Birchenwood in the hands of the
Following World War I there was a
recession and in 1925 the announcement was made that Birchenwood was to
close. At the last minute the Heath brothers cut short their early
retirement and using their personal fortunes rescued the site from the
It was to prove a disastrous
Barely three months
after setting up a new company "The Kidsgrove Colliery Company", an
explosion occurred on the 18th December 1925, in No. 18 pit killing
seven men and injures fourteen more.
Coal output was already
falling and the seams were becoming uneconomical to operate.
The general strike of 1926 heaped more pressure on the ageing brothers
and 84 ovens that served the recovery plant were shut down.
By 1928 the Heath's were ruined. Their businesses covered all of the
county and employed over 6000 people, but now everything was in the
hands of administrators.
Colliery site, 1891-1932
Almost all the coal from this group of pits was used for coke and other
the loop line running top
to bottom in the centre of the picture can bee seen running through the
"There was an explosion at the No. 18 pit on 18
December 1925 which killed seven men and seriously injured 14 others.
Although the pits were closed c.1932, the company still continued to
produce coke and other by-products with coal from the Biddulph
collieries. The last coke was made in May 1973".
Staffordshire Past Track
The resurrection of Birchenwood:
However part of the company was rescued and production continued at
The Biddulph Valley collieries saw an
increase in coal output and because of the rail links previously built by
the Heath family, it was convenient to move the coal the short journey to
Birchenwood for coking.
This proved crucial in the survival
because the coal pits at Birchenwood had steadily been closing since
1927 and by 1931 the last one closed with the seam of coal less than
twelve inches thick.
Birchenwood continued to be a major coking plant for years to come, but
even with new ovens and the most up to date methods it never enjoyed the
success of previous years.
By 1953 they were
supplying 5,000,000 cubic feet of gas to the West Midlands Gas Board
which it drew from the coking process, however the introduction of
natural (North Sea) gas saw the demise of gas production.
The closure of the plant:
Now Birchenwood was relying
solely on coke production - but this in itself was an outdated product and
the ovens were finally allowed to cool in May 1973 and the plant closed.
The last of the coke was shunted out on
the 5th of July by the one remaining steam train left on the site. This
was also the last time a steam train would be used for industrial work in
Staffordshire so it was a fitting tribute that the honour should go to
View of Birchenwood Colliery - 1973
colliery opened in the 1890s, most of the coal being used for coke and
other by-products. The colliery actually closed in 1932, but coke and
other by-product production continued by using coal from other
collieries. However this production also ceased in May 1973."
Birchenwood Brickworks - 1974
Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle under Lyme;
Miss Barnard, Staffordshire Past Track
grandfather had worked at Birchenwood as an under manager. There was a
railway above Ian road from Birchenwood to one of the collieries for
transporting coal. I remember hearing the trains whistle at 8 oclock in
the morning. My father worked at Birchenwood brickworks doing
maintenance. In addition to Whitehill terrace there were 3 areas - Old
Whitehill, Whitehill (nick named Toad hole) and new Whitehill"