Apedale has has a long history of mining throughout the industrial revolution and back even further. Many of the seams in Apedale came close to the surface allowing small scale mining to take place very early on, before technology allowed the development of deep mines. Near to the Heritage Centre the Great Row seam can be seen in a cliff face illustrating just how accessible the coal could be.
Before the start of the industrial revolution Apedale was an agricultural valley but mining was still common. Coal was extracted in small pits operated by a small group of people, often a family. Iron ore was also mined and smelted on a small scale. This coal and iron was destined for local uses such as domestic fuel, potteries and blacksmithing.
With the coming of the industrial revolution demand grew for coal, and so did the scale of mining operations in Apedale. Several deep mines operated in Apedale at various times from the late 18th century to the start of the 20th century, notably Sladderhill Colliery, Wood Pit, Burley Pit and Watermills Colliery.
At one time Sladderhill colliery was the deepest mine in Britain as, after John E Heathcote and Richard E Heathcote sunk deeper shafts in the 1820s, coal was being dug from 2145 feet below the ground. Later in 1870 the Burley Pit was sunk close by and linked to Sladderhill underground. Eventually, in the late 19th Century, all four pits would be linked after mining was rationalised by Stanier & Co.
Little physically remains of the deep pits in Apedale, however the Watermills colliery left one monument behind when it was closed in 1912. In Watermills wood the square base of a colliery ventilation chimney was left standing, originally the stack reached 186 feet high. On each side is an inscribed panel, some of which are now badly eroded. They read:- “live and let live”, “Regard the end”, “Be just and fear not” and “R.E.H. 1840”. R.E.H. stands for Richard Edensor Heathcote, the colliery owner at the time and it was at the family’s request that the chimney base was not demolished with the rest of the colliery buildings.
There were also numerous small “footrails”, shafts which entered the ground at a shallow angle, such that they could be entered on foot. Although smaller affairs, these outlasted the Apedale deep pits and continued to operate into the 20th century. The last such working mines in the area were operated by Aurora Mine Ltd. During the 1980’s they had 7 drifts operating and also held the record for coal produced per man. The company ceased production in 1998 bringing coal mining to an end in Apedale. The Apedale Heritage Centre is on the site of the Aurora mine and the mine tours will take you through some of the mine’s workings.