#608 – Lancashire Rural Industry 2 – Hill Top Colliery

I’ve written before about Lancashire’s coalfield so my few regular readers will have to excuse the brief recap. While not as big or as long lasting as Yorkshire’s or Nottinghamshire’s, it was certainly one of the main mining areas earlier in the 20th century and extraction was concentrated around south Lancashire in a belt that stretched from around St.Helens through Wigan and as far as East Manchester /Oldham, as well as reaching into Bolton and Chorley as well. The Burnley coalfield in East Lancashire, while smaller, had a number of major collieries and although the last of these closed in the 1980’s, mining did continue on a sporadic basis until 2018 at the Hill Top Colliery near Bacup (although I’m unsure if it technically falls within Todmorden in Yorkshire).

Hill Top was first opened in 1948 by the newly nationalised NCB and employed men from the Accrington and Bacup area, perhaps because of the initial development works at the colliery were led by the manager of the recently closed Moorfield Colliery in Accrington. At its peak, 200 men were employed there, and between 1950 and 1965 an average of 101 men were employed underground and 9 on the surface. Being a small mine, it didn’t produce huge quantities of coal – on average 400 tons of coal a week – and by 1966 the Union seam was exhausted. This prompted closure by the NCB.

The 1960’s saw the rest of the Rossendale mines close, however, Billy Clayton a redundant miner from the NCB Grimebridge Colliery (closed in 1963) decided to have a go at running his own mine, and took over part of the Grimebridge mine. This re-opened in 1978, and Billy and his family ran the mine on a small scale until 1996. When this became uneconomic, he obtained the licence for Hill Top, and in 1997 he drove two drifts near the previous workings. Although the shafts were driven into a huge seam of coal (approximately 150000 tons of coal), it was exceptionally hard coal which made digging very hard – maybe 6 tonnes per man a day. Thus the economics were always precarious, and the mine closed in 2014.

There is a great set of pictures on Flickr here from Stuart Parr who I visited the old mine under Winter Hill with in 2007, you can see those pictures on my website here.

Unlike the large, well equipped collieries of the NCB and it’s successors, Hill Top was a privately owned affair with a somewhat ramshackle collection of surface buildings and equipment. The drifts appeared to be sealed off – perhaps understandably as the site is in the middle of nowhere, but the corrugated metal clad access tunnels on the surface were still present.

The owner of the site was there, clearing the last of the scrap away, when I went for a look, and he was OK with me taking a few pictures. It’s a bleak location, vaguely reminiscent of Grove Rake, but off the beaten track in a different way – it’s not that far from civilisation, you just have to do a bit if walking across the moors to find it.

I was surprised to find the remains of a cab off a Scammell Routeman lorry – as can be seen on the abandoned version I found just a few miles away. They must have been popular around Rossendale in the past!

A great video of the mine and it’s last days can be found on YouTube here.




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