Ram Hill Colliery dates from the nineteenth century and was successfully producing good quality coal between the early 1830’s and the late 1860’s. Most of the coal from this mine was sent to and used in Bristol, for domestic heating and fuelling the increasing number of steam engines during the industrial revolution.
Coalpit Heath Collieries
Coal has been dug in Coalpit Heath for hundreds of years, hence the place name. The Great Pipe Roll of 1223 mentions surface quarrying, and small pits were dug from the 15th century. As technology advanced, deeper shafts could be safely dug and, in the 19th century the new steam engine allowed water to be pumped out of mines. By the 1840s, coal was being raised from eight separate pits in the Coalpit Heath area.
The Working Colliery at Ram Hill
The Coalpit Heath Company opened the colliery at Ram Hill sometime between 1825 and 1832. It remains a fine example of early nineteenth century coalmining. The shaft (the oval head of which now lies partly within a local garden) was 558ft deep and was linked underground to Churchleaze (W), New Engine (S), and Rose Oak (N) pits. Pumping was done from Churchleaze. Thirty tons of coal could be raised a day or, to put it another way, about 10,000 tons a year. This was raised in a kibble (large metal bucket containing around ¾ ton of coal). The colliery was originally designed so that coal was raised and men were moved on buckets attached to a rope, with the power coming from horses walking around in a horse gin (short for ‘Engine House’). The keyhole outline of the horse gin can still clearly be seen. It is not certain, however, that the horse gin was ever used before a steam-powered beam engine was built between 1832 and 1845. Again, the engine house buildings (which would have housed a beam engine) can be clearly seen today. The beam engine possibly had a 24 inch cylinder and 12 foot beam, small enough to be housed in the buildings whose remains you see.
The steam boiler and reservoir have not yet been discovered, but probably lie under and to the west of the engine house. Coal was moved off site via the Dramway, which took coal south down a steady incline to the Avon at Keynsham and then to Bristol. Ram Hill became the north terminus of the Dramway. The shoes designed to hold the tracks can still be seen. The Dramway was probably the last railway in England designed to use horses to move the trucks, and lasted only nine years before a steam railway was built directly into Bristol from the Coalpit Heath pits.
Fall of the Collieries
Ram Hill Colliery closed in 1867 due to flooding and the increased output of the nearby Frog Lane Colliery (which continued in production until 1949). It was not thought to be worthwhile installing new pumping machinery. The site was bought in 1898 by the Great Western Railway and its survival is largely a matter of luck, with the cutting for the direct London to South Wales railway just to the north of the site. The site is now owned by South Gloucestershire Council and is maintained under licence by the Friends of Ram Hill Colliery.
Whilst there are no complete buildings on this site, there are the remains of the engine house, the complete footprint of the horse gin, the loading bays of the Dramway and possibly, but as yet undiscovered , the boiler house and reservoir. So the site can be interpreted as a good example of how coal was mined during the industrial revolution and for many local people it forms a link to their family history.
On the lower part of site are two sidings at the northern end of the ‘dramway’, a single track railway built in 1828 with a gradient dropping 225ft to quays near Keynsham on the River Avon. The rails were a standard 4ft 8½in gauge The drams (trucks full of coal) went downhill under gravity and were pulled back, originally by horses, later by steam locomotives. There are stone sleepers and metal ‘chairs’ (brackets) to hold the rails. The coal was transferred to boats at the quays on the river. The Dramway had its northern terminus at Ram Hill; the Dramway also served several other coalpits en route, with branches to each where necessary.