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 the year 1910 there was a long list of companies working under the aegis of Kent Coal Concessions. Another company, 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 done. The company was responsible for proposed new collieries at Wingham and Woodnesborough (sometimes referred to as Hammill Colliery). At Woodnesborough construction was started in 1910 by Arthur Burr’s Goodnestone & Woodnesborough Colliery Ltd and an extensive range of surface buildings had been erected by 1911 including an engine house, workshops and a chimney but no further work was to be undertaken until a branch from the East Kent Light Railway was completed. By 1914 no sinking had started at and at the outbreak of war all further development of the site was halted for the duration.
Shortly after the war started the colliery was taken over by the army for a cavalry re-mount unit with a large number of horses being stabled in the colliery buildings and at that time Intermediate Equipments began to dispose of surface plant that had already been installed.
After the war, no further development was undertaken but apart from the wooden headgear the surface buildings were still complete in 1923 when the mine was sold to Pearson & Dorman Long owners of Betteshanger Colliery. They kept the mineral rights and sold the colliery to the Hammill Brick Co who built a brickworks on the site utilising some of the old colliery buildings; this opened in June 1927.
A second Woodnesborough Colliery was later proposed north of the unbuilt Richborough facing curve at Eastry and suitable land was purchased. The colliery was never built and the land was sold by the NCB for agricultural use in 1951.
Woodnesborough and Ham Mill Colliery station was opened on nearby the East Kent Light Railway on 16th October 1916, two years after the colliery was abandoned. It was renamed Woodnesborough Colliery in 1917 and finally renamed Woodnesborough in July 1931. A short spur was built from the East Kent Light Railway to the colliery although this is not shown on contemporary Ordnance Survey maps. It is unclear when the branch was completed, perhaps after work on the colliery was abandoned. It’s shown on a 1922 map of the East Kent Light Railway. The spur was retained for use by the Hammill Brickworks who required coal to be delivered each week. Although most bricks left by road some were sent by rail and the branch survived until 1951.
The Hammill Brickworks went into liquidation in December 1938 and took on a new roll during the war using the rotary clay drier to salvage water damaged grain. The was delivered by rail and required 100 tons of coal to be delivered weekly. In May 1944 the brickworks were reformed with a new board.
When the brickworks opened a two foot gauge line was built parallel to the standard gauge line running between the brickworks and a clay pit and this still featured on the 1959 OS map, five years after the EKLR had been pulled up. This line used one F.C.Hibbard petrol loco built in 1930, two F.C.Hibbard petrol locos built in 1940 and 1941 and two Ruston & Hornsby diesel locos built in 1944.
Today the site is still occupied by Hammill Brickworks. The engine house survives and has now been incorporated into a brick kiln. Two long brick built buildings also survive in good conditions with no alterations.
- ‘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