A Brief History of the Bristol and Somerset Coalfield

The Bristol and Somerset coalfield stretches from Cromhall in the north to the Mendips in the south, and from Bath in the east to Nailsea in the west, a total area of about 240 square miles. Although the Gloucester and Somerset portions of the coalfield have often been viewed as separate entities, official publications have treated it as a single coalfield since at least 1871 and this convention has therefore been followed here.

It is known that the Romans used coal in the area since it has been found at a number of Roman sites in Somerset and Gloucestershire, and the third-century writer Solinus even makes a somewhat cryptic reference to the temple at Bath which suggests that coal was burned there.

The first real documentary evidence for the industry relates to pits at Kingswood in the thirteenth century, Kilmersdon in the fourteenth and Stratton-on-the-Fosse in the fifteenth. By the end of the seventeenth century mining was also taking place at Brislington, Bedminster, Ashton and Pensford and doubtless in many other areas as well.

Pumping equipment was in use at Stratton-on-the-Fosse by the middle of the seventeenth century and one of the pits there was claimed to have reached a depth of 420 feet by the 1690s. A century later Old Pit at Radstock was over 1,000 feet deep and  by 1817 Clandown colliery had reached a depth of more than 1,200 feet. The resulting increase in output seems likely to have been a powerful incentive for local entrepreneurs to invest in the Somersetshire Coal Canal which was built during the 1790s and ran from the Kennet and Avon Canal near Bath to Paulton, with a separate branch serving Radstock.

During the nineteenth century the coalfield came to be dominated by a number of owners who developed larger pits. Chief amongst these were:-

All of these business empires except one failed. Following the liquidation of Leonard, Boult & Co, their pits were bought by the Bennetts who also acquired Cossham's pits after his death. Their business in turn failed and the remaining pits were bought by Frank Beauchamp in 1914, an acquisition followed by that of the Waldegrave pits at Radstock in 1925. By the time of nationalisation, thirteen pits remained in the coalfield (including just two of those mentioned above), six of which belonged to the Beauchamps.

At the time of nationalisation it was suggested that six of the collieries could be worked for at least 100 years and that new pits could be opened and others re-opened. In the event, only one new pit, Harry Stoke, was opened and that closed within ten years. As demand for coal fell, pits were closed and the last two, Kilmersdon and Writhlington, ceased working in September 1973.