The Clee Hills, east of Ludlow

The area around the Clee Hills, (a few miles east of Ludlow) is famous for its quarrying industry, which still works the very hard basaltic dhu-stone for road building. Brick making, iron working and coal mining were also once important to the local economy. In the 19th Century an iron furnace was built in Knowbury using the local iron ore, fired by local coal.

Of the numerous coal mines, which were sunk through the very hard rock of the area, very few traces remain, most are forgotten or filled-in. The site at Knowbury is being re-developed and this gave the Club chance to inspect a previously unknown Clee Hill coal mine.


Historical Background
Mining in Knowbury has a long history, and the first Ordnance Survey map published in 1831 shows shafts in the immediate vicinity of the site. Traces of the spoil tips from these can still be seen. However, the first large scale OS map surveyed in 1881 shows the area of the shaft as just a small field. The 1902 re-survey marks an old shaft, with no buildings. The shaft was close to a brickyard owned by Edwin Askey, who is said to have got coal from two mines, Windsor and Penny Pits, adjacent to his brickyard.

An important figure in Knowbury at this time was John Pearson, a mining engineer of Ludlow who had been involved in the local collieries for many years. In 1895 he obtained a new mineral lease for the Knowbury area, and that year the Deptartment of Mines “List of Mines” shows a new mine being sunk at Knowbury. This may be our shaft. It is said two shafts were sunk, but one was soon abandoned due to faulting.

A public company, the Knowbury Colliery Co., was registered in 1899 with Pearson as promotor and Askey as a director (Public Record Office, BT31/8686/63393). Although this was wound up in 1902, Knowbury continues to feature in the Lists of Mines until 1907, when an abandonment plan was also lodged. It is not clear why the OS map shows the site as derelict in 1902; an abandonment plan from 1901 from Knowbury does exist, but this is catalogued as the old Penny Pit. The 1902 OS map unhelpfully shows no working colliery in the whole of Knowbury.

The evidence from the size of the spoil tip and buildings suggests that some work actually took place at our shaft. It seems reasonable to suggest that it was sunk in 1895 by John Pearson, with the primary aim of supplying coal for Askey’s brickworks. The precise date of abandonment seems unclear. Inspection of the abandonment plans held by the Coal Authority Mining Records Dept might solve this problem. If anyone has seen these, please let me know!


  • There was an attempt to reopen a mine in Knowbury in 1911-12, but this does not seem to have come to very much.
  • About 20 years ago my father spoke to a Mr Jones, then from Alveley, who had worked at a pit in Knowbury as a youth, pushing trams from the face to the pit bottom. His description of the site of the colliery seems to be closer to the Knowbury brickyard, in an area of substantial coal tips and with a prominant shaft depression, but only ever shown by the OS as an area of rough pasture. More confusion; please let me know if anybody has further thoughts!
  • The shaft has now been filled, prior to housing development


The Site
The shaft is located on top of a flat-topped spoil tip (NGR: SO 5795 7465), perhaps 30 to 40 feet in diameter. At the north end, the spoil tip is about 10 feet above ground level, but the ground falls steeply away to the south and east so here it appears to be much higher. It contains a lot of coal waste.

The shaft is covered with a semi-buried, brick dome - very common on older shafts in Shropshire and the Midlands and usually referred to as a beehive shaft cap. The keystones in the very top of the dome were ‘removed’ allowing the MineCam to be lowered through the gap.

Hole in the semi-buried brick dome over shaft        Wedge shaped bricks from 'crown' of 'beehive' cap

The brick lined shaft is approximately 2.5m (8ft.) in diameter and is in good condition in the upper sections. However about 20m down on the north side of the shaft a portion of the brickwork has collapsed leaving a void in the shaft wall.

At 58m a large collapse from all round the shaft wall has occurred. Leaving a void with the shaft in natural rock. Just below this at 60m the shaft is completely blocked.

View straight down the shaft at 4m depth        Major shaft wall collapse at 60m depth

Sketch map of surface remains at Knowbury

Surface Remains
There are the remains of several buildings on the site, although the remains are somewhat obscured by the undergrowth. At a (see sketch map), there is a low brick wall, about 3 feet thick and 17 feet long, and foundations of a building extend south of this. Some of the bricks have been vitrified by heat, and at the time of the visit it was agreed this could have been the footings for a boiler. There is also indistinct traces of a wall extending north.

At b,there is a concrete base, about 10 feet square, faced with bricks, with possible foundations extending eastwards. This roughly aligns with the shaft, and may have been part of the engine house.

At c two walls stand about 4 feet high, and define a building about 15 feet square, perhaps subdivided down the middle. Perhaps this was an office. South of this no foundations are visible, but there would have been space for a winding engine, if building b had some other function. There is also what seems to be a shallow brick inspection pit at the base of the spoil tip, perhaps for drains.



Thanks to:

Edwin Thorpe, Chris Eyres and Peter Hewitt
for discussions about this site.

a little bat ...Credits:

Report: David Poyner

Shaft pictures: I.A.Recordings - freeze frames from their MineCam footage.

Other Pictures: Kelvin Lake