The early years of Royal Forester gale, which was to become Speech House
Hill Colliery, are somewhat obscure. In April 1832 a Richard James
of Whitecroft applied to the Crown for the gale but it was not granted
to him. Undeterred he erected buildings and commenced work 'at considerable
cost' and his right to work the gale was confirmed by the Awards of 1841.
In January 1847 Cornelius and Francis Brain, as lessees of the adjoining Rose-in-Hand gale, were applying for an extension of time for beginning work and it was stated that they had bought Royal Forester in order to drive a level through it to drain Rose-in-Hand. In July 1856 an application was made to the Crown by the registered owners of Rose-in-Hand, Ephraim Brain and John Holingsworth, to make a tramroad connection to the Severn & Wye by means of an incline parallel to the Coleford-Cinderford road. It would appear, however, that this was not costructed until 1869, by which time Royal Forester was owned by the Speech House Hill Colliery Co. (Rose-in-Hand was to become part of Trafalgar Colliery, remaining in the ownership of the Brain family.)
In Severn & Wye minutes it was reported that Messrs. Lückes & Nash, of the Whitecroft Patent Fuel works, were representing the Speech House Hill Colliery Co. and were asking for a quotation on coal rates from the colliery to Parkend and Whitecroft.
In 1873 the Great Western (Forest of Dean) Coal Consumers Co. Ltd. was set up with the objective of taking over the Royal Forester and Cannop Bridge Level gales. The directors of the new concern were Edwin Crawshay, H. R. Lückes, F. Nash, G. W. Owen, A. J. Skinner and W. Wylie. The prospectus issued by the company invited applications for 6,000 shares of £20 each. It also stated that the two collieries, together with all plant, machinery, engines, buildings, stock etc. could be had for £80,000. The extent of the gales was some 400 acres, which it was estimated contained over six million tons of coal. The two shafts had been sunk to the crop of the coal which had proved the quality and value of the seams and it was proposed to deepen the shafts to the Churchway High Delf seam.
In March 1874 Edwin Crawshay, as chairman of the company, approached the Severn & Wye about laying a branch to the pit. Crawshay offered the prospect of a hundred thousand tons of coal traffic per year, but laid heavy emphasis on the expenses to be incurred by the colliery in laying sidings, and intimated that they were considering sinking two pits near the Forest of Dean Central line at Foxes Bridge to avoid a steep underground pitching betwen the coal face and the existing pit bottom. Concerned at the possible loss of such a lucrative traffic to the Great Western, the S & W agreed to loan rails, sleepers etc. if the necessary earthworks were done by the colliery company. Following further discussions, it was decided to let the construction of the branch, and by July 1874 J. E. Billups was appointed contractor. Part of the estimated cost of £3,300 was met by the Severn & Wye whose committee, on 5th April 1875, were conveyed to the colliery where they 'had the satisfaction to find the Branch Line leading thereto as well as the Colliery Works in good order. This colliery is now delivering excellent coal upon our line.'
The first few years following the opening of the branch were punctuated by the efforts of Edwin Crawshay to persuade the Severn & Wye to grant rebates on the colliery's traffic in order to build up its business. By August 1876 Crawshay was urging the S & W to agree to through rates with the GWR, stating that he could raise 4,000 tons a month at Speech House Hill 'if he had the trade'.
The Great Western Coal Consumers Co. obviously went through a bad patch in 1878 when it was reported that Messrs. Lückes and Nash, who were 'one time members of the Board of the company', were £24,628 15s. 0d. in debt. This included £16,000 relating to a guarantee held and claimed by the Gloucestershire Banking Co. from the directors of the company. However, the storm was weathered and by 1881 traffic from the colliery had greatly increased and it was estimated that 12,000 tons a month could soon be produced. This increase in traffic rendered the siding accommodation inadequate and Edwin Crawshay applied to the Severn & Wye for assistance in providing extra track. The railway responded by offering to lend rails and sleepers for 200 yards of track as long as the colliery company did all the necessary work. However, when Crawshay did not find this acceptable G. W. Keeling replied that the alternative would be to increase the siding accommodation upon railway owned ground at the junction of the colliery branch.
In July 1884 it was recorded in Severn & Wye minutes that the Speech House Hill Colliery had been purchased by the Great Western Collieries Company. In February 1885 the managing director and principal shareholder in this concern, R. Toomer, founder of Messrs. R. Toomer & Co. of Reading, was in difficulty at Speech House Hill owing to an accumulation of small coal. The Severn & Wye were asked if they could assist by giving a special rate on 2,000 tons to Highbridge, Somerset, and, as a result, the colliery was given a rebate of 6d. per ton on the normal rate. In April 1887 the Severn & Wye were once again being approached for assistance in providing extra siding accommodation at the colliery.
By 1888 it would seem that the colliery was in some difficulty. The company was in some dispute with the adjoining Trafalgar Colliery over an influx of water into Speech House Hill which, it was alleged, came from Trafalgar. The Speech House management thought it due to the cessation of pumping at 'Old Bobs', a pumping engine on the New Mill Engine gale, and in order to protect the Speech House Hill Colliery from any future water problems the proprietors bought the gale from Trafalgar.
The branch to the colliery descended to the main line on a 1 in 30 gradient and to protect the main line a runaway siding, which rose towards Serridge Junction, was provided. In April 1889 it was decided to lengthen this siding by 40 feet 'for safety' and this necessitated obtaining some extra land from the Crown.
Following the bankruptcy and death of Toomer, the colliery company went into liquidation in April 1892. The manager Mr. J. J. Joynes left to go to the Howbeach, Bailey and Pillowell Collieries Co. He had been at Speech House Hill for 121/2 years with the last 41/2 as manager. A Severn & Wye minute of May 1892 asks whether or not the liquidation was compulsory 'or only by way of getting rid of some of their shareholders'. In January the Severn & Wye secretary reported as to the progress of the liquidation and produced an application for credit from the Speech House Collieries Company Limited, which was agreed to.
The Great Western Collieries Co. Ltd. had been bought out by a Moses Hayes who in turn sold it to the Speech House Collieries Co. Ltd., taking 50 shares in the new concern. The prospectus of the Speech House Hill Collieries Co. Ltd. listed the concern as comprising the Royal Forester, New Mill Engine, Cannop Bridge Level and Prince Albert gales. Work was being done in the Upper series of coals with the Smith Coal, Lowrey, Starkey, Rockey, Churchway, No Coal and Brazilly seams, covering 2,189 acres and containing an estimated 5,750,000 tons.
The chairman of the company was Joseph Seekings and the directors included Edgar Jarrett and John Gunter. The price asked for the sale of the collieries was around £8,500 and the transaction was completed by March 1894.
Upon payment of £207 10s. 0d. the new company also acquired forty wagons, worth £1,200 with future 'deferred payment' amounting to £578 5s. 0d. It would also seem that as well as those mentioned, the company also hired wagons. Certainly in 1891 the Great Western Collieries Co. had hired 92 trucks.
The Severn & Wye working appendix of July 1894 shows how the colliery was serviced at that time. Empties were brought to the colliery by the 7.00 a.m. from Lydney, and loaded wagons were picked up by the 10.30 a.m. Drybrook Road to Lydney. Empties were again delivered by the 1.00 p.m. from Coleford Junction to Wimberry and loaded wagons were removed by the 5.30 p.m. ex-Serridge Junction. This suggests that the traffic may have been put into and taken out of the runaway siding, leaving the colliery's own locomotive to work the wagons up and down to the pit head.
The new owners of the colliery were, however, soon in difficulties. In December 1895, following a reduction in wages, 517 men and boys were locked out and by August 1896 the company was in liquidation. The reasons given for this were that the company had failed to carry out their scheme for deepening the pits and working the lower measures and also they neglected to obtain a large additional area. The owners stated that they would continue pumping for three months only and they notified Messrs. Crawshay, who worked the neighbouring Lightmoor Colliery, of this intention.
The sale of the undertaking was scheduled to take place on 21st August 1896, but no buyer could be found. On the 29th it was bought by a Mr. W. Alfred Holbrow of Stroud, a former director, and in September he stated: 'I feel that I am taking upon myself very considerable trouble and responsibility but it seems a great pity that after such a loss on the part of us all the whole thing should stop when possibly a little more time and one more effort might float it once more.' In an attempt to re-start work he tried to form a syndicate together with another former director John Gunter. At this time the colliery consisted of the Royal Forester, Cannop Level and New Mill Engine gales in the Upper measures and Prince Albert, New Alexandra, Serridge and United Deep in the Lower measures.
In October 1896 Holbrow managed to find a new buyer for the colliery and sold out to a Mr. Whittaker of Keighley, Yorkshire. In November the Dean Forest Mercury reported that the underground workings were being repaired and cleaned up, but it was not until July 1898 that teh Dean Forest Guardian reported that the Speech House Colliery 'after being idle so long' was about to be re-started. A company under the title of 'The Speech House Main Collieries Company Ltd.' had been set up with its registered offices in the Temple Buildings, Keighley. It was also reported that J. J. Joynes, the manager of Wimberry Colliery, was to have oversight of the new undertaking.
In 1899 the Speech House Main Collieries Co. purchased another of the deep gales, Union & Cannop, intending initially to work it from the existing shafts by means of cross-measures and later by sinking a new shaft. The cross-measure, however, hit a considerable amount of water and work in the area was stopped. Water was to bring more problems to the company when, in August 1901, Henry Crawshay & Co. were worried about the build-up of water which had been deliberately allowed to occur, against the barrier with Lightmoor. Once again the owners of Speech House Hill were in difficulties, and in MArch 1903 the Dean Forest Guardian carried the news that Speech House Hill Colliery had been bought by the Crawshays. The Speech House Main Collieries Co. had gone into liquidation and the purchase was completed on 2nd March. On the 20th the Dean Forest Mercury reported that a good deal of interest had been evoked by the purchase, and this was deepened by the fact that the colliery, with its chequered career, was a concern in which an enormous sum of money had been lost. The report continued to say that some 90 men were employed by Crawshay's to get things a little straight as both above and below ground the colliery was in a most unsatisfactory condition.
In April 1903 Crawshay's applied to the Crown to work the barrier between Lightmoor and Speech House Hill. Permision was granted and work commenced, but in July 1904 a large feeder of water was struck. It was around this time that Crawshay's sold two of the lower measure gales to the syndicate forming the Cannop Colliery Co. These gales were the Prince Albert and the Union & Cannop.
With the opening up of the barrier from Lightmoor there was no need to maintain the surface works at Speech House Hill. The colliery was disused by 1906 and the points at the junction of the branch were spiked. The connection was not removed until 1909 which led to Messrs. Henry Crawshay & Co. protesting in July 1910 that the value of the colliery premises had been depreciated and that, in the event of a breakdown at Lightmoor Colliery it might have been necessary to pass traffic over the junction once more.
The Joint Committee having examined the circumstances, found no reason to restore the connection but agreed to make proper arrangements for working the branch once more should traffic be offered. The track on the branch up the incline and in the colliery yard remained in situ until July 1914 when it was reported that Crawshay's had taken up the whole of their sidings and fenced off their property from that of the Joint Committee, the latter consequently recovering the remaining trackwork upon their own land.
The rails left in place where the sidings crossed the Coleford-Cinderford road were lifted in 1916. Of the surface buildings, some were removed in 1908 and the re-usable ones were taken to Lightmoor. The main shaft and headframe were maintained as an emergency exit for Lightmoor until Crawshay's surrendered Royal Forester gale in April 1937.