Shakespeare Colliery

19th century colliery winding gear.

19th century colliery winding gear.

Unlike most other United Kingdom coalfields, the former Kent coalfield was a relatively recent discovery and quite by chance. It is said that the first coal bed discovered in South East England was in 1801, when lignite was discovered near Heathfield, East Sussex. However, there was so little of it and it was of such poor quality that after two weeks the local blacksmith had exhausted the workings! Other coal deposits were found at Bexhill (1804), Rotherfield (1806), Maresfield (1806) and Horsham (1813) all in East Sussex and none sufficient to make mining worth while.

Coal measures had long being exploited in Belgium and physical similarities between those and coal found in the West of England’s Bristol and Somerset coalfield was observed as early as 1826. Coal measures were discovered in the Pas de Calais, northern France in 1846, exploited from 1853 and it was suggested that they were part of the same coalfield. Sir Henry de la Beche (1766-1855) in ‘Memoir of Geological Society,’ (1846) confirmed this and went on to suggest that a coalfield stretched across South East England. This view was re-enforced in 1855, by geologist Professor Robert Alfred Cloyne Goodwin-Austin (1808-1884) in his paper, ‘Coal Measures beneath the South-Eastern part of England.’

Eminent British geologist Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871) refuted these arguments. Collecting and collating information from existing coalfields as far away as Russia, other theorists put together substantial evidence supporting Professor Goodwin-Austin’s theory. Further, it was beginning to be agreed that if coal were to be found in South East England, it would be in the vicinity of the Weald where coal had been found in the early 19th century. In 1872, at the Brighton meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, a sub-committee was set up and a test boring was undertaken in 1875, at Battle, East Sussex. This was to a depth of 1,905-feet but when the project had cost £7,000 and the boring tool jammed, it was stopped.

Round Down Cliff following it been 'blown' out of the way of the South Eastern Railway Company's London-Dover railway line on 26 January 1843 painted by William Burgess - Dover Museum

Round Down Cliff following it being ‘blown’ out of the way of the South Eastern Railway Company’s London-Dover railway line on 26 January 1843 painted by William Burgess – Dover Museum

Back in 1836, the South Eastern Railway Company (SER) sought an Act of Parliament to build a line from London to Dover that was given Royal Assent on 21 June 1836. The decision had been made to take the railway line from Folkestone to Dover along the seashore and engineer, William Cubitt (1785–1861), superintended the project. By June 1842, the line from London had reached Folkestone but a major obstacle faced Cubitt – that of Round Down Cliff rising to a height of 375-feet above sea level. It was estimated by Cubitt to average some 70-feet in thickness and was so unstable that it could not be tunnelled. He therefore decided to ’blow’ the cliff out of the way using gunpowder. This was undertaken on Thursday 26 January 1843 and the resultant chalk provided a platform for the railway line. The railway line was completed to Dover by 27 January 1844 and officially opened on Tuesday 6 February the same year.

Sir Edward Watkin and the Board in 1877. Dover Library

Sir Edward Watkin and the Board in 1877. Dover Library

In 1866 Sir Edward Watkin (1819-1901) was appointed the Chairman (1866-1901) of SER. He was also the Chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company and the Metropolitan Railway Company as well as being a director of a number of other railway companies. His ambition was to open a railway service between Manchester and Paris and envisaged that the route across the Channel would be by way of a Channel Tunnel.

However, in January 1871, the Channel Tunnel Company (Limited) was registered by private subscribers headed by Richard de Aquila Grosvenor, 1st Baron Stalbridge (1837-1912), with the board including Frederick Edward Blackett Beaumont (1833-1899) and engineer Sir John Hawkshaw (1811-1891). The latter was involved in creating a Harbour of Refuge at Dover. The Channel Tunnel Company was given authorisation for five years,  in 1875, by an Act of Parliament. Estimated to cost £80,000, preliminary work was started at St Margaret’s Bay but due to flooding problems, progress was very slow. Indeed, they did not get very far by the time their powers expired in 1880.

Abbots Cliff showing the Coining House cave, from there a path was cut to get to the beach below. Alan Sencicle

Abbots Cliff showing the Coining House cave, from there a path was cut to get to the beach below. Alan Sencicle

Watkin, intent on pursuing his vision, persuaded the SER Board to sanction the scheme and in 1878, SER installed a 60-lever signal box adjacent to the Town Station in preparation. Working in conjunction with the French Nord Railway, SER formed the subsidiary, Submarine Continental Railway Company and in 1880 a shaft was sunk at the foot of Abbots Cliff. For the workmen to get down to the beach during the construction of the Folkestone – Dover line the steep Akers steps were cleared. This zigzag path had been cut into the cliff face by smugglers to their booty cave known as the Coining House. At the time, SER had steps cut in the cliff face down to the beach. As the old path was the only alternative to walking through Shakespeare tunnel, the Submarine Continental Railway Company had the path cleared and repaired.

A 74-foot shaft was sunk and a level heading was driven 2,601-feet. The French team were undertaking borings at their side of the Channel and to indicate where the English borings were taking place a lighthouse was built. This was on the top of Abbots Cliff and was 130-foot tall and crowned with a 24-foot high lantern. A second 44-foot shaft sunk at the foot of Shakespeare Cliff in February 1881 and the heading was progressed to 6,380-feet under the sea. Work was going so well, that Watkin bought Pencester Meadow and the plan was for  SER to build a railway station in the centre of Dover.

Proposed Channel Tunnel c1880. White Cliffs Countryside Project - Shakespeare Cliff Booklet

Artist impression of the proposed Channel Tunnel site c1880. White Cliffs Countryside Partnership – Shakespeare Cliff Booklet

The borings at Abbots Cliff confirmed that there would be thick chalk deposits through which the proposed tunnel could be excavated. The second boring from the bottom of the shaft at the foot of Shakespeare Cliff confirmed this. The Submarine Continental Railway Company applied for powers to build their Channel Tunnel. In their submission they recognised that a major parliamentary concern would be that the tunnel could be used for invasion purposes from the Continent, so emphasis was laid on stating how quickly the Tunnel could be closed and secured if the event was likely.

By this time, the Channel Tunnel Company (Limited) had applied for parliamentary powers to continue their project. In April 1882, both companies were ordered by the Board of Trade to cease all Tunnel borings but Watkin’s company carried on so the Board of Trade took legal action. In the meantime, the two rival companies had been in negotiation and amalgamated under the name of the Channel Tunnel Company. The new management made an application to parliament to build a Channel Tunnel and Major Alexander Dickson (1839-1889), one of Dover’s two Members of Parliament (1865-1889) took up the cause. A Joint Select Committee of the Houses of Lords and Commons was set up in 1883 but they found that it was ‘inexpedient for a Parliamentary sanction to a submarine communication between England and France.’ All tunnelling stopped.

The Institution of Civil Engineers, on 9 December 1873, had held a meeting where geologist Joseph Prestwich (1812-1896) discussed the Channel Tunnel Company (Limited) proposal. In attendance was Beaumont and also Francis Brady, the Chief Engineer of SER. Prestwich had outlined the geological conditions where the then Channel Tunnel Company (Limited) boring was to take place and spoke at length about the supposed extensive coalfield running from the West of England to Belgium. This was not lost on Brady nor Beaumont. The latter was also the secretary of the Kentish Exploration Committee, which had been established to promote public interest in proving the existence of a concealed coalfield in South East England.

At the time the mood of the establishment was heavily influenced by the work of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, in essence that the coal in the Pas de Calais Region was an outcrop of the Belgium coalfield. Based on test borings, Prestwich believed that it was indeed part of the Belgium coalfield but sided with Professor Goodwin-Austin. This was that the French coalfield was not just an outcrop, but part of the main coalfield that extended westwards. Further, Prestwich estimated that coal seams were approximately 300-feet below the surface at Folkestone and 600-feet at Dover. In that area, he said, the Palmoznic strata were tilted at high angles and that on the original elevated area they were covered with horizontal cretaceous strata.

South Eastern Railway Company ticket Dover to Channel Tunnel workings possibly for shareholders or/and media dated 19 September 1895. Nick Catford

South Eastern Railway Company ticket, Dover to Channel Tunnel workings possibly for shareholders or/and media dated 19 September 1899. Nick Catford

Professor Sir William Boyd Dawkins (1837-1929), another eminent geologist, was the main adviser to Watkins’ Submarine Continental Railway Company and he and Brady had discussed the possibility of coal measures in the area. When the Channel Tunnel borings had been ordered to cease, Brady put it to Watkins that they should use the already excavated shafts to undertake test borings for coal. Watkin and the new amalgamated Channel Tunnel Company Board, dismissed the idea as they were concerned with persuading the government to change their mind over the Channel Tunnel. Albeit, Professor Dawkins took up the cudgel and with the help of Brady made a presentation to the Board. He told them that ‘the geological evidence was conclusive that the valuable coalfields of South Wales and Somerset were connected with the equally valuable coalfields in northern France and Belgium, some 1,200 square miles of extent.’

Dawkins then described the French coalfields saying that, ‘at Calais they had been proved to a depth of 1,090-feet below British Ordnance Data (B.O.D).’ Adding that the rocks between the French and the West of England coalfields were made up of, ‘deep folds with older Salurian and Devonian rocks nearer the surface and the newer coal bearing carboniferous rocks below, while in neighbouring areas the reverse was true.’ If Brady was allowed to undertake the borings, Dawkins said, and ‘coal measures were proved, a discovery of vast importance would be made. If, on the other hand, rocks older than the carboniferous were struck, they would offer basis for future borings, which would result in the discovery of the hidden coalfields and be the cause of an economic revolution…’

Although the Board were primarily concerned with putting forward another attempt at securing parliamentary approval for a Channel Tunnel, they accepted Dawkins and Brady’s argument. In May 1885, in evidence to the Parliamentary Committee considering their Channel Tunnel Bill, Watkin made reference to the possible large coal deposits in the area where the Channel Tunnel borings had been taking place. This appeared to appease the Board of Trade for they gave permission for trial borings for coal measures to go ahead. Nonetheless, Watkin was heavily criticised in the national press over his assertion that significant coal measure lay below East Kent – the Garden of England!

Finding Coal in the Channel Tunnel works - contemporary cartoon c1890. Dover Library

Finding Coal in the Channel Tunnel works – contemporary cartoon c1890. Dover Library

In early 1886, Brady, under the supervision of Professor Dawkins, started drilling. This was from the bottom of the 44-foot deep Channel Tunnel shaft, on the site of the blasted chalk from Round Down Cliff. By December 1887 a depth of 734-feet had been reached but the prevailing view still sided with, by then late, Sir Roderick Murchison that the exercise was a waste of time and money. Nonetheless, a number of sceptical geologists were willing to endorse borings, as long as they were paid, in the Thanet area. In the Boardroom of the Channel Tunnel Company at a meeting held in August 1888, Watkin reported that the borehole was 900-feet deep and that the first 500-feet was 18-inches in diameter and lined. The remainder was 15-inches in diameter and unlined. However, he sadly had to report that not even a trace of coal had been found. In the national press the enterprise had gone from criticism to ridicule – mainly levied at Watkin.

On Saturday 15 February 1890, Brady reported that at 1,180-feet below the surface, A small quantity of clean bright coal was found in the clay, was tested by burning and proved to be of good bituminous character. Brady went on to say That the correspondence of the deposits (sand, limestone and black clay) are similar to those found in the Somersetshire coalfield the (only) difference is the absence of red marl. Further investigation showed the seam to be 3-feet 6-inches wide with a 4-inch parting of sandstone and shale in the middle.

The possibility of a significant coalfield led the Channel Tunnel Company members to consider the finances involved in France. In 1888 the coal raised in the Calais coalfields was 7,877,213 tons. The number employed underground was 20,896 of which 2,506 were children and the average wage was 3shillings 1pence a day. The number of men working above ground was 6,049, the number of women was 731 and children 805. The average daily wage for surface workers was 2shillings 5pence. The number killed in 1888 was 37 and injured 71, the total wage bill was £1,365,627 and the amount received for the coal was £8,031,789. In 1889 the amount of coal raised in the Calais coalfields had increased to 8,624,837 tons.

Rocks penetrated by the borehole April 1890. Channel Tunnel Colliery Company

Rocks penetrated by the borehole April 1890. Channel Tunnel Colliery Company

At the annual general meeting of the Channel Tunnel Company, held in December 1892, it was motioned to form the entirely separate Channel Tunnel Colliery Company. Shares were offered to Channel Tunnel Company shareholders in the first instance and then on flotation. With attendant publicity, Watkin bought 1,000 shares at £1 each. He had also been involved in negotiations with the landowners in the vicinity of where the test boring were taking place. These were the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of which Arthur Philip Stanhope (1838-1905), 6th Earl Stanhope and Lord Lieutenant of Kent was the Chairman and the Woods and Forest Department of which Sir Nigel Kingscote (1830-1908) was president. Both men were favourable to the coal mining project.

However, it was generally recognised that the cost of sinking a shaft to coal measures was enormous and was directly irrecoverable. The indirect return came from profit on the sale of the coal obtained which was subject to the vagaries of both the national and international markets. At the time of the boring, the cost of sinking two shafts in Belgium to a depth of 2,306-feet, where there was known excellent coal seams, was £484,000. To buy into a project with as many unknowns as that the Channel Tunnel Colliery Company were advocating resulted in little interest. In 1893, when the borehole was at a depth of 2,274-feet B.O.D or 2330-feet 6inches, drilling was ordered to stop. Nonetheless, Brady was able to prove the existence of thirteen coal seams of which 6 were over 2-feet in thickness and the largest being a clean section of 4-feet of good quality bituminous coal. The total workable thickness of coal was given as 15-feet 6inches.

Entrepreneur Arthur Burr. Courtesy of Dover Museum

Entrepreneur Arthur Burr. Courtesy of Dover Museum

With a stated capital of £200,000 in £1 shares on 23 March 1896, Arthur Burr (1849-1919) formed the Kent Coal Field Syndicate. The Syndicate paid Channel Tunnel Company £50,000 for the mineral rights and to erect a colliery on the site of the blasted chalk from Round Down Cliff. Arthur Burr, an ingenious and enterprising financier, was born in Islington the son of a leather merchant. His enterprises had led him to become a regular in the bankruptcy courts and at the time he set up the Kent Coal Field Syndicate was an undischarged bankrupt. The Syndicate plan was to use fully paid up shares in the company as collateral. £150,000 of these shares were issued out of which came the £50,000 paid to the Channel Tunnel Company. As part of the deal, the Channel Tunnel Company would buy back the mineral rights after three years if the mining operations had not started. Always keen on giving publicity to his deals, Burr stated that the colliery would be producing 3,000 tons of coal per day by 1900.

William James Cousins, an estate agent who had been a student and demonstrator at South Kensington School of Mines, was, in 1895, approached by Burr to find out all he could about the Kent coalfields. From November 1895 to May 1896 Cousins surveyed the district for which he received £100 and reported in detail Brady’s findings. Burr was impressed, set up and floated the shares in the Syndicate and stated that there was a 4-foot seam at a depth of 2,172 – feet. Shaft number 1 – later known as the Brady shaft – was started in July 1896, 280-feet westward of the Brady borehole. The sinking was under the supervision of the company’s Mining Director Gilbert Picairn Simpson and mining engineer Alexander Reid.

Sinkers at Dover Colliery. White Cliffs Country Project - Shakespeare Cliff booklet

Sinkers at Dover Colliery. White Cliffs Country Partnership – Shakespeare Cliff booklet

When the sinking started, Cousins for his favourable report, received from Burr 5,000 of ordinary shares in the Syndicate. At the time Cousins was the owner/director of the Lands Distribution Company and Burr suggested that his company should undertake the sinking of two shafts at was then called the Dover Colliery. Cousin’s declined on legal advice and also returned the 5,000 of shares. Albeit, Cousins did apply to buy, out of his own money, 500 shares in the Syndicate and was appointed a Managing Director. On receipt, however, he found that the shares were for the Colliery and General Contract Company. Seven subscribers had formed this on 6 October 1896, and the Company’s purpose was the equipping and sinking of two colliery shafts on behalf of the Syndicate. The capital of the company was fixed at £30,000 with Burrs nominee, Harcourt Willoughby Marley, an employee in another of Burrs enterprises, guaranteeing £15,000.

In fact Cousins had, he later stated, inadvertently agreed to accept the Colliery and General Contract Company shares to become a Managing Director in the Syndicate. The agreement stated that the Company was to receive, on completion, £55,000 of which £22,000 was to be in cash and £33,000 in Kent Coalfields Syndicate shares. The completion date was given as 15 April 1898 and the Company was underwritten by Cousin’s Lands Distribution Company, for which that Company was to receive cash and shares.

South Eastern Railway Company laid sidings into the site. White Cliffs Countryside Project - Shakespeare Cliff

South Eastern Railway Company laid sidings into the site. White Cliffs Countryside Partnership – Shakespeare Cliff

To help operations South Eastern Railway obtained a lease from the Crown and Ecclesiastical Commissioners to lay sidings into the site. The first major problem facing Cousins’ was that Kent did not have many indigenous miners and his new Company had to attracted men from the U.K.’s traditional mining areas. The Syndicate had been responsible for the sinking thus far and also financing equipment but declined responsibility in providing sinking equipment. This they said was the responsibility of Cousins’ Company and in the belief that water would not be a major problem declined to pay for the installation of pumps or a pump engine.

A few days after the Syndicate’s engineers, Simpson and Reid,  had started the sinking of the Brady shaft in June 1896, Yorkshireman, Harry Ball was killed by a chalk fall. This was Kent coalfield’s first mining accident. Nonetheless, by the time they handed over to Cousins’ Colliery and General Contract Company at the beginning of October, a 17-foot diameter shaft had passed through Chalk, Chalk Marl and Gault Beds and reached the Lower Greensand Beds. Water had started to leak into the shaft but Cousins’ was assured that this was easily removed manually. By 16 October sinking had reached 366-feet 6-inches (312-feet B.O.D) when water broke through and the shaft quickly filled. Luckily all the men escaped but work was abandoned.

Immediately, Cousins’ Company started the sinking of the second shaft, variously called Number 2, Y and Simpson shaft. This was midway between the borehole and the Brady shaft – some 127-feet away. It was 20-foot in diameter and having experienced water problems with the Brady shaft; 15-foot boreholes were made into the shaft bottom to give advance warning of flooding. The sinking was proving successful and the mining engineer was paid off. Indeed, the shaft was so dry that three of the sinkers used punches to break up the bottom but sinking remained difficult so a lightly charged shot hole was fired. This was on the morning of 6 March 1897, after which the fourteen sinkers returned to work. The sinkers started to load the loose material into the large mining bucket, or hoppit as they are called, and noticed that the top material was damp. However, the material underneath was perfectly dry, so reassured they carried on working.

At 22.55hrs the top of the Lower Greensand Beds was struck and the master sinker noticed that the sand was wet. Suddenly, ‘with forces like that of an explosion’ water shot into the shaft from underneath. In a file the men quickly climbed up the iron rings supporting the timber lining. When their cries for help were heard from below the hoppit, which was at the surface, was lowered. However, the hoppit could only hold 2 men – 3 men, at a squash – at any one time. Three men climbed in and on reaching the top, the hoppit was quickly lowered and another three clambered aboard. One of these men was the master sinker, who reported that the water was rising rapidly. Together with another man he went down in the hoppit but by then the water had risen to 40-feet. There was no one on the iron rings.

Within 30-minutes of the water breaking through it had risen 80-feet and eventually reached over 100-feet. Seven of the men who lost their lives were Charles Bishop (28) of Dover, who left a widow and 2 children, and George Terry (22) also of Dover. John Jarvis Barrs (22) of Nottinghamshire, Richard Brockwell (22) of Shropshire, Robert Reed (54) of Rochester, George Wigman (36) of Woking, Surrey – married with 2 children, Samuel Wilmot (38) of Derbyshire – married with 2 children. The eighth man was not named.

Shakespeare Colliery Map 1898 sowing location of the Brady and Simpson shafts. Nick Catford Subterranian Britannica website

Shakespeare Colliery Map 1898 showing location of the Brady and Simpson shafts. Nick Catford Subterranian Britannica website

It was subsequently found that the water level in the borehole in the Brady shaft had dropped 127-feet at the time of the accident. The Inquiry into the disaster was conducted by John Gerrard, Inspector of Mines, who, in essence, concluded that the Greensand Beds were pervious and contained a great amount of water that was held in position by the impervious Gault Beds above. Under a head of about 265-feet of water from both the borehole and Brady shaft, sufficient pressure was exerted on the water in the Lower Greensand to burst through the few feet of hard sandstone and clay that formed the bottom of the Simpson shaft. The water, having been released from pressure was forced up the shaft.

The report drew an analogy to the principle of artesian wells, saying that by placing an empty bucket into water and piercing a hole in the bottom — water will be forced into the bucket from below until it reaches the level of the surrounding water. Since the Greensand Beds were at an angle, the level of the surrounding water corresponded to the highest point of the Beds in the area. In this case, water rose to within 40-feet of the top of the shaft as it also had in the borehole. The Inspector was critical over the lack of a site engineer and caustically finished his report by stating, ’that it would have been a distinct advantage of all concerned had some of the energy which had been displayed in Stock Exchange developments been devoted to the fitting of plant.’

Following the accident a diver was sent down the Simpson shaft and reported that it was like quicksand at the bottom. That until some of the water was drained it would be impossible to get the bodies out. It was recognised that both shafts were connected and to clear them of water a second hand ‘ponderous pump’ with a chain cable weighing 16-tons, was set up in the Brady shaft. The sinkers, however, found that emptying the shafts using barrels, was more effective and the ‘ponderous pump’ was removed. Eventually specialist miners were brought in from Wolverhampton with state of the arts pumps. These took three days to install and getting them working. It took over a month for the sinkers to pump out the shaft and recover the 8 bodies.

During this time the Dover Standard set up a relief fund for the dependents of those killed. Administered by Dover’s Mayor Henry Minter Baker, Town Clerk Wollaston Knocker, local big Whig, Sir William Crundall and Alexander Reid, £1,397 9shillings 7pence was raised. To this Cousins, in the name of the Colliery and General Contract Company, contributed £50 and £300 to defray expenses.

At the beginning of May 1897, Burr had floated a new company, the Kent Coal Exploration Company, offering 225,000 shares at £1 each of which 150,000 ordinary shares were offered for subscription. 25,000 £1 deferred shares were allotted to the promoters and included Cousins in the capacity as Managing Director of the Colliery and General Contract Company. The prospectus talked of reviving the old iron industry of Kent and Sussex making particular reference to a bed of iron ore, 12-feet thick, on the Kent Coal Syndicates property. In July the Kent Coal Finance and Development Company Limited was floated and the five board of directors included Cousins, again in his capacity as Managing Director of the Colliery and General Contract Company. On the Board of this new Company was George Fry, Dover magistrate, member of Dover Harbour Board and Chairman of the Kent Coal Field Syndicate.

Kent Collieries Corporation prospectus October 1897

Kent Collieries Corporation prospectus October 1897

In October 1897, the Kent Collieries Corporation Ltd was formed with the stated capital of £1,500,000 to take over the properties of the Kent Coalfields Syndicate. The directors included Brady of South Eastern Railway Company, Fry and Simpson but not Cousins. That same month the Colliery and General Contract Company with liabilities of £21,859 of which £10,749 were unsecured and assets of only £6,997, was wound up by Simpson. The Receiver gave the reasons for the Companys failure as the low price paid for carrying out the work, insufficient working capital, not having a resident engineer and insufficiently protected by its contract. He emphasised that the contract was of subservience to Kent Coal Field Syndicate.

The Kent Collieries Corporation Ltd took over the sinking operations and work was restarted on both shafts but in November 1897, at 500-feet, water, fine sand in suspension was encountered in the Brady shaft. After consideration, the shaft was abandoned. The sinking of a third shaft, Number 3 shaft, was started in February 1898 over the original borehole. 18-feet in diameter, cast-iron tubes were installed as it was dug to seal it from water in the rocks. At a depth of 310-feet a tunnel was driven between Number 3 shaft and the Simpson shaft to form a lodgement for pumping purposes. At 580-feet a chamber was constructed to hold a pumping engine but at 600-feet work on sinking Number 3 shaft stopped.

In July 1899 Kent Collieries Corporation together with the Kent Coal, Finance & Development Company and the Mid-Kent Coal Syndicate – another company set up by the un-discharged bankrupt Burr – were amalgamated. On 13 October 1899 a new company, the Consolidated Kent Collieries Corporation Ltd was registered under the parent company of Kent Coal Field Syndicate. The stated working capital was £1.5million but with inherited debts of £297,000, two thirds of which were irrecoverable. Further, it was reported, the machinery at Dover colliery was in a dangerous condition and the plant was not only second-hand but also obsolete and worn out.

Nonetheless, work continued and in 1900, South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company, a loosely amalgamated South Eastern Railway Company and London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company, had set up a rudimentary Halt near the Dover Colliery for miners living in Dover. The Halt did not have any platforms so miners had to jump off and climb on board. By January 1901, 937-feet had been sunk at the Simpson shaft and work was progressing rapidly. Number 3 shaft pumps were being used to keep it dry. This had been at a cost of £118,000 and it was costing approximately £1,000 a week to carry on at an average of 80-feet a month. On the positive side, workable iron ore, 15-feet in thickness, had been found at 580-feet.

Shakespeare Colliery after the introduction of the Kind-Chauldron method of sinking in 1902. Nick Catford

Shakespeare Colliery after the introduction of the Kind-Chauldron method of sinking in 1902. Nick Catford

At the end of February 1901, before Richard Everard Webster, 1st Viscount Alverstone (1842-1915) the Lord Chief Justice (1900-1913), Burr, along with Cousins, Simpson, Marley, James Browne-Martin, George Wreford, Dr Edward Robson Roos and Henry Thomas Potter stood trial that lasted eight days. They were accused of inflating the price of shares in Kent Coal Exploration Company, set up in May 1897, without any intention of developing the Dover Colliery. The case centred on Burr’s record as a bankrupt, Cousins’ Colliery and General Contract Company and the report of the Companies Liquidation Inspector appertaining to Cousins’ Company. This, in turn, had rested on the Inspector of Mines report, by John Gerrard, into the accident at the Simpson shaft of March 1897.  The Lord Chief Justice, however, acquitted the accused saying that those who bought the shares in Kent Coal Exploration Company, did so in the belief that they were a prudent investment. The Lord Chief Justice also found that there was no lack of intention to develop Dover Colliery and was critical of John Gerrard’s remarks about the energy that had been displayed in Stock Exchange developments.

In the Boardroom of the Consolidated Kent Collieries Corporation, the directors appeared to hold Burr as the culprit for the case being brought and on the grounds that he was still an undischarged bankrupt, excluded him. Furious Burr, at the end of February 1901, issued a circular entitled The Boards Mendacious Report, in which he accused the directors of dishonest and fraudulent practices. At the time he was heavily involved in another court case that appeared not to be going his way, whether this influenced Burr’s decision to withdraw his accusation, is unclear. Afterwards, albeit still a shareholder, he also distanced himself from the Board of Consolidated Kent Collieries Corporation.

By October 1901, a depth of 1,020-feet had been reached in the Simpson shaft and a core sample revealed a coal seam at 1,188-feet 7-inches. A second seam at 1,192-feet 1-inch was found, the total thickness of which was 3-feet 10-inches. At that time the method used for excavating the shaft was drilling and digging followed by bricking. By December that year, it was estimated that sinking was within with 90-feet of the first of the coal seams but ingress of water was faster than the pumps could get rid of it, was slowing operations down. The Board suggested that a further £150,000 would enable them to deal with the water problems and were talking of the colliery becoming a large industrial concern.

Kind - Chaldron iron rings being inserted into a Shakespeare Colliery mine shaft. Brian Hartley White Cliffs Countryside Partnership

Kind – Chaldron iron rings being inserted into a Shakespeare Colliery mine shaft. Brian Hartley White Cliffs Countryside Partnership

To this Burr, using his excellent relationship with the media, successfully disillusioned the shareholders of the Corporation. Then fate played into his hands when the winding engine clutch broke and the steel rope fell down the shaft crashing into the pumping gear. Despair ruled the Boardroom until J Leroy, suggested bringing in French engineers from the Pas de Calais coalfields. This was agreed and these engineers recommended an entirely different way of sinking the shaft – the Kind-Chaldron method. The method used a trépan, as the machinery was called, which was a steel beam the length of which was the diameter of the shaft, and carried rows of teeth projecting vertically downwards. The beam was alternatively raised about a foot and then dropped, falling by its own weight. The action caused the teeth to pulverise the rock at the base of the shaft and as the beam, which was suspended by a central pivot, was turned through an angle on each drop, a circular hole was gradually excavated. This was done under water, which was then pumped out and the shaft tubbed with thick iron rings. These were bolted together and fixed to the walls of the shaft.

South Eastern & Chatham Railway ticket from Dover to Shakespeare Colliery post 1899 - Michael Stewart Collection

South Eastern & Chatham Railway ticket from Dover to Shakespeare Colliery post 1899 – Michael Stewart Collection

Costing £7,000 for the machinery, the Kind-Chaldron method was introduced into the Simpson shaft in July 1902 and the Brady shaft in September. At the time of the introduction into the Simpson shaft the water was a 1,000-feet deep and during the operations the shaft was widened to 18-feet in diameter. The operations were undertaken using a false bottom so that a workable section could be dealt with. As the water was pumped out of the section cast-iron tubes were bolted into position and then hydraulic applied cement was used as infilling to keep that section of the shaft dry. The cast-iron tubes were brought by freighters from Germany and unloaded in the Wellington Dock. From there they were carried in small barges towed by a tug to the Colliery landing stage and then hauled onto an inclined railway to the shafts. The Kind-Chaldron method was estimated to cost the Corporation £75,000 and to help finance it they invited every creditor to surrender their charge and take debentures to an equal amount.

Kent Coalfield map showing the extent of coal reserves in Kent.

Kent Coalfield map showing the extent of coal reserves in Kent.

The first coal seam was hit in the Simpson shaft on 25 September 1903 and the second by early 1904, but they were disappointingly thin so sinking continued. Sir Owen Slacke, was appointed chairman of Consolidated Kent Collieries Corporation. He sort a special resolution at a shareholders meeting of 19 October 1904 to raise a further £200,000 for further sinking. In the audience were J Leroy, Arthur Burr and William Cousins. Leroy stated that the operation had cost £100,000 and that the other £100,000 was in order to defray previous liabilities and that this had not been stated. Slacke retorted that the full details had been given in the company report and an altercation between the two men occurred. Leroy, who had brought his solicitor, resigned and walked out. The following day, Leroy presided over a meeting of Kent Coal Concessions, a company set up by Burr in 1896 with the purpose of buying potential underground coalfields but not surface land. Within two years of Leroy joining forces with Burr, Kent Coal Concessions had secured mining rights over 20,000 acres of East Kent, sufficient, it was reported, for 20 collieries to be established.

At the time of the meeting Cousins was not a happy man. The Corporation, under Leroy, had set up a subsidiary, Kent Coalfield Extension Ltd. Cousins, along with another director of the Corporation had been appointed as the only two directors and given a remit that they fully carried out. However, instead of receiving remuneration, Consolidated, without telling Cousins or the other director, ordered the company to be wound up. A liquidator was called in who issued a misfeasance summons against Cousins. This, Cousins brought to the attention of the shareholders at the meeting of 19 October 1904 but they voted that the Consolidated was correct in its actions. Cousins sort redress and in 1907, the action against Cousins for misfeasance was dismissed by the High Court and subsequently the Court of Appeal and all costs were charged against Consolidated Kent Collieries Corporation.

Prospectus for Kent Collieries Ltd April 1905

Prospectus for Kent Collieries Ltd April 1905

On the 3 February 1905 there was great rejoicing at the now renamed Shakespeare Colliery, as the deeper coal seam was reached in the renamed Simpson Pit and a bucket of coal was sent up. By March, only 12-tons of coal had been won and it was estimated that this had cost the Corporation £125,000 a ton! Following further discontent within the Boardroom, in April Sir Owen Slacke and his supporters formed Kent Collieries Ltd to acquire from Consolidated Kent Collieries Corporation its undertaking in Shakespeare Colliery. The new company was to provide the working capital to put the Shakespeare Colliery upon a commercial and productive basis and the price paid was £37,500 in fully paid shares plus clearing the companys outstanding liabilities of £46,000. From the issue of shares it was expected to raise £400,000 capital and sinking was continued.

The sinking of Simpson Pit reached 1,450-feet by July 1905 and in January 1906 it had reached 1,635-feet. This was some 400-feet below where the Kind-Chaudron tubbing had ceased, as it was believed that it had passed through the water bearing layers. Five ‘workable seams’ had been found but only the lower two were considered to be of ‘marketable value.’ Two thicker seams still lay below. Sinking recommenced but immediately water, at the rate of 10,000 gallons an hour, rushed in. Work was suspended and pumps were installed. On investigation, the water was found to be coming from the adjacent, but not connected Brady shaft, where the borehole was down to 2,250-feet. It was therefore agreed that further sinking of the Simpson Pit would cease as workable seams had been proved. The Pit was fitted with permanent winding and a ventilation heading was driven between the Simpson Pit and Number 3 shaft.

By the summer of 1907 a 1-foot 8-inch seam at a depth of 1,273-feet was being worked at the Simpson Pit and the amount of coal raised daily was between 7-9 tons. The workers at the coal face were paid more than surface workers and in consequence surface workers sought to get mine workers jobs. This caused strife and to make matters worse, if it was believed that a miner was slacking a surface worker would be sent down to check him out. On 1 June 1907 Charles Marsh of 7 East Street was sent down to check out George Eleander of 1 Chapel Street. Eleander, who had previously been part of the sinking team and had been at the colliery for a number of years, was sacked and Marsh took his place. Late that evening, Marsh was on his way home when Eleander, the worse for drink, attacked him but as he had previously good record was let off with a fine of £1. That year, Leney’s Phoenix Brewery in Dover purchased coal from the Pit and advertised their Dover Pale Ale as ‘Brewed by Kent Coal’. This was soon quietly dropped when the coal proved to be of a poor quality.

Iron Rings on the quay of Wellington Dock for Shakespeare Colliery 1909. Nick Catford

Iron Rings on the quay of Wellington Dock for Shakespeare Colliery 1909. Nick Catford

Further sinking of Number 3 shaft was started but instead of the expensive Kind-Chauldron method, sectional tubbing with iron rings was used and electric pumps installed. The 18-feet in diameter shaft was at 1,272-feet by spring 1908 when legal action was started against Kent Collieries Ltd over the electric pumps. All operations ceased while the case was heard in the High Court in London. Kent Collieries Ltd lost and the litigation expenses cut heavily into the working capital. A new company Chairman, Joseph Shaw, was appointed. He was also new to the company but had long experience sinking coalmines in South Wales. At the company meeting in January 1909, Shaw made it clear to shareholders that unless £125,000 of newly issued preference shares were sold it was hopeless to proceed as there were liabilities of nearly £28,000. By the autumn production was down to a standstill and before the year was out, the Official Receiver was called in.

Entrepreneur Richard Tilden Smith (1865-1929), at this time was involved in Kent Collieries Ltd, and he was also acquainted with Arthur Dorman (1848-1931). Dorman along with Albert de Laude Long, had formed Dorman Long and Co in 1875 as steel makers, constructional engineers and bridge builders. Early in 1910, Dorman set up Channel Collieries Trust Ltd, with Dorman Long and Co as the major shareholder, other shareholders included Tilden Smith and mining engineer Edward Otto Forster Brown. Their remit stated that their intention was to purchase land near South Foreland where they would build a residential estate, approached by a Cliff Road and the Dover, St Margaret’s and Martin Mill Light Railway from Dover. They also made an offer to the Official Receiver for Shakespeare Colliery and an agreement was reached whereby the name Kent Collieries Ltd was retained while Channel Collieries Trust Ltd became the major shareholder.

Boring of Number 3 shaft was resumed while the Brady shaft and Simpson Pit were put on hold. This was due to the colliery being given a major makeover with the installation of up-to-date equipment. The changes included the introduction of double-winding machines at both the now renamed Brady Pit and the Simpson Pit. Automatic stokers fed the boilers and electric pump engines and dynamos were installed to provide light and power. On 4 April 1912, Kent Collieries Ltd issued a press release stating that ‘the first Kent Coal will be produced in the next few days,’ and that ‘a year from now the existing pit will be producing coal at a rate of 150,000 tons a year!’

Shakespeare Colliery owned by Kent Collieries on the front page of the Times supplement 24 April 1912

Shakespeare Colliery owned by Kent Collieries on the front page of the Times supplement 24 April 1912

Shakespeare Colliery was given the front page of the Times Finance, Commerce and Shipping supplement on 24 April 1912, with drawings of the colliery, power house – showing the close proximity of the SECRailway lines – Simpson Pit, Number 3 shaft and a borehole at Ropersole, 8-miles away. The caption, under the main picture read: ‘The First Pit to Deliver Coal from the Kent Coal Measures’, adding that, ‘Seams of coal reached by Shaft No2 (Simpson Pit), at 1,273-feet, 21-to 22inch seam highly bituminous, of good general commercial value, and especially suitable for gas production, with fireclay underneath … At 1,500-feet, 30-inch seam, clean bright house coal of good quality with fireclay underneath. At 1,614- feet, 27-inch seam, clean bright coal of good coking quality…’ The article went on to say that the mining rights of Kent Collieries Ltd included about 13,000 acres and that its freehold properties came to about 647acres. The cost of mining a ton of coal was given as between 7-shillings and 9-shillings and that it would take about 500-years to exhaust the coal deposits.

Shakespeare Colliery coal together with iron baring rocks. Tom Robinson Collection

Shakespeare Colliery coal together with iron baring rocks. Tom Robinson Collection

At the time of publication, miners were arriving at Dover that had been recruited from northern coalfields to work at the Shakespeare Colliery. Shortly after it was reported that three headings had been started in the Simpson Pit and that a train consisting of twelve trucks with the capacity of ten tons each had been filled and taken to the London market. Burr’s rival Kent Coal Concessions said that of the consignment of coal sent from the mine, only 120-tons had come from the Simpson pit. That the rest had been brought in from Dorman Long and Co’s northeastern mines to impress disillusioned shareholders and gullible national newspaper reporters! Local newspapers supported Burr’s account.

At 18.00hrs on 5 September 1912, during the sinking of Number 3 shaft, 14 men were working at 1,300-feet. A tank containing 1,200 gallons of water was being drawn up but when it was about 300-feet from the top of the shaft it became detached and fell. Banging the sides of the shaft taking with it bricks, debris and fragments of steam and ventilation pipes it fell to the bottom. Miners working at the surface and those who heard what had happened rushed to the shaft. The 14 men were still at the bottom but due to the now damaged rudimentary winding gear a rescue operation was severely hampered. Dover doctors and surgeons from the Royal Victoria Hospital drove to the pit to help and along with family members all waited.

No 3 Shaft winding gear 1912. White Cliffs Countryside Project

No 3 shaft winding gear 1912. White Cliffs Countryside Partnership

Eventually 11 of the men were rescued but Robert Dunlop, J Faules, J Graham, W Mountein and Robert Sunshine were badly injured and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Dover. The others also suffered injures and they were dealt with on site. The remaining three miners were under the tank and when the rescue party finally managed to free them, it was found that George Ball and Joseph Watson had been killed. J Little was severely injured. The cause of the accident was attributed to the engine winding man who had inadvertently put full speed on to the engines in the wrong direction causing the chain to snap.

The month before, August 1912, 100-tons of coal had been hoisted from Number 3 shaft and sent for testing. It was found to be of high commercial value. At Snowdown colliery, owned by one of Burr’s associated companies, East Kent Colliery Company the first commercial East Kent coal was raised on 19 November 1912 and given wide publicity. On 2 June 1913, the Shakespeare Holt officially opened. This tiny railway station was situated near Number 3 shaft and consisted of two timber platforms. In September it was reported that the sinking of Number 3 shaft had reached 1,275-feet. Further, a 16-foot-thick seam of limonite iron ore, had been found during the sinking of a borehole. 1,000 tons of ore were extracted and testing proved the seam to be commercially viable. It was estimated that there were over 100 million tons of ore over an area of 6 square miles!

Coal Strata at Shakespeare Colliery. Times 1912

Coal Strata at Shakespeare Colliery. Times 1912

Channel Collieries Trust had provided advances amounting to £81,900, exclusive of interest, to Kent Collieries Ltd and they asked for the option to commence working on excavating the iron lying below lands owned or leased by Kent Collieries Ltd. In return Channel Collieries Trust offered to delay the payment of arrears by Kent Collieries Ltd until 1 August 1915. This was agreed and the Board members of Kent Collieries Ltd immediately voted to continue sinking number 3 shaft to the coal reserves and to sink the Simpson Pit to 1,810-feet. Analysis of the seam at that depth showed the coal compared favourably with Welsh coal – the heating power was 14.367units whereas Welsh coal was 14.858units.

By 1910, Burr was heavily involved in at least twenty-two different companies, all of which had his Kent Coal Concessions Ltd as a major shareholder. In 1914, these were consolidated but retained the name. Channel Collieries Trust had holdings in the East Kent Colliery Company and they along with Dorman Long held shares in the consolidated company. On 13 April 1913, Sir William Crundall – Chairman of Dover Harbour Board and Weetman Dickinson Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray – whose company had built Dover’s Admiralty Harbour, announced that they were selling their shares in the Dover, St Margaret’s and Martin Mill Railway Company – which amounted to 50%, by transfer, to the Channel Collieries Trust. World War I (1914-1918) started on 4 August 1914 and fifteen months later, in December 1915, Kent Collieries Ltd announced that it was to close for the duration of the War. This, they said, was due to, scarcity of labour and transport difficulties. The two working shafts were sealed off with concrete plugs, just below the level of the iron ore seam, to reduce the pumping requirement. At a shareholders meeting held in February 1916, in agreement with the Channel Collieries Trust, the holders of £70,000 debentures would accept warrants in lieu of interest until the end of hostilities.

In June 1917, Kent Collieries Ltd and Channel Collieries Trust amalgamated and the capital for the new company was given as £750,000. Two months later the two amalgamated companies went into voluntary liquidation and with the consent of the Treasury, Dorman Long the main shareholders, created the Channel Steel Company. At the same time, with Treasury approval, all of the different East Kent coal mining interests were transferred to the Channel Steel Company including some of the holdings of the consolidated Kent Coal Concessions. However, the company, which operated out of Castle Hill House, still held most of the mineral rights. The chairman of Dorman Long, Arthur Long, in 1917, told the annual general meeting of shareholders that, there is a large bed of ironstone on the property, and that tests in the past two years have produced encouraging results. and he hoped that before long the result may be the establishment of an important iron industry in the county of Kent.

1919 map showing Shakespeare Colliery

1919 map showing Shakespeare Colliery

In 1918 winding gear at Shakespeare Colliery was sold for scrap and the chimney demolished but plans were afoot to reopen the site at a later date to exploit the iron deposits. A caretaker was employed to keep the remaining machinery oiled and the site tidy. S Pearson and Son who had built Admiralty Harbour and had large share holding in what remained of Kent Coal Concessions joined forces with Dorman Long & Company to form Pearson & Dorman Long Company in 1922. About the same time, the Channel Steel Company took over most of the mineral rights of Kent Coal Concessions and the company went into liquidation in 1925. One of the stated aims of the Channel Steel Company was to exploit the iron-ore at Shakespeare colliery. However, the colliery remained in mothballs and in 1928 the remaining machinery, including engines, pumps, pipes, tanks and small winding engines was sold for scrap to ship breakers, A.O.Hills Ltd of Dover. At the same time 150,000 bricks were sold but the Channel Steel Company announced that the colliery may still be utilised for mining iron ore.

Shakespeare Colliery Boiler House and Pit head works in the Times of 24 April1912 demolished in the 1950s. Times

Shakespeare Colliery Boiler House and Pit head works in the Times of 24 April 1912, demolished in the 1950s. Times

Nothing happened but the caretaker was still retained. On 25 August 1938, this was Charles Gatehouse who welcomed Bruna Plarre after she successfully swam the Channel in 15½hours. In September 1949, Fernand Du Moulin made the crossing also landed near the old workings. He was the first Belgium to complete the Channel swim and during World War II (1939-1945) he had been the leader of the resistance movement in Liége (Luik). Channel Steel Company that owned Shakespeare Colliery in 1952, officially ceased trading and the caretaker of the site was sacked. At the time some of the colliery buildings were still standing including the boiler house. By the mid-1950s all the buildings had been demolished, the site cleared and railway sidings laid. The colliery shafts were eventually capped by civil engineers Mott, Hay & Anderson.

Map showing the disused Shakespeare Colliery railway station. Alan Young of

Map showing the disused Shakespeare Colliery railway station. Alan Young of

In 1973 Parliament gave their approval for a Channel Tunnel on the Folkestone side of where the Tunnel was started back in 1880. Concern was expressed that the old Tunnel and/or the Shakespeare colliery workings would cause problems but geological studies showed that they were no threat to the proposed Tunnel. For totally different reasons this Channel Tunnel proposal was abandoned. However, on 12 February 1986 the Treaty was signed between the UK and France for a Fixed Link – a Tunnel – between the two countries. Again the proposed Tunnel was to be on the Folkestone side of the old workings and geologists investigated the route. They drove over 70 boreholes ahead of the working face of the new Tunnel to ensure all was well. The 31.4mile Channel Tunnel was opened on 6 May 1994 at Calais by Queen Elizabeth II and French President (1981-1995) François Mitterrand (1916-1996).

The spoil from the Channel Tunnel, about 6.5million cubic yards of chalk marl, was deposited near to the site of the former Shakespeare Colliery creating a 185-acre site. Approximately, 75acres of the site were planted with wild flower seeds, including rock samphire from plants growing on adjacent cliffs. Its fleshy green leaves were harvested in May, pickled in barrels of brine and sent to London, where it was served as a delicacy accompaniment to meat. The samphire pickers on what was once called Hay Cliffe, now Shakespeare Cliff, was mentioned in William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) King Lear vi 12 giving the new name to the cliff:

How fearful

And dizzy ‘tis to cast one’s eyes so low!

The crows and choughs that wing the midway air

Show scarce so gross as beetles; half-way down

Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!

Samphire Hoe. White Cliffs Countryside Project

Samphire Hoe. White Cliffs Countryside Project


Following a public competition, won by Gillian Janaway – a retired English teacher from Dover, the site was named Samphire Hoe.

The White Cliffs Countryside Project (now White Cliffs Countryside Partnership), launched in 1989, took responsibility for Samphire Hoe and the site was officially opened to visitors in July 1997. PowerGen donated that year, the Waiting Miner Statue, which had stood outside Richborough Power Station, to Dover District Council. The statue was placed in Granville Gardens, Dover – to commemorate the town as the birthplace of the Kent Coalfield. However, the statue was moved to Fowlmead Country Park in 2010 and only the plinth remains.


  • Presented: 29 October 2015


About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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