Denhall is a small hamlet located at the edge of the River Dee in the town of Neston. The hamlet was used
extensively as a mining hamlet with a colliery located near the waters edge. The mining operation was opened
in 1760 by Sir John Stanley and covered over seven acres. The operation consisted of an extensive coal mine
with numerous shafts, some of which even ran underneath the river. Several large kilns which were used to
produce quicklime, by the process of calcination. Also on the site was a large stone barn, a stack yard, a fold
yard, a fresh water pond and a large Quay to enable transportation of coal out of the area and to allow for the
importation of mining equipment and resources needed to maintain the operation. The quay was also used to
import roofing slate and limestone which could be turned into fertiliser. The surrounding fields and pastures held
names reflecting the mining operations, such as Colliery green and Miners Green.
Deep inside the mine beneath the floor level, two underground canals known as Navigation's were dug in out in
the summer of 1791 for the purpose of transporting coal to the exit shaft. The transportation along these
canals was carried out by small wooden boats known as Starvationers, named so because of their prominent
ribs. The boats were used to bring the coal from large distant faces to the pit shaft. The two canals were dug
55m and 86m below sea level and spread out underneath the Dee Estuary, which at the time was a hive of
activity. Once the boats were full the men would lay on their backs in the boat and push their feet along the
ceiling to propel the boat down the canal; this technique was refereed to locally as legging. On the canals 4
boats would be tied together with each one carrying 800kg of coal when full. As time advanced the use of the
boats stopped in favour of horse drawn wagons.
There are records of the working lives of these miners who were said to be more than 300 in numbers and sadly
included the employment of old men and children under the age of ten. The workers would endure a long hard
existence spending on average over ninety hours a week in the darkness of the Neston mines and in a constant
danger of industrial accidents. The homes of the workers were close by in the surrounding hamlet owned by sir
John Stanley, they have been described by one source as "the most miserable mass of hovels on the Wirral".
There are no records of significant flooding from the River Dee in the early collieries, though on atleast one
recorded occasion miners dug right through upto the river bed. In 1878 it is known that water from old workings
flooded into the mine forcing it to be abandoned temporarily. In 1882 there is a further note of nine ponies
being drowned in some kind of underground floor within the mines, proving that daily life in the mines was as
hazardous as it was hard.
The coal seams were accessed using shafts near the shore of the estuary. There is reported to have been
around 30 shafts, each around 2m wide in use for the colliery. Three larger shaft's were dug for the later
collieries. The early mines worked using a pillar & stall method. Tunnels or 'Stalls' were dug out through the
rock, but large amount of rock 'pillars' were left in place to ensure the roof did not collapse.
As mining operations were carried out under the estuary the coal had to be taken back to the shafts where it
would be raised to the surface. The boats were the early method of transport for the mines, followed by good
old horse power. The cost of hay was said to have been a great burden for the mines.
When the mine was first opened in 1760 the method of coal extraction was still primitive. As a result in the
general amount of coal that was removed was only about 40 percent. The use of wooden pit props to support
the roof was an innovation first introduced about 1800. The critical factor was circulation of air and control of
dangerous explosive gases which could build up and cause a fatality.
At first fires were burned to create air currents and circulate air, but replaced by fans driven by steam engines.
Protection for miners came with the invention of the Davy lamp and Geordie lamp, where any firedamp (or
methane) burnt harmlessly within the lamp. It was achieved by restricting the ingress of air with either metal
gauze or fine tubes, but the illumination from such lamps was very poor. Great efforts were made to develop
better safe lamps, such as the Mueseler lamp produced in the Belgian pits near Liège.
The Two Mines and an Intense Rivalry
Coal was so abundant in Britain when John Stanley opened the
mine that the annual output of coal was some 6¼ million tons.
After 1790 output soared not only in the Neston mine but
nationwide, reaching 16 million tons by 1815 at the height of
the Napoleonic War.
There is said to have been bitter rivalry between Sir John
Stanley who owned Ness Colliery and the owner of nearby rival
mine Little Neston Colliery owned by Thomas Cottingham.
Thomas brought two court cases against Sir John Stanley at
Chester Court over the ongoing problems. The first was in
1821 which related to the use of the underground canal, which
had been built under Cottingham's land, the lease having
expired in 1819.
Two days after the end of the first court case, Stanleys men
were seen to bring up equipment, boats and horses, through
No 6 pit. Tall boards were erected on the surface to prevent
Cottingham from seeing what was going on whilst Stanleys men
also hid their face. Shortly after explosions were heard and
Cottingham found that his tunnel leading from Pit 21 to the
canal had been blown up.
|Neston Colliery's Painted by Arthur Suker in 1875
The Second Court Case
The second case in 1822 was obviously more serious due to the destructive and dangerous actions which had
been taken by Stanleys men when blowing up the tunnel. Cottingham sued Stanley for trespass and wilful
damage to his mine for the sum of £10,000, based on lost sales and Stanleys malicious intent. In court Robert
Johnson, Stanleys agent; did not deny that Stanleys men had destroyed the tunnel , but justified the damage
done as being part of a scheme to manage the ventilation of Ness Colliery and to prevent Cottingham's men from
destroying the canal. The judge ruled that their was no malevolence involved and Stanley acted on his agents
best intended advice. The jury found in favour of Cottingham and awarded him just £2000 of the £10,000
Two Become One
In the mid nineteenth century both of the mines shut down for a short period but reopened under direction of
newly formed companies in 1873. The mine at Neston enjoyed a healthy profit until due to the silting up of the
River Dee, coal shipments to Ireland and North Wales ended. Alternative custom was secured from the railways,
brought about by the building of a link to the recently constructed Chester & Birkenhead Railway's branch to
Parkgate. The Wirral Colliery at Neston was taken over by the British government during the First World War.
The pit subsequently returned to private ownership after the war, but increasing competition from larger mines
precipitated in its closure in 1928. Now the site is completely occupied by a modern housing estate. I still
wonder how many of the people on the estate realise that there house is built above an old mine shaft the
entrance to which was long since covered up.