Workington’s present day fortunes are founded on the coal mining and iron industries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although mining of the Workington coalfields extends back to at least the seventeenth century, it was not until the eighteenth century that coal mining really took hold, culminating in 1802, when the coalfield was producing 65,309 tons of coal per annum. It was the availability of both coal and iron ore, coupled with the Workington port facility, that encouraged the development of the iron and steel industry in Workington. Throughout this period, the town of Workington was expanding rapidly to house the increasing workforce, and its development was closely tied to that of the coal and steel industries.
The discovery of a rich seam of coal at Jane Pit in 1846 was heralded with much celebration that included all the occupants of the town. Although the coal industry had been in a slow decline since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the wealth of the new seam provided a period of optimism and hope for the future of the town.
The working of the mine was relatively short lived, closing in 1875, but it was in production longer than many of the others in this part of the coalfield, such as Annie Pit and Buddle Pit.
The pit used both a horse gin and a steam engine, housed in an elaborate engine house, to lift the coal and overburden, but also to pump water from the mine. Subsequent to the abandonment of the mine, housing has encroached on the area and rugby and football pitches have been constructed. The latter resulted in the removal of a substantial spoil heap around the mining site; however, this process allowed the survival of the large engine house and two chimneys and provide the most visual representation of the mine. There are, however, less visual, but nevertheless significant components of the mine that have survived as either structural or earthwork components. These include the former gin pit, a marshalling yard for a rail track, a former building associated with the western chimney, the shaft, and sections of retaining wall.
A desk top survey by Oxford Archaeology North uncovered many fascinating details regarding Workington and West Cumbria’s coal mining heritage and found that Jane Pit is ‘the best surviving example of the ornate castellated style of colliery architecture which was a feature of the large landowner involvement in the Cumbrian coal industry during the nineteenth century’.
Although the desktop survey report by OAN revealed that no detailed maps of Workington appear to be available for the period between the 1830’s up until the 1860’s, the 1st edition of OS maps of 1867 (surveyed in 1864), indicate that the industrial development of Workington was phenomenal. Further maps were uncovered charting the development of this area and also RAF aerial photographs taken between 1948 and 1949 showed that the gin circle was very prominent, the buildings, ramp and associated mine workings, Holy Oak Farm and Frostoms Cottages were all clearly visible. Even now, the engine house and ornate castellated chimneys and engine house provide a very visible symbol of the part that coal has played in the development of Workington, as we know it today, which should be celebrated.
Jane Pit now stands on recreational ground off Moss Bay Road in Workington; a Sheduled Monument, Grade II listed building.