MAY 2022: LOCAL HISTORY - Rediscovering our mining heritage at Brandy Bottom

May 06 2022

Avon Industrial Buildings Trust volunteers working at the former Brandy Bottom colliery.

Avon Industrial Buildings Trust volunteers working at the former Brandy Bottom colliery.

AS you cast your eyes southwards from the Lyde Green development you will see a chimney rising above the trees along the cycle path. 

If you then cycle or walk from the Mangotsfield to Westerleigh end of the cycle path you will find the chimney is part of the Brandy Bottom coal mine complex.

It is listed by Historic England and reputed to be one of most complete Victorian mines in England.

As you gaze at it from the cycle path, the chimney and the Old Pit, circa 1837, are on the left and the New Pit, circa 1875, is on the right. 

The most obvious parts are the raised heapsteads either side: this was where the coal was raised to before being fed by gravity into coal trucks.

The cycle path is built over the coal mine sidings and if you follow the path along towards Westerleigh, you will pass a pithead winding wheel set either side, from a Welsh coal pit, and then a dilapidated hut on the right.  This platelayers' hut marks where the sidings joined the main railway line. 

The Old Pit was originally known as Lord Radnor’s pit after a local landowner.  It is first referred to as ‘Brandy Bottom’ in a coroner’s report of 1856 for a miner who was killed when a heavy chain being lowered into the pit broke and fell on him. 

The 680ft deep shaft, now flooded to about 30ft below ground level, accessed four coal seams.  Although steam power had been around for 200 years, the mid-1800 engine was low on power and the shaft was narrow, so the amount of coal that could be raised daily was limited.

Handel Cossham, a local geologist of some renown and later benefactor of Cossham Hospital, realised the potential of the coalfield and developed Parkfield colliery in 1851, near to where the Westerleigh path now goes under the M4. 

Parkfield had raised 750,000 tons of coal between 1869 and 1875. 

Cossham bought Brandy Bottom in 1872, renamed it Parkfield South and set about redeveloping it, with the two pits linked underground. 

He sunk a new wide shaft from February 22 1875. We know the exact date as there was a ceremony that the local newspapers reported on. 

Mrs Cossham and her daughters turned the first sod of the new sinking. A new engine house was built and powerful engines of the latest technology were installed, which dramatically increased the output.

Avon Industrial Buildings Trust volunteers have been on site for 14 years trying to uncover and conserve facets of the complex. 

In the last five years, the Old Pit engine house has been cleared of rubble, revealing the pits that housed the cable drum, flywheel and crank. 

The bed stone where the cylinder was mounted still shows the imprint of the 2ft diameter cylinder.

On the heapstead a footprint of a building has been uncovered. 

The Cornish engine house, which housed a 60in diameter steam engine, has had some of the walls rebuilt.

The large condenser pit has also been cleared of rubble. Steam for the engines was raised in a 30ft long egg-end boiler situated by the Cornish engine house.

The boiler mountings have now been cleared of rubble and a boiler of contemporary age is planned to go in its original setting.

In the New Pit the suspended concrete floor had an opening cut in it so the undercroft could be explored. This revealed the brick piers on which the horizontal engines were mounted, with congealed waste oil from their lubrication. 

The movement of water around the site was important for drainage and supplying the boilers and we are discovering various culverts and trying to work out how they link up.

Parkfield, both the main pit and Brandy Bottom, finished in 1936. 

At the end of its life Brandy Bottom was only used for maintenance and ventilation. For the ventilation a new fan house was built, with an electric powered fan, sometime after the First World War. 

Powerful electric pumps were installed at Parkfield in 1920, and it is likely the Cornish pumping engine shut down around then – it has "finished 1923" scratched into the concrete capping of the pumping shaft.                     

We welcome new volunteers and hold our work parties starting at 10am on Saturdays and Wednesdays: the upcoming ones are on May 11 and 21, and June 1, 11 and 22.

Please pay us a visit on one of these dates – contact me on 07816 085579 for more information.  We will have the site open for the Heritage Open Doors in September. If you would like to contribute to a worthwhile and important piece of our heritage we would be pleased to see you.

For more information visit the AIBT website at aibt.org/brandy-bottom.html and search for Brandy Bottom at the Historic England website.                  Steve Hake