The picture above is a painting of one of the coal mines set on the shores of the Dee Estuary its hard to believe looking at Neston now that they were ever there , and yet three mining companies operated in close proximity at various times for over 150 years. Not only was there pit heads but in later years came the railways, building huge depots to load up the coal on to the rolling stock, in relation to the scale of the place vast tonnages of extracted coal left the area at first by boat later truck and rail one wonders whats still there holding the Dee River bed up ? and it seems odd that the diverting of the main Dee river flow (which had run very close to the shore on this side of the estuary) away from the quays at Neston and Parkgate was blamed on the building of new riverside canals at Chester and not on subsidence as I would have suspected. Coal was not the only industry to set up hereabouts as imported limestone was turned into lime for building and for use as fertiliser, coke, charcoal , brick, tile making and metal smelting, all of which seems to have moved away along with the water.
The story of Wirral coal mining starts in 1759 when John Stanley opened the Denhall (Ness) Colliery close to the Harp inn, one of the thirty or so 2mtr wide shafts to be sunk till it closed in 1855, 135 mtrs deep they were capped for safety reasons and there is only one entrance walled up and gated left on the surface this is situated between Sunningdale Way and Treetops. The colliery owner built Denhall Quay in the 1760s and the coal hewn from part of the Flintshire coalfield that exsisted under the Dee estuary was shipped to North Wales and to Ireland. The colliery had two underground canals 55m and 86m below sea level that ran from the coal faces to the bottom of the pit shaft called navigations, along which narrow boats known as starvationers because of the substancial wooden ribs which carried up to 800 kgs (unlike the Bridgewater Canal boats of the same name that held 12 tons) of coal and were at first legged by the miners in groups of four so it seems, later to be pulled by pit ponies or mules.
In the earlier years the coal was mined in stages leaving pillars of rock or coal in place to hold up the roof as they followed the seam, this was not the most productive method being that only 40% of the coal was extracted in later years usage of wooden pit props was to improve the situation. The miners life was a hard one working 90 hours a week in the dark mine, the shanty type town of miners homes was described as the most miserable mass of hovels on the Wirral at the height of the coal boom upwards of 300 miners and also some children were employed .......even worse old men, all at risk of accidents that happened not infrequently including roof falls, explosions, falls in shafts and later from engines and rolling stock and whilst no major disasters are recorded the accident book for the last mine from 1911 to 1927 lists 530 injuries, 5 deaths & a serious injury causing death 4 years later.
click here for list
The second colliery to open was in 1819 in a large area to the north of Marshlands Road no more than half a mile from Denhall (Ness) this was Little Neston Colliery owned by the Cottingham family it lasted till 1849 and in the years till it closed there were a series of incidents between the rival companies as competition from other coalfields started eating into the profits one involving the Denhall mine allowing water to flood into the Little Neston tunnels. Two court cases were brought against John Stanley at Chester Court, the first when a canal tunnel was blocked reportedly after Stanleys men were seen to bring up equipment, boats and horses, through No 6 pit. Tall boards were erected on the surface to prevent Cottingham from seeing what was going on whilst Stanleys men also hid their faces. Shortly after explosions were heard and Cottingham found that his tunnel leading from Pit 21 to the canal had been blown up. In the second Cottingham sued Stanley for trespass and wilful damage to his mine for the sum of £10,000, based on lost sales and Stanleys malicious intent. In court Robert Johnson, Stanleys agent; did not deny that Stanleys men had destroyed the tunnel , but justified the damage done as being part of a scheme to manage the ventilation of Denhall (Ness) Colliery and to prevent Cottingham's men from destroying the canal. The judge ruled that there was no malevolence involved and Stanley acted on his agents best intended advice. The jury found in favour of Cottingham and awarded him just £2000 of the £10,000 requested, the money however was not to stop the decline in Wirrals fortunes and with increasing competition from other mining areas in 1855 the sound of the steam driven pithead winding gear ceased and would not be heard for nearly twenty years.
The advent of a railway link from the newly opened Chester & Birkenhead Railway's branch to Parkgate (which unfortunately has suffered the same fate as the mine) was the catalyst required for the much larger Wirral Colliery to start mining in the same area off Marshlands Road previously occupied by the Little Neston Mine it was able to ship its coal to customers further afield using the railhead which put profitability back to the mining operations.The owners were the Platt brothers ( although HMG run it for whist during the first world war ) and they brought workers from Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Wales in its heydays of 1921 it employed a work force of 350 till the slump of 1926 / 1927 when The coal field was in decline as the readily accessible coal had been worked out, it closed in 1927 with not much left to see except some of the waste tips are visible on the right at the bottom of Marshlands Road, and a number of place names in the area such as Colliery green and Miners Green.