Have you ever discovered somewhere that you have passed by numerous times? At the weekend, while researching places to visit, I came across Astley Green Colliery. It is just off the East Lancs Road and around the corner from Bents, a garden centre that we have been frequenting for many years.
There was also a strange familiarity about the name and the history that intrigued us more. You know the kind of thing that makes you wonder how you know about it and why you’ve never visited. Well, it was that experience we had going on while we ate our breakfast and planned the day ahead.
Astley Green Colliery
You might remember that last year we took a trip up to the National Coal Mining Museum up towards Huddersfield. Having grown up in the north and hearing about the stories of mines, their workers and the equipment used, it was a pretty easy to decide to visit Astely Green Colliery, to embellish the story further. Astley Green Colliery is based in Tyldesley, which is not far at all from Manchester.
As far as my research goes, the site is solely run and managed by volunteers. Which is incredible! The pit was still in use up until the 1970s and has since been preserved and restored, being the only remaining pit headgear and engine house on the Lancashire coalfield. It is functioning too, thanks to the tireless work of the volunteers to keep it that way.
As we were coming onto the East Lancs, we spotted the tower in the distant fields. Together we mused out loud about how we could ever have missed it. Towering high over the bordering trees and hedges, the pit headgear stood out like a beacon of engineering mastery. It was literally only a matter of minutes until we were dwarfed by it as we drove into the small car park. And when I say dwarfed, I really mean of Lilliputian standards.
To be honest, when we visited the National Coal Mining Museum, the size of the place never really struck me. I think it might have been down to the events that were taking place, which drew the eye to the ground rather than up toward the towering structures. As I type this, I wonder whether we need to return to the National museum to get a greater sense of the place. And, of course, to go down in the mine. That element might help create the perspective and scale of the pit at least.
Back to Astley Green Colliery. The colliery began life in 1908, which makes the structures and buildings even more amazing to be standing today. The pit headgear structure is over 30 metres or 98 feet high and would have been used for lifting the coal from the pit below. Then the coal would be transported to the nearby Bridgewater Canal to be loaded onto boats for transporting.
While gazing toward the tip of the tower, I remembered why it was so familiar. Having wondered whether we had seen it at the other mine and racking my brain as to whether we had read about it somewhere, I realised that we had seen it on the television. Unfortunately it wasn’t for a great reason though. With the harsh northern weather battering the old welds and metal, it is now in need of repair. With the site being run by volunteers, funding is not readily available so they are hoping to find it elsewhere, which was why they appeared on our local BBC news.
Three years from now will mark the 50th anniversary of the mine closing. It would be such a shame to lose some more industrial heritage from the north of the country. I know that the team are working hard to secure funding, and I’ll be sure to update you.
Feeling rather smug at remembering, but rather glum at the reason, we headed into the engine house.
Since our visit to Queen Street Mill the other year, I have found an increasing interest in steam engines. Which, incidentally, we discovered after finding out about it on the Great Canal Journey programme on TV. Sadly, they closed shortly after our visit (within the week, in fact) due to a lack of funding and investment from local bodies. Although still available for school visits, it is no longer open to the public. I hope that Astley Green Colliery has a more positive outlook ahead of it.
Inside the engine room, we were greeted by the gigantic nuts and bolts holding together the shiny red and black steam engine. An impressive sight that made the “massive” Queen Street Mill engine look like a mere model. I was pleased to see that we could walk around the entire engine and get pretty close up for a better look.
The most impressive of view was along the length of the machinery. It is amazing to imagine how thy came up with the design and how they built it by hand. I think with so much being built away from our view, we forget how they are created. This, I think, is one of the reasons that l love exploring our history and heritage. It acts as a reminder as to where things started and how lucky we are to have the automation, machines and infrastructure to help create our world. Not that there isn’t a place for working by hand, but at a less back-breaking (literally!) scale than this kind.
Objects and information
As well as the awe-inspiring steam engine, we were able to learn more about the area, the people and this history around the mine. Although a little on the dated side, the displays were able to feed into the story. This helped us to build a broader picture of life in the mines.
Although we spent plenty of time inside, our trip wasn’t limited to being only indoors. Outside you can wander up the steps to get a better look at the pit headgear and to wonder at the colossal size compared to the engine room building.
It might only be a snip of a structure in modern standards – think Beetham Tower at 169 metres. Standing below something hand-built over one hundred years ago, which is still standing today, really does help you appreciate the work that went into it back then. Even man of the pits were dug by hand, by the men that would eventually mine down them.
Sadly the museum was out of action, seeming in the process of being renovated. As we had the time, we spent it wandering the yard, enjoying the sunshine and experiencing the grand scale of the objects held there. The bucket in the picture below would have been pulled from the mine filled with coal. It was almost as tall as me!
I totally admit to being a novice when it comes to steam power and engineering. That doesn’t stop me from appreciating and learning though. Recognising parts the engines from local cotton mills is part of the joy. I might not be able to name them, but it is one step closer than I was in years gone by.
I love finding lesser visited museums and places of interest. Astley Green Colliery has certainly been added to my list of to revisit. I hope that I’ve inspired you to visit too, or to make a donation to support some of our nothern-ness. I’m in no means connected with the project, but feel as though we can all do our small part to saving something so important.
If there is anything that I have learned over the past few years, it is that history lives thorough places like this. I struggled with history in school, but now that I have access to museums, living heritage and enthusiastic volunteers, I learn a lot more easily.
Now to find some other lesser known or overlooked places to explore. Any tips? Let me know!
Have you been to Astley Green Colliery? Would you like to visit to learn some more? Do you have a favourite piece of northern history or heritage that you can recommend for me to visit?
Let me know in the comments below.