Eastern United

The Eastern United Colliery Gale was one of the seven areas into which the deep measures of the coalfield were split following the 1904 Dean Forest (Mines) Act.  The No. 4 Group, as it was first known, comprised the following gales;- United Deep No. 2, Emperor, Extension, and part of Central.  The area contained six veins, estimated to contain 41,000,000 tons of coal.  It was hoped that this would give the colliery a working life of 200 years if 200,000 tons were extracted annually.  The principal seam was the Coleford High Delf, a steam coal much in demand and reputed to be five feet thick.

The gale was granted on 19 March 1906 to James Riley Brown and others forming a committee of Free Miners.  They gave an option on the gale to a Mr. Wyatt but things did not progress well in this direction.  The gentleman in question had interests elsewhere in the Forest and was stated to be forming a company to work Eastern United and also the Newbridge Engine gale at Nailbridge to the north of Cinderford.  He was also to build a railway and ‘do other wonderful things’!  The Crown were not impressed by this speculator, seeing little hope of any of his schemes coming to fruition.  Indeed, he was unable to come up with the £100 purchase price.  This may seem a small amount for the colliery but the Free Miners were also to get a royalty one-sixth of that paid to the Crown, the minimum being 1/2 d. per ton.  This sum was shared out annually among the Free Miners.  The Crown were, however, far more interested when Henry Crawshay & Co. Ltd. came upon the scene wishing to acquire the gale.

When Wyatt was unable to proceed with the purchase of the gale the Free miners offered it to Mr. Heyworth, a director of Henry Crawshay & Co. Ltd.  In October 1907 Heyworth reported to the Board that he had the option to purchase available until the 1st December and that he would hand it over to the Company if they agreed to pay the £100 before 21st November.

By the end of October a report had been produced by Mr. William Meredith, the Company’s under manager at their nearby highly successful Lightmoor Colliery, on the prospects of the property.  Enquiries had also been made of the owners of the Findall gale as to whether they would allow a level to be driven from their property to enable the working of Eastern United.  The report was obviously satisfactory as it was decided to pay the £100.  The cheque was made out to William Meredith in his capacity of Free Miners representative which gave him a foot in each camp!  The payment did not commit Crawshay’s to work the gale it merely gave them the option to do so.  The matter of whether to invest or not was to be put before the shareholders in February 1908.

The work to persuade the Directorate, and probably the shareholders, began in January 1908 when William Meredith reported to the Board that the housecoal seams in the Forest were rapidly becoming exhausted and that the coal was getting much more expensive to work.  He believed that within a few years the Forest coalfield would undergo a considerable change with the companies at present working housecoal seams working more steam coal from the deeper measures.  The Lydney & Crump Meadow Collieries Co. had already obtained about 20 million tons of steam coal with the acquisition of Arthur & Edward Colliery, together with the rest of the new North Western United gale.  They had also just purchased the Northern United gale and were considering opening which would give them another 20 million tons.  The Western United gale was being opened by the Cannop Colliery Co. and it was expected that in about six years large outputs would be obtained.  The future of Lightmoor Colliery was estimated as being about 20 years as the main seams being worked were rapidly becoming exhausted.  As things turned out Lightmoor was kept at work until 1940 although its closure had been threatened several times during the late 1920s and through the 1930s.  The Eastern United gale was acquired on 24 December 1907 and work began on the site on Whit Monday 1909.

To finance the development of the new concern H. Crawshay & Co. promoted a new company, the Eastern United Colliery Ltd. and issued 6% Debentures for £20,000. All were taken up by existing shareholders, in fact the issue was over subscribed so much so that the company could have raised twice the amount of capital.  In August 1909 it was reported that work had started on the surface provisions under the guidance of Mr. William Meredith the manager.

The colliery itself was situated on the site of the old Walmers, or Findall, Colliery.  This had been commenced around 1866 and was worked by means of a shaft, the coal being brought out through a cut-out about 15 yards from the surface.  Crawshays purchased about six acres of the Findall gale, including the shaft, to allow for the easier winning of the Eastern United gale.  The Walmers shaft was now flooded to a depth of about 50 yards and work on de-watering it began in October 1909.  It was not the intention to work the new colliery by means of a shaft but by dipples, or drifts, driven into the hillside.  Work on these evidently commenced soon afterwards as in December it was reported that the shaft was free of water and that the dipples had struck the old roadway of Walmers Colliery.  The main dipple passed to the side of the Walmers shaft and met an old roadway from Walmers pit-bottom.  The old roadway thus gave an emergency way out and also provided ventilation for which purpose a fan was situated at the top of the shaft.

There were to be two dipples, one on the north side of the old shaft and one on the south, about twenty-five yards apart.  The north dipple was to be used for travelling and incidental work and was to be eight feet wide and seven feet high.  The south dipple was to be for the main haulage and was to be ten feet wide and seven feet high.  The haulage itself was to be by means of an endless rope system, capable of bringing out 600 tons of coal per eight hour day.  The dip of the roadways was to be 1 in 4 gradually decreasing as the distance from the surface increased.  The eventual haulage distance to be travelled was 1,200 yards with the ropes travelling at a speed of 31/2 miles per hour.  The tubs to be used were to carry from 10 to 15 hundredweight each.  The haulage was to be powered by steam with a double horizontal engine geared 5 to 1 with cylinders 12 inches in diameter with a 12 foot stroke.  A winding engine was also to be placed above the old Walmers shaft ‘for incidental purposes’.  Pumping was to be electric with a generating station provided.  This was to contain a Bellis and Morcom, two crank, two cylinder, vertical enclosed engine capable of developing the necessary power to drive a three-phase 400 kilowatt alternator.  Steam for the engines was to be provided by two Lancashire boilers, with a third held in reserve.  As well as providing D.C. power for the pumps and haulage underground the generating set also supplied electricity for domestic purposes to some Crawshay owned houses in the area.  Notable amongst these were the Villa at Ruspidge where one of the companies directors lived, and the Woodlands, on St. Whites Road, the home of the colliery manager.  It is said that the pole route to these properties never left Crawshay owned land.

It was anticipated that it would take about a year to reach the coal face 200 yards down the dipple and whilst this work was in hand developments continued on the surface.  In July 1909 application was made to the Crown for land near Staple Edge halt on which to lay sidings for the colliery, the Board of Trade was also approached to give sanction to the commencement of the works.  Both were granted and the work was reported as complete in September.  The siding agreement with the GWR, dated 31 August, was for a single connection to the branch with minimal trackage inside the colliery.  The GWR, however, had the power to order extra works if the outwards traffic averaged ten truck loads a day over a period of three consecutive calendar months or any time after the first three years.  The new works were inspected by Colonel H.A. Yorke for the Board of Trade on 6 December 1909 and he reported as follows:-
‘The line is single and is worked on the electric train staff system.
The points are operated from a ground frame containing 2 levers, which are locked by the key on the electric train staff.
Owing to the steep gradient at this place it is necessary that all trains doing work at the siding shall have their engine at the lower end, and this the Company have agreed to do.’

The facilities provided at this time can be seen on the plan, it is interesting to note that there are no screens shown, indeed early photographs also show the lack of screens.  It would appear that the wagons were loaded directly from the tubs passing over the bridge which led to the original waste tip.  It is possible that as development work at the colliery was still proceeding, the deep of the coal having been reached in mid-December, that most of the coal won was probably used in the boilers here whilst any surplus may have been taken to Lightmoor to feed the boilers there.  Another feature which cannot be detected on the early views of the sidings is the runaway siding.

The cost of the sidings and the connections was £225 and they sufficed until 1911 when the output did exceed the average of ten truck loads per day over a period of three months although it was stated in September that no workable coal had been reached although the sum of £27,000 had been spent.  The output for the whole of 1910 was only 8,192 tons.  However, the increased output in 1911 led the GWR to invoke the clause in the original agreement for the extension of the sidings.  To carry out this work Crawshay’s had to purchase some land on the east of the branch and convey it to the railway company, they also had to divert the Cinderford Brook and obtain the closing of two footpaths crossing the line and arrange for their diversion.  The cost of the work was estimated at £2,803 and included was the slewing of the branch to make space for the provision of the loop siding and a new signal box.  The cost was to be paid in three installments, one prior to work commencing, one on completion and the final one after twelve months had elapsed.  The cost was to be refunded to Crawshay’s in the form of a rebate on traffic charges for ten years or until the actual cost of the work was covered.

The work does not seem to have progressed very quickly as it was not until June 1912 that plans were sent to the Board of Trade showing the new proposals.  The provision of these works was sanctioned by them and they were reported as complete in March 1914.  The necessary inspection was carried out by Colonel Von Donop:-
‘At Staple Edge Halt a new goods loop has been provided on the west side of the single line.  The points and signals are worked from a new box containing a frame of 17 working levers and 4 spare.
On account of the gradient on which the halt is situated it has been arranged that trains shall not be accepted simultaneously in both directions.
Arrangements satisfactory.’
It would appear that the box and the loops were brought into use prior to Von Donop’s inspection, both being in use in December 1913.  The improvements to the colliery yard can be seen by reference to the 1914 track plan.

The colliery itself was still not doing as well as expected.  In October 1914 it was reported that difficulties were being experienced in working the Coleford High Delf seam.  In November it was stated that the seam, which covered 1,945 acres, was irregular and that at the present time they were driving in steeply inclined coal into the main basin itself.  The outlay to date had been £53,000.  The problem was that the seam was very faulty and kept disappearing, it was thought that conditions would not improve until the deep of the coal was reached.  As it was it was stated that the colliery was losing about £10,000 per year.

Coal output began to increase during the 1920s, in 1920 itself 58,038 tons were brought to the surface and by 1930 this had increased to 239,749 tons.  At some point between 1930 and 1935 a new set of modern screens were built undoubtably to handle the increased output.  in 1935 production was running at 255,187 tons but in July coal sales were poor and loaded wagons awaiting an order for their contents from a customer were stabled on sidings around the area.  Seventy-five wagon loads of this ‘wait order’ coal were in the yard at Bullo, forty-nine were in Gloucester Docks and twenty-two were in the yard at Bilson Junction giving a grand total of 146 wagons being stored.  Only odd wagons were labelled day by day and many of the wagons hauled to Gloucester Docks were eventually labelled ‘down line’ and hauled back again!

In desperation to keep the colliery working an appeal was made to Bilson Junction to hold some of the output at the end of June 1935.  If the colliery sidings had become completely choked with loaded wagons then the extraction of coal would have to come to a halt with men being laid off in consequence.  As the request to Bilson was presented as a special case the wagons were accepted ‘for a few days’.  At the end of July there were thirty-three trucks of ‘wait order’ at Bilson reported as being from Northern United Colliery, another of Crawshay’s concerns.  However, it eventually came out that twenty-three of these wagons were from Eastern United which resulted in the following message being sent:- ‘It must be understood that no further such wagons must be sent to Bilson Jnc’.  Of those wagons which were there only ten were cleared in a reasonable time and Bilson, despite pressing the colliery, were left with the remainder.  The outcome of this was that it was resolved that Bilson would not help again although it has to be said that several wagons were eventually dispatched containing considerably less coal than they had arrived in the yard with!

Taking the loaded wagons to Bilson involved extra movements, although it was only about two miles it was ‘heavy hauling’, twelve class one wagons being a full engine load.  There was also difficulty in getting wagons onto the train at the colliery as no traffic was marshalled there, all sorting being carried out at Bullo.  The layout of the sidings also caused problems for the traffic department and led to a heavy amount of shunting having to be done.  The loaded sidings held fifty-eight wagons which were labelled as and when the colliery received orders for them.  It was not unusual for twenty wagons to be labelled out and for these to stand in ten or more places on three or four different sidings and before any sorting out of these could commence up to six wagons for country trade may have had to be moved first.  Once shunting was finished the country trade wagons had to be put back in position.  The lack of headroom through the screens for locomotives also hampered shunting which meant that up to an hour could be spent shunting rather than the allowed for fifteen minutes.  Beyond the allowed time which was laid down in the siding agreement the GWR were entitled to charge 7/6 per hour (one report quotes 10/-) and the extra time spent was thus of some concern.  A check on the excess time spent shunting at Eastern was made for the twelve months ending 28 July 1935 with the following results:-
 1934 Hrs. Mins.
4 weeks ending  August 26 24 35
 September 23 25 55
 October 21 34 45
 November 18 38 20
 December 16 40 15
 January 13 32 15
 February 10 35 05
 March 10 37 45
 April 7 39  25
 May 5 33 15
 June 2 32 50
 June 30 38 35
 July 28 35 35
                             TOTAL  448  35
Calculated at a rate of 10/- per hour it meant that the GWR were performing shunting for Henry Crawshay & Co. to the value of £224. 5. 10 per year without charge - a matter of some concern to the railway!

In July 1935 empty wagons were worked to the colliery from Bullo by the 8.50am to Eastern, the 1pm to Bilson, the 1.25pm to eastern and the 6.05 to Eastern.  The colliery was cleared by the 10.00am from Eastern, the 10.20am from Drybrook Quarries, the 3.08pm from Eastern and the 2.45pm from Cinderford.  Continual servicing by the railway, especially during the winter months when the output averaged between 90 and 100 wagons per day, was necessary it the colliery was not to come to a stand.

The problem with the wait order coal and with the sorting of wagons continued throughout the 30s.  On one occasion in May 1937 on account of the time taken to clear loaded wagons the 3.40pm goods got behind the 4.20 autocar from Cinderford and also did not leave Eastern until after the departure of the 5.45pm autocar, ex-Newnham, from Staple Edge Halt.  The branch was consequently open for an hour longer than otherwise.  The situation was expected to worsen as Northern United Colliery, at the end of the Churchway branch, was steadily increasing its output and a new brickworks was also being developed at Churchway.

The problems over wagon storage led Crawshay’s in 1937 to contemplate extending the existing loaded sidings northwards into an old quarry which had been used to provide stone for both surface and underground works at the colliery.  These ideas appear to have been shelved when the problems of gaining access to the site for the removal of spoil etc. was considered.  This would have constituted a serious block to traffic at certain times and the idea was dropped.

In February 1939 a start was made on laying three new sidings on land bought by Crawshay’s to the north of Staple Edge Halt.  Some of the fitting staff from Eastern were involved in the track laying but the work was never completed.  It would appear that material for them had been purchased from the Severn & Wye Joint Committee and was to come from the lifting of the sidings at the site of Cinderford Old Station close to Bilson Yard.  In June 1940 as there was no ‘wait order’ coal in the Forest it was decided by the GWR that there was no need to press for the extra accommodation, especially as the use of material for that purpose could not be justified with regard to the apparent urgent need for materials elsewhere.  A siding agreement was taken out with the GWR in July 1942 which stipulated the work to be carried out suggesting a change of mind with regards to the provision of the sidings.  A bridge, known locally as ‘Cullamore Bridge’, which once carried a tramroad from Lightmoor Colliery, but was now used only as a footbridge, was to be extended in order to allow the sidings to pass beneath the work being done by Crawshay’s.  The actual cost of the sidings, estimated at £1,870, included the moving of the boundary fence and the removal, and re-erection on a different site, of a permanent way hut.  The new works were designed to accommodate 133 wagons but it would appear that they were never completed.  Indead reference to photographic evidence shows that only two sidings were built under Cullamore Bridge.  It is likely that the siding furthest away from the branch was never laid as it would have involved the demolition of part of the building on the site which, since 1939, had been used as a foundry by Henry Crawshay & Co..  This facility had formerly been located at Lightmoor Colliery but was moved closer to Eastern United with the winding down of operations at Lightmoor.  It was from this building that the sidings took the name ‘cast house sidings’.  Apart from being unfinished it would seem that the sidings were never used and they were removed in the mid-1950s.

In February 1938 a ballot was held at the colliery with reference to the continuance of the ‘butty system’.  Under this arrangement a contractor and his mate, or butty, agreed with the colliery management to work a certain area of coal for a certain price.  They would win the coal and load it into a tub at the coal face and would also bring into their workplace any materials necessary for the support of the roof.  These materials were supplied by the colliery but had to be taken from the pit top, or ‘bank’ by the contractor.  If two shifts were being worked then the contractor took one and his butty the other.  They were usually assisted by an additional man and a boy.

The colliery owners paid the contractor for the amount of coal brought to the surface on a fortnightly basis and it was up to the contractor how the money was divided amongst his team.  Whilst most were probably fair many kept the largest portion to themselves.  They took a risk in that having taken out a portion of the coal face they did not know whether the coal would be easy to work or if within a couple of yards it would disappear due to faulting.  If no coal were being produced then no money was forthcoming and perhaps weeks of toil went unrewarded.  At times like this, and during the summers when the trade was slack, it was the men employed by the contractor who suffered in that they were laid off.  Normally there was enough work to keep the contractor going.

The colliery company itself employed very few men directly, those who were being mainly involved in the maintenance of the colliery and ‘ripping’, or opening out, roadways and haulage roads.

The result of the ballot was 279 against and only 54 in favour and as a result the butty system was abolished at Eastern in March.
To aid production the first coal cutting machine, a Hopkinson Minor, was installed in February 1939 but it did not halt the decline in production which had started in 1938 following a record year in 1937.  The full output figures are given below:-
1910 8,192 1926 115,357 1942 195,298
1911  1927 173,085 1943 191,799
1912  1928 184,192 1944 178,781
1913 61,801 1929 221,839 1945 162,349
1914 45,691 1930 239,747 1946 168,524
1915 29,217 1931 206,899 1947 171,601
1916 19,752 1932 197,864 1948 169,210
1917 19,258 1933 203,001 1949 158,107
1918 35,791 1934 223,179 1950 134,959
1919 46,660 1935 255,187 1951 144,834
1920 58,038 1936 268,533 1952 150,882
1921 34,646 1937 283,666 1953 141,841
1922 74,146 1938 234,479 1954 119,471
1923 138,148 1939 226,029 1955 112,187
1924 134,600 1940 217,107
1925 105,642 1941 197,140

  Since 1910 a total of 6,458,729 tons of coal had been wrested from the ground.

With the declining production and a combination of the amount of water which had to be pumped out of the workings and geological difficulties made Eastern’s production costs high.  Pumping gear capable of handling 4,000 gallons per hour had been installed to deal with the water problem but it was the deposits of coal themselves that were the real weakness.  With an average thickness of only three feet six inches they were too thin plus they were often faulted and broken.  This meant that a promising seam could suddenly disappear and not be found again until several days unproductive work had been done.  Also at times the angle of the coal was so steep that to win it was both slow and laborious.

In an attempt to find more workable coal new headings were driven in the direction of Blakeney.  Work started on these in 1952 with steel archways being used in 14 feet high roadways.  Electric locomotives were used to provide the haulage power and a good seam of coal was found.  The future seemed bright and it was said that Eastern was the best pit in the Forest.  The end, however, came suddenly.
A production meeting was being held in Cinderford to discuss the best way to work the new reserves and after it had finished several of the men walked into the town centre to be met by a newspaper placard pronouncing ‘Eastern United to Close’. It was a surprise to the men but close the colliery did as from the 30th January 1959.

A description of the colliery in its latter days appeared in the Dean Forest Mercury.
‘Eastern United runs all the way from Ruspidge to Parkend, a matter of several miles, while the North side reaches nearly to Northern United.
The men sit on the hard sides of the metal trucks and the motor, unwinding its cable from the drum, allows them to run into the steep tunnel.  Above it is a signal wire, by pulling on which it is possible to call an immediate halt.  And in the walls at intervals of ten yards are manholes designed to give a safe refuge if things go wrong.  The early part of the descent is electrically lit and weird fungoid growths can be seen hanging eerily from the timbers, but very soon the light bulbs cease and only the individual lamps of the men lessen, but do not defeat, the utter blackness.
The first tunnel runs down for 800 yards and then there is another slope of 700 yards.  Thence the tracks lead off to the coal faces, most of them carrying lines for the trucks.  The longest road is now equipped with 50 h.p. electric locomotives, battery powered and capable of moving heavy loads. . .’ ‘. . . Conveyor belts move the coal from the face to the trucks, the moving surface fabricated at great expense from fire proof material.  And although some of the coal was won by hand right up to the end much of the work of the pick and shovel had been eliminated.  Mechanical cutters burrowed into the seams and a great deal came down when the face was blasted.  Strong flail-like arms forced and shovelled the lups onto an elevator and thence it passed to the belts and trucks.
Steel arches had replaced the wooden pit props.’

Underground salvage was completed by August, with about 80 men being retained for the purpose.  Their heart was not in the job and much machinery and equipment was left underground. The mouths of the two dipples were blocked up and where once 900 men had been employed became silent and deserted.