Three Bowburn Collieries

There were three “Bowburn Collieries”, though the first wasn’t a colliery, in that it didn’t produce any coal, and the second wasn’t in Bowburn (though it was indeed in Quarrington – it was just north of Coxhoe, near Park Hill). The third one was the one sunk in 1906–08. In planning this third colliery, Bell Brothers’ Agent and Chief Engineer, Addison Langhorne Steavenson, intended from the start to use what he called “Quelch’s Pit” as the upcast (i.e. ventilation) shaft. (It later became the principal man-riding shaft.)

In writing about his methods for sinking the downcast shaft of this last Bowburn Colliery, and in reporting a visit by Associates and Students of the NEIMME in September 1906, Steavenson wrote, “About 1/4 mile to the east of this Bowburn pit is an old shaft sunk by the late Mr. Quelch. He was most unfortunate, for, having passed through the Low Main and Hutton seams, both too thin to work in those times of 50 years ago, he bored to a point at which he should have found the Bustybank seam. However, there happened to be a nip-out and he abandoned the sinking with, no doubt, considerable loss. Had his pit been sunk a few feet further west, he would have got nearly 5 feet of coal, as proved by the present owners. The moral to be drawn is: ‘In cases of importance do not trust a single bore-hole.’”

For some time this led me and others to suppose (a) that Quelch had sunk his unsuccessful pit in about 1856, i.e. 50 years before Steavenson’s; (b) that problems reported elsewhere to have been experienced at “Bowburn Colliery” in around 1841 were not at “Quelch’s Pit” but at the “Bowburn Colliery” near Park Hill, and (c) that the latter colliery was first sunk at this earlier date. None of these suppositions was correct, although Quelch may indeed have been financially embarrassed by the earlier venture.

The unsuccessful “Quelch’s Pit” was in fact sunk in 1840 – not circa 1856, as implied by Steavenson’s later statement – and was initially known as “Bowburn Colliery”. It was only after it had failed to be productive that the later pit was sunk, to the south, and given the same name.

The Children’s Employment Commission reported in 1842, having been set up in February 1841. So it will have been in 1841 that John Wood, viewer of Clarence Hetton, told it that “Bowburn’s colliery, lately sunk, has come to coal only 22" thick but it will not do to work it, unless they come to a thicker seam. They are driving a level expecting it will turn out better.” (It didn’t!) He was referring to “Quelch’s Pit”; the later, relatively successful Bowburn Colliery near Park Hill was only sunk, with that same name, some years after the first one had failed.

This is demonstrated by a plan held by the University of Durham Library, a “Sketch shewing the Way-leaves requested from the Lord Bishop of Durham by the Owners of the Crowtrees, the West Hetton and the Bowburn Collieries, 31st Jan’y 1840”. The location of the “Bowburn Colliery” in question is that of “Quelch’s Pit” and the way-leave being sought for that colliery ran across lands leased by the Bishop to the Rev. Hopper Williamson and to Mr. Greenwell, towards Cassop Moor Colliery. (From there it was planned to convey coal up Cassop Vale to join the Cassop-to-Thornley branch of the Hartlepool Dock & Railway Company’s line to Old Hartlepool.) Both this new colliery and West Hetton Colliery (which had been sunk in 1836, using the Clarence Railway to the Tees, but whose new owners now also sought leave to carry coal over Williamson’s land to Cassop) were within a royalty leased from the Bishop by Henry Blanshard.

The existence of both this first (unsuccessful) “Bowburn Colliery” and of the later (relatively successful) one is confirmed in a Report and Lease Book of the agent of the Bishop of Durham in the NEIMME’s library at Neville Hall, in Newcastle. He reported in 1848 that “Barrett, Quelch & Co. sunk a Pit upon the northern division of [the West Hetton] Royalty in 1841, for the purposes of winning the Hutton Seam. The Five Quarter and Main Coal Seams cropping out to the surface in this part of the Royalty. This winning was unsuccessful. The Hutton having been found so thin as not to be workable. The winning was therefore abandoned. Subsequently a portion of the southern part of the Royalty was detached from the West Hetton Royalty and made to constitute what has latterly been called Bowburn Colliery.” (NIEMME: NRO 3410/ZB/19 – report dated Oct 21 1848).

It is the latter “Bowburn Colliery” that appears on the first OS map, surveyed in 1857.

So there were THREE “Bowburn Collieries”. The first one, “Quelch’s Pit”, was sunk in 1840 – and never produced any coal, so wasn’t actually a colliery. The problems experienced here had nothing to do with the second “Bowburn Colliery” – which wasn’t actually at Bowburn but was sunk c.1847 between Park Hill and West Hetton, and was said in 1848 to have “latterly been called Bowburn Colliery”.

And the third one was the 20th century pit – a real colliery, and really at Bowburn! (Moreover it did find the Hutton seam workable, as Mr. Steavenon expected, as well as the higher Low Main seam, and the Harvey, Tilley, Busty and Brockwell seams beneath it.)

The history of that third colliery, which is shown as “Bowburn Colliery 3” on the above map, is summarised on other pages of this website.