A postcard showing Aspen Colliery in 1908 © Accrington Library
Fairies and the coal industry seem an unlikely combination, but they have come together in a heritage rescue at Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire.
The Industrial Revolution in the North West is mostly remembered for cotton and textile production. But Lancashire also played a significant role in coal production.
Coal mining began at Aspen in the early 19th century, continuing for a hundred years. Coking ovens burned off impurities in coal to produce the higher value, higher quality coke. The colliery, coking ovens and canal basin became a scheduled monument in 1977.
Perhaps unusually for an industrial site, the disused colliery entered the local folklore, becoming something of a romantic ruin. Twenty-four ‘beehive’ ovens were arranged in three banks of earth. They became known as the Fairy Caves, and generations of children played where their ancestors once worked.
Over time, vegetation and tree roots began to destabilise brickwork. Aspen Colliery was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 1998. Two of the banks of ovens partially collapsed, and the third was likely to follow. In their dilapidated state, they began to attract anti-social behaviour.
Owners Hyndburn Council, Growth Lancashire and Historic England formed a partnership to tackle the site.
Historic England’s Investigation team demonstrated Aspen Colliery’s significance and rarity. This is one of just two sets of beehive coking ovens in England to survive in their colliery and canal-side setting.
Historic England funded a condition survey. Growth Lancashire secured £32,784 for repairs from WREN’s FCC Heritage Action Fund, supported by £8,250 essential third party funding from Historic England.
Works to remove damaging vegetation and consolidate brickwork were completed in spring. A management agreement with Hyndburn Council will ensure scrub is cleared from the ‘Fairy Caves’ for the next five years.
Growth Lancashire plans to work with the community to find out more about the site so that its history – both industrial and mythical – can be shared with visitors and passers-by.
It’s fantastic that after almost 20 years on the Heritage at Risk Register, Aspen Colliery is now ready to face the future.