Vobster Breach colliery, 890m ENE of Tweed Farm

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014867

Date first listed: 14-Mar-1997

Map

Ordnance survey map of Vobster Breach colliery, 890m ENE of Tweed Farm
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Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Somerset

District: Mendip (District Authority)

Parish: Leigh-on-Mendip

County: Somerset

District: Mendip (District Authority)

Parish: Mells

National Grid Reference: ST 69755 48900

Summary

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Coal has been mined in England since Roman times, and between 8,000 and 10,000 coal industry sites of all dates up to the collieries of post-war nationalisation are estimated to survive in England. Three hundred and four coal industry sites, representing approximately 3% of the estimated national archaeological resource for the industry have been identified as being of national importance. This selection, compiled and assessed through a comprehensive survey of the coal industry, is designed to represent the industry's chronological depth, technological breadth and regional diversity. The term `nucleated' is used to describe coal mines that developed as a result of increased capital investment in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are a prominent type of field monument produced by coal mining and typically consist of a range of features grouped around the shafts of a mine. The simplest examples contain merely a shaft or adit with associated spoil heap. Later examples are characterised by developed pit head arrangements that may include remains of engine houses for pumping and/or winding from shafts, boiler houses, fan houses for ventilating mine workings, offices, workshops, pithead baths, and transport systems such as railways and canals. A number of later nucleated mines also retain the remains of screens where the coal was sized and graded. Coke ovens are frequently found on or near colliery sites. Coal occurs in significant deposits throughout large parts of England and this has given rise to a variety of coalfields extending from the north of England to the Kent coast. Each region has its own history of exploitation, and characteristic sites range from the small, compact collieries of north Somerset to the large, intensive units of the north east. A sample of the better preserved sites, illustrating the regional, chronological and technological range of nucleated coal mines, together with rare individual component features are considered to merit protection.

Vobster Breach colliery survives well and is considered to be one of the best preserved mid-19th century steam-powered collieries in England. Although the colliery was only a short-lived enterprise, the site retains an exceptional range of components, including the heapstead and two banks of coking ovens. The standing and earthwork remains of the principal mine structures, together with map evidence of its associated tramway network, provide valuable information on the layout and operation of coal mines of this period. The coking ovens are important in their own right and represent the only known standing examples of this type of oven in England which differ significantly in form from the more common `bee hive' coking ovens.

History

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Details

The monument is situated approximately 0.7km to the north east of Tweed Farm, Coleford and includes the ruins, earthworks and other remains of Vobster Breach colliery. The opening of the Newbury Railway, a branchline of the Great Western Railway, in c.1857 acted as a stimulus to local mine owners in the mid-19th century and led to the development of Vobster Breach or `Vobster New Pit' during the early 1860s. It was one of several coal mines owned by the Vobster Coal Company and was connected to the Newbury Railway by a narrow gauge tramway. The mine was well equipped and by the mid-1860s two banks of coking ovens had been constructed at the site. Increased competition for existing markets and a downturn in the coking trade during the following decades is thought to have led to economic difficulties at Vobster Breach, and mining had ceased by 1884. Most of the mine buildings are grouped around the shaft in the central part of the site. The shaft itself, which has been infilled, is situated within a levelled terrace whose side walls are revetted in stone. Although the headgear has been dismantled, four stone mounting blocks which supported the wooden headgear mark its position. Once the coal had been raised to the surface it was conveyed to the screens, which were located immediately to the east of the shaft, for grading. There is no surface evidence to indicate the form of the screens, but their foundations are believed to survive as buried features. To the south of the shaft, built against the southern revetment wall of the terrace, are the foundations of a structure. It is thought to have contained workshops and the position of both its external and internal walls can be traced on the ground surface. To the west of the shaft are the ruins of the stone-built winding engine house which is believed to have housed a single cylinder horizontal steam engine. The engine base, together with the boiler settings, are thought to survive as buried features within the interior of the building. A brick-built chimney which served the boilers stands beyond the north western corner of the winding house. It is approximately 2.5m high and there is an arched flue opening within the lower section of its east wall. The ruins of a brick building are visible just to the south of the winding house and this structure has also been identified as a workshop. The colliery spoil heap occupies an area of approximately 0.65ha in the northern part of the site. An access track or waggon way is visible at the northern end of this feature, heading in a south westerly direction into the spoil heap. The north western side of the spoil heap is bounded by a leat which took water to power water-driven pumps at Vobster colliery approximately 0.5km to the north east, a site which was also owned by the Vobster Coal Company. Within the southern bank of the leat is a stone-lined portal to an adit which drained the mine workings at Vobster Breach. A 130m long section of the leat and the portal are included in the scheduling. In the south eastern part of the site are the standing and earthwork remains of two banks of coking ovens, are a double back-to-back range and the other, to the south, a single linear range. The latter consists of 21 ovens, and archaeological and cartographic evidence indicates that the mouths of these ovens opened to the north west. The double coke bank has a total of 56 ovens erected in two rows of 28 that back onto each other. The ovens to the south east have collapsed and are now visible as earthwork features, but approximately 12 remain intact. All the ovens are believed to have a common plan with a semi-circular arched entrance and a flue to the rear. The ovens were lined with refractory bricks and each was separated from those to the sides (and the rear in the case of the double bank) by a brick and stone core sealed with a lime mortar. The flues which emerged through a brick-lined opening at the rear of each oven were arranged in pairs and, where the ovens remain intact, will survive beneath the overburden which has built up on top of the ovens. The narrow gauge tramway which connected Vobster Breach to the Newbury Railway approached the mine from the east. Map and documentary evidence indicates that there was a junction to the east of the coking ovens from which a network of tramways entered the site, providing rail access to the coking ovens and the pithead buildings. The trackbed of one of these tramways is visible running east-west along the southern side of the spoil heap towards the pithead buildings. All fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 21659

Legacy System: RSM

Sources

Books and journals
Down, C G, Warrington, A J, The History of the Somerset Coalfield, (1970), 228
Down, C G, Warrington, A J, The Newbury Railway, (1979)
Down, C G, Warrington, A J, The History of the Somerset Coalfield, (1970), 237-40
Gould, S, Vobster Breach Colliery, (1991), 1-15

End of official listing