Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Stoke-on-Trent - 2019/2020
I'm sure that most will be familiar with Chatterley Whitfield and a lot will have given it a visit over the years. There have been numerous excellent reports over the years, not least AndyK's outstanding effort a couple of years back which practically covered every inch of the place. I've visited here god knows how many times over the last decade, more just for a mooch rather than any serious effort to photograph the place, however a revived desire to get on local stuff over the last couple of years has essentially resulted in this report being a thing. Pretty much all the photos are from numerous visits throughout 2019 and a bit of early 2020 either with @Humpa or @MotionlessMike (sometimes both). Over the visits we certainly got to see a good chunk of the place, there are still a few bits that I want to see and perhaps they will be ticked off at a later date should the opportunity arise. I initially started writing this report during Lockdown 1, I didn't want to rush it and then obviously other things have gotten in the way, but I've finally gotten around to finishing it off now during Lockdown 2!
It's clearly the biggest derp in all of Stoke (if you exclude the city itself in a more generalised sense), and remains the only real relic of the vast coal mining industry that once employed tens of thousands of people, aside from the odd pit wheel and spoil heap. It was pretty much a toss up between working in the pits or the pots in this area, ignoring the other large industries such as steel and tyres, most people's families were either potters or miners. Whilst most evidence of the other collieries has been swept away to make way for retail developments or shoe box housing estates, when Chatterley Whitfield closed in 1977 it was decided that the complex would be turned into a mining museum, the first in the UK. In 1978 the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum was opened with access to a portion of the workings possible via the Winstanley shaft. It was a large success and at it's peak attracted around 70,000 visitors annually.
When Chatterley Whitfield ceased production in the 1970's the seams were worked from Wolstanton colliery several miles away via an underground roadway connection, Wolstanton was also responsible for the pumping away of the water that naturally fills the workings as well as the venting of mine gasses. In 1986 Wolstanton colliery closed and of course these pumping and venting facilities were also shut down, which meant that access to the workings at Chatterley was now no longer possible. Consequently the NCB invested around one million pounds into the construction of simulated underground workings. These were constructed within a portion of the railway cuttings alongside the shafts.
Unfortunately the museum ran into financial troubles in the early 1990's, eventually closing and being put into liquidation in 1993 with the site returned to the freehold owner, the City Council. In the same year the site was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument with several buildings also being listed. Since closure supposedly upwards of £20,000,000.00 has been invested in regeneration projects at Chatterley Whitfield, although personally I find it hard to see where this has been spent given that 99% of the site has been left to rot for the best part of thirty years. I would guess that a portion was spent on the early 2000's refurbishment of the offices and laboratory complex as well as the access road improvements. The future of the site is constantly a point of local discussion and various plans have been suggested over the years with little evidence of anything coming to fruition anytime soon.
An overview of the site taken from part way up the slag heap. At one time this particular slag heap was said to have been one of the largest man-made structures in Europe, following the Aberfan disaster it was reduced to about half the height with much of the spoil being distributed across the site. The surface structures of the remaining four shafts can be seen, from left to right they are: Winstanley, Institute, Platt and Hesketh. Other notable structures are the Main Offices in the background behind the Winstanley, the Pit Head Baths complex towards the rear centre and the Old Power House and Chimney in the middle. Concealed behind the foliage on the right hand side of the image are the remnants of the spoil conveyors that stretched from the Tub Halls to the slag heap.
Winstanley Constructed in 1913/1914 the Winstanley shaft was 5 yards in diameter and 700 feet deep. The heapstead and winding house were constructed in an unusual (for Britain) German design being mostly brick built. The original steam winding engine was replaced in 1966 with an electric winder by John Tinsley's of Darlington, which required the rebuilding of the winding house itself - hence why it looks rather different than the rest of the structure. The Winstanley was the point of access and egress to the genuine underground experience that was operated from 1977 to 1986, with the winding engine remaining fully functional up until the closure of the museum in 1993.
This was one of the first parts of the site that we visited, the below photographs only cover the winding house itself. The shaft building itself is also of interest and contains some relics from the museum days, although I seem to have neglected to photograph those.
Working your way along the edge of the railway cutting from the Winstanley you first come across the Middle Pit Winding House, appearances are deceiving with this one despite being one of the oldest looking buildings on the site it was actually constructed in the 1980's, and houses an underground winding engine that was hauled from the bottom of the Winstanley Shaft prior to capping. This building is usually opened up during the Heritage Open Day tours.
Institute Slightly further along is the Institute Winding House and Headgear. AndyK managed to cover the winding house in his visits, however it has always seemed inaccessible whenever I've visited. This was the emergency shaft during the museum days and as such was kept in full working order. The headgear itself dates from 1922, whilst the winding engine and house is newer (1950's/1960's) presumably built during the NCB modernisation period.
This shaft contains a connection to the ventilation drift from the Walker Fan House where air was exhausted from the workings, as we will see later.
Not a huge amount to report about this structure, it makes for some nice views from up top. There are a few tubs and also a couple of cages littered around here.
From the top of the Institute Headgear you get a good vantage point to see the other parts of the site. To the left of the below photo is the "modern" Walker Fan House and Drift, to the centre is the Old Fan House (more on both of those later), on the right hand side is the Platt Shaft and Headgear, with it's striking blue shroud. During the later Mining Experience days this is where visitors would descend in a cage to the bottom of the new pit.
In between the Platt Shaft and the Hesketh complex stands the Platt Winding House, this was constructed in 1883 and is theoretically the oldest building remaining on the site. During the 1960's this building contained an electric winding engine, however this has since been removed and was replaced with a steam driven haulage engine taken from nearby Silverdale Colliery. It dates from the middle of the 19th century and is believed to be one of the earliest engines still in existence. I can't recall ever seeing inside this building in any previous reports, it has been almost completely bricked up for a very long time. Could be a nice time capsule!
Main Boiler House Behind the Platt Winding House in the previous photo is the 55 metre tall chimney stack which towers above everything else on the site. It was originally 10 metres taller, but was shortened in the 1970's (some say by Fred Dibnah) and capped. Nowadays the cap is missing, it came off in a storm some years ago and punched a hole through the roof of the Hesketh Winding House. The chimney served the bank of ten Lancashire boilers in the adjacent Boiler House, combined they had a capacity of 100,000 lbs of steam per hour. The boiler house and chimney are Grade II listed structures, and it is considered to be the largest concentration of Lancashire boilers within a single building. The boiler house itself was of course once much larger, perhaps around four storeys tall looking at archive photos. When the liquidators moved in they set their sights on the scrap value of the boilers and ripped the roof off, shortly afterwards they were listed and "saved". Being completely open to the elements nature has of course taken the place back and it is pretty much full of trees, the concrete floor is in a very fragile condition and it's a pretty treacherous place to poke around in. The boilers and some pipework are still extant, however much of the bright-work, gauges and the likes have disappeared.
Lamp House Situated pretty much next to the Boiler House is the Lamp House. Constructed in 1922 to replace earlier undersized structures the Lamp House features some particularly nice north lights common in industrial architecture of the time. The building is largely unchanged, save for the insertion of the ticket office and shop for the museum in the late 70's. Through the back of the lamp house two turnstiles take you into a corridor that would have been the start of your visit to the museum, a number of displays survive explaining the formation of coal.
Walker Fan House Just behind the Lamp House and Boiler House stands the Walker Fan House and ventilation drift. Another listed structure this was constructed in 1958 and contains an electrically driven fan capable of extracting air at a rate of 500,000 cubic feet per minute from the mine workings. The drift connects to both the Platt and Institute shafts sucking air from the workings which in turn draws air in from the Hesketh and Winstanley shafts. Upon the capping of the underground workings in the 1980's the drift was made into part of the Underground Experience, forming the end portion of the tour and contains a conveyor and mine car system similar to what would be typical in a drift mine. At the top immediately next to the large fan are some fake offices and a control room, through the control room window you can actually see the blades of the fan. Located close by is the long disused Platt Fan House, in later years this also formed another access/egress point of the Underground Experience. In the space between the two fan houses stands a rusting man-rider.
Underground Experience In the mid-2000's the extents of the experience that were built in the railway cutting were demolished, this was on the grounds of safety due to the concrete roof starting to fail after a decade or so of complete neglect. It was a very pleasant surprise a couple of years back when someone discovered that some parts of the experience still remain, these parts are mostly constructed within the ventilation drift, with some short extensions that jut out to the retaining wall of the railway cutting.
The "pit bottom" of the Platt shaft, this is where visitors would enter the mine, descending in a cage. Behind the photograph is a large ceiling mounted camera that presumably took a souvenir photograph of visitors.
The Princess Royal Drift, with a genuine coal seam at the end.
A mock up of a modern mining technique, a longwall shearer with hydraulic props.
The "pit bottom" of the Institute shaft, complete with a pair of cages, tubs and notices.
The Fan Drift; complete with conveyors, tracks and signage advertising jobs in the coal industry.
The control room at the top of the drift, the massive fan can be seen through the window.
Pit Head Baths Complex Another of the listed structures on the site, the complex was built around 1936 and contained the pithead baths, deployment centre, canteen and a medical centre. When built, it was the second largest pithead baths in the country, providing accommodation for over 3,000 men. It was built in the modernist style popular at the time, consisting of red brick walls and concrete flat roofs with plenty of sky lights. Around the 1950's some extensions were constructed for a mine rescue centre and photographic laboratory. Whilst large portions of the building have been heavily altered since the end of coal mining some parts do remain pretty much as it was on the first floor with several banks of lockers and showers in situ. During the museum years parts of the building were used to display various exhibits, a few still remain.
Until fairly recently the deployment centre was the home of the Friends and where their collection of artefacts were kept however they have now relocated to the former geology office, presumably due to the continued deterioration of these buildings. Both the deployment centre and mines rescue centre were inaccessible at the time.
The ground floor office and laboratory areas, complete with their very nice glazed partitions. Some of the rooms still contained some old desks etc but there was little to see of any major interest.
The canteen now lacking the nice illustrations that were once above the servery. Those as well as the massive miners helmet have been moved for safe keeping by the friends.
Stairway up to the clean side of the lockers, this is where miners would have ascended on their way to work. Each miner had a clean locker and a dirty locker. They would leave their clean clothes in these lockers before putting on their working clothes in the dirty lockers on the other side of the showers. The dirty side locker areas were cleared out as they had been used as exhibition halls whilst the museum was in operation.
Hesketh Complex The Hesketh pit was the centre of coal winding operations in the later years of the colliery. It commenced operation in 1917, with the last coal being lifted in 1976, over those 59 years 24 million tons of coal were brought up via this shaft.
Control cabins for the twin deck cages, the large hydraulic rams were used to push the tubs on there way along the tracks to the tub hall.
The Tub Hall was constructed in 1952 as part of a major reconstruction of the colliery. The complex includes four tipplers used to invert the mine cars emptying the contents into the conveyer system below. The mine cars were moved mainly by gravity with an element of mechanical power required to send them back up the shaft. The tub halls were worked in conjuction with the screening and washing plant that was formerly located over the sidings. Spoil was also taken away from this facility via a system of conveyer belts to the heap, a portion of this still survives although heavily overgrown.
The view from the top of the Hesketh Headstock, looking down on the Winding House and Power House structures.
The under side of the Hesketh winding drum.
The steam powered winding engine was installed in 1914. Originally a boiler house stood next door although this was demolished in the early 1960's and the winding operations were handled by a new electric winding engine located in a small building between the steam winder and the shaft, this was then demolished in 1976 when the colliery closed.
At the other end of the building is the Hesketh Power House, constructed in 1925 this produced electricity and compressed air for use in the mine. The latter was used extensively to drive machinery such as coal cutters, conveyors, drills and haulage engines in the depths of the mine. Within this complex of buildings there are still numerous models and exhibits from the museum days, although most are in a state of disrepair
The lower levels of the complex feature extremely thick walls and arches, necessary to support the first floor machinery. During the museum years a portion was used as stables for the pit ponies and other areas were used for storage of various mining related bits of kit.
Looking out from the Power House over towards the Fitter’s Shop, another of the sites listed structures. In later years this was converted into a mine cart repair workshop. Whilst the museum was open a number of heritage locomotives were stored within these buildings, hence the standard gauge rail track.
That's all I have for now really, this high level shot gives a fairly decent idea of the size of the site. I doubt I'll ever get bored of visiting, there always seems to be something different to take a look at.
Thanks for looking and reaching the end, long report I know but it would be difficult to cover as much of the place in only thirty photos.