Second Shilbottle Wagonway

In the mid-1860s the Shilbottle Colliery at Long Dyke was thriving; some 20,000 tons of coal were being mined each year. In 1879 the local Gas Company was building a new works on a site adjacent to the main road leading south out of Alnwick and a document indicates that the wagon way (or tramway) from Longdike (sic) needed to be moved slightly.  This indicates that the line was in existence by that time.  It consisted of a double line of steel rails with a gauge of 2’0”.  The sleepered rails were laid on ash ballast.  One line of rails brought the coal down from the colliery to the depot on the South Road, the other line returned the empties back to the colliery.  Operation of the line was by the attachment of the wagons to a continuous cable, otherwise known as an ‘endless rope’ which ran on pulleys.  At the colliery end of the lines were two Greenwood and Batley turbines, coal powered, which drove electric motors to work the continuous cable.  Each wagon, which could haul about five hundredweight of coal was attached to the cable by means of a ‘snatch clamp’. They generally operated in pairs.

Shilbottle Long Dyke Colliery (sic) shown on a postcard dating from about 1905
The Colliery illustrated in a photograph from around the mid-1920s, shortly before it closed. Note the presence of some of the tubs for carrying coal.
This is a copy of the only known photograph of coal tubs, at the top of the picture, being hauled towards the coal depot by the continuous cable. The bridge carried the lines over the Cawledge Burn, half way along the line.
Eleven of the staff of the Shilbottle Coal Company pose in front of two coal tubs and the depot wall at Alnwick.

There was much pilfering of coal from the open trucks whilst in transit between the Colliery and the Depot, with occasional prosecutions. Some ‘locals’ used to ‘hitch a ride’ on the tubs, a very dangerous practice! 

In 1921 over 100 men were working at the pit which was, since 1916, owned by the Cooperative Wholesale Society.  On 31st August 1925 the pit, now referred to as ‘The Old Pit’ was closed and production was switched to a new Shilbottle Colliery which despatched most of its coal via a newly laid railway to the East Coast main line, though some ‘landsale’ of coal, for local use, still occurred.  Some of the remains of the line survived until the mid-1940s but today almost all traces of the colliery and the line have disappeared.  Even the small hamlet of Bilton Banks, which housed colliery workers, has been raised to the ground apart from the former Manager’s house, now in private ownership.