Coal Mining & The Tramways

Coal mining has been one of the main influences in the development of Mow Cop. Unlike the stone quarrying though, the evidence of this industry is quite well hidden. There are no relics like pit headgear lying about, or large waste heaps, however once you know where to begin looking, the evidence is still physically there. The coal mines were initially basic and primitive shallow workings, usually on farmland, or even as in the case of Stone Trough Colliery, in the farm yard itself. They were mined seasonally, once the crops had been taken care off, and all the rest of the spring and summer work was complete, the farm workers would then become miners, descending down ladders, and using buckets and pulleys to bring the black gold to the surface.

In the early 1800’s a railway was built from Stone Trough Farm to the coal wharf at Congleton Moss. The track went up what is now Towerhill road and turned right along Congleton road.  It then descended down to Congleton Moss for the purpose of supplying coal to Congleton. Stone Trough Colliery had a chequered past, in 1810 John Johnson leased the colliery to William Glover for 25 years. Johnson had been made bankrupt in 1807, it is during this period the mine remained un-worked.

C.F.Dendy Marshall wrote in 1830 …On the south-east of Congleton in Cheshire, abut 2 miles at the north-west corner of Congleton Moss, a cola yard was established about the year 1807, for the supply of this town and a Rail-way was laid there.  From the south about 2 miles to Stonetrough Colliery in Wolstanton. It was laid with oval bars of iron, on the top of which the pulley formed wheels of the tram ran; but when I saw this Rail-way in July 1809, it seemed to be almost quite disused.

The track was oval in shape and was made of cast iron. It was similar to the rails used on the Penrhyn Railway in 1801. That was designed by Benjamin Wyatt of Bangor. Stone blocks formed the sleepers and can be seen on the embankment above the lime works at Astbury. Judging by the width of the embankments we can also assume that the tramway was 2ft gauge. The track was oval (egg shaped) and the wheels resembled pulleys that could easily sit on the oval track. The tramway crossed over what is now Ganny bank on a bridge; again the embankments are still there. The route of the tramway is now a footpath, and is clearly sign posted.

In 1831 there was an advert in the Staffordshire Advertiser.
“to be let on the most advantageous terms. The coal is very superior quality adapted to Engines, Brewers Bakers etc. and is well known in the Macclesfield Market. The colliery is stocked with engines, wagons etc, with a line of Railroad nearly all the way to Congleton Moss…”

An agreement was also reached in 1832 between Randle Wilbraham and the Rev. William Moreton (Lords of the Manor at Odd Rode) and John Hall the coal miner and current lease holder of Stonetrough Colliery, to lease a piece of land.

Extract of the lease
`…for the purpose of forming a railway to lead form the coal works of the said parties called the Stonetrough Colliery toward the Macclesfield canal, at a point a little north of the place where the same is crossed by the road leading from Kent Green to Old House Green…

The Tunnel Entrance Staffordshire side

It has been estimated that there were 7000 stone sleepers used, however wooden sleepers were used inside the tunnel

Later that year the fifty year lease for Stone trough and Towerhill farm was handed to Robert Williamson who then sunk pits at Towerhill Farm, and re opened Stonetrough which had not been mined for 4 years.  By 1838 an agreement was reached between The Macclesfield Canal Company and Williamson to allow the railway to be built. This new railway and tunnel took 6 years to construct.

The coal was hauled by a steam engine from Stonetrough up to Towerhill. Then it was horsepower westwards towards the tunnel. The trucks were pulled along the track six at a time by Shire horses and through the tunnel. About two thirds of the way in the tunnel there is what appears to be a turning point for the horses. It is thought that the horses were un- coupled and the trucks then pushed by hand down the narrow slope to the exit. Once out the trucks were than attached to the ropeways of a braked winding drum.

Two self-acting brake inclines were erected on a specially constructed embankment. This comprised of two parallel tracks linked via a continuous ropeway, which was wrapped around pulleys at each end of the incline. The weight of a full truck descending would then pull up the empty trucks on the other side of the track; a braked winding drum through which the rope also passed then controlled the speed of descent. The two-braked inclines were 400 yards long and were linked by a short track called the Brake Level; this was a common form of tramway during this period of the industrial revolution. The line terminated at Kent Green wharf, where the coal trucks were emptied into barges. 

Excavated sleepers at the top of the brake incline

Brake Winding Drum at Froghall, maybee like the one at Mow Cop

As the mining industry grew in the 1830’s and 40’s miners from other parts of the country settled here. The main influx came from Wales, Flint Mountain to be precise, these miners and their families moved to Mow Cop to work in the rapidly expanding Towerhill Colliery. A man named Conway who was now the manager of the colliery employed them; it was for these workers that a row of some 25 brick terraced houses were built nearby. This row of houses must have looked a strange site, all the other housing on Mow was of stone, and very rarely were there more that a couple joined together. The houses were demolished in 1974 leaving only a small road branching off Tower Hill road, still called Welsh Row.

Welsh Row

View down the Brake Incline

Robert Williamson’s sons, Hugh Williamson and William Shephard Williamson were both getting coal from out of Stonetrough colliery 3 years after the expiry of the lease, and in November, 1886, they filed for bankruptcy with liabilities exceeding £50 000. The freehold of the two collieries went for auction and was purchased by Robert Heath. Heath immediately closed the pits and in July 1887 pulled up the rail tracks; this was to boost his already successful mining and steel empire in Biddulph.