Site Records

Site Name: Guilford Colliery


Sub Brit site visit July 1984, June 1994 and May 2005

[Source: Nick Catford]

It had always been assumed that the coal seams found in Northern France would extend under the channel into Kent. This theory was proved in 1882 when coal was discovered beneath Shakespeare Cliff in Dover during trial borings for a proposed Channel Tunnel. Work on the tunnel stopped in 1882 while the government considered the military implications of an invading French Army using the tunnel and in 1890 the company made trial borings at the site and proved the existence of both coal and iron ore.

Shareholders of the Channel Tunnel Co. refused to let them exploit the coal so in 1896, the Kent Coalfields Syndicate was established by speculator Arthur Burr. A colliery was opened on the channel tunnel site after a 2,230 foot borehole proved the existence of a viable coal seam. Three shafts were sunk but work stopped in 1897 when No. 2 shaft suddenly flooded killing eight men. Although development of the mine continued, Arthur Burr severed his connections with the colliery in 1903 and established a new company, Kent Coal Concessions, to buy mineral rights in east Kent between Canterbury and Dover and exploit the potential of the Coalfield by setting up collieries. 45 test borings were made by the company and work was started on at least ten collieries but only two, Tilmanstone and Snowdown, were ever productive. Shakespeare Colliery was finally abandoned at the outbreak of war 1914 after only 120 tons had been taken from the mine.

Photo:Guilford Colliery under construction in 1906

On 18th April 1906 the Foncage Syndicate was registered by Arthur Burr as a small subsidiary company of Kent Coal Concessions to undertake surface works and a small amount of shaft sinking. The new company immediately started a shaft at Tilmanstone Colliery near Eythorne under an agreement with Kent Coal Concessions Ltd.

Good seams of coal had been discovered in borings in Waldershare Park, the home of the Earl of Guilford in nearby Coldred so Guilford Colliery, also known as Waldershare Colliery, was started on the edge of Waldershare Park by the Foncage Syndicate in July 1906.  A small shaft, which was intended to be carried down quickly to test the coal measures, but when the thick seams were reached in the borings in October 1906 the Syndicate increased its capital to £20,000 in order to provide an adequate sinking plant and surface equipment for the purpose of starting two 18-ft diameter shafts; the small shaft, 298ft. deep, was left to collect water from the chalk for the winding engines. The Syndicate realised that this was insufficient capital to complete the sinking but once the work had started it hoped to sell the undertaking as a going concern at a substantial profit.

Photo:Guilford Colliery in 1910

However work could not continue through the winter due to the poor state of Singledge Lane, the only means of transport to the main road at Whitfield. It soon became necessary to suspend operations at Guilford until a connection could be made with the South-Eastern and Chatham Railway; it was decided that this should take the form of a tramway, but no connection of any description was made until the East Kent Light Railway linked up the colliery with the main line some five years later, which meant that work was frequently suspended for months at a time.

In May, 1907, when one of the 18-ft. shafts (No. 3) had been sunk to 265 ft. and the other (No. 2) to 30 ft.,  the Foncage Syndicate attempted to find a buyer to take over the works. A draft prospectus was received from 'The Guilford (Waldershare) Colliery Company  Ltd.' with capital of £300,000 and this was provisionally accepted.  It was found impossible, however, to raise the necessary working capital and the scheme had to be abandoned.  At this time, the Guilford Syndicate was formed to take over all rightsand interests in the Guilford Colliery from the Foncage Syndicate concern comprising 1,500 acres of land and all buildings and plant.

The new Syndicate did not have the resources to complete and run the colliery but they estimated that one of the 18-ft. shaft could be sunk to workable coal for an outlay of £12,000 and that on completion of this sinking, the colliery would be easier to sell giving the shareholders a good return on their investment. Their estimate proved wildly inaccurate however and without reaching coal, the Syndicate's expenditure soon reached £150,000. The 7-ft. exploratory shaft was enlarged to 12 ft. for use as the water supply
of the colliery. No. 2 Pit remained stationary for many months at 30 ft., but sinking was carried on intermittently in No. 3 until October, 1908, when, at a depth of 752 ft., work had again to be suspended for the winter months owing to haulage difficulties as the unmetalled Singledge Lane had become almost impassable.

However, as the adjacent Tilmanstone shafts (also started by the Foncage Syndicate) were at this time making fair progress, it was thought that the delay would be useful as Guilford could probably be easily sold at a good price once Tilmanstone was raising coal which was confidently expected to be within a few months. There were however long delays at Tilmanstone and is was soon considered desirable to resume the sinking at Guilford as the Syndicate might have to rely on winning coal there if the problems at Tilmanstone could not be resolved.

In December 1909, preparations were made for continuing work in No. 2 shaft as it was clear that no real progress was possible without this second shaft. By the end of the following May it had reached a depth of 270 ft., at which point sinking had to be suspended pending the arrival and erection of more powerful winding engines, those already installed having reached the limit, of their capacity. The new 1,000 hp engines were erected above the two shaft.

At this time only £22,000 of the Syndicate's capital had been issued, whereas the expenditure to date had amounted to £40,000, the difference having been provided by a loan from the East Kent Contract and Financial Company. The Guilford shareholders were informed of the need to raise more money and they were also advised that it would be prudent to wait until Tilmanstone was raising coal before trying to sell the mine, at which time investors were promised a return of £10 - 15 for every £1 invested.

Guilford Colliery workshop in June 1994, the engine house can be seen in the background
Photo by Nick Catford

At this time, Arthur Burr was still in charge and as well as working at Guilford he was sinking shafts at three other mines and building surface plant at a number of other prospective sites. Further investment was difficult to attract as Kent had been a prospective mining region for nearly 20 years but no coal had been produced at any of the collieries. It was decided therefore not to wait and in July 1910 a further attempt was made to form a company to take over the pit. The Syndicate shareholders were informed that the 'Guilford (Waldershare) Coal Fireclay Company, Limited' was about to be registered with a capital of £460,000. Again the transfer fell through and after further loans had been negotiated shaft sinking was resumed and continued, though somewhat spasmodically, until the end of 1910, when Nos. 2 and 3 shafts were down to 480 ft. and 850 ft. respectively. During 1911 a similarly slow rate of progress was achieved and it was not until November of that year that both shafts had been sunk and where necessary lined to 900 ft.

Click here for more in formation and pictures of Guilford Colliery

[Source: Nick Catford]

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