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 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.
Towards the end of 1910 there was a long list of companies working under the aegis of Kent Coal Concessions. Intermediate Equipments Ltd., was registered on 10th October 1910 with a capital of £100,000; this was another of Arthur Burr’s companies with no board of directors, with Arthur Burr being appointed managing-director and taking of 20 per cent of the profits.
The company was set up to take up leases from the Concessions and South-Eastern Extension Companies of two mineral areas, with a view to selling them at a profit after a certain amount of development work had been completed. The company was responsible for proposed new collieries at Wingham and Woodnesborough.
Initially, the colliery at Wingham was promoted by Mines Construction who had undertaken to sink two 18 foot shafts to 1500 feet, but the colliery shares were, in fact, issued to Intermediate Equipments and East Kent Contract and Financial who promoted the Wingham and Stour Valley Collieries Ltd., There were very few shareholders in this company with nearly all of its issued capital being held by Intermediate Equipments Ltd, of which the Wingham Company was to be a subsidiary until its shafts had reached workable coal.
The land was purchased from Lord Desborough and development at Wingham started in 1910 with the building and equipping of the surface buildings, these included the tallest chimney in Kent. Boilers and winding engines were installed but full development of the colliery couldn’t start until a branch was built from the East Kent Light Railway which had been under construction since 1911. The half mile branch was completed in July 1913 and ran south from a loop on the main line. The branch was not built under the railway’s powers and its ownership is unclear, it was lightly laid splitting into three sidings at the colliery.
It was hoped that Wingham would be producing coal within a year. Two shafts were started, one had reached 60’ and the other 70’ when they hit water. Intermediate Equipments did not have sufficient capital to buy and install pumps which were required before sinking could continue as the provision of funds was dependent upon the selling of shares which the company was unable to do.
The company planned to continue the shaft sinking and issued £120,000 in debentures (long-term loan used by large companies to obtain funds from investors) in March 1913 but most of the early proceeds were loaned to other companies in the group and the Wingham company made no really serious attempt to continue the shaft sinking. The debentures were to be redeemed within three years and although carrying interest at the rate of 10 per cent per annum they were offered under the usual extravagant discounts offered to the Burr group of companies. As a further incentive, allottees had the right of an allocation of four fully-paid deferred shares in the Wingham and Stour Valley Collieries, Ltd., together with two 10s. founders’ shares in Intermediate Equipments, Limited.
Despite this financial incentive, insufficient capital could not be raised and the colliery was mothballed and finally abandoned in 1914 at the outbreak of war. A temporary passenger terminus at Wingham Colliery Station which opened on the East Kent line just west of the colliery branch on 16th October 1916, two years after the colliery was abandoned.
In 1917 some of the boilers and other items of plant were requisitioned by the government and two boilers went to Tilmanstone Colliery so if work was to resume after the war it would mean making a fresh start; no further work was ever undertaken at Wingham.
In 1921 the Wingham and Stour Valley Collieries Ltd disposed of surplus equipment and the last train ran into the derelict colliery that year and it is believed the track was lifted in 1922. Although the colliery branch and loop were removed the the adjacent Wingham Colliery station retained the name until closure of the line to passengers on 1st November 1948.
The buildings remained intact for some years and there was renewed interest when Pearson & Dorman Long (owners of Betteshanger Colliery) bought the mineral rights but by 1927 it was clear that no further development of the pit would be undertaken. The site was bought by the Wingham Engineering Company on 1st May 1934 and the chimney was demolished the following year.
The site was sold on to Grain Harvesters Ltd., an animal feed company on 22nd April 1947, they converted the large winding shed into a facility for cleaning, drying and storing grain. This building still survives although much altered and now surrounded by many new buildings and grain silos. In the 1960’s standard gauge and narrow gauge track could still be seen embedded in the floor but this has now been covered over with concrete. The colliery manager’s house and office also survives, it has been converted into two dwellings and has recently been extended.. The company have kept ‘The Old Colliery’ as part of their postal address.
- ‘The Kent Coalfield - its evolution and development’ by A. E. Ritchie. Published 1919 by the Iron & Coal Trades Review
- Colonel Stephens Museum
- The East Kent Railway Vol 1 & 2 by M. Lawson Finch & S R Garrett. Published 2003 by Oakwood Press