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Brandy Bottom: History
The Early Years
The first shaft at Brandy Bottom was sunk between 1837 and 1838, when it was known as 'Lord Radnor's Pit'. The evidence for this comes from one source - surveys made by the Bristol and Gloucester Railway. The terrier, or list of owners and occupiers, accompanying the 1837 survey shows that the site was a pasture owned by Hannah Withy. This has changed to 'Coal Works' in the terrier for the 1838 survey, when the owners are given as Earl Radnor and Hannah Withey. The uppermost coal seam lies just over 500 feet below the surface, so there must have been a good reason for selecting the site for the sinking of a new pit. There are suggestions that there was an earlier pit, either on the site or nearby, however written evidence for this has yet to be discovered. The first use of the name 'Brandy Bottom' appears to be in a coroner's report of 1856. Why that name was chosen has still to be discovered.
The life of that pit is as yet unknown, as some sources state that it was worked out by the time of the Cossham era. For example, Anstie comments in his 1873 book that all workable coal had been removed from pits to the south of Parkfield. He mentioned Shortwood and Brandy Bottom by name, but then added that Brandy Bottom was "still raising a small quantity of coal." Whether this came from the original workings, or refers to the start of Cossham's operations is not clear. The earliest date of workings shown on the Coal Authority's map CA12702 (sheet 5 of 17) is March 1875, but the map also shows that there were adjacent, older, but undated workings. It is thought that the buildings in the northern complex, the Cornish Engine House, Old Boiler House and associated chimney, and the heapstead and Vertical Engine House, all date from this era.
A notice of sale by tender in the Bristol Times & Mirror of 07 January 1865 gives the hoisting capacity as 20 to 30 000 tons of coal/year. In this case the whole colliery is for sale, but a second notice, dated 28 March 1868, announces that the "share and interest" of the principal partner is up for sale as a result of his death.
The Cossham Era
Handel Cossham surveyed a number of pits in the area before he starting to sink Parkfield in 1851. These included Brandy Bottom, which at 675 feet was the deepest pit in his survey.
Once Parkfield was operating, Cossham took over the lease of Brandy Bottom in 1871, sinking the New Shaft and building the Horizontal Engine House. By connecting the two pits underground, he was able to use Brandy Bottom for both coal hoisting and pumping from the combined workings. There is a comment in Cossham's notebook against 1873 of "commenced landing from South Pit". He had renamed the complex as Parkfield South, which is used on many maps and documents. Cossham was a long-standing member of the Temperance Association, which probably explains why the name was changed.
Brandy Bottom is known to have worked 4 seams of coal: the 2 ft thick Hard Seam located 512 ft below the surface; the 2 ft Top Seam at 608 ft; the 2 ft 6 in Hollybush at 638 ft 6 in; and the 2 ft 6 in Great Seam at 674 ft 6 in. In his submission to the 1871 Royal Commission on Coal Supply, Prestwich gives the quality of coals from the various seams as: The Hard seam was classed as a very good bituminous coal, the Top seam an excellent bituminous coal, while the Hollybush and Great seams were considered to be very good coals. The coal was said to be used for ‘gas manufacture in and around Bristol.’ The comment on the Stinking seam was ‘full of sulphur; unworkable’ is of interest. It should be noted that Prestwich uses the term ‘seam’ in the names where others use ‘vein’. There was a sixth seam at Parkfield, the Rag Coal Seam, but there does not appear to be a record of it at Brandy Bottom. This seam was 1 foot 6 inches thick at Parkfield, and was not worked as the coal was recorded as being of ‘inferior’ quality. The underground workings at Brandy Bottom are now inaccessible as they are flooded to within a few feet of the surface.
The 1896 'List of Mines worked under the Coal Mines Regulation Act' records that there were 155 underground workers and 17 surface workers.
The 20th Century
Cossham died in 1890, but his estate did not sell his Kingswood and Parkfield coal mining interests until 1900 as these had been held in trust for his wife until her death. The £60 000 raised by the sale was used to build the Cossham Memorial Hospital in Kingswood. The sale catalogue lists the surface, and some underground, equipment as:
The pit was bought at the auction by The Bedminster, Easton, Kingswood and Parkfield Collieries Ltd, which had been specially formed for the purpose. That company was soon struggling and by WWI was being operated by a receiver. This continued until 1920, when it was bought by Frank Beauchamp's Somerset Collieries and renamed The East Bristol Colliery Co. Its pits closed as the century progressed: the Easton pit in 1912, then Hanham in 1926, Speedwell and Deep Pits in May 1936, and Parkfield closed 3 months later on 15 August. It is assumed that all activities at Brandy Bottom had ceased by that date.
Coal hoisting appears to have ceased at some time between the surveys for the 1903 and 1915 Ordnance Survey maps, judging by the changes in the layout of the railways lines. It is known that electric pumps were installed at Parkfield at some time in the 1920s, and this probably led to the decommissioning of the Cornish Beam Engine at Brandy Bottom. An indication comes from the capping on the pumping shaft, which has the inscription 'Finish 1923' incised into the concrete. An upcast Sirocco ventilation fan was connected to the New Pit shaft at some point between 1915 and 1936. This would have been used to ventilate the combined workings.
George Watkins, the Bristol-based steam engine photographer, visited Brandy Bottom at some time in the 1930s. His notebooks, which are held by the National Railways Museum in Swindon, record some details of the pumping equipment associated with the Cornish Engine House. These are different to those given in the 1900 sale catalogue, suggesting that there may have been changes in the intervening period. Watkins notes that the cylinder in the Cornish Engine House was 54 inches in diameter, with a 6 foot 6 inch stroke. The comparable figures in the 1900 sale catalogue were 60 inches and 8 foot.
A notice in the Western Daily Press of 16 October 1937 announces the sale by private treaty of "The site of the freehold properties formerly known as 'The Parkfield and South Pit Collieries', Pucklechurch." Also included were the manager's house, buildings and around 20 acres of land. The sole agents were Albert Ford, Howes & Williams of Bristol. So far the sale catalogue has not been found, so it is not possible to see how the machinery had changed since the auction in 1900.
Dereliction set in slowly at first. An aerial photograph from the mid-1950s shows that the Cornish Engine House is roofless, but with walls intact. However by the time a surface photograph was taken in 1965, the south-eastern wall has been broken down. It is known that a scrap metal merchant had been operating on the site at some time before then, and they may have broken down the wall to recover the engine's cylinder and other associated scrap. At some time in the century the site became the property of the Cattybrook Brick Company, who had taken over the nearby Shortwood Brickworks in 1903. There is an article on the Shortwood Brickworks in the 1975 issue of the BIAS Journal. It notes that there had been a proposal in 1969 to demolish the existing brickworks and rebuild it on the site occupied by Brandy Bottom. Brandy Bottom may owe its lucky escape to the fact that the Cattybrook Brick Company was taken over by Ibstock, the present owners of the Brandy Bottom site, in the same year.
The photo on the right shows the Horizontal Engine House in 1985, taken from the Old Pit heapstead. The willow that used to stand at the northern corner of the enclosure has yet to take root, nor has the cycle path been constructed. Another, taken at the same time but not on the website, shows that the stone facing of the north-west wall of the Old Pit heapstead was already crumbling away.
Photo right: Horizontal Engine House from the Old Pit heapstead in 1985. Photo by T Rendall
The 21st Century
The site was made a Scheduled Ancient Monument, No 1091400, on 22 January 2001, and the AIBT started working on the conservation of the buildings in 2007.
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Page updated 19 Jul 18