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Above and beneath Saltwells

By john workman  |  Posted: March 22, 2012

View of the Saltwells landscape, circa 1906.

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IN BUGLE 1019 we published several extracts from a fascinating book entitled ‘Report on the Earl of Dudley's Mines and Minerals’ dated 1931, written by one W.F.

Clark, who was Mineral Agent to the Dudley Estate. We are grateful to Anthony Westwood from Eve Hill in Dudley for bringing the book to our attention.

In his report Mr Clark included eleven collieries, one of which was Saltwells, and it's this area of the Black Country, both above ground and below, that commands our attention on this occasion.

Eighty years ago the Earl of Dudley's Estate still covered a wide area and Mr Clark's report, compiled from information gathered over the best part of a decade, was attempting to evaluate the viability of further mining. He began his report on Saltwells Colliery by saying it covered a total of 778 acres, but went on to remark, "The whole of this area is heavily waterlogged and is unlikely to be ever unwatered, and may be regarded as having no profitable letting value, excepting the areas where the Thick Coals outcrop against the Netherton Anticlinal where it will have a value in periods of strike."

 In the years after the miners strike of 1921 Saltwells Colliery had gone into decline, but during its lifetime no less than 33 pits had been sunk, all producing coal and to a lesser extent white ironstone. These rich mineral resources meant the colliery stretched from Brierley Hill in the west to Old Hill in the east and was bounded by Netherton and Cradley Heath, a warren of tunnels and deep cut shafts that had managed to extract four types of coal; brooch, twofeet, thick and heathen, with a four foot seam of ironstone found below the heathen.

The mining was undertaken by Charter Masters, specially qualified men with training and experience, who were contracted to the Earl of Dudley's mining agents to supply the labour, horses, tools, candles, explosives, and also light beer, which was sent down to the coal face in small kegs at the middle of the working day. If the free beer wasn't up to standard the miners would often down tools and refuse to work.

However this problem was eventually resolved when an agreement with the miner's agents saw an increase in the miners’ pay.

In his report Mr Clark described the basic geology of the Saltwells Colliery: "The Saltwells area is divided into three areas by Faults. The northern area (No.1) is bounded by a fault running east to west, with a throw of 10 to 15 yards to the south.

No.2 area is divided from No.3 or southern area by a 20-yards up-throw, thus No.2 area is a trough.

“No. 2 area is under water except near outcrop, and a pumping plant would have to be put down."

 Clark also mentioned an area referred to as No.4. "There is about 7.5 acres lying to the south of the River Stour which is cut off by mines which have been sold, and by previous workings, and the nearest pit is No.30, which would necessitate driving 200 yards through the gob and crossing a fault of 9 yards up-throw to the south".

In conclusion he said, "Nothing remains worth working in No.4 area."

 The ‘Thick’ was by far the most profitable type of coal, but in 1931 it appeared the Saltwells Colliery was unable to yield much more of it. Of the Thick, Clark said,: "Total area remaining is 379 acres, the whole of which has been worked a second time, with two areas worked in such a manner there is nothing remaining worth working again. In No.2 area the water is above the Thick Coal except near to the outcrop against Netherton Anticlinal."

 And for Area No.3 it was the same story: "In this area there are 44 acres around No.19 Pit where the water is up to the Thick Coal. At No.24 Pit there is very little coal left and it is under water."

 The remaining whitestone covered a total of 279 acres across all four areas, but what was left was too poor to worked at a profit; in fact Clark said, "The whitestone is all under water."

 The overall impression given by Clark's report on the Saltwells Colliery was that it had seen its heyday and in general all the workings had become inundated with flood water with little viable mining left.

In contrast to the complicated geology and mine workings beneath Saltwells, the landscape on the surface couldn't have been more different and included the idyllic Saltwells Wood, a tract of the ancient Pensnett Chase that had become part of Lord Dudley's estate after the enclosures of 1785. Timber was in great demand at the time, especially to produce charcoal for the budding iron industry, so the area was planted with trees and the area west of the Black Brook became known as Lady Dudley's Plantation.

In Blocksidge's 1907 Dudley Almanack, a walk from the centre of Dudley to Saltwells Wood, a distance of approximately 3 miles, is described in great detail and accompanied by several picturesque views. It mentions the Saltwells Wake and the healthy benefits of walking this pleasant place: "On the first Sunday in May large numbers of people visit the Saltwells, take the waters, stroll about the wood, and whilst thoroughly enjoying the freshness of spring, doubtless think of the charms of the coming summer. To hard working men of the neighbourhood, even two or three hours employed in going to, and coming from, this charming oasis in the Black Country, must result in material benefit, both in body and mind."

 Finally the author, E.

Blocksidge, advises those living at a distance not to be adversely influenced by the fact that the Saltwells are in the Black Country: "It is true they are within a few yards of active collieries and works, but once in the wood a visitor might easily imagine he was miles away from anything of the nature of manufacture or business."

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