What is it?
New Fancy is a Forestry Commission amenity site, which is located at the site of the former coal mine of the same name. New Fancy is a great place to discover some of the history of the local mining and quarrying industries, the sites of which were spread throughout the Forest of Dean in previous times.
At New Fancy you can see the unique Geomap, which celebrates both the geological and the industrial history of the Forest of Dean. The map represents the geology of the Forest of Dean. Each layer of rock shown on Geomap is made from the actual rock it represents, taken from local quarries. Overlain on the map is the industrial history. It shows the location of 102 collieries, 35 iron mines and 49 stone quarries, as well as the main railway lines and three long-lived tramroads that were so important for the expansion of these industries in the nineteenth century.
Historic records indicate that over the years some 600 men died because of accidents at work in the local mines and quarries. These men are remembered through the ‘Miners Memorial’ at the New Fancy site. The unique ‘Roll of Honour’ sculpture was erected to the memory of all those men who lost their lives in the coal and iron mines and quarries of the Forest of Dean.
Finally, many of the original features of the New Fancy coal mine can be safely viewed at the site, thus enabling a visitor to gain an insight into the once economically dominant but now largely vanished mining and quarrying industries of the Forest of Dean.
When did the New Fancy colliery operate?
The Protheroe family appear to have had interests in the New Fancy gale (a gale is an area of a coal seam or iron ore vein) since the early 1800’s. The gale itself was certainly being worked by 1840, probably through the Parkend gale, as in that year Protheroe stated that he required a ‘better, cheaper, outlet’ for his New Fancy coals. The cheaper outlet would come about by sinking a shaft on the New Fancy gale thus avoiding the wayleave charged by the Crown on all coal from one gale passing into another. The New Fancy gale award covered the coal in the Churchway High Delf, Rockey, Starkey, Park End High Delf, Little Delf and Smith Coal veins.
New Fancy Colliery – photographed around 1920
Work at New Fancy then commenced and by c1852 it would appear that there were two shafts in the process of being sunk. The shafts were completed in mid to late 1857, as at the first half-yearly meeting of the Forest of Dean Central Railway Company in February, it was stated that the colliery ‘was in a forward state and will when opened afford large traffic’. The colliery was producing coal by 1860 when 250 tons a day were being sent over the Severn & Wye’s Kidnalls Mill, or Moseley Green, branch of the tramroad. It was to be another ten years before the colliery gained a railway connection in the form of a branch of the Forest of Dean Central which was authorised under a Crown license dated 6th April 1868. The large traffic hoped for over this route diminished rapidly when the Mineral Loop line was opened in 1872 and a connection was made to the colliery. It is likely that the rails on the Central’s connection had been removed by 1878.
Ownership of the colliery changed several times between 1878 and 1883. Whatever the management was, the colliery closed in 1883 due to the heavy mortgages and in 1884 Thomas Hedges Deakin, together with Fanny Toomer and Susan Broadley, acquired the collieries. New machinery was installed, including the first compressed air coal cutters to be introduced in the district. The reason for their introduction was the high cost of coal production at New Fancy due to the thinness of the seams. They averaged only 17 inches with the thickest being the Parkend High Delf at three feet high.
From about 1888 onwards coal from the Parkend gale was worked out through New Fancy as the shaft was closer to the coal being worked and therefore haulage costs were reduced. By December 1889 the company had acquired the deep gales underlying their property. The company continued trading until in March 1892 when the Parkend Deep Navigation Collieries Co. Ltd. bought up the company.
In 1914 electric equipment was installed to power pumping plant, haulage engines and coal cutting machinery. The generating station was alongside the Castlemain pumping engine at Parkend and a pole route was constructed to bring the power to the colliery.
At peak production in 1906, the colliery was producing about 500 tons of coal per day, and employed approximately 700 workers. However the output of New Fancy subsequently steadily declined until final closure in August 1944. During the lifetime of the colliery just over 3.5 million tons of coal were mined, over half of that amount before 1880. Records indicate that 15 men died at New Fancy during the period that it was a working colliery.
This short history was provided by Ian Pope. You can find histories of other mines in the Forest of Dean at http://lightmoor.co.uk/forestcoal/Coalopen.html
What was it like working at New Fancy?
You might expect that working conditions and safety at work would have improved for miners by the late 1920’s when compared with previous times. However this was not necessarily so!
We have a first-hand account of what working life was like in the New Fancy pit in 1928 and 1929. Henry William R (Harry) Roberts was born in Cinderford in 1914. Unfortunately his father was killed in the First World War and Harry had to start work at New Fancy Colliery in 1928 at the age of 14. In 1930 his mother decided to return to London with the family, so Harry ceased work at New Fancy and started a new life in London. He returned to the Forest of Dean some 45 years later, and provided a graphic account of ‘life at the New Fancy coal face’ to researchers at Dean Heritage Centre in 1983.
Here are just a couple of extracts from Harry’s account of life underground:
- On the journey down the 860 feet deep pit shaft at the start of the shift;
"The cage actually fell three quarters of the way down the shaft before the application of the brake giving the sensation of going back up. There was no roof on the cage and the water poured from the sides of the shaft at about the rate of rain in a heavy storm, we were all soaking wet when we stepped out into the pit bottom."
On how a horse saved him and others from disaster underground:
"I was about halfway to the pit bottom when I came to a horse and its driver, he was older than I, probably seventeen or eighteen years of age, he said he could not get the horse to move. I suggested that we backed up a few yards as the animal was showing signs of fear. By this time my two Butties had joined us, peering ahead with their cupped candles held out in front, we went back a few more yards, there was only the sound of breathing, then a slight noise as if two lumps of sugar had been thrown to the ground, in the next few seconds the top came down for a distance of about 40 feet in the position where the horse had stopped in the first place, and we all realized our lives had been saved by the horse."
You can download Harry Roberts’ full account of working life underground at New Fancy here....
"Life at the New Fancy coal face in 1928" is reproduced by permission of the Dean Heritage Centre
What Happened After New Fancy Colliery Closed?
Nothing much happened until about 1960, when the development of the Llanwern steelworks in South Wales meant that there was demand for huge quantities of shale to stabilise the marshy area where the new steelworks were to be built. Consequently large volumes of shale were removed from the New Fancy spoil heaps, and from many of the spoil heaps associated with other mines in the Forest of Dean area. At the end of the process the spoil heap at New Fancy had been reduced in size by two thirds.
The Forestry Act of 1967 and the Countryside Act of 1968 required local authorities and other bodies to have regard for "the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and for the benefit of those resorting to the countryside". The Forestry Commission was specifically required to "provide or arrange for or assist in the provision of tourist, recreational or sporting facilities and any equipment, facilities or works ancillary thereto". Thus in the Forest of Dean, in response to this initiative, many new amenity and recreation projects were started by the Forestry Commission, including New Fancy.
Hydraulic seeding of the viewpoint
By 1974 work had started work to create a viewpoint and picnic site at the site of the former New Fancy Colliery. The eminent landscape architect, Dame Sylvia Crowe designed the scheme. The opening of New Fancy as an amenity site in 1976 was celebrated in conjunction with the Forestry Commission having achieved the planting of two million acres of forest in Great Britain, and an engraved stone at New Fancy commemorates this.
In 2014 contractors working for the Coal Authority made safe shaft numbers 1 and 2 at New Fancy, consequently the sites of the mine shafts are now accessible to the public.
New Fancy Shaft 2 before being capped. Note the ‘Kepps’ apparatus in the shaft.
This was used to safely retain the cage at the top of the shaft.
Coal authority contractors capping shaft number 2.
Weighing seven tons, this piece of pumping apparatus was recovered from shaft 2 during the capping operation.
Recently, with the help of Keith Bell builders and others, the Forest of Dean Local History Society placed a new commemorative stone at the site of shaft 2 at New Fancy to permanently mark the site of the shaft and to commemorate the 15 miners who are known to have died in New Fancy pit.
Can I Visit New Fancy?
New Fancy amenity site is open daily to visitors between 8am and dusk. There is ample parking available on the site.
For information about the location of New Fancy and a guide to the site;
For more information about the Geomap;
For more information about the Miners Memorial ‘Roll of Honour’ sculpture click here