Warwickshire’s coalfield had been worked since the 13th century, but had yet to boom. It was not until the commercialisation of the steam engine in the 1830s did Warwickshire’s coal mining industry see rapid growth. Steam power allowed for more efficient, deeper mining by powering engines to pump out water and raise the coal to the surface. Yet it was the steam locomotive that really helped Warwickshire’s coal industry boom. London and Bristol (which brought 407,000 tons of Warwickshire coal in 1886) were made quickly accessible and cost-efficient, thanks to the railway. By the late 19th century, Warwickshire collieries were even supplying Birmingham, as its competitors in the South Staffordshire collieries had almost exhausted their resources.
The large nature of Warwickshire’s coal that once inhibited its demand, was now a major advantage. Large lumps of coal, was increasingly in demand as it was suitable for powering the locomotives. In 1903 Warwickshire produced 3,449,068 tons of coal. Combined with its ‘advantageous position to central markets’ the future looked bright for the Warwickshire coalfield.
However, the Warwickshire coalfield was not absent from accidents. In 1882, an explosion took place at the Baddesley colliery that took the lives of 32 miners. After tackling issues with flooding for weeks, a new pump was installed and a roof of coal was now just inches from the new boiler. Eventually, a fire broke out in the Deep Workings, and when a rescue party was sent down an explosion occurred just hours afterwards. The explosion blew out all of their lamps, leaving them in total darkness and many injured. Another rescue party was sent down, but few who were rescued survived their injuries. All other trapped men were presumed dead and the shafts were sealed for months. Some of the bodies were never found and the Deep Workings was never worked again.
Throughout the early 20th century, the industry continued to expand. However, after World War Two, engineering became Warwickshire’s more dominant industry. Yet the mining continued and when the coal industry was nationalised in 1947 Warwickshire had 20 working collieries.
Daw Mill Colliery was one of Britain’s largest coal producers and Warwickshire’s last operating colliery, until its closure in 2013. A fire broke out in the colliery 500 meters below the surface. While it was described as Britain’s worst underground blaze for at least 30 years, all of its workers were safely evacuated. The fire led to the eventual closure of Daw Mill Colliery, leaving its 650 staff members redundant and marking the end of Warwickshire lengthy history of coal mining.
David Bell, Memories of the Warwickshire Coalfields. Warwickshire County Record Office reference C.622 BEL
Coalmining in Warwickshire. Warwickshire County Record Office reference C.622 WAR
Edward Hull, The Coal-Fields of Great Britain. Warwickshire County Record Office reference C.622 HUL (P)
Laurence Fretwell, The Warwickshire Coalfield. Warwickshire County Record Office reference C.622 FRE
National Coal Board, Coal in South Midlands and Kent. Warwickshire County Record Office reference C.622 Nat (P)