Montcliffe Colliery

Montcliffe Colliery is in Winter Hill

Montcliffe Colliery was situated on the east side of the large quarry on Winter Hill, overlooking the town of Horwich. The colliery had two main shafts with many small adits and joining tunnels to older mine workings nearby. There are two tunnels, possibly old trials further down the slope near the site of an old reservoir and near to the site of another old pit, that were extended up to the Montcliffe mine and used as air roads to ventilate the mines.

According to Dave Lane’s Winter Hill Scrapbook, the No.1 shaft was 381.25 feet deep and the No.2 shaft, 429.02 feet. That’s 116.205 metes and 130.765296 metres respectively. I find this astonishing, to give you some idea of the depth we’re talking about here, suppose the land surface at the No. 2 shaft, without the large quarry - as this would be where the depth was measured from before that part of the quarry was dug - was at a height of about 285 metres, as it is just nearby and away from the quarry. If we subtract say 130 metres (roughly the depth of the shaft) we’d get 155 metres. So if you stand on the transmitter access road just next to where the number 2 shaft would have been, the bottom of the shaft would be at the same height as Chorley Old Road just where it passes Horwich Parish church.

The number one and two shafts were sunk around 1820 and 1860 respectively. Once the number two shaft was constructed it was apparently then the only one used for winding.

Montcliffe Colliery must have worked the Sand Rock coal seam that lies within the Rough Rock - a rough looking sandstone - , just below the geological sequence known as the Pennine Lower Coal Measures. The Six Inch Mine seam lies just above the Rough Rock, about 20 metres above the Sand Rock seam but I don’t think that was worth mining. There is a geological fault running roughly southwest to northeast across the entire area, the fault passes inbetween the sites of the two pit shafts. On the east side of the fault the number one shaft was deep enough to reach the Sand Rock seam but on the west side of the fault the rock strata has been downthrown by about 24 metres. The number 2 shaft needed to be so much deeper to reach down to the coal on the west side of the fault.

Interestingly, as the population of the surrounding towns rose during the industrial revolution water became short as the small reservoirs of the time could not meet the increased demand. A decision was taken to test the purity of the natural ground water that flowed into the mines and had to be pumped out. The water was found to be of an exceptional quality and was used for human consumption, probably until the larger Rivington reservoirs where in service. The remains of large pipes can still be found exiting the mines in various locations.

The composition of the water from the original analysis - expressed in parts per 100000 is as follows:

  • Total Solid Matters: 27.4
  • Organic Carbon: 0.015
  • Organic Nitrogen: 0.012
  • Ammonia: 0.008
  • Nitrogen Nitrates/Nitrite: Trace
  • Total Combined Nitrogen: 0.019
  • Sewage or Animal Contamination: None
  • Chlorine: 1.2
  • Hardness (temporary): 8.8
  • Hardness (permanent): 4.6
  • Total Hardness: 13.4

“All samples are palatable and free from posionous metals”

I am not aware of any publication describing the process but I know of at least two large water installations built in the last few decades taking water from the mines so I suppose we are still using it today in our water supply. To be accurate, although the water flows through the mines it is not ‘from’ the mines. It is natural ground water that filters down through the soil and permeable rocks to settle in the Water Table, the source and store of much of our water. Water such as this, leaking out into the landscape naturally would be known as a spring; and as you know ‘Spring Water’ is usually desirable and expensive.

In 1886, bricks produced from clay mined here (clay is often found along with the coal seam) were used to buid the old Horwich police station opposite the Parish Church. The building stands out as most of the surrounding cottages cottages are stone, and is noticeably “brick”. Apparently the bricks did not sell well and the business was closed.

The Site of Montcliffe Colliery

The site of Montcliffe Colliery is now partially destroyed by quarrying and partly buried behind the cottages near the road. The two pit shafts together with engine houses and winding gear once dominated the scene here and at various times the shaft linings have been exposed as the quarry was dug and later landscaped.

I should mention that the lower portion of what is now the mast access road once passed directly across this area of the quarry and was re-directed to its present course that we see today, a shaft was situated on either side of the old road but the sites of both would now be to the west of the road.

Montcliffe Colliery Mine Map

This map shows Montcliffe Colliery sometime around 1905 I believe, the mine map is in black and contains some surface details such as buildings, drystone walls and roadways. I have also marked the route of the modern transmitter access road and a small section of George’s Lane in red. The area now quarried out on the surface is marked in pale brown.

You can see the old route of the road over Winter Hill leaving George’s Lane at White Gate, where it is shown on the mine map with stone walls on either side and higher up with just thin lines designating the sides of the road.

The top-right area of the mine map is roughly around the lay-by at the gate on the mast road where people often park.

If you look around below the lay-by you can see a part of the old road gated off, it actually goes straight off the quarry edge.

Some points of interest on the Montcliffe mine map are the shapes of the mine structures shown. Apart from some confusing areas around the two pit shafts, two different methods of mining are quite easily seen. Firstly in the older areas of the map - notice the succession of “stripes” going across most of the map - these indicate an early form of “Shropshire” or “Long Wall” mining, where the coal face was one long wall that was mined away. In this case the dates move upwards towards the top of the map, so mining must have gone in that direction. The shapes of the mined areas are irregular and so the Long Wall or coal face was not straight.

However, in the top-left area of the map, charged and mined at the start of the 20th Century. A more regular pattern of shorter, straight, coal faces can be seen. This indicates a mechanised process had begun, possibly using underground conveyors (which needed a straight line) has been employed. This method of mining was new at the turn of the century so the mine must have been an early adopter.

The Second Montcliffe Colliery

Sometime around the mid 20th Century the shafts of the old Montcliffe Colliery were used to mine coal to the east of the old mine. This area lies past areas marked “Rubbishy Coal” and “Faulty Coal” on the mine map above. In fact the area of the old Montcliffe mine was withing a wedge shape between several fault lines. There is a known fault line, visible in geological data and apparent in the mine that seems to run in a roughly north-south direction and passing between the sites of the two Montcliffe shafts. It’s possible that this was responsible for the “Faulty Coal” shown on the map.

It seems that the later mining concern passed this natural economic boundary and found good coal further east in an area now under the large quarry, and further still past Marsden’s. This mining area also extended northwards under White Brow and possibly as far as Burnt Edge.

The area to the west of the two shafts at Montcliffe - charged in the days of the original mine - seems to be unknown during the second phase of mining, on old maps the area is marked as “old workings” or “probably ex-montcliffe colliery”. Some of those old workings were over a hundred years old by that time and were probably unexplored as the coal from that area was already gone.

During the 1960’s the same company was carrying out an open-cast mining operation above Two-Lads, higher up the hill. The open-cast mine was digging down from the surface to retrieve the coal and clay from “pillars” of rock left underground to support the roof of the mine. The surrounding coal having been removed by the initial underground mining process. This was, I suppose, part of the Brownlow Drift Mine to the west of Montcliffe Colliery.

Mining continued until October 1966 when the pit was finally closed along with the open-cast mine.

An Underground Lake?

Around the Winter Hill area there were rumours of an underground lake in the mines, there’s an old newspaper report somewhere online of some kids getting lost looking for it, I think in the 1960’s but there were a few other stories around years later when I was growing up and exploring the hills. I know of no decent reference to the existence of a natural subterranean lake, just a few rumours and some possibly compelling but possibly unrelated material.

The thing is, you might not expect to find natural caves in the local geology, these are very common in a limestone landscape but not around Winter Hill. Our gritstone landscape is hard rock where limestone is soft and easily eroded. However, it should be noted that apart from a few boreholes sunk into the hill, and the mines, no-one actually knows what’s below the surface.

A couple of little things ‘could’ hint at naturally occuring water channels within the hill. A few antiquated geological reports mention the prescence of potholes in the area. Personally I know of only one place that ‘looks’ to me like a pothole, another suspect place and something that is a naturally occuring cave, though it is not much at all like a “pothole”. There are other man-made or man-caused caves around but that’s another story.

Another source, I think Dave Lane says that there is a section of tunnel in the mines that looks natural and seems to provide a channel for an underground stream running down away from the mine workings. I would guess this is near to a very wet area that I would describe as an underground lake where it not a flooded mine tunnel. It certainly contains enough water to fill a large pond and is in the area of the Montcliffe number 2 air road. There are quite a few springs around the hill.

During investigations of the area around Montcliffe Colliery to test water for the purpose of taking water from the mines for human consumption it is noted in the report that the mines are very dry until the bottom of the No.1 shaft is reached and there “we found the water made in some strait roadways which had been driven on the deep of the shaft, and only a short distance away therefrom”….”in these roadways the water poured in continuous streams from the roof”(sic).

For some time around the mid 20th Century, in an area a short distance further east, the lower section of the old Little Mine was systematically flooded in order to release water from the Wilderswood Drift Mine that was in operation at the time. The adit leading to a wheel controlled valve or sluice used to flood the mine is now gone, but it’s possible that flooded mine section had an open area that could have been described as a lake.

So far it’s just a local legend.

Montcliffe Mine no. 2 Air Road image by munki-boy

Montcliffe Mine no. 1 Air Road image by munki-boy

Montcliffe Mine no. 2 Air Road image by munki-boy

Water pipes in the old mine image by Karlos

Site of Montcliffe Colliery image by munki-boy

Old map showing Montcliffe Colliery image by Ordnance Survey

Montcliffe Colliery Mine Map image by munki-boy

Montcliffe Colliery No 2 Pit map

Marker type: Mine

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