Lovely Heaton

I live in Heaton which is a village now incorporated into the city of Bradford. We know that people have dwelt here since the mid-seventeenth century since some of their fine stone houses survive, but the community must be much older. The name (a common one in the north of England) means ‘high farm’ in Old English. Heaton is bounded by Shipley, Frizinghall and Manningham, and once had its own hall. It still boasts a Lord of the Manor, but the duties are purely ceremonial and the title does not bring rolling acres of farmland and woods. Areas of tree plantation adjacent to the Red Beck in Heaton are now known collectively as Heaton Woods. Prior to 1911 most of woodland formed part of the Rosse estate but with smaller sections belonging to other landowners. Today the City of Bradford owns much of the area, which is managed by its Woodlands Department. A significant additional area belongs to a highly successful conservation charity known as The Heaton Woods Trust (HWT). HWT land includes the impressive recent developments known as Renold’s Wood and Sean’s Ponds, and also an area called Rosse Wood that has now been planted with hundreds of trees in copses.

That part of the woods on the north of the Beck, remains in private hands having been owned by the Dixon family since at least the seventeenth century. Fields on the Shipley side of the Red Beck are clearly visible from the woodland paths, and often have cows grazing on them. Quietly walking through leafy Heaton Woods today it is hard to believe that any industrial processes were ever undertaken there. In fact the the woodland was home to stone quarrying, lime-burning, coal-mining, fireclay digging and brick-making. These industries were important in their day but finally ceased completely with the death of a man called JR Fyfe in 1924. Individual features that relate to quarrying and mining are not too difficult for the interested visitor to spot, although plant growth often camouflages the earthworks giving them a misleadingly ‘natural’ appearance.

In addition to changes of the visible landscape industrial activity is also recorded in historical documents such as maps and leases, and may even be described in the names once applied to individual fields. No detailed modern account of Heaton coal-mining exists although local historians Wade Hustwick [1959] and Stanley King [2001] both included aspects of the industry in their studies. Putting all the evidence together to produce a coherent account of mining in Heaton Woods is far from easy, and puzzles certainly remain.

A rock type frequently seen is a fine grained sandstone. Millstone grit strata are deeply buried in Heaton but boulders of its coarse sandstone may be present on the surface as the result of glacial or human action. Colliery waste and spoil heaps consist of angular pieces of grey shale, mud-stones, and sandstones. The mudstone weathers to form a sticky grey material which is readily identified. ‘Synthetic’ rocks such as red house-brick pieces can be found, as can yellowish-white granular fragments from firebricks. Slag and ashy debris from iron-making was probably being brought to Heaton Woods for the construction of track ways. Surfacing of these tracks also explains extensive deposits of fragmented glass and china on paths. Small pieces of coal itself are not uncommon.

The first OS map of 1852 recorded coal-mining throughout Bradford; pits and 'old pits' are widely distributed. Deposits of coal near the surface were probably exploited by simply removing the 'overburden' of soil and rock and then digging out the mineral. Coal seams which outcropped on valley sides' like Heaton Woods, could be accessed by drifts or 'dayholes'. These were approximately horizontal, or upwardly sloping, tunnels dug inwards to meet the seam. Deeper coals could be reached by vertical shafts from the surface. All collieries would need to be drained and ventilated. At the bottom of a mine shaft a system of galleries were created from which coal was actually removed, pillars of unmined rock being left to support the roof. Old coal workings in Heaton Woods cannot now be accessed, although it was seemingly possible to do this, through drainage passages or adits, just within living memory.

By the seventeenth century coal had become extensively used as a fuel for lime-burning, black-smithing, and other industrial processes. The crucial impetus provided by Abraham Darby’s discovery that coal could be coked, to produce a replacement for charcoal in the smelting of iron, occurred at the beginning of the eighteenth century, although it took several decades for this technology to be widely adopted. Active men were needed as getters to hew the coal which was then conveyed in baskets or corves by hurriers to the shaft bottom. The full corves of coal could be removed by a hand-windless or, if the shafts were deep, a horse gin and removed to a coal staithe for collection. If they were physically capable children and women could fulfil this function although women working underground were seemingly becoming rare by the early nineteenth century. The 1842 report by Samuel Scriven on The Employment of Children and Young Persons in the Collieries of the West Riding of Yorkshire did not include any pits in Shipley or Heaton, but it does describe the operation of small collieries of very much the same type as those Heaton possessed, and the extremely arduous conditions endured by the miners. Think of them next time you walk through the woods.


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