An Unidentified Colliery (& a 20 year long mystery...)

  In early 2000 I found the print/woodcut, shown below, at a local (Cardiff, Wales) bookfair.  The artist is a certain W.H. Prior, (his name is in lower left hand corner) but I was interested in knowing which colliery it depicts, so I placed a copy here, and mentioned it on the JISCM@il Mining-History discussion group.  The responses I received stated that it has been used in a number of publications, and in a few different variations - see comments beneath the print.


{Click on the image to get a closer look ~ 700Kb.}

Responses from initial query...

11/10/00  Christopher J.Williams identified two sources of publication ; "It is a page from an old publication by C.Tomlinson, 'Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts', Vol. 1 Part ii (1852), facing page 391, and is also reproduced in W H Chaloner and A E Musson, 'Industry and Technology' (1965), plate 35, who ascribe it to South Staffordshire."

19/10/00  Nigel Chapman stated ;  "Have seen it used on several occasions, such as the Midlands Mining Commission of 1842. Chances of identifying it as a pit are about nil. It is one of several drawings of South Staffs, North Staffs, or several other fields that used early beam winders.  As it has a normal i.e. thin con. rod would suggest a Watt type engine, so c.1840 to 50. date O.K.  Note the skip on the far shaft.  This is a Thick Coal  pit with the iron hoops used to hold the large lumps of coal in place.  This method was only used in Black Country.  Also near head frames are several hoops on a skip.  So for I.D. its a Thick Coal pit in the Dudley-Oldbury area."

[It was also mentioned to me, verbally I think, that an associated print, also reproduced in Tomlinson's 'Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts', titled 'Bradley Coal Mine, Near Bilston, England In The 19Th Century. Getting Out The Ten Yard Coal In The Staffordshire Collieries.' depicts an underground view (at pit bottom) of a similar colliery (lump coal) from the same area.  This is engraved by a different artist - J.W. Whimper, but shows identical trucks carrying hoop retained lump coal.]

  A short while later I noted that a remarkably similar print had appeared in the Spring 2000 edition of "Below",  the Newsletter of the Shropshire Caving and Mining Club, and accompanied an article titled 'Community Digs Deep to Revive Colliery's Past'.  This discussed 'Trefonen Old Colliery' near Oswestry.
(A PDF version of the Newsletter can be found here.)

As reproduced in 'Below' 2000.1, p.19
{Click on the image to get a closer look ~ 90Kb.}
Thanks to Kelvin Lake for permission to reproduce it again here.

  The print (shown above) clearly has the same origins as that at top of page, but has many details removed - the chap by the cart has lost his friend, and the horse has lost his too !  Also, the mines in the distance have all been cleansed from the landscape, etc....  ('Fake news' is nothing new...)

Trefonen Colliery on
OS 1:2,500 (25") Shropshire Sht.XIX.5, 1881 
  So being a 'reworked' image, it seems unlikely that this depicts Trefonen Colliery.  Furthermore Trefonen is near to the Welsh border in Shropshire, yet the above print states it is Staffordshire...
  For reference, the First Edition 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey map for this area, shows Trefonen Colliery - extract shown right (click for enlarged view).  Although the individual buildings etc. as depicted in the woodcut, are also shown on the map, they aren't arranged the same, and nor are any tramways shown.

  A decade later I was surprised to see a copy of the image I'd originally found appear in The Journal of the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland, 2011, No.11, pp.17-18, in an article by Peter Eggleston, ‘The Cappagh mine share certificate vignette’.  (A PDF version of the article can be found on the MHTI website here.)
[The article doesn't quite credit the image shown as being mine, which is reproduced more correctly in greyscale (as it is of course black ink), but if you look closely, the foxing/stating on the lower edge is identical to the scan of my copy.  I do however gain a mention further down the page, so no harm done...]

  Jumping forward a further decade, or thereabouts to 'today', a search on 'Coal Whimsey Drawing Engine' produces a reasonable list of results which includes Getty Images and Alamy, who both show the same image, (the latter includes a hand coloured version) and date it to around the 1850's.  In any event, it has certainly entered general circulation, and some on-line businesses offer the print on manner of merchandise from your standard framed printed to mugs, cushions et. al.  I can't imagine that W.H. Prior ever expected that !

  To close, it seems quite possible that the image doesn't depict a specific location, but uses artistic license to typify a colliery in the Black Country, Staffordshire, in the mid-1800's.
  ...but perhaps you know otherwise, and can provide further information on this image and even suggest a  location ?  If so, please do drop me a line, I'd be most grateful to hear from you.

Mike Munro

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Updated 24th Aug 2020
Created Oct 2000