By Trevor Thompson. Additional research by Jeffrey Spittal.
This article first appeared in Section 8 of Issue 15 of the SGMRG Newsletter.
Mining for haematite started in Frampton Cotterell during 1862 and continued until 1874. South Gloucestershire Water Company pumped for local water supply until 1970.
There has been quite a lot of local interest in the site of the old iron mine recently, probably on account of it being sold by Bristol Water Co. and numerous people have asked me questions about its history, how it all began and how long was the site in operation.
The Basic Facts
Haematite ore was discovered to be present in a geological substrata fault in Pennant stone approx 500 yards east of St Peters Church and it was mined between the years 1862 -1874 from four shafts each in excess of 400 ft deep. The following description was made in 1874
“A fault traverses the Pennant, running nearly north and south, from Hanham to Rangeworthy, and in the fracture has been deposited a very valuable haematite ore, of high specific gravity, and which is said to yield as much metallic iron as the best kidney-ore of Cumberland: it is presumed that the lode has its origin in the percolation of the water of the Pennant through the fissures of the fault, which, as it gravitates, leaves the iron-salts deposited on the rock, layer upon layer, until the whole fissure has been filled up”Extraction from The Colliery Guardian Nov 1874 describes the geological facts
Evidence that the ore had been worked by previous generations has been uncovered over recent years and is perpetuated by the name of our neighbouring parish of Iron Acton and it is worth noting that at the time of the Great Survey of 1086 that the people of that parish paid their tythe in pigs of iron and not the coin of the realm.
The two major drawbacks to the success of the iron mine were:
- Firstly the ore was very dirty, requiring it to be washed before smelting. In good trading times, this inconvenience could be tolerated but in times of depression or low prices then it was a cost that could not be absorbed.
- Secondly, the water mentioned previously, which was the cause of the deposited ore, was also its downfall. Prodigious quantities of water, up to 2 million gallons a day, had to be pumped from the mine. The cost to remove such a quantity was astronomical. Nevertheless, our Victorian industrialists would not let such problems cloud their judgement that to invest in an iron mine would be a profitable venture. In 1862 the Chillington Iron Company started operations and removed 5,107 tons of ore. All had to be transported on a specially built branch railway line, running from the works to Iron Acton picking up the mainline at Yate.
The Chillington Iron Company, a firm from Wolverhampton, was the first company to become involved taking only just over 11,000 tons of ore in two years. This company, unfortunately, went out of existence in 1886, perhaps a contributory factor to their downfall was their venture at Frampton Cotterell. It was quite a remarkable company in that it took an interest in the social welfare of its employees, for example, the Chillington Ironwork Schools were built at the company’s expense near their works in Wolverhampton. Accommodation was free for the 200 children who attended.
Before the demise of The Chillington Iron Company the enterprise at Frampton Cotterell was sold to Edmond Lloyd Owen who held it for two years from 1864 – 1866 mining 11,000 tons and 8,000 tons respectively. After 1866 the Frampton Haematite Company held management of the works producing in 1866 – 6,000 tons; 1867 – 100 tons; 1868 – 6,566 tons; 1869 – 6,733 tons and in 1870 – 15,249 tons. In 1871 the owner is unknown but 8,487 tons were raised to the surface. From 1872 until its closure in 1874 the ownership was with a company from South Wales named Brogden & Sons. Their output was 1872 9,201 tons; 1873 13,682 tons and 1874 14,842 tons.
The ore was extracted from four mines, their names were Burgess Pit, Number Two, Roden Acre and Red Gin. The principal operations appear to have been centred on the two shafts at Number Two later to become, what was locally known as the waterworks. The ore was transported, as stated earlier, by rail to either Seend near Westbury in Wiltshire or Barry in South Wales.
Victorian industrial history abounds with failed enterprises in marginal regions. This venture, like so many, was based on speculative information and born out of a belief that providing the enterprise required spending a lot of money and digging a large hole in the ground then profit was to be made. Unfortunately, the iron mine of Frampton Cotterell fell into this category.
Fortunately for us, some holes in the ground were very successful, particularly the coalmines of Coalpit Heath. Not so successful were the coalmines on the fringe of the coalfield at Cromhall and Rangeworthy. The Frampton Cotterell iron mining venture arose from the belief that the ore could be won at a profit but it was undertaken without due consideration to the geological circumstance that caused it to be there in the first place, namely water.
The water, which was the downfall of the iron mine, was later to be the saviour of this area as it provided the first pure mains water to this and all the surrounding parishes. In 1884 the South Gloucestershire Water Company set up new pumps over the Number Two shafts, built the filtration beds in the grounds and proceeded to pump continuously up to one million gallons of water per day, until 1970 when it was closed, due, I have been led to believe, to the water being contaminated.
The other fact is the first miner to be killed in the mine is buried in St Saviour’s Churchyard.