Shakespeare Colliery

Shakespeare Colliery was located at the base of Shakespeare Cliff between Dover and Folkestone, on the site of the original Channel Tunnel workings.  The Kent Coal Fields Syndicate Ltd took over the Channel Tunnel workings in 1886.  After much speculation (the first suggestion that there might be coal in the area was made in the 1840s), a 2 foot deep seam of coal was discovered on Saturday 15th February 1890 at a depth of 300 metres during boring operations at Shakespeare Cliff.  The first shaft was begun in on 21st August 1891 and in 1897 three companies were formed to search for coal in the area.  All three companies were left in financial difficulty when boreholes to the west of Dover proved unsuccessful.  The Consolidated Kent Collieries Corporation was formed in July 1899 and took over the assets of the ailing companies.   By 3rd February 1905, just 12 tons of coal had been brought to the surface.   Efforts to work the seam were plagued by difficulties, including flooding.  So much so that, by 1912, only 1,000 tons of coal had been raised.  The colliery finally closed just before Christmas 1915.

A number of bores were sunk between 1905 and 1910, under the direction of Arthur Burr, to delineate the extent of the coalfield.  By 1914, 40 boreholes had been dug at considerable expense to locate workable seams, the best of which were found at deep levels and averaged only just over a metre in thickness.

Coal from this field was found to be suitable for many purposes, including coking and gas production, firing steam boilers and domestic heating and cooking.  Some of it, however, was soft and friable and only suited to use in coal-fired power stations.

All traces of the colliery have long since been lost - the site was at the point where the Channel Tunnel now passes under the coast and has been replaced by the modern tunnel workings.  The Ordnance Survey map of East Kent published in 1931 shows the colliery at the base of the cliffs where the main-line railway emerges from the Shakespeare Tunnel to the west of Shakespeare Cliff.

I am indebted to Briony Sutcliffe for this article about an accident at Shakespeare Colliery, taken from the Folkestone Herald of 13th March 1897.

The following history is taken from "Dover, a Perambulation of the Town, Port and Fortress", by John Bavington Jones, published by the Dover Express in 1907.


"After some unsuccessful borings had been put down in Sussex and West Kent, Sir Edward Watkin, on behalf of the Channel Tunnel Company (whose tunnelling under the sea had been vetoed by the Board of Trade), in 1886 undertook to further test the theory of the geologists by a boring on the west side of Shakespeare Cliff, Dover.  Mr. Francis Brady, the Engineer of the South-Eastern Railway, conducted operations under the geological supervision of Professor Boyd Dawkins.  That boring was successful, striking coal measures in February, 1890, at a depth of 1,100 feet, and between that depth and 2.274 feet, where the boring ceased, 14 seams of coal were met with, varying from 6 inches to 4 feet, of a total thickness of 23 feet 9 inches, distributed through 1,173 feet of coal measures.  This discovery was regarded as of great national importance, for, although some of the upper seams were thin and shalely, lower down the beds the beds seemed richer, the deepest seam being four feet thick"

"No attempt to make a practical use of this discovery was made until 1896, when the sinking of the Brady Pit was commenced by Mr. Francis Brady 280 feet westward of the borehole.  Mr. Brady, acting on behalf of the Channel Tunnel Company, carried down that shaft 82 feet, and then, in July, 1896, the Kent Coal Syndicate, promoted by Mr. Arthur Burr, took the matter in hand, the late Mr. George F. Fry, of Dover, being the Chairman of the Syndicate, and Mr. Simpson, F.R.G.S., Managing Director.

"Water was found in great abundance in the Brady Pit, at a depth of 360 feet, which suspended operations; and, while waiting for the pumps, the second shaft, called the Simpson Pit, was commenced in the autumn of 1896, situate midway between the Brady Pit and the borehole.  The Brady Pit, owing to the running sand, was eventually lost at a depth of 520 feet.  The Simpson Pit (afterwards known as No. 2) was carried down to a depth of 303 feet, when an inrush of water from the greensand suddenly engulfed the men working in the bottom, and eight of them were drowned.  This sad accident, which occurred on the 6th of March, 1897, caused delay, but, after pumps had been put in, sinking was resumed.  As a substitute for the lost Brady Pit, another shaft was commenced over the borehole in February, 1898; and to cope with the water, at a depth of 310 feet a tunnel was driven between the two pits to form a lodgement for pumping purposes.  The total water that had to be dealt with at a depth of 450 feet was 54,170 gallons per hour, of which 1,100 gallons was top water, 27,810 gallons from the greensand and Hastings beds, and 25,260 gallons came up the borehole from below 450 feet.

"With this amount of water coming in, the sinking was tedious.  In the year 1899 progress became very slow, financial difficulties having intervened, but during the sinking a thick bed of ironstone was found, imparting additional value to the coal field.  After re-construction of the Company, and changes in the administration, the sinking was continued, but, eventually, before the coal measures were reached, the increasing water stopped the sinking.

"The close of 1901 found the works at a standstill, and an agitation in progress, which led to the ousting of the Board of Directors and the introduction of an Anglo-French Board, who undertook to overcome the water difficulty by the adoption of the Kind-Chaudron method of sinking, which, like boring, was done from the top with the water in the pit.  That, though tedious and costly, was successful.  The preparations and the actual acomplishment of the work of sinking 120 feet occupied nearly two years.

"The Kind-Chaudron method carried the pit through the first seam of coal, and December, 1904, had arrived before the tubbing of the pit had been completed and sinking resumed in the bottom.  The iron tubbing was carried down to a depth of 1195 feet, after which sinking was resumed in the bottom.  At that stage the French element left the Board of Directors, and a new administration continued the sinking until August, 1905, when No. 2 Pit had been carried down to a depth of 1,600 feet.  This sinking of 400 feet below the Kind-Chaudron tubbing passed through five of the seven 'workable' seams accounted for in the diagrams of Mr. Brady's borings.  Some of them were not so thick as the boring represented, and none were regarded as satisfactory except the last, a two-foot seam, found at 1,600 feet, which was described as of 'fair marketable value.'  Unfortunately, immediately after reaching that seam, water came in at a rate of 10,000 gallons an hour, which re-introduced the water difficulty, suspending the sinking in No. 2 Pit, which has not since been resumed.

"After that, the Directors turned their attention, at the close of the year 1905, to sinking No. 3 Pit, then 650 feet deep, down to the same depth as No. 2, and to equipping No. 2 Pit with permanent winding gear, intending when the two pits are down to the same depth to commence a regular output of coal, but it appears as though it will be a considerable time before that stage is reached."