Decline of the coal industry

(c) Wigan Archives Service

Following the turn of the 20th century, the coal in the area became increasingly difficult to mine because the best coal was from deep underground in very hot conditions. It was therefore difficult to compete with Yorkshire and Derbyshire where the best coal was easier to mine. However, it was still cost effective for those locally to use coal from the local mines in the area. There was an important local market in Manchester, which was the centre of a vast industrial district and there was still demand from the cotton industry, textile manufacturers, engineering, chemical works, railways and local domestic use.

After the First World War demand for coal decreased because Britain had lost their export markets during the war. Mine owners therefore reduced wages and increased working hours to try to improve profits.  With the risk of strikes looming, the Conservative Government of the time introduced a wage subsidy, which temporarily delayed any strikes.  The withdrawal of this subsidy led to strikes in September 1926. The outcome was less than favourable for the miners who got nothing. Some who had striked even lost their jobs.

As a result of reduced demand and poor economic conditions, some collieries closed during the interwar years. With the introduction of the Miners Industries Act in 1925, some collieries chose to merge. The Act encouraged companies to merge and modernise in order to survive the poor economic conditions. This led to the merger of several companies to the west of Manchester in 1929, creating Manchester Collieries which included Bedford Colliery in Leigh.

From the 1st January 1947 the coal mines were nationalised and employee contracts were transferred to the National Coal Board (NCB). Following this, a number of collieries closed in Lancashire as their coal reserves became exhausted. However, the NCB introduced high production targets and in the 1960s even collieries with workable reserves began to close because the targets set were so difficult to meet. In the Wigan and Leigh area the NCB closed the Maypole Colliery in 1959 and the Wigan Junction Colliery in 1962. By the mid 1980s the industry had almost gone from Lancashire, with many collieries closing after the 1984 miners’ strike. The last colliery to close was Bickershaw in 1992.

The last colliery to work on the Lancashire Coalfield was Parkside at Newton and I remember standing there one Sunday morning when they blew down the large concrete towers that had stood there... and couldn’t help wondering, as the explosions went and a large cloud of dust spread over the Lancashire Countryside, the memories...” Ian

Coming into Lowton in ’85 what I did notice, there was a lot of industry. You went towards Leigh and there was BICC and mines of course... now all the industry has gone.” Alice