Site Records


Site Name: Tilmanstone Colliery

Pike Road
Eythorne, Kent
OS Grid Ref: TR288505

Sub Brit site visit July 1987 & April 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. 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 and 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

Arthur Burr
made by the company. Shakespeare Colliery was finally abandoned at the outbreak of war 1914 after only 120 tons had been taken from the mine.

Photo:Tilmanstone Colliery in c.1907
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 6-foot exploratory shaft at Tilmanstone near Eythorne under an agreement with Kent Coal Concessions Ltd. When reports were received that coal seams at been found in test borings in nearby Waldershare Park, the shaft at Tilmanstone was widened out to 14 feet and sinking proceeded. By now, the

Tilmanstone Colliery in 1906
company was in financial difficulty and Kent Coal Concessions registered a new company, East Kent Colliery Limited, to take over the work when the shaft was at 508 feet; this new company was also under the control of Arthur Burr.

By May 1908, the shaft had been sunk to 913 feet; all the water encountered was controlled by a steam ram pump installed in a side gallery at 600 feet. Progress was good but below 631 feet the shaft was left unbricked (unlined) and by the time it reached 913 feet the sides showed signs of collapse and the lower part of the shaft had to be filled in and re-sunk; it took seven months to regain the same depth. The sinking in No.2 shaft was started in November
1907 but there were insufficient funds to pay for a winding engine until the following July; once this was installed good progress was maintained for a year. Work was halted for nine months in 1909 when one of the buckets used for hoisting material up the shaft fell, killing three men. This accident also damaged the pump and ventilation pipes allowing 1000 gallons of water a minute to pour down the shaft.

Photo:Tilmanstone Colliery in 1914
Photo from John Alsop collection

When both shafts had been sunk to 1,140 feet, within 30 feet of the coal measures, inrushes of water and sand proved too extensive to be dealt with by the existing pumps. New electric pumps were ordered and sinking suspended until the water could be pumped out. Sinking was not resumed until 1911 but even then the operations were only carried on at a slow rate. At times, the water and sand forced the sinkers back up the shaft faster then they were sinking downwards and it was a further year before the final 30 feet were sunk to reach coal.

After the long years of struggle to extract coal from Shakespeare Colliery, the progress at Tilmanstone gave the public the impression that coal was never going to be won from Kent, but the management were confident of finding coal, expecting an output of 6000 tons per day.

Tilmanstone Colliery and the East Kent Light Railway in 1914

In 1910, while the sinking of the first two shafts was underway, work started on No.3 shaft. Coal was eventually reached in 1912 but the sinking continued down to the more productive Beresford seam.  Progress in No. 3 shaft was consistently good, so good that it reached the Beresford seam at a depth of 1560 feet in 1913, at the same time as the other two shafts, which had been started a few years earlier. The owners wanted to try and continue the sinking to the richer Milyard Seam at 3,000 feet, but the lack of money prevented any further development.

The Beresford Seam was opened out for the mining of coal which started in 1913.  Unfortunately the coal from this seam was more suitable for industry than for household use and although there was no shortage of saleable coal, the company had difficulty finding a market for it. At this stage only No. 3 shaft was equipped for winding and 400 tons of coal were being hauled to the surface per day, far less than earlier estimates; even when the mine was in full production the maximum output would only be 750 tons daily.

Photo:Tilmanstone Colliery in c.1920's - the three shafts can clearly be seen

Despite reaching coal, the company was beset with problems and in 1914 water broke in at the coal face and flooded the pit.  Burr remained optimistic, announcing expected profits of £120,000 for the year but by June, the company was in the hands of receivers. Burr was dismissed and the shareholders rescued the company and took over the management on the understanding that sinking the shafts to the Milyard Seam was a priority. When Burr was eventually make bankrupt, the judge made several scathing comments about his activities and called him a rogue!

Despite small profits after the first two years under the new management, WW1 caused further delays in the sinking and the economic and industrial strife after the war did little to improve the fortunes of the mine. In 1918 permission was obtained in to continue sinking but the company was, by then, unable to take advantage of this opportunity restart work. Eventually sinking operations were resumed in No.3 shaft in April 1920 but the work had to be suspended in 1921 when the shaft reached 1917 feet due to lack of funds.

Click here for further information and pictures of Tilmanstone Colliery

[Source: Nick Catford]

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