the Prince Albert upcast and downcast shafts and an unnamed 3rd shaft to the West of Ridgway which was in operation when the Biddulph Valley Railway opened in 1859.

When Williamson began to develop the site in the 1860's, 3 shafts in addition to the above were already in operation, known from West to East as the Ten feet, Ragman and Bellringer. In 1863 he deepened the Ten feet and Ragman Shafts which became known as the Engine and Middle Pit whilst the Bellringer Shaft was deepened in 1872 and became known as the Institute to commemorate the visit of the Institute of Mining Engineers. At the same time the original unnamed shaft from 1859 was deepened and became known as the Laura. This shaft was completely destroyed following the fire and explosion in February 1881 which resulted in the death of 24 men and boys. The Company almost immediately embarked on the sinking of a new shaft to the East of the Institute Shaft, the Platt Shaft, named after one of the Directors, which was in operation by 1883.

Originally called Whitfield Colliery after Whitfield near to Ball Green, by 1872 the Company had been acquired by the Chatterley Iron Co which had extensive Coal mining and ironworks in both Tunstall and Chatterley which lay to the West of Tunstall. The Company was not profitable and over the next 20 years went into liquidation on numerous occasions. By 1890 the Company had been acquired by a Group of Lancashire Businessmen who eventually set up the Chatterley Whitfield Collieries Ltd in January 1891 which embraced all the Mines and Ironworks formally operated by both Whitfield Colliery Company and the Chatterley Iron Company. (see Berry Hill Colliery) The Headquarters of the new Company were at Pinnox House, a former residence of Williamson which is still standing, in the Pinnox/Lower Williamson Street areas of Tunstall. It remained so until a new purpose built Headquarters was opened at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery in 1934, which again is still standing. One curious anomaly is that the site is still known as Chatterley Whitfield and retains the Postal address of the old Company as `Near Tunstall Stoke on Trent.`

This review however is confined to the Chatterley Whitfield Colliery and not the Company. From 1891 there followed a period of both consolidation and ultimately expansion which culminated in the abandonment of the Prince Albert and Engine shafts by this time used for ventilation only, following the sinking of the Winstanley Shaft, named after a prominent Mining Engineer, to the West of the Engine Shaft in 1913 and the Hesketh Shaft, named after another Director and to the East of the Platt Shaft by 1917. The infrastructure of the Colliery was therefore complete.

As mentioned previously, Williamson recognised the value of the Biddulph Valley Railway and a connection was made from the Colliery shortly after it opened in 1859 This eventually however proved to be a burden because in order to feed the voracious appetite of the blast furnaces at Chatterley, vast quantities of coal were sent by the Biddulph Valley Railway via Milton to Stoke and thence by the N.S.R to Chatterley Junction to the North of Longport which proved to be very costly to the Company. With the coming of the N.S.R. Loop line to Tunstall by 1874 and the branch from Tunstall to Longport by 1875, a solution to the problem was sought. A decision was therefore made to construct a Railway from Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, including a 404 yard long tunnel through the High Lane ridge, to the Pinnox area of Tunstall. Work commenced from both ends in 1874 and was complete by 1876, but the connection with the Biddulph Valley Branch remained. The savings in both cost and time to the Company were tremendous and the line continued in operation until April 1964, when following the closure of the Branch from Tunstall to Longport, it ceased operation. Therefore all coal by rail was transported along the Biddulph Valley Branch as it originally was before 1876.

In the early part of the 20th Century, the Directors of Chatterley Whitfield Collieries purchased a surplus 4 wheel coaches from the North Staffordshire Railway which they used to travel to the various Collieries in their Company hauled by a Steam Locomotive. Among the places they visited were Pinnox, Greenhead Wharf and Ubberley Colliery via the Biddulph Valley line with special permission from the North Staffordshire Railway. As the Directors gradually acquired motor vehicles the coach became surplus to their requirements. It was however retained at the Colliery and each Saturday morning was steam hauled, providing banker facilities for a loaded coal train, to Pinnox where the money for payment of wages was loaded aboard and taken back to Chatterley Whitfield Colliery. On arrival it was met by a man with a wheelbarrow into which it was loaded for transport to the Wages Office accompanied by the Colliery Police Officer. This system remained in operation until the construction of the new Offices at Chatterley Whitfield in the 1930's.

Chatterley Whitfield Colliery was the largest Colliery in North Staffordshire and in it's heyday in the 1930's it employed over 4000 men. It is credited with being the first Colliery to produce 1,000,000 tones of saleable coal in a year in 1936, a feat also achieved in 1937 and 1938. Until a connecting drivage was made in 1963, the Colliery consisted of two Independent pits - the Hesketh and the Middle pits. The Middle Pit Shaft was taken out of use in 1967 and subsequently filled. Coal Winding operations were subsequently centred on the Hesketh Shaft. By the early 1970's, the Colliery was down to one production unit and a decision was taken on economic grounds to mine the coal from Wolstanton Colliery. Accordingly an underground connection was made with Wolstanton Colliery and the underground men subsequently transferred. The Shafts at Chatterley Whitfield originally remained open for Ventilation purposes, the Hesketh Shaft steam winding engine was taken out of commission (the last at the Colliery) and replaced by an Electric Winder but the Colliery finally closed in 1976. Along with other Collieries in the Area, methane drainage extraction was carried out and following the construction of purpose built Methane Plant surplus gas was sold to the Gas Board via the Gas Grid.

This was not the end of the Colliery however for plans had been formulated to create an underground Mining Museum (which was the first in Great Britain) based on the Holly Lane seam accessed by the Winstanley and Institute Shafts. The Museum opened in 1979, but all 4 shafts still remained open. Following the decision to close Wolstanton Colliery in 1986, the underground section of the Mining Museum was abandoned because of the possibility of gas and water migrating from Wolstanton Colliery. A new `underground Museum` was constructed in the former Railway cutting accessed by the Platt shaft with the return being by way of the former fan drift and was formally opened by H.R.H The Princess Royal in October 1987. The Winstanley, Platt and Institute (to just below the level of the Museum) were filled and capped but the Hesketh shaft, although capped to the British Coal Specification, remained open to monitor the gas and water levels in the Northern Area of the Coalfield. The Mining Museum subsequently went in to Liquidation on the 9th of August 1993 and closed the same day. The Colliery site was subsequently scheduled an Ancient Monument by English Heritage thus ensuring the survival of a virtually complete Victorian Coal Mine together with buildings from the 1930's - Pithead Baths, Canteen and the Former Head office of the Chatterley Whitfield Collieries. The Hesketh shaft still remains open and is monitored on a weekly basis at the time of writing. Plans for the future use of the site have yet to be agreed.

Coal Mining however returned to the site in 1995 when a footrail was driven in the Ten feet seam at the back of the Hesketh Shaft. Authorisation was also given to work the Ragman, Bellringer and Holly Lane seams at some time in the future. It is hoped that output will eventually reach 500 tonnes per week. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that the new footrail is directly to the West of the original footrails worked by Williamson at Ridgway in the 1850's. The footrail was not successful because it encountered an area where had coal had been worked many years before. It had closed by 1997 never having produced any coal.

See also Old Pits By Geoff Mould