Shropshire History

Lilleshall

Limestone Mines

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The volcanic mass of Lilleshall Hill, with its prominent monument to the Dukes of Sutherland, stands out of the East Shropshire Plain. It is Pre-Cambrian in origin and, with the Wrekin, amongst the oldest rocks in Europe. In later periods, the area was covered by shallow seas in which limestone was deposited and, later still, by deserts affected by earth movements and glacial erosion. The Lower Carboniferous Limestone outcrops to the east of the hill and it is split by a number of major faults. The limestone occurred in four beds and, although the shallower ones could be worked by opencast methods, deep mining was required to work the lower ones. The lower deposits made a good hydraulic cement which set under water and large quantities were used in the building of Liverpool docks.

 

It is not known when men first began to cut the limestone as a building material but the adjacent Lilleshall Abbey was certainly built from it in the 12th century. Following the dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, the estate was bought from the Government by the Leveson family who had made their fortune in the Wolverhampton wool trade. The family immediately set to work to economically exploit the land which had suffered much neglect during the latter monastic days. Land was drained, communications were improved by causeways across the marshy ground on the Weald Moors and general agricultural improvements made. The family opened coal, iron and limestone mines, particularly in the area which is now north Telford. Virtually all these enterprises were contracted out to partnerships who worked the mines with varying success. 

 

Although the earliest reference to limestone working in Lilleshall was in 1625, it wasn't until the 18th century that industry generally began to predominate. Sir John Leveson became Earl Gower in 1746 and the industrial story really began when his son Granville Leveson Gower became the second Earl in 1754. He was a typical high born gentleman of his age - landowner, Member of Parliament, Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Privy Seal and Lord Chamberlain to King George III. Despite all these duties, he took an active interest in the efficient running of the local estates, namely Sherrifhales, Lilleshall, Donnington Wood, St Georges, Priorslee, Wombridge and Snedshill.  His brother-in-law was Francis 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, who was the originator of the first canal to be constructed in the new industrial age and which carried coal out of his Manchester mines. Through him, Earl Gower was introduced to the brothers Thomas and John Gilbert, the latter having had much experience in the cutting of the Bridgewater canal. At that time there were over 250 small pits extracting limestone in the area with varying degrees of efficiency. The Earl's agricultural improvements had led to an increased demand for lime and the expanding local iron works demanded limestone as a flux. The Earl was thus persuaded that it would be more efficient to operate the limestone extraction directly so he and the Gilbert brothers formed the Lilleshall Partnership in 1764 to do this. The Earl also took over iron furnaces at Donnington Wood so he now had a vested interest in producing and delivering limestone as cheaply as possible. 

 

The new partnership soon recognised that a better communication system was required between the widely dispersed sites and in 1765 began the construction of a canal. It ran from Pave Lane to the Earl's furnaces at Donnington Wood and was known as the Donnington Wood Canal. The quarries in Lilleshall village were improved and this included one under what is now the Sylvan Close housing estate. This had been abandoned and flooded by the 18th century and became home to a massive pike which attacked fishermen and even pulled the Parish Clerk into the water! It was eventually caught in 1767 when a drainage level was driven from the Boundary Brook to unwater the quarry. The quarry was expanded into what became known as Colliers Side Quarry.  This expansion entailed the removal of a large quantity of overburden to get at the limestone. To get rid of this, a length of canal was dug to a nearby kettle hole and the spoil taken here in tub boats to fill in marshy ground and make it suitable for agriculture. The quarry workings were linked to the main canal near Hugh's Bridge by a branch canal which was unfortunately 18 metres lower. To overcome this, the branch canal went under the main canal in a tunnel with a shaft to link the two. Boats would be moored underneath the shaft and a crane lifted pallets of stone up to other boats in the canal above. 

 

Although some quarries could work the two shallowest limestone beds by opencast methods, to reach the lower beds it became necessary to mine the limestone since the cost of removing the overlying strata was too great. This also applied where shallower beds dipped downwards and the overburden increased proportionately. The mines were worked on the pillar and stall system which left 25% of the limestone behind as pillars to support the roof. Tunnels were driven down dip about 9 metres wide and, after a distance of about 18 metres, the tunnels were linked by a cross passage also 9 metres wide. The process would then be repeated, leaving a series of pillars about 9 metres square. For shallow beds, the mine passages would continue in from the existing quarry face but, for lower beds, a shaft would be sunk to the appropriate level and the same mining system employed.  Some of the limestone was converted to quicklime on site by burning it in kilns. These consisted of 7.5 metre deep shafts with a grate at the bottom connected to the outside by a horizontal service tunnel. They were fuelled by coal carried on the canal from the nearby  Donnington collieries. The limestone and fuel were stacked at the shaft bottom, the fuel set afire and the whole thing left to burn for several days. A draught was sucked in along the tunnel and up the chimney shaft to increase the fire temperature. After the fire had died down, the lime could be broken up into small lumps for transport. Transport of limestone and coal to the kilns themselves was originally by horse and cart but these were later replaced by lines of "L" shaped cast iron rails. Since the quicklime becomes caustic when wet, it was not advisable to transport it by rail. As a result, it was usually stored by the kilns and picked up by customers themselves. 

 

Although some of the limestone was converted to slaked lime for cement and local land improvement schemes, the majority was sent to be used as a flux in the iron furnaces. It was transported on the canal in long lines of tub boats (see Figures 50-51) which were 6 metres long, 1.9 metres wide and 1.2 metres deep. Due to the intricate network of canals in the area, this meant that it could usually be transported directly from the quarry to the iron works without being transhipped.  The quarries at Colliers Side originally worked the shallower beds opencast but the workings were eventually continued underground with inclines linking them to the tramways above. The extracted waste material was used to build great embankments across the quarry in which kilns were built, as well as two tunnels for access. Tramways ran along the top of the embankment to feed the kilns and to carry material to the canal. Shafts from 45-75 metres deep were also sunk to work the lower beds and an open trench west of Limekiln Lane was continued underground. 

 

The Lilleshall Partnership was creating a profitable business from the Colliers Side quarries and this was not unnoticed by the neighbouring Leeke family. Their land was in the parish of Church Aston but they were landowners rather than industrialists. Their main venture was at Blackberry Bank Mine, which had originally been worked from the 17th century, and they sunk shafts over 36 metres deep. Pumping engines, probably of the Newcomen type, were erected but they were less successful than they expected. This led them to leasing the exploration rights to the Partnership who had linked Blackberry Bank Mine to their canal system by 1798. By this time, however, the mine was almost worked out and several 120 metre deep shafts had been sunk to the east at what was to become the Pitchcroft Mine.  By 1800, the mining industry of the area was at its fullest extent but the Partnership was almost finished. Both the Gilberts were dead and Earl Gower was 79. The younger son, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, acquired all the shares in the Partnership and formed the Lilleshall Company in 1802 with John Bishton, James Birch, John Onions and William Phillips. The Blackberry Bank Mine was abandoned and other quarries and mines around Lilleshall were finished by the 1830s. Although twin exploratory shafts 213 metres deep were sunk at Crow Hayes, work now concentrated on the Pitchcroft Mine. 

 

This mine worked in a restricted area but may have produced over a million tons of limestone during its life. In 1846, the Stafford-Wellington railway was built and this passed right by the main shaft of the mine. A short branch was built to the mine and this made it much easier to transport limestone to the Donnington furnaces. The mine was notorious for accidents and a typical one occurred in 1858 in which three men were killed when "an immense layer of stone" fell on them.  In 1860 a real disaster struck when water was found to be rising through the floor in old workings. This rapidly became a flood and the workings had to be abandoned when the pumps could not keep pace with the inrush (see Figure 54). No human lives were lost but the pit ponies could not be rescued and they were left to their fate, the rotting carcases polluting local water supplies for some time afterwards. It was estimated that over 300 gallons of water per minute were entering the mine and portable pumps capable of removing 400 gallons per minute were brought in. Within days, however, the inflow had doubled and the mine was lost. It is believed that exploratory workings had passed through the Brocton Fault and found workable stone at a different horizon, this then being left until required. Beyond the fault, however, was the North Shropshire aquifer and over a period the pressure would have built up until the water eventually burst into the workings. Tunnelling through this fault would have been like drilling into the bottom of a full bath, once this had happened then nothing could have saved the mine. If became necessary to find reserves elsewhere and attention turned to the Willmoor Mine.  This was originally called Sour Leasow Pit and had begun as twin exploratory shafts 60 metres deep, rapidly expanding to meet the local needs for limestone. The mine was finally abandoned in 1883 but produced about 188,000 tons of limestone during 21 years of working. It averaged 7,500 tons per year which was taken to a small basin on the nearby canal and carried in tub boats to the furnaces. Its demise was due to the fact that the Company could bring in limestone cheaper from Wenlock Edge and Nantmawr near Oswestry, despite the extra distance involved. 

 

Thus ended the industrial history of Lilleshall and the surrounding area. All mine buildings and equipment were removed and the dumps planted with trees. The workings flooded and the shafts were capped with brick "beehives" (see Figure 98). The tramways were removed and the canal system became derelict, part of the main course being filled in during the construction of the Lilleshall Hall drive in 1896.

 

Blackberry Bank Mine, Lilleshall (SJ735171)

Limestone

This was originally worked in the 17th Century by the Leeke family, who had sunk shafts over 100ft deep. Newcomen type pumping engines were erected but they were less successful than expected. This led them to leasing the exploration rights to the Lilleshall Company, who linked Blackberry Bank Mine to their canal system in 1798. By this time, however, the mine was almost worked out and it closed in 1802.

 

Canal Cottage Mine, Lilleshall (SJ7316)

Limestone

 

Childpit Mine, Pave Lane (SJ756151)

Limestone

 

Church Aston Mine, Church Aston (SJ7417)

Limestone

 

Collier’s Side Mine, Lilleshall (SJ735165)

Limestone  (aka Lilleshall)

The earliest reference to limestone working in Lilleshall was in 1625 but this was probably from surface quarries. In 1767, a drainage level was driven from the Boundary Brook to unwater the flooded Colliers Side Quarry. Although the two shallowest limestone beds could be extracted by opencast methods, to reach the lower beds it was necessary to mine the limestone, since the cost of removing the overlying strata was too great. This also applied where shallower beds dipped downwards and the overburden increased proportionately. The mines were worked on the pillar and stall system which left 25% of the limestone behind as pillars to support the roof. Tunnels were driven down dip about 25ft wide and, after a distance of about 50ft, the tunnels were linked by a cross passage also 25ft wide. The process would then be repeated, leaving a series of pillars about 25ft square. For shallow beds, the mine passages would continue in from the existing quarry face but, for lower beds, shafts 135-225ft deep were sunk to the appropriate level and the same mining system employed.  Some of the extracted waste material was used to build great embankments across the quarry in which kilns were built, as well as 2 tunnels for access. Tramways ran along the top of the embankment to feed the kilns and to carry material to the canal. To get rid of the rest of the overburden, a length of canal was dug to a nearby kettle hole and the spoil taken here in tub boats to fill in marshy ground and make it suitable for agriculture.  The quarry workings were linked to the main canal near Hugh's Bridge by a branch canal which was unfortunately 60ft lower.  To overcome this, the branch canal went under the main canal in a tunnel with a shaft to link the two.  Boats would be moored underneath the shaft and a crane lifted pallets of stone up to other boats in the canal above.  The quarries and mines were closed by the 1830s.

 

SJ734164

Limekilns (C19)

SJ734164

Stables (C19)

SJ734166

Adit (grilled)

 

Crabtree Leasow Mine, Lilleshall (SJ7316)

Limestone

 

Crow Hayes Mine, Lilleshall (SJ737157)

see Willmoor

                                                                                                                                         

Edgmond Mine, Edgmond (SJ714193)

Limestone

 

Jackie Parr’s Hole, Lilleshall (SJ7316)

Limestone

 

Lilleshall Mine, Lilleshall (SJ735165)

see Collier’s Side

 

Little Hales Mine, Pave Lane (SJ7516)

Limestone

 

Pitchcroft Mine, Lilleshall (SJ739171)

Limestone

In 1798, several 360ft deep exploratory shafts were sunk to the east of Blackberry Bank and these were developed as a new mine. In the 1820s, limestone reserves began to run out in the Lilleshall Company’s other mines in the area and work was concentrated on the Pitchcroft Mine. In 1846, the Stafford-Wellington railway was built and this passed right by the main shaft.  A short branch was built to the mine and this made it much easier to transport limestone to the Donnington furnaces. The mine was notorious for accidents and a typical one occurred in 1858 in which 3 men were killed when "an immense layer of stone" fell on them. In 1860 a real disaster struck when water was found to be rising through the floor in old workings.  This rapidly became a flood and the workings had to be abandoned when the pumps could not keep pace with the inrush.  No human lives were lost but the pit ponies could not be rescued and they were left to their fate, the rotting carcases polluting local water supplies for some time afterwards. It was estimated that over 300 gallons of water per minute were entering the mine and portable pumps capable of removing 400 gallons per minute were brought in.  Within days, however, the inflow had doubled and the mine was lost.  It is believed that exploratory workings had passed through the Brocton Fault and found workable stone at a different horizon, this then being left until required.  Beyond the fault, however, was the North Shropshire aquifer and over a period the pressure would have built up until the water eventually burst into the workings.  Tunnelling through this fault would have been like drilling into the bottom of a full bath, once this had happened then nothing could have saved the mine. This mine worked in a restricted area but produced over a million tons of limestone during its life.

 

SJ738169

Limekilns (C19)

SJ739172

Winding engine bed (C19)

SJ738169

Shaft (capped)

SJ738173

Last Shaft (filled)

SJ739172

Shaft (flooded)

SJ739172

Shaft (flooded)

SJ740173

North Shaft (capped)

 

Sour Leasow Mine, Lilleshall (SJ737157)

see Willmoor

                                                                                                                                         

Strong’s Mine, Lilleshall (SJ7316)

Limestone

 

Talbot’s Pool Mine, Lilleshall (SJ7315)

Limestone

 

Willmoor Mine, Lilleshall (SJ737157)

Limestone  (aka Crow Hayes, Sour Leasow, Willmoor Lane)

Twin exploratory shafts 640ft deep were sunk In the 1820s at Crow Hayes. This was originally called Sour Leasow Pit but it rapidly expanded in size to meet the local needs for limestone, especially after Pitchcroft Mine closed in 1860. It produced around 7,500 tons per year, which was taken to a small basin on the nearby canal and carried in tub boats to the furnaces. Its demise was due to the fact that the Lilleshall Company could bring in limestone cheaper from Wenlock Edge and Nantmawr near Oswestry, despite the extra distance involved. The mine was finally abandoned in 1883 but produced about 188,000 tons of limestone during its 21 years of working.

 

Willmoor Lane Mine, Lilleshall (SJ737157)

see Willmoor