Northern United

Northern United was the last of the gales formed under the 1904 Dean Forest (Mines) Act to be developed.  The Northern United, or No. 2 Area, gale was formed of the New Bowson, East Dean Deep, Holly Hill United and Richard Whites gales.  As already seen at New Bowson (page 000) the early attempts to work the deep measures were beset with problems and it was not until the gale passed into the hands of Henry Crawshay & Co. Ltd. that work began in earnest.
The gale was purchased from the Lydney & Crump Meadow Collieries Co. Ltd. mainly at the instigation of Crawshay's managing director Arthur Morgan J.P.  As well as there being an undoubtably sound financial reason for the purchase it was reported locally that there was also a touch of the companys' care for its workmen in the deal.  During the late 1920s and early 30s the companys' Lightmoor Colliery was several times threatened with closure and the opening of Northern United would provide continued employment for the men displaced at Lightmoor.  As things turned out Lightmoor did not in fact close until 1940 but the closures of Foxes Bridge and Crump Meadow collieries were made easier by the employment to be found at Northern.
To purchase the gale, which contained about 1,698 acres which, it was estimated would yeild some 10 million tons of coal, Crawshays had to find the purchase price of £27,000 together with a further £60 - 70,000 for its development.  By July 1932 preparatory work had started under the management of Mr. Joseph Morrison, late of Foxes Bridge Colliery.  The object was to open up the old Hawkwell Colliery (see page 000) prior to sinking a new shaft on the Bowson gale.  This was to be done to the west of the original site and was probably decided upon to avoid the heavily watered area which had been the downfall of the original venture in the 1860s.  It was hoped that the sinking of the new shaft would commence within a couple of months and that within a year or so employment would be found for between 1,000 and 1,500 men at an average wage of £2 per week.
In mid-May 1933 it was reported that the substantial concrete winding engine house, built by Messrs. Hoboroughs [?sp] of Gloucester, was almost complete together with other buildings around the colliery yard which were executed in red brick.  The steel headframe was brought from the old Bowson shaft having been put there by the Lydney & Crump Meadow Co.  A large electrical transformer had been installed nearby by the West Gloucestershire Power Co. to provide the electrical power which was to be used throughout the pit.  A deep cutting had also been made to provide a convienient route for the loaded wagon road out of the screens.  The Dean Forest Mercury reported on the scene as follows:
'The spot has a typical Forest setting, and on a warm mid-May morning, the surrounding woodlands were beautiful in their fresh spring-time garb.  The grey of the huge concrete building, and the bright red brick of other erections, and, it may be said, the not un-picturesque character of the big transformer and other electrical apparatus for the uses of electric light and power, in no way spoils the general view.'
At Hawkwell the shaft was being de-watered using electric pumps but a large quantity of sludge had been met whilst underground it was found that they could not use the old roadways towards the new shaft for the whole distance and so a new heading would have to be driven.
On Thursday 25 May 1933 about fifty eminent persons gathered at Northern to witness the cutting of the first sod in the shaft sinking.  This ceremony was to be performed by Miss Lisa F. Crawshay and after it was completed the party adjourned to the newly completed fitting shop where a cold luncheon had been prepared by the proprietors of the Speech House Hotel.
It was anticipated that it would take six or seven months to sink the shaft over 200 yards and that to line the shaft would take about 500,000 bricks.  The contractors for the work were the Francois Cementation Co. Ltd. of Doncaster.  After the completion of the shaft it was estimated that it would take another two to three years to open out pit-bottom and the main roadways underground before full production could begin.
In August the shaft sinkers had gone down twenty-five yards, or one-eigth full depth, and the the building of the permenant wall round the shaft had commenced.  No problems had been encountered with the sinking passing through blue limestone shale.  By the end of december a depth of 160 yards had been reached and on the 9 February 1934 it was reported in the local press that coal had been struck in the shaft, at a depth of 230 yards, during the evening of Thursday the 8th.  By breakfast time next morning coal was being brought to the surface.  Fortunately during the sinking operation there were no fatalities.
The roadway from the Hawkwell shaft broke through in October 1934.  One of the Hawkwell shafts was to be used as an emergency way out and a new winding engine was installed in the old engine house which was altered to suit.  The top of the shaft was covered by a lid two inch boards which lifted when the cage was raised.  This normally hung in the shaft.  The second shaft was to be un upcast shaft to aid ventilation and a 91 inch diameter Sirocco double inlet fan was installed to further increase the draught.
Whilst development continued underground the surface works were also put in hand.  Sidings were provided by the Great Western at a cost of £1,196 which was to be borne by Henry Crawshay & Co. but refunded over a period of ten years by a rebate of 2d. per ton on every ton above 187,627 conveyed yearly from both Northern and Eastern United Collieries.  Crawshays were to provide some of the sidings themselves together with weighbridges and offices.
The erection of the screens themselves was started in May 1935 with the first coal being put through in late August.  The sidings were first used on 4 September 1935 although the two single lever groundframes controlling them had been brought into use on the 25 March.  The private siding agreement itself had been signed on 18 May.  The sidings gave accommodation for 60 empties although the colliery company agreed to continue tipping waste material in order to provide space in order to extend the empty wagon sidings if future traffic needs warrented it.
The operation of traffic to and from the colliery required the use of two guards with the train being propelled along the Churchway branch from Bilson.  The leading vehicle had to be a brake van with the veranda end leading and the guard had to carry a horn to warn any person of the approach of the train.  He also had to be prepared to  to stop the engineman by exhibiting a red flag or light if necessary.  On arrival at the colliery the brake van was placed at the end of the Churchway branch, clear of the colliery sidings.  The empty wagons were then propelled up the gradient into the empties sidings with a man walking in front.
Once the wagons were berthed the engine returned to collect the brake van which was taken to a point just above the loaded road connection.  Here it was left while the loadeds were drawn out.  These had been gravited down through the screens and clear of an overbridge which was of insufficient height to allow an engine to pass.  Because the line fell away to Bilson Yard at 1 in 41 the wagon brakes were pinned down before any movement took place.  The maximum permitted load for uncoloured engines was 15 empties from Bilson to Northern and forty loadeds on return.
The average output during early 1937 was 25 wagons per day which meant that the siding accommodation was ample but by June things were getting a little tight with empties being kept at Bilson until required.  As the colliery then requested specific wagons it entailed extra shunting.  The increase in empty wagon storage space at the colliery was almost completed and gave room for an extra 20 wagons, although tipping continued for even further siding extensions should this prove necessary.  This extra space alleviated the problem at Bilson.
1956 Coal washery opened.
Northern United closed on Christmas Day 1965 making 700 men and boys unemployed.  In the previous week 1,120 tons had been raised.  Northern was the last of the large collieries to close in the Forest.