Site Records

SiteName: Ayle Colliery

OS Grid Ref: NY719496

Sub Brit site visit September 1996

[Source: Clive Seal]

The present Ayle Colliery was opened 1932/3 by Mr & Mrs White of White Lea's Farm who formed the Ayle Colliery CO Ltd. Coal had previously been worked by the 'old man' and from time to time these workings were broken into.

The First drift was started from behind White Lea's farm working towards the dip. Stan Shepherd managed the colliery for the owners. A native of Prudhoe, he had moved to Alston some years before to work at Barhaugh Colliery, which he managed until its closure in 1933.

The first drift at Ayle was not a great success, it ran to the dip and eventually the water won the battle so a new drift was started in a different county.

The pit was now under the ownership of Frank G Heads, still trading as the Ayle Colliery Co. Ltd, the second drift commenced about 100 yards east of Clarghyll Colliery and now in Cumbria. The main drift ran parallel to Clarghyll's and the two pits holed at regular intervals to form a ventilation circuit. The day of the commencement of the new drift coincided with the birth of a son for Stan, he wished to name the drift 'The John Pit' after the new arrival but Frank would have none of it.

Haulage in the new pit was via wire rope with the hauler situated on the opposite side of the Moscow/Lipsic road to the drift. Tradition has it that the occupant of one of these farms was brought off his motorbike more than once by the haulage running.

The East Drift. Photo taken from the screens in Cumbria showing the drift in Northumberland

In conjunction with the pit, Limestone was quarried out of the new quarry at Ayle. This was commenced from the banks of the Ayle burn by Stan and his wife and the lime burnt on site in a new kiln.

The main roads within the colliery were only low, about 4' high and the men had to walk all the way in with their gear then walk out again at night, the coal was anthracite from the Little Limestone seam which averaged 18". As the drift was becoming worked out further drifts were driven in the field to the north east but

these kept hitting very old workings. Things were getting crucial as reserves began to dwindle so the owners ventured back across the Ayle Burn into Northumberland to drive the East Drift in the early 1950's. Anderson shelters were used to keep the roof up until the drivage got inbye of the Ayle Burn vein and back into shale. By this time, Stan's middle son John was actively running the pit and decided not to repeat the old ways of low haulage roads, the new drift was driven high enough to incorporate locomotive haulage.

Photo:Quarry Top Drift, operational since 1980; L-R Timber bogie, spare loco battery, Clayton 3 tonne battery loco charging at drift mouth, 10cwt capacity tubs.
Photo by Nick Catford

The east drift worked on until the mid 1970's winning coal by pneumatic picks (windy picks) and from time to time AB 12" cutters were installed to undercut the stone beneath the coal. The coal was fired and loaded into tubs which were then hauled to the surface. There they were tipped onto a conveyor which crossed the Ayle burn and deposited Northumbrian coal into the screens in Cumbria. The cutting and firing method was all right as long as the coal was for industry, which at that time it was with the bulk going to Newcastle Breweries but coal for the domestic markets had to be mined the traditional way with the windy picks, so as to keep it in lumps.

1975 saw the collieries first fatal accident when John Heatherington was killed by a roof fall. John was filling his last tub on the last day before they broke up for new year holiday. Needless to say this had a profound effect on a small colliery and a tight community; so much so that a new district was opened out not long after the accident and the old one abandoned.

During the working of the East drift the pit had hit financial difficulties, so much so that Frank Heads told John Shepherd that if he could 'turn the pit around' on his retirement he could have it. John did just so but Frank Heads didn't want to retire. However after this unfortunate accident Frank called it a day and the Ayle Colliery Co. Ltd. passed into the hands of John and Sheila Shepherd.

This was a boom time for the coal industry as coal prices kept going up and up, winter time would find between 15 and 20 picks employed, it was very hard to get a job at Ayle Colliery as

Loco coming out of East Drift in the 1960's

so many wanted to be there, indeed it was also the only Alston pit to have pithead baths, even if the shower water first of all cooled the generator.

Photo:Junction of 1st North & 10 East about 500 meters from surface. All production now taken from West side districts, 15 West mouthing 50 meters further down 1st North from this photo. There is between 400-600 feet of cover over workings (ie. depth from surface) in working districts.
Photo by Nick Catford

Development underground was restricted to the east by a 30' fault whilst the workings to the west were getting to such a point that coal clearance was getting difficult. To rectify this a new drift was driven above the now closed limestone quarry and new surface installations built and the old east drift now became a fan drift only. Production now was purely for the household markets with only the slack coal going to Weardale Cement works.


Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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