MOST people will be familiar with Bolton’s historic links with the cotton industry, but how many of you are familiar with the town’s links to coal?

Harvey Scowcroft has always had a keen interest in the railways — perhaps unsurprising when you consider he is a retired railwayman — and is fascinated by the area’s industrial past and the way the industry has shaped the 21st century. His knowledge of local industry and his thirst for even more information has led him to discover there have been more than 110 coal pits and collieries in the Bolton area alone — a sobering thought and one many Looking Back readers possibly did not ever consider.

At one time the Darcy Lever, Great Lever and Little Lever area had been home to 28 pits.

The first thing 65-year-old Harvey is keen to point out is the difference between a coal pit and a colliery.

“There is a difference, although a lot of people probably don’t realise there is. A pit is, as the name suggests, is a hole in the ground, whereas a colliery is more mechanised. There is a subtle difference,” he explains.

If you think about it, says Harvey, street names such as Coal Pit Road and Colliers Row should give a bit of a clue to a coal mining past in Bolton.

“Records show there was coal mining in Harwood in 1765,” says Harvey, who lives in Dowson Street in Bolton.

The Victoria Colliery in Wigan Road employed 135 men and was the last mine in Bolton. It was closed in 1960.

It was situated where the garden centre now is in Wigan Road.

“Coal was mined in several ways. If it was seen jutting out of a hillside the coal was mined horizontally and then it was termed a drift mine. Burnt Edge Colliery near Walker Fold was one of those.

“If it was near to the surface it was dug out using ladders. These were called bell pits and several existed behind Smithills Hall.

“Sometimes it was hauled to the surface by the use of a gin (a specialised piece of equipment), often using horses.

“Coal was even brought out from the Plodder Lane area by means of a three and a half mile underground canal to the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal at Worsley,” he says.

The traditional method of extracting coal was by a pit head winding gear over the shaft.

“The site of Bradshaw Colliery pit head shaft can still be located by a concrete pyramid seen through the trees on the right hand side of Bradshaw Road,” he explains.

Tonge Colliery had a pump house in Leslie Street and its chimney was still standing until 2007.

The historic chimney, which towered 60 feet above houses off Tonge Moor Road, Tonge Moor was part of the former colliery pumphouse.

The land, formerly owned by Scowcrofts Tonge Colliery, was sold in 1984 to businessman John Woodward who exported furniture to America.

However, in 1992, the wooden warehouse he ran in front of the stone pumphouse was destroyed by fire and Mr Woodward was given permission to clear and rebuild the site. The discovery of a mineshaft, however, halted the work.

The chimney had to be demolished brick-by-brick — all 20,000 of them.

The pumphouse was built between 1882 and 1890 to clear water from the underground colliery. The pumphouse station was overseen at the beginning of the 1900s by engineer William Taylor who lived on the colliery site. It is believed the pumphouse ws no longer in use by 1911.

The Hulton Estates contained a number of collieries. Pretoria Pit was one, of course, where 344 men and boys tragically lost their lives in an underground methane gas explosion on December 21, 1910.

The last mine shaft to be sunk in Bolton says Harvey was in the late 1990s. “However it was only for decorative purposes and is in the back garden of the home of the steeplejack Fred Dibnah,” he says.

For anyone wanting to discover more The Coal Mines of Westhoughton by Pam Clarke of Westhoughton Local History Group would be a good start and another valuable tool would be Bradshaw and Harwood Collieries by the late Jim Francis of Turton Local History Society explains Harvey.

The Lancashire coalfield was one of the most prolific in England with thousands dotted about the county.

The large number of mines resulted from its accessibility at the start of the Industrial Revolution and the climate which was ideal for cotton mills.

Coal fed the boilers of cotton mill towns, including Bolton and Bury and the first industrial revolution coal mines supplied coal locally and to Liverpool, along the River Mersey via the Sankey Canal.

On the Manchester coalfield the early collieries were those of the Duke of Bridgewater in Worsley, where the Bridgewater Canal was built to transport coal from his mines to Manchester.

In 1880 the Mines Inspector reported 534 coal pits in the Lancashire field. There were 10 pits in Blackrod, 19 in Bolton, 18 in Farnworth and Kearsley, three in Harwood, six in the Horwich and Rivington area, three in Harwood, there were seven in Middle and Over Hulton, 28 in Darcy, Great and Little Lever and 16 in Westhoughton.

n Harvey is keen to find out if anyone has, or knows the whereabouts, of any photographs of Tonge Colliery. Anyone who can help should contact Gayle McBain on 01204 537269 or email gmcbain@thebolton and we will pass the information on to Harvey.