Ashton has a long history of coal mining and is situated in the south-east corner of the Lancashire Coal Field.
Early coal pits
Until the eighteenth century, only small scale mining was carried out in the area, chiefly to provide fuel for homes. The early mines were usually surface workings or shallow "bell" pits.
Early industries in the area used water wheels as a source of power. One of the consequences of the Industrial Revolution was the spread of steam engines to power machinery, such as the spinning and weaving machinery in Ashton's cotton mills. Steam engines required coal and so more coal pits were opened around the town, sinking deeper shafts to exploit lower seams of coal.
Ventilation and drainage
These deeper mines needed ventilation and drainage of water that seeped into the workings. One mine, at Rocher Vale near Park Bridge, used a water wheel to power a form of bucket chain to raise water from the pit. In the 1780s, a Newcomen steam engine was installed at Fairbottom Mine, alongside the River Medlock between Park Bridge and Bardsley. The rocking motion of this engine, as it pumped water up from below, resulting in the nickname "Fairbottom Bobs" (click here for more). Another steam engine was known to have been in use in 1788 at a pit in Hurst.
Many mines were ventilated by having a small fire at the bottom of a second shaft, which drew air through the workings from the main shaft. Towards the end of the nineteenth century it became more common for mines to use steam powered fans for ventilation. However, as late as 1882, when Ashton Moss pit sunk a shaft to a depth of 2850 feet - the deepest in the world at that time - its ventilation still used the convection method, with furnaces half-way down and at the bottom.
While a lot of the coal mined locally was used to power the local cotton industry, much of the output was transported to the mills of Manchester, by means of the Ashton Canal, then later the railway.
Location of mines
There is documentary evidence that coal extraction was taking place during the seventeenth century on the steep bank to the south of the parish church and at Alt and Fairbottom in the north of the parish. The death was recorded in 1674 of Elisha Knott in a coal pit at Fairbottom. In 1721 there was known to have been a mine at Crickety Lane (Cricketts Lane) on the edge of the town.
By the 1780s there were pits at Cricketts Lane, Currier Slacks (near Cock Brook), New Heys, Hurst, Broadoak, Fairbottom and Broadcarr (near Hartshead Pike). As well as the increased demand for coal locally as cotton mills installed steam engines, the opening of the Ashton Canal in 1796 created a huge demand for coal that could be transported cheaply to the rapidly expanding mills in Manchester.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the two largest collieries were at Broadoak, near the present High School, and Fairbottom, where the company had several pits in the Park Bridge area. Broadoak colliery had a tramway running to the railway near Oldham Road Station; Fairbottom colliery had a tramway from its New Rocher Pit to the Fairbottom Branch of the Ashton Canal. There were also pits at Charlestown, near the site of the present bus station, and Hurst Knowl, which had a tramway running to Hurst Mills near Hurst Cross.
Ashton Moss pit
As the demand for coal outstripped the output, a deeper mine was opened in 1875, at Ashton Moss. This new pit had its own railway branch and canal arm for efficient transportation of the coal. In 1882 a second shaft was sunk - at 2,850 feet, the deepest in the world at that time.
The New Rocher pit closed in 1887 and Broadoak pit closed in 1904, after which time Ashton Moss pit was the only coal mine still in operation in Ashton. Although it produced 150,000 tons of coal a year in the early 1950s and employed over 500 men, Ashton Moss colliery closed in 1959 and part of its site is now the Snipe Retail Park on the boundary with Audenshaw.
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