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Some Ghosts of the Rowley Coal Rush

By Josephine.Jasper  |  Posted: November 20, 2013

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Little physical evidence remains of ther great 'Coal Rush' which turned Blackheath into a boom town during the early decades of the 19th Century.

 Careful study of the 130 yr old map on the right reveals some of the landmarks of that bustling era, in the Waterfall Lane district.

The Three Furnaces Inn can be clearly seen, adjacent to the drainage marlhole and Old Tory Street. The Navigation and The Sportsmen are located on the opposite side of the Marlhole on what was then called 'Sleck Hillock' (now Station Road).The Navigation disappeared long ago, but gained considerable fame in the1880's when, according to local legend 'Jack

The Ripper' enjoyed a night's lodging there before meeting his doom in the murkey depths of the Drainage Marlhole. A macabre memento of that desperate night was displayed in the taproom of this old tavern for many years - a black silk 'topper' (reputedly left behind by the 19th century's most compelling killer). set in a glass case, it was inscribed with the words - 'The Ripper's Hat'.

Just above Tory Street is the mineral railway from Tump Colliery to the canal, bisecting Sturman's Lezzers and running alongside the present day site of Lowes Timberyard. Breeze Ovens (then called Dan's Glead Ovens) are also marked.

Waterfall Lane Colliery (better known as Butcher Mills Pit can be seen at the top of the map, in the area known as 'Johnny's Flat' - a football and cricket pitch for the lads who lived across 'The Alley'.

'Johnny's flat" was so named because it belonged to john George Higgs  (designated gentleman) who lived in a large house located between Powke Lane and Waterfall Lane.  'Higgs Lezzers' also had the same derivation (later known as 'Tibbetts Fields' from the family who later farmed there and also ran a coal business).

Waterfalls House still stands and was known later years as 'Turnhills'. White's directory of 1851 shows that William Mills (coalmaster) lived there. Better known as 'Butcher Mills' he was astute enough to give up the gutting of dead carcases for the more lucrative business of ravaging the land for the 'black gold' it contained.

Legend has it that Butcher Mills used to sit at a back bedroom window of the house and watch the tubs as they surfaced from the shaft of his pit, counting how many contained 'sleck' and how many contained pure coal - the black bounty which swelled his bank balance. Around the turn of the century locals reckoned that the departed coalmaster's ghost could still be seen at that bedroom window, quill in hand, still tallying his black hoard.

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