Sal Madge & Whitehaven Coal Mining History

Child Labour / Collieries of Whitehaven /England's first Undersea mine/Haig Mine Museum /Klondike in Cleator Moor / Railways of Cumbria
Haig mining museum at Whitehaven/ Whitehaven's mining professor/ More Railway information

Whitehaven grew from a sleepy fishing village to a busy industrial port largely because the nearby hills had rich coal seams that were so close to the surface they even outcropped on the valley side. Such was the demand for labour that children were much employed down these early collieries. One such was Sarah (Sal) Madge.

coal mine sceneAt the age of eight she began work at the mines. This was before the 1842 Act of Parliament preventing women and girls from working beneath the ground. Sal understandably hated this work dirty and dangerous work. She only spent a brief period at this work at Saltom pit the first ever under-sea colliery in the world. Its twin stone lined shafts are now classed as a world heritage site, yet are a sad derelict site on the beach. At Saltom the coal was first raised to the beach level and then hauled up a second shaft to Raven Hill on the cliffs above.

From here the coal wagons carrying huge baskets of coal travelled by gravity down to Hurries on the harbourside. Here the coal wagons were upended into the holds of waiting sailing coal brigs. Sal worked for most of her life with the tough horses used to move these waggons of coal to the harbourside.
She worked as a horse driver at Wilson, Croft, Ravenhill and Wellington pits. Although of small stature Sal had become very strong through having to control and master the colliery horses. Sal Madge, who was born in 1831, worked in the town's colliery, drank pints, kept her hair short, smoked a pipe and wrestled men for sport.
She wore her hair cropped short, with a man's parting and a cloth cap. Her only concession to femininity was to wear a skirt, but for the rest she wore a shirt waistcoat and jacket. Chewing tobacco no doubt added to her 'charm.' Local coal magnate, Earl Lonsdale even mistook Sal for a man when he met her one day.Wellington Pit

But like Barny the Goose, which used to live on the harbourside, Sal became something of a myth after her death in 1899. At her death the Cumberland Pacquet, one of the town's many newspapers, described her as "one of the last remaining worthies of the town.''
Their report stated; "The funeral was very largely attended.... It was a simple little funeral, and on the coffin lay just one cross of daffodils, a touching tribute by some friend of this strange woman.''
For those seeking refreshment a public house in Whitehaven, that has adopted the name of Sal Madge, is highly recommended for drink and vittles!

Collieries of Whitehaven

Howgill Area (1675-1735) Radcliff Bank Pit, Causey Head Pit, Burnt Pit, Swinburn Pit, Crayson Pit, Bell Pit, Skelton Bank Pit, Howgill Head Pit, Pickeron Bank Pit, Senhouse Pit, Gill Close Pit, Gibson Pit, Murray Pit, Mallison Pit, Pow Pit, Andrew Pit, Forbes Pit, Granger Pit, Darby Pit, Gameriggs Pit 1685 , Coalgrove Pit, Wreah Pit 1820 , Scott Pit. He then lists other pits with approximate dates: Haig Pit 1907, William Pit 1857, Henrey Pit 1837, Croft Pit (Woodhouse) 1774, Ladysmith Pit 1898, George Pit (Top of Victoria Road)1755, Parker Pit 1738, Lady Pit (Sunny Hill) 1728, Harris Pit (Harras Moor) 1730, Davey Pit (Hope Hall) 1735, Countess Pit (Seven Acres Parton)1780, Jackson Pit 1730, Wolf Pit 1720, Taylor Pit 1745, Daniel Pit 1760, Bateman Pit 1710, Partis Pit (Stanley Pond)1790, Hope Pit 1740, Howe Pit 1695, White Pit 1710, Tate Pit 1728, John Pit (Lowca) 1838. Jane Pit 1829, Moss Pit (Sandwith road) 1780, Dyan Pit 1730, Venture Pit 1740, Castle Rigg Pit 1785, Bottom Bank Pit, Thwaite Pit 1755, Saltom Pit (Beach below Kells)1728, Walkmill Pit Moresby Parks)1876, Whinney Hill Pit(Mill Hill) 1848, Fox Pit 1755, Duke Pit (Rosemary Lonning) 1745, Kells Pit (North of Haig)1750, Corporal Pit (Preston Street) 1737, Greenbank Pit (next cemetery) 1675, Knockmurton Pit (near cemetery) 1670, Woodgreen Pit 1679, Ravenhill Pit(Kells) 1736, Lattera Pit (Moresby Parks) 1695, Priestgill Pit (Hensingham) 1688, Ginn Pit 1700, Stone Pit 1705, Fish Pit 1765, Wilson Pit (Sandwith road) 1740, King Pit 1725, Arrowthwaite Pit 1715, Newtown Pit (Preston St) 1700, Hind Pit 1700, Country Moor Pit 1710, Carr Pit 1720, Pearson Pit 1730, Pedlar Pit 1710, Taylor Pit 1700, Fox Pit 1700, Daniel Pit 1710, Jackson Pit 1705, Hunter Pit 1695, Watson Pit 1705, Green Pit 1700, Lady Pit (Sunny Hill)1728.
May 2000 marks the 90th anniversary of the worst disaster in the Cumbrian coalfield, the day 136 men and boys died in the 1910 explosion at Wellington Pit. Whole families were wiped out, funerals went on for weeks. Wellington Pit closed in 1932.Saltom Pit top before it was capped forever.
Saltom Pit pithead (pictured left)complex below the cliffs at Kells, Whitehaven is a World Heritage Site. As the
mine was aimed at risking the speculators' capital in winning coal from beneath the sea it was located just 20 feet above sea
level on a bay beneath the cliff. And therein lies the big problem over the future preservation of this historic site. The shaft was hourgl;ass shaped with timber balks between, half being for updropughgt of foul air and the other for the indrought of fresh air.
On
one side the sea is trying to erode the shore, while from the other side the cliff side is crumbling and invading the area. One of
those who has long campaigned for the site to be preserved and used as a historic feature for visitors and locals alike is county councillor Ron Calvin. A former miner himself, county councillor Ronnie Calvin, explains: "The mine was sunk in 1729 and was possibly the first and biggest undersea coal mine in the world. It was worked until 1847 when it stopped drawing coal.''
Coun Calvin says he has repeatedly pressed for more action and even mentioned the sad state of the Saltom Pit remains when he met John Prescott, on his visit to officially open Whitehaven's lockgates. The mine shaft was dug as an unusual oval in shape, to the depth of 76 fathoms. The hour-glass shaped design meant timber balks were slotted down the centre to split the shaft into an up and down sections for ventilation. When the men were digging and stone lining this shaft they broke into a
powerful blower of the explosive methane gas that has turned so many Whitehaven mines into fire traps. On this occasion the
engineer, Carlisle Spedding, showed talent in piping the gas to the surface where it was used to illuminate the pit head
complex. He even offered the gas for free to the town, but perhaps short sightedly, the Town Trustees turned down this
chance to light the town for free! Carlisle Spedding had a massive Newcomen steam pumping engine, built at the sea shore pit head, to enable the constant inflow of water to be pumped out. The mine was worked until 1848. Among the ruins are traces of the circular Gin area in which horses patiently plodded their way round and round to haul up the tubs of coal from the bottom of the shafts. The site is owned by Copeland Council, who have to grapple with the difficult issue of how to fund its preservation. They have approached the government for assistance with funding but were turned down. Chris Lloyd,
Copeland's Head of Contracts & Projects Management, said: "Copeland Borough Council does recognise the historic
importance of the pit remains and members have considered the options available for their protection. Unfortunately these
remains are located in a difficult position, being relatively close to the beach and on a small plateau only slightly above beach
level. "The sea defence gabions have been partially breached by the extreme tidal conditions in recent years and there have
been some movement of the cliff adjacent to the gabions. "To compound the problem the South Shore cliff extends
immediately behind the remains. This cliff is substantially overtopped with tipped former mine workings and over a period of
time these have started to settle. Tension cracks have appeared in a number of places above and to the north of the remains
and indeed the access track/path down the cliff has been disrupted by this slippage. "Faced with a huge and expensive
logistical problem the council has to accept that it cannot afford to direct limited funds needed for service provision to provide
protection to the pit remains from above and below. "In order to at least retain a record of the present remains, an
archaeological survey study and report has been undertaken by Lancaster University Archaeolo-gical Unit (for which support
was provided by English Heritage). "This document including sketches, drawings and photographs, has been placed in the
Whitehaven Library and a copy has been retained by the Council. "The Council has approached English Heritage and
DEFRA for assistance with funding for preservation and/or protection from the sea. English Heritage were approached to
provide a valuation of the remains but eventually declined. "This may have enabled assistance for a study and potentially
remedial works to the gabions, but at present the Council is unable to secure assistance in this area. "Even if some protection
from the sea can be provided a strong risk continues that the slippage from above will gradually affect the remains."

Full research details of Whitehaven mining history by consultants to the National Trust.
Backup copy on this server of above research by Cranstone Consultants 267 Kells Lane, Low Fell, Gateshead ,Tyne and Wear NE9 5HU .Phone: 0191-482-1037



Child Labour in Whitehaven's Mines

A booklet (available at the Haig Pit Museum) based on the evidence of an 1841 Parliamentary inquiry into the terrible conditions down the coal mines. Among the shocking details it lists are how young the children were when they started work. One youngster, John Daly, started work when he was only six years and nine months.On average the children worked 10 to 12-hour days.Fourteen-year-old James Rotherey, who worked in Lord Lonsdale's William Pit, told the inspectors: "I go down at six and come away at seven, or perhaps eight."When the Childrens' Employment Commission travelled to West Cumbria in 1841, conditions were uncovered that would shock even the most hardened aid-worker fighting to outlaw child labour in foreign countries today.
The inspectors reported: "The morals of the children are very indifferent. They are as ignorant as it is well possible to conceive children to be; nor are the lads from 13 to 18 years old one jot more informed. It is not to be supposed that children confined for 12 hours in a coal pit can have opportunities for any sort of education.'' John Greasley, the Haig Pit Restoration Group's secretary, said: "The evidence was so offensive, even to the Victorian public, that legislation was quickly introduced to outlaw the employment of women and girls underground and boys under the age of 10. The accounts vividly portray the hardships these children endured at the hands of their masters.''One 11-year-old told the inspectors: "I get up at four and have my breakfast of porridge and milk and a great bit of bread. I have a bit of bread and butter and cheese in the pit at 12 o'clock."I never play but I'm not tired. I don't go to church or chapel, I have never heard of Jesus Christ.''A 15-year-old states: "I had 6d a day as a trapper. It's hard work, we have to hold back the baskets of coal going downhill."We have our left shoulder against the horse's tail and our right leg right against the tram. There is no brake to keep the trams back''The surgeon employed by the mines told the inquiry: "I do not consider 12 hours too much for either men or boys, considering the work they do. The boys' accidents generally arise from the right leg slipping off the frame of the tram as they are stopping them going down hill.''Pit accidents claimed many of these youngsters. In 1837, at one of Henry Curwen's pits, the owner's greed in pushing work two miles out under the sea led to the sea breaking in. No one was ever able to explain exactly what happened where the sea broke in, as none of them escaped

The Coal Baron
Sir James Lowther was the land owning magnate who carved up much of the new coal wealth of West Cumbria.
And in his enthusiasm to exploit the riches underground he was not averse to some slick wheeler dealing.
In 1742 the Governors of St Bees public school leased all their coal workings to Sir James Lowther for just £3.50 a year.
But this matter became the subject of a major court trial in 1821 when charity commissioners took action against Sir James. Their action came about after someone cried Foul. Their study of the matter uncovered the fact that the 1742 decision to lease at such a low rent had been taken when both Sir James and his agent, John Spedding were sitting as Governors. The court ruled that the lease was nul and void.
The descendants of Coal Baron Lord Lonsdale (the Lowthers) are still enjoying the wealth from their Cumbrian landholdings.
According to North West Business Insider magazine in 2009 The Earl of Lonsdale's Lakeland Investments, which owns some 72,000 acres of land, is estimated to be worth £15 million. Meanwhile Lord Cavendish of Holker, who's family were big in iron ore, are said to be worth £10 million.

Our own well known Lakeland poet William Wordsworth saw his family financially crippled when Lowther refused to pay a debt to the poet's deceased father John's estate. The legal battle was dragged on for years by Lowther.

Whitehaven in Early Coal Research by Dr. William Brownrigg M.D., F.R.S.

William Brownrigg was born on 13th of March 1711/12 at High Close Hall in Cumberland, the first son of George & Mary Brownrigg. He was baptised in Crosthwaite church a fortnight later. His mother was the daughter of Henry Brownrigg of Armagh, Co.Wexford, and cousin to George. Their status was that of minor gentry, and their estate was at Ormathwaite Hall.
Having opted for a medical career, William took up a post in London in the early 1730's, in a training role, before matriculating to Leyden University under Hermann Boerhaave, before obtaining his doctorate, and returning to Whitehaven in January 1737, to join a partnership with Dr Richard Senhouse, who was himself a Leyden graduate. This partnership was short-lived, however, as Senhouse died in October of that year. Brownrigg consequently took over the practice, and quickly attracted the attention of Sir James Lowther, the major local landowner and his most influential new client.
As a consequence of a serious firedamp explosion in Corporal Pit on the 5th of August of that same year, Brownrigg was appalled at the loss of life incurred (twenty-two men, a woman, and 3 horses), and so he began an investigation of the natural gases that caused it. Brownrigg had studied natural sciences as part of his degree at Leyden, and combined his treating of the colliery workers with that of what he believed were the causes of their ills.
Due to Lowther's patronage, Brownrigg became a contemporary of John Spedding, the Agent of Lowther's estate, and of Carlisle Spedding, John's brother, and Agent to the Collieries. As a result of this closeness, he met and eventually married John's 20-year old daughter, Mary in August of 1741.
In later years, Carlisle Spedding, who spent a great deal of time underground amongst the men, trying to allay their fears of further explosions, was himself badly affected by the poisonous gases of the mines, and was treated by Brownrigg for their effects. Spedding was eventually killed in another explosion underground.
Before his demise, Carlisle Spedding and William Brownrigg spent considerable time together working to understand the gases and how to make working life underground more healthy and bearable to the men. Two innovations of Spedding's were the Flint Mill, and the practice of "coursing" or directing ventilation around the workings in order to remove still and poisonous air.
Sir James Lowther had, in the early 1730's, prior to Brownrigg's arrival, spent some time in collecting firedamp in bladders, and experimenting with them, before presenting experiments before the Royal Society in 1733 and 1736. Carlisle Spedding had himself written papers in support of these activities, one of which was presented by Lowther in 1741, supported by an additional paper by Brownrigg, which Lowther passed to Sir Hans Sloane, President of the Society, and which, in April 1741 was placed before the Society. Brownrigg followed this by three more over the following thirteen months, on the relationship of these gases to epidemics, mineral waters, and the nature of common air. As a result of these papers, in May 1742, Brownrigg was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. His Patron, Sir James Lowther paid the twenty-two guineas required to secure this honour as a life membership.
It was during this time, early in 1743, that Carlisle Spedding backed Brownrigg in proposing to Sir James Lowther that a laboratory should be built to facilitate his research. The plan was to build a small "hut" near to one of the pits, to which Spedding would convey fire-damp in a series of pipes. As well as the research into the "damps", Brownrigg could also continue his "chemical affairs", efforts that Lowther supported to the extent of contributing £10, which was half of the building costs of the laboratory.
Although Brownrigg had a large practice of local gentry (between Maryport and Millom), he also treated many of the poor also. In April 1743, Whitehaven was gripped by an epidemic, and Brownrigg attended anyone in need, sometimes in the most appalling conditions, such that he worked himself into near exhaustion, a condition reported by John Spedding (his father-in-law) Chief Agent to Lowther's estate, to his master in London, as so ill he was "like to have died."
This experience in dealing with this outbreak, stood him in good stead later, when in 1771, plague broke out in Europe, and he published a paper through the Royal Society, advising on treatment if it should arrive in England.
This epidemic and Brownrigg's subsequent illness, delayed the building of the laboratory, but it was finished, complete with installed leaden gas pipes, by July, and a lease was granted on the 10th of September for a supply of gas from Peddlars Pit for life, or as long as he remained in Whitehaven, at a peppercorn rent.
Indeed, a search of Lowther's Rent Books, reveal that Dr Brownrigg leased Roughfields, Croft and Acredale tenements in a part of Daniel Gibson's Corkickle estate lease for £11 in 1743. (This property contained a "Little House, Barn, and garden" which were there in 1732, during the previous tenant, John Fisher's lease. This is probably the house and garden shown on Mathias Read's picture of 1736 near where New Houses were later to be built) The rental fee dropped to £8 in 1744. Although the remaining accounts for the 40's are not detailed, in 1751, the description again included "Littlehouse and garden", and the fact that the lease was to expire in Candlemas 1768. One must assume that this was the case, for, in 1771, the lease had passed to John Dixon. The only other mention is that Brownrigg was in three years arrears by 1769 at £24, as was John Dixon by 1772. Elsewhere in the accounts Daniel Wood is said to have held a garden behind New Town.
It may be, that the £20 cost of creating a laboratory, was in fact to convert or replace an existing building, possibly the Littlehouse and Barn referred to above.
So, the experiments with mine gases continued, the gases being fed to a series of furnaces in the laboratory, where their nature was investigated. During this, Brownrigg noticed a marked increase in the pressure of gas supply, which, he later realised, coincided with a drop in barometric pressure. This finding was again the subject of a paper to the Royal Society in December 1744. It was this, that was probably his biggest breakthrough in predicting the increased risk of explosions in the mines, as the increased danger of concentrations of gas underground, could now be determined by checking a barometer. This innovation has been used right up to present day. Another such paper was presented in June 1749.
Brownrigg declined to allow his papers to be published, as he intended them to be part of a work on a History of Coal Mines, which he was still hoping to write in May 1754. Two years later an outline of this work was read to the Society by Dr Stephen Hales, but was never completed, although in 1765 his other works on natural gases produced in spa waters was printed, following his visit to Spa in Belgium. It was this latter work that was deemed by the Society to be the best original paper of the year, and Brownrigg was duly presented with the Society's Copley Medal in 1766. A further paper on his chemical researches was presented in 1774.
Also during this time, Brownrigg carried out experiments in distillation, contributing a paper in 1755 contrary to Hales's methods of combining air with water in a distillation vessel, which he thought might be applied to the boilers of steam engines. As there were then five such engines working at Whitehaven collieries, Brownrigg consulted his colleague Carlisle Spedding on the possibility of increasing efficiency in this manner. Although Spedding was killed before Brownrigg could reply, he later advised Hales that they considered that the air would pass into the cylinder and prevent a good vacuum forming when the steam condensed. Brownrigg felt that mechanical agitation might prove better, and also the use of superheated steam. In this latter thought he was far in front of the field, as it was to be towards the end of the nineteenth century before the technical aspects were perfected.
Brownrigg was deeply interested in other, non-colliery aspects of natural sciences, in 1748 having experimented with methods of producing better common salt, and during 1741, in conjunction with Charles Wood (his brother-in-law) carried out experiments on smelting platinum ore, obtained by Wood whilst an assayist in Jamaica, but originally smuggled from Cartagena in what is now Colombia. This was believed to be the first introduction of platinum into Europe, although the Spaniards were known to have used it as augmentation of sword hilts, alloyed with gold. On minerals too, Brownrigg contributed a paper in 1774, detailing twenty specimens found in Whitehaven collieries, including green vitriol, and Epsom salts, and earned the accolade of "the bright star of natural history." All this, coupled with his knowledge of botany, gained him a reputation such that his opinions were sought by eminent scientists like Benjamin Franklin, with whom he conducted experiments on Derwentwater in 1772, in support of Franklin's hypothesis that stormy waters could be calmed by pouring oil on them.
Brownrigg again became the hero of the working classes, when, during outbreaks of Gaol Fever (Typhus) in 1757 and 1758, he proposed that the poor should be treated at the public expense, prompting his protégé Dr Joshua Dixon, a chemist and apothecary, to found the Whitehaven Dispensary in 1783, in a building at 107, Queen Street donated by James Hogarth, which was funded by public subscription. Brownrigg, although no longer active in Whitehaven by then, was a subscriber, and held a position as one of the Vice-Presidents.
The beginning of the end of Brownrigg's prominence in Whitehaven, was in 1760, when his father died, and William inherited the Ormathwaite estate. This took an increasing amount of his time, and diversification into agriculture and estate management, distracted him somewhat. The Whitehaven Census of 1762, did list him as renting a house and garden at 24, Queen St, owned by Peggy, his sister-in-law and another member of the Spedding Clan, then married to Anthony Benn.
By 1770, probably following the termination of the lease of the land his laboratory was on in 1769, Brownrigg moved from Whitehaven to Ormathwaite, and built a new laboratory there. He entertained various eminent guests like Franklin for some years, but appears to have made some financial mistakes, which, coupled with a failing mental capacity in later years, caused him to hand over financial control in 1787 to his wife's nephew, John Benn, who, on William's death in January 1800, inherited his estate.

The reader can probably detect from the content of the Brownrigg account, that the author is interested in establishing the location of the laboratory in which such significant work was carried out. It was during a recent talk by Colin McCourt of the Beacon, author of the new book on New Houses, that interest was sparked in the building at the northern end of the Castle Row renovation works by Groundwork.
This structure consists of a ground floor wall of very well cut and dressed stone, containing a large Gothic-arched centre door; two smaller ones each side, and two similarly-shaped windows outside them. All these apertures are filled in with rough stone and mortar.
Long thought to have been a miner's hospital, the Dispensary, a church, or a school, due to its fine stonework and windows, it now appears to be none of these things.
Colin, in his book and talks, points out that the miner's hospital was in Top Row. His own researches suggest that churches and schools are excellent keepers of records, and yet no such records exist for this building.
A search of old maps all show this wall as exactly that; a wall. The earliest such depiction is dated 1792. It is perfectly flat, straight and perpendicular, with oblong stones in a repeating pattern. Who would build a "wall" with such perfectly cut stone, with arched windows? Nobody.
A search of Pellin's earlier town plans reveal a roadway leading up from Rosemary Lane in 1705, but nothing built on it. Mathias Read's Prospect of Whitehaven in 1736 however, appears to show a house and garden in that area.
Daniel Hay established, through a plan of the Howgill Colliery dated 1791, that Pedlar Pit, the pit from which Brownrigg obtained the gases for his experiments, was below and just along Castle Row from this building. Newtown Pit was right beside the building at the fork in the path up to Arrowthwaite. Remember, New Houses were not begun until 1788. If it were a hospital, church or school, who would it serve? Nobody lived up there.
To return to the talk; one of the slides shown, was of Middle/Castle Row, and showed this building. Once enlarged, the photo, believed to date from 1929, showed that there was then a higher wall, including another Gothic-arched window on the first floor. Beneath this window was a water-box and downspout, suggesting a use of water on an upper floor. Careful examination of the photograph also revealed the "ghost" of two other windows, one with a lintel, that had probably collapsed and been filled-in as a castellated wall. As the northern end of the wall is not shown on the photo, it must be supposed that by looking at the positioning of the three indicated windows, there would have been a fourth on the first floor. So, definitely not a wall, but a fairly substantial building.
Who could afford to build such a quality structure, and why?
The Lord of the Manor, Sir James Lowther; the Town and Harbour Trustees, or a local merchant or gentleman. Why? Nearly all businesses then relied on the Harbour; why build seventy feet above sea-level? The other main businesses were agriculture and coal. It was certainly not a farm building, as the land there then was either gardens or unworkable. Coal then? Most pit structures then were of wood, except the engine houses for beam engines, which were tall and made of much rougher stone. So who could build it?
Dr William Brownrigg. He was a gentleman; he had the backing of the Lord's Agent (his brother-in-law) and of Lowther himself, and he is said to have had his laboratory next to Pedlar Pit.
Did I hear somebody say "So what?"
Well, we have a town founded on coal and shipping. We have a harbour that has been transformed by people with vision, into a significant earner for the local economy. We have a major funding package designed to similarly transform the coastal strip and Pow Beck corridor. We have a structure we suspect was used by one of the leading research chemists and physicians of his time, in a sufficiently preserved state that we can still rescue it. Finally, we have a local authority that not only played a major part in the regeneration activities above, but also owns the land and the building that stands on it.
The aim is, to first form a group of volunteers, backed by local authority expertise, who could clear the top of the building of undergrowth, to establish that there are indeed walls beneath it. Then, after structural and drawn surveys, the infill of waste needs to be removed from the top first, before removing the infill of the central door, and clearing the entire inner area. This would be overseen by archaeologists, and all "finds" would be carefully catalogued, and retained in Whitehaven. Whether we can ever prove that it was indeed Brownrigg's laboratory, remains to be seen, but do we really want to let the rest of it fall down?I think not.
D K Banks, Researcher
West Cumbria Mines Research Group.

Haulage tramways and railways.
Gordon Nicholson has supplied fascinating pictures of the Brake when it was operating before closure in 1986.
His web site gives the following historic background on the working life of the Brake: “The Corkickle Brake was constructed in 1881 by the Earl of Lonsdale's Whitehaven Colliery Company to handle the output from Croft Pit. There were sidings at the bottom of the incline which joined the Furness Railway between Corkickle Station and Mirehouse Junction. The Corkickle Brake was originally operated by a steam winding engine at the Brake Top fed with steam from three Cochrane Boilers. The incline initially mostly dealt with coke traffic from the coke works at Ladysmith Colliery together with by-products in tank wagons which went mainly to the steelworks at Workington and Barrow. The 1930's brought hard times to West Cumberland and when the coke works at Ladysmith closed in 1932 the Corkickle Brake was then left unused and the weeds and rust soon began to flourish. The two partners Frank Schon and Fred Marzillier who started the company Marchon Products Limited in 1939 moved to Whitehaven in 1940 and began manufacturing firelighters in Hensingham. Not long after coming to Whitehaven the company started to market chemicals as raw materials for detergents and in 1943 moved to the site of the former Ladysmith Coke ovens at Kells. By 1955 Marchon had 1,500 employees and was firmly established as one of the major manufacturers of detergent chemicals.

For over twenty years the Corkickle Brake had laid idle but a new period of activity was about to begin. By the mid 1950's the Marchon railway traffic was increasing dramaticaly and it was affecting the nearby collierys as it had to use the Howgill Brake down to the Harbour. In 1953 the NCB handed over the long disused Corkickle Brake to Marchon to modernise and work the line themselves. The brake was ready for testing in Spring 1955 and with full traffic begining again in May of that year and for the next 30 years the Corkickle Brake was back in service.” But all that came to an end in 1986 and the only reminder of its past is the local place name of “Braketop”. Sheila Cartwright, can be contacted on Tel. 019467 25713


Collieries of Whitehaven /England's first Undersea mine/Haig Mine Museum /Klondike in Cleator Moor / Railways of Cumbria
Haig mining museum at Whitehaven/ Whitehaven's mining professor/ More Railway information
Information on the mining history of Cleator Moor


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