King Pit

Sunk in 1750, by Carlisle Spedding the famous Mine Agent for the Lowther family. By 1793 King Pit had reached the "Six Quarters" seam at a depth of 160 fathoms or 960 feet (295m) plus a sump 7 fathoms deep making it not only the deepest in the world at that time, but the first to pass the 1,000 foot mark. The pit extended under the sea, with the water above being deep enough to allow the passage of ships of a considerable size. King Pit was sunk as part of development of the Howgill colliery.

King Pit remained an important winding pit until around 1800. The opening of a rock-cut adit still survives, just above high- tide level in the base of the cliff to the west; this was probably a pumpway, for discharging water pumped up the King Pit shaft.

Carlisle Spedding was responsible for the sinking of Saltom, Thwaite, King, Kells, Duke, Ravenhill and Moss pits, later in the 18th century. Most were worked over a long period of time until the late 19th or in some cases 20th century.

These pits were all connected underground and could be used for pumping, coal winding, ventilation and access making the operation of the system complex and often resulting in a pit’s function changing. By 1781, King, Duke, Kells and Croft were coal drawing pits. Gameriggs and Thwaite suffered from explosions and underground fires in 1743.

In 1752 'leaders' were transporting coal from King, Ravenhill, Thwaite, Kells, Fox and Gameriggs Pits to Whitehaven harbour. Shafts reached 150 fathoms by 1816 . A fan was installed in 1933 for ventilating Haig workings.

The mine appears to have remained an important winding pit until around 1800. It is labelled as "King Pit Yard" on the 1st-3rd Ordnance Survey editions; on the 1st edition it still had waggonway access, implying industrial use.

The site is marked by a 'beehive' shaft capping and plaque; given the extensive landscaping of this area after the closure of Haig Colliery, the survival of below-ground deposits is uncertain. The opening of a rock-cut adit also survives, just above high-tide level in the base of the cliff to the west; this was probably a ‘pumpway’, for discharging water pumped up the King Pit shaft.

Coal Mining In The 1700's
Coal Mining In The 1700's

In The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 1793, by Joseph Fisher, King Pit was thus described:

IN the pit named King-pit, which is the deepest pit in this colliery or in Great Britain, the first seam or band is called the Crow Coal, which is two feet two inches thick. It lies at the depth of sixty yards.
THE second seam or band is called the Yard-band, in thickness four feet six inches, and lies at the depth of one hundred and sixty yards. 
THE third seam is called the Bannock-band, about eight feet thick, including two metals, which are about twelve inches thick. It lies at the depth of two hundred yards.

THE fourth seam is called the Main or Prior-band, which is from ten to twelve feet thick, and about two hundred and forty yards deep. 
THE fifth seam is called the Six-quarters Coal, about five feet thick. It lies at the depth of three hundred and twenty yards. No part of this hit learn has been yet wrought. 
WHAT other seams lie below there is yet unknown. No trial has been made above twenty yards below the fifth seam, which makes the greatest perpendicular depth hitherto sunk to be three hundred and forty yards below the earth's surface. 
IT would not be difficult to perceive, before any coals were got, that this traa of land contained learns or bands of coal, because the Bannock or third seam, and the Main-band or fourth seam, before mentioned, have burst out, as it is termed at Whitehaven; that is, they shew themselves in several places on the sloping surface of the earth, on the west side of the valley leading from Whitehaven to St. Bees. To the southward of this colliery these seams of coal are also thrown much nearer the surface by what is called upcast dykes, the largest of which is about forty yards.
Capping King Pit c1970
Capping King Pit c1970


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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