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#128: The lost history of Brampton coal

…in which we head to the far northeast of Cumbria to explore the once thriving North Pennines coal industry in the company of ex-pitman Clive Seal. Rewinding to the 1240s, we unearth the first records of coal production in the area – supplying the monks of Lanercost - and discuss the border raids that threatened the cottage-style industry all the way into the 1600s. In the Midgeholme Bottoms – now the domain of curlew and oyster catcher – we evoke the expanded 17th century workings of horse gins, ’cinders’, waterwheels and winding shafts. Taking a retrospective view of Clive’s career, and the ‘like it or loathe it’ reality of life on the coal face, we learn how pitmen bore straight tunnels and mined ‘black gold’ using lime and later gunpowder. Proceeding into the 19th century, we arrive at the jewel in the crown of the Brampton coalfield, the King Pit, where hundreds worked, swelling the villages of Midgeholme, Hallbankgate and Halton Lea Gate. Below abandoned workings, we come upon Lord Carlisle’s private railway – one of the first in the country – along which Stephenson’s Rocket reached a rumoured 60mph, and coal was transported via Port Carlisle to Glasgow and Nova Scotia. Finally, we learn about the slow-motion tragedy of moss encroachment that took three men’s lives, and heralded the end of an era.

Former mine buildings at Midgeholme.

Mark and Dave with our guest for the day: former pitman and mine historian Clive Seal

Mark and Clive in the Midgeholme Bottoms; the dry watercourse, left, is a former wheel-race.

Caucasian cranesbill – growing beside the main road at Black Burn bridge.

This mature silver birch stands in the midst of the industrial Midgeholme site.

Clive pointed out the old colliery wagon caught in the rocky bank of Black Burn where the old access track crossed.

Midgeholme village in 1953 with the King Pit in the background. The cottages are long gone.

The old Galloway drift re-opened by George Pepperall in the 1920s in Midgeholme village, locally known as Peps pit. With thanks to Clive Seal for the historic images.


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