Coal mining in Kent

What images come to mind when you think of Kent? Probably white cliffs, castles surrounded by moats and cathedrals. What else? Beach huts, beautiful gardens and coalfields. Hang on a minute – coalfields? Yes, there were coalfields in Kent for the best part of a century right up to the late 1980s. In today’s blog I wanted to explore the world of coal mining in Kent.

I was a student at Leeds University during the miners strike of 1984-85 and all the attention was on the collieries and pit villages of West Yorkshire, Northumbria and South Wales. But there were four mines in Kent centred around the Deal and Dover area that were also affected.

Over twenty five years after the last colliery at Betteshanger closed, we decided to see what remains of Kent coal. The best resource to find out more about the coalfields of Kent is the exhibition at Dover Museum.

The history of coal mining in Kent started when coal was originally discovered as part of abortive excavations to build a Channel tunnel in the late 19th century. There then followed what must have been a frustrating twenty year period where bore holes were drilled, speculative shafts sunk and a vast amount of money spent – with little reward.

Coliery

So what was the problem? The coal was located very deep underground and to get at it meant pumping out large deposits of water lying in chalk beds.

The first commercially produced coal was not mined until 1912 at Snowdon colliery. Previously, 22 miners had drowned when early drilling encountered water and the shaft flooded at 260 feet.

Snowdown Colliery was conveniently situated alongside the main Dover to Canterbury railway line, and lies between the villages of Nonninton and Womenswold.

We arrived at Snowdon on a sunny spring morning. There are a considerable number of disused colliery buildings still standing behind forbidding rusting iron fences topped with barbed wire. We walked along the road for a while, taking photos and surveyed the deserted scene of over seventy years of coal production. On the other side of the road, the remains of coal spoil was evident over a wide expanse; uneven patches of grey smudged flecks interspersed with dotted meadow flowers, silver birch trees and hardy shrubs.

New coalfields led to a demand for housing closer to the site of the pits.

Most Snowdown miners lived in Dover until the development of the town of Aylesham started in 1926. Aylesham was an innovative model town of 3,000 houses meant to serve Snowdown and a new pit at Adisham. This pit never materialised and Aylesham was only partly finished, providing 650 houses. Built in the middle of farm lands, Aylesham even now seems quite isolated and so every attempt was made to make it self-sufficient, ensuring it had its own shops, social clubs, schools, churches and sports facilities.

Coliery Kent

We visited the village – built from the proceeds of coal and noted that the Anglican Church had been constructed in 1927. It looked more like a grand community centre than a place of worship and it may have been both. The Roman Catholic church was very non-traditional in design and had a low lying corrugated roof that looked as it had been built in a hurry. The miners institute is now a centre for small business and it was easy to imagine the crescent of houses providing accommodation for the miners to the nearby colliery.

It was half term and young children were playing with their mothers. Less than thirty years ago, their husbands and fathers would have been toiling away at the nearby colliery. I wondered how many of the miners families remained in the village or whether more recent homeowners had any idea that without the coalfield the village wouldn’t have been built in the first place?

Walking around, we found a statue dedicated to the children of the miners and a display and map detailing the Kent Miners’ Way with directions to other local pits and villages.

As time was pressing, we decided to travel east about ten miles to the village of Northbourne. From there we walked through fields to Betteshanger colliery. Little remains of the colliery and most of the buildings have long been demolished. Shafts have been sealed up and fenced off. The colliery is now a country park and a wildlife centre with reservoirs and reed beds hosting a variety of bird life. Coal spoil was present and grassed over and several hills and mounds were testament to their former use.

Betteshanger miners initially lived in Deal itself but reports are that the genteel folk of the town didn’t take readily to the unwashed miners. And the miners were unwashed since bathing facilities were not originally available on site. ‘No Miners’ signs were placed in boarding house windows in the town.

As a result, in 1929, isolated farmland on the outskirts of Deal, at Mill Hill was acquired to build 950 houses plus social and sport facilities. Nowadays the miners have now gone, but perhaps they had the last laugh after all, since the houses built to keep them out of the Deal have now been incorporated into the town’s boundaries.

By all accounts, Betteshanger was the biggest and most militant of all the Kent coalfields and the last in the country to return to work after the miners strike in the 1980’s. It was also the last to close in 1989.

Coal mining in Kent

But what became of the first pit – that of Shakespeare colliery – formed from the Channel tunnel workings at Dover? Opened in1896, it encountered more water than coal and by 1915 mining had been largely abandoned. Five other collieries were started but never came to fruition and their sites and remains can be found on line at the Kent coalfields resource.

Government plans in the 1920’s were based on 18 new pits being developed and the need for upwards of 50,000 new homes to support the mining community. In the events both forecasts proved wildly over- optimistic. The mines were largely unproductive in the long term and conditions at Snowdon, the deepest, were described as being like Dante’s Inferno. Miners used to pass out with heat stroke and reports are that they drink up huge quantities of water to combat the intense heat. This started the slow decline of coal mining in Kent

We reflected on the hardships endured by the miners deep below ground. Just a few miles away there are beautiful rural historic villages dating back to the Norman Conquest. People leading very different lifestyles but with similar wants.

Under white cliffs was black coal. Today what remains of the coal lies undisturbed and unvisited while every year thousands walk on the cliffs as they imperceptibly erode back into the ground.

Faversham Gunpowder Mills

Faversham Gunpowder Mills

What’s Faversham famous for? Beer fans will need no reminding that it’s the home of Shepherds Neame – England’s oldest brewery which was founded in 1698. The brewery can be visited on special tours but Faversham can claim to be the site of an even older industry that can leave more than just a sore head!

But the town also has the oldest surviving gunpowder mill in the western world! Faversham Gunpowder Mills – The Chart Mills lie barely 400 metres from the edge of the centre’s medieval lanes but lay overgrown and neglected until the early 1960’s. Faversham’s long gunpowder industry finally came to an end in 1934 when production was moved to Scotland.

We recently visited the Chart Mills museum which opened in 2011 after a long period of restoration.

It’s located in the Davington area of the town and we approached it from the Bysing Wood Road end which is just by a Pond – saved by the Borough Council from development. It’s a good place to sit down for a moment and enjoy the tranquil surroundings.

The area is full of fascinating old brick buildings which served as houses for the munitions workers or as part of the old workshops themselves. Although signposted from the city centre, there’s no direct website and it’s a little hard to find, tucked away in suburbia. The streams or creeks are as good a guide as any to follow.

Nowadays, the Faversham Gunpowder Mills is in a quiet housing estate but things would have been anything but quiet when production was in full swing. Making gunpowder was highly dangerous and 100 people lost their lives in an explosion at a nearby powder factory in 1916.

The Chart Mill museum site is a modest but informative building. We learnt from Richard, one of the volunteers, that Chart Mills is an incorporating mill, where the ingredients having been mixed together are then incorporated to become an explosive mixture. This controlled the quality, power and evenness of burning so no wonder it was a lethal cocktail and more volatile than anything produced at the nearby brewery. The workers had special uniforms with the pockets sewn in to prevent matches or anything else setting off the powder with such devastating results. The Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre, as museums are called these days, has some of the worker’s uniforms on display. It’s in the centre of Faversham and is a good stopping place to learn more about the many Gunpowder mills that used to frequent Faversham.

Concern over levels of drinking amongst the workers led to restrictions in the licensing hours which were still in force until quite recently brought in during the first world war to increase production and reduce drunkenness. Whether they had Faversham in mind, I don’t know but the horrific explosion must have played a part.

Inside the Faversham Gunpowder Mills, there are old photographs of workers at the mill as well as maps of where the mills stood and a history of the gunpowder industry in the area. The extensive restoration works is also well documented.

In it’s heyday, Chart Mills had 2 waterwheels which drove 4 mills. Today there’s a preserved iron wheel outside which helped to control the flow of water. Also, still visible is the pit of the other mill and the circular bed stones of the other 3 mills, as well as spare edge runners and other parts of the gunpowder making industry.

As an early nationalised industry, gunpowder from Chart Mills would have been used by the British army at battles such as Trafalgar and Waterloo. But it was a constant battle to ensure that the gunpowder didn’t explode in the mill. One such explosion blew off one of the twin towers of nearby Davington Church in 1781.

There’s a pleasant circular walk, uphill in parts around the Bysing Wood area which takes in both the church and the gunpowder mills. The church is fascinating in its own right. It’s actually the oldest building in Faversham, having been originally part of a much larger priory founded in 1135 as a convent for nuns. Much of the buildings survived Henry VIII’s dissolvement of the monasteries in the late 1530s as the order had recently died out.

Restored in the 19th century, the nun’s quarters were converted into a private house which remains to this day. Talking of remains, we wandered around the church and cemetery and spotted the grave of a woman who lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1814.

There’s a nice legend about those twin towers of Davington Church that links the gunpowder mills with the even older Reculver Church near Herne Bay. An Abbess of Davington was shipwrecked off Reculver and promised to build two towers at the church if she survived the storm. The winds abated, she was saved and the church duly got two towers. That is until the gunpowder mill nearby proved even more destructive than the storm out at sea.

There’s much to see in the centre of Faversham particularly around parts of the newly renovated quay area. But it’s not all about beer and barges. So don’t forget to venture a little further out to discover more about one of the town’s oldest industries – gunpowder making – as well as its oldest building – Davington Church.

Tea & Chat with Framerstamp

Tea & Chat with Framerstamp

Hello! Great to have you here, the kettle’s just boiled – what would you like to drink? Coffee please

So, tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

I started Framerstamp about 18 months ago following a varied career. What I do is frame sets of postage stamps which people usually think is a bit weird and they usually need to see a picture or the real thing to understand what I’m doing. If I’m going along to a meeting I usually take a couple with me so that people can see what the framed stamps look like.

What inspired you to start your creative business? How did it all begin?

I’ve always liked stamps and had a small collection but what really started me thinking about making them accessible were the Olympic stamps. Having attended mainly Paralympic events I thought that stamps for each gold medal was a great souvenir of the occasion. Most people don’t really look at stamps but they are lovely miniature works of art and it struck me that if they could be mounted as sets then they would make a really attractive and interesting small picture. Since there are stamps for nearly everything from flowers to football, cats to Christmas and science to sport it also struck me that they meet a need for an inexpensive gift which would suit a lot of interests and make a gift quite special. Though not strictly speaking personalised they make a great personal gift and show that someone has thought about what you like.

How has your business changed and developed since it started?

I first of all started trading at Greenwich Market and for a year now have to been to several local craft fairs in Kent. I also have a website at www.framerstamp.com and sell online.

So, where does all this takes place? What’s your workspace like?

I work on the living room table but also need quite a lot of space for stock (not in the living room)- the stamps aren’t a problem of course but for the frames and mounts take up space. I keep meaning to move to a bigger area but haven’t quite got round to this yet.

What are the best and worst bits of running your business?

The best bit is people really liking them even if they don’t buy anything. It’s very reassuring that people appreciate the idea and like the finished product and admire the work and precision involved. I also have great conversations with people at craft fairs since many of them remember some sets of stamps or even have them somewhere in the loft. The most disappointing thing is what it takes to set up online selling – setting up a website doesn’t mean you’re going to sell online it takes a lot of time and graft. In that respect I thought I would spend less time on a computer and just enjoy creating framed stamps but it hasn’t really worked out like that.

What are your hopes, plans or ambitions for the future?

I’d like to think that more people look closely at stamps and do see them as small works of art if they’ve seen my products. From a business point of view I’d like to increase my online sales which are a trickle at the moment but growing.

Finally, where can we find you online if we want to keep in touch?

My website is at www.framerstamp.com and my email is info (at) framerstamp (dot) com

Thanks so much for your time and chatting to you about your business! 

Tea & Chat with ‘Simply Ice Cream’

Tea & Chat with ‘Simply Ice Cream’

Hello! Great to have you here, the kettle’s just boiled – what would you like to drink?

A cup of tea would be lovely!

So, tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

Well my name is Sally Newall, I am 46 years old and I run a business making handmade ice cream near Ashford, Kent called Simply Ice Cream. I have been married to Robin for coming up to 19 years and we have 4 children, Jess 17, Matt 15, Tash 13 and William who’s 11

What inspired you to start your creative business?

I have always been into cooking, I travelled to Australia when I was 18 and ended up living there for 5 years where I trained as a chef, completed a business course and trained as an aerobics instructor! When I came back to the UK I took over from my mother’s business partner in the catering business she had been running since 1986. We had so many guests ask where they could buy the ice cream we were serving as dessert that I thought it would be a good idea to start making it in pots to sell into retail. The idea was that by selling a product into retail we could cut back on the catering so that I could spend more time with my husband and children on the weekends. However that has never panned out as I hadn’t realised how much marketing, PR, Sampling, attending events etc we would have to do on weekends to build brand awareness and expose the product to as many people as possible.

How did it all begin?

I set the ice cream company up in Oct 2005. Initially we trialled it in a local farm shop for 6 months from October to March – in retrospect it was a very strange time of year to launch!! However despite a very cold winter it did sell and so we then approached 3 other farm shops in 2006. We were selling the ice cream in 4 flavours to start with, honeycomb, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. We now have over 32 flavours selling into retail which includes a range of sorbets.

How has your business changed and developed since it started?

From that 1 farm shop we are now sold in Waitrose across the UK, supply around 350 outlets across the South East with our own distribution and also supply through distributors. We supply farmshops, delis, tourist attractions, theatres, airlines and food service outlets. We also supply Cook Food with their own label ice cream and late last year signed a contract with the Middle East to send product over to Saudi which is really exciting.

 

So, where does all this take place? What’s your workspace like?

When we first set up we worked from my kitchen but as the business grew we converted two large rooms in our house into a factory space. This is self-contained and not accessible from the house now. We have one room dedicated to production and the other is an office with storage!

What are the best and worst bits of running your business?

We have recently restructured the business which has been amazing. For the last 8 years my husband and I had been working up to 18 hours a day at times. (Robin helps out when he gets back from work but doesn’t work in the business on a day to day basis) the restructure means that we are gradually getting a little bit of our lives back. I am really lucky in that with the restructure we now have dedicated staff in various positions that are all doing a fantastic job. You can’t run a small business without good staff and my staff are wonderful!! I now have time to work on the business again and its future growth. Working in the freezer is probably my least favourite job but going to events and hearing feedback or getting an email from a fan makes everything worth it.

What are your hopes, plans or ambitions for the future?

Our aim is to continue growing the business. We are passionate about getting the ice cream out to as much of the UK and beyond as possible. It’s a very indulgent ice cream and unlike anything else on the market. We think everyone should try it!

 

Finally, where can we find you online if we want to keep in touch?

 

We are on Instagram @Simplyicecreamkent, Twitter @SimplyIceCream, Facebook – Simply Ice Cream, info@simplyicecream.co.uk and www.simplyicecream.co.uk

Thanks so much for your time and chatting to you about your business!

 

Tea & Chat with Katy from Mint Rainbow

Tea & Chat with Katy from Mint Rainbow

Hello! Great to have you here, the kettle’s just boiled – what would you like to drink?

Hello! Well, thanks for having me – make mine a Latte or a Diet Coke please – I have 2 small children, so I always need ALL the caffeine!

So, tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

So, Mint Rainbow is a small Kent business making handmade luxury, organic clothing in sizes Newborn all the way through to adult, with lots of opportunities for twinning and family matching! The real focus is on quality fabrics in stunning, unique prints that you just wouldn’t find on the high street.

I’m Katy and I run the business – my background is in PR, Events and Marketing which I still do bits and bobs of on a consultancy basis. I absolutely love designing and creating beautiful products for you and your family to enjoy. I genuinely do a little happy dance every single time an order comes through. I adore being a Mama to my two babies and I also love sunshine. And coffee. And cake. And Breton tops. And beaches. And rose gold jewellery. And wine. And dancing. And wine again.


What inspired you to start your creative business? How did it all begin?

After the birth of my amazing son Alfie and then three years later my beautiful Rainbow baby Evelyn Joy, I became obsessed with all things baby & child. Interiors, Clothes, Prints – you name it, I wanted it! After unsuccessfully looking for some stylish twinning leggings for myself and Evie, the idea for Mint Rainbow was born. I decided not to go back to my full time job in PR and instead started practised my sewing skills whilst freelancing. In October 2017, Mint Rainbow starting trading and we’ve gone from strength to strength since then. After a fantastic first 6 months of sales, we now even sell wholesale and have some physical shop stockists in the UK which is incredible. 

blank

How has your business changed and developed since it started?

Mint Rainbow started out as an Etsy shop selling just matching Child & Adult Leggings and we quickly developed our own website and worked on growing our social media following which is now really established with a lovely group of engaged followers – hi everyone! Since the start we have also developed more products including accessories and some bump-to-beyond Mama products that are pregnancy and breastfeeding friendly. I’ve also taken on a seamstress to work with me – the lovely Nicola- as I just couldn’t pack it all into each day with my other work commitments and my little ones. 

 

So, where does all this takes place? What’s your workspace like?

My Mint Rainbow studio started life as one sewing machine in the spare room and is now a fully operating little sewing studio based in the roof room of our family home – super handy for squeezing in work during naptimes and making sure I’m on time for nursery runs. I try to hang up creative and motivational bits in the studio like cards and prints, and pictures that my son has made – and of course it is full of stunning and colourful fabrics! I’ve also got a beautiful vintage haberdashery unit that was my late Nanas and it’s the focus of much attention on my insta feed- it’s such a beautiful bit of furniture and I’m so lucky to have it! It’s packed to the rafters with off cuts and sewing tools – check it out on insta! 

blank

What are the best and worst bits of running your business?

The best thing is having full creative and logistical control of my work which means doing only the things you love, and flexibility to be with my children – I work most evenings after their bedtimes so that I don’t miss out on precious time when they’re so little.  I also love the creative side – developing new products, choosing fabrics, photography and designing PR and marketing materials.

The worst bit is the stress haha – when you are solely responsible from everything from the accounts to the product-making to the gift wrapping to the supplies ordering, it can somethings be a lot. But the benefits so outweigh the negatives so it’s all worth it. 

What are your hopes, plans or ambitions for the future?

I’m really just hoping that the business continues to grow as it has been and that it will get me to a point where I can give up working on other projects and focus fully on Mint Rainbow. We’re still not even one year old so I need to give it time and lots of tlc! In regards to the business itself, I have so many ideas for children’s accessories, bedding, prints, and lots more clothes of course! I also have some thoughts about some other strands which are more focussed around supporting and collaborating with mothers and creative working parents – I’d love to develop skill swap opportunities, Mama Meet Ups, maybe a blog and a pod cast etc – and weave this all under the Mint Rainbow umbrella somehow. All in good time of course!

blank

Since your business is based in Kent, we’d love to have your recommendation on any hidden places or favourite shops, tearooms or other creative places you like to visit.

Ooooh there are so many lovely places in Kent –

I work in Canterbury a few days a week and love Kitch for fresh and healthy food, Refectory Kitchen for coffee and also Curzon for great films and the lovely atmosphere.

For gorgeous baby gifts focussing on the unisex and the unique – check out Moo Like a Monkey in Folkestone’s Creative Quarter – they might happen to stock Mint Rainbow too.😉

Also in the Creative Quarter is the lovely café Steep Street where I can often be found with my laptop and a coffee.

We also love taking the family to Lathe Barn, which a really charming children’s play farm with a fantastic tearoom serving the best homemade cake in Kent. They also have some little craft units on site so it’s always nice to have a little browse in those!

Finally, where can we find you online if we want to keep in touch?

Instagram – @mintrainbow_shop

Facebook – @MintRainbowShop

Website – www.mintrainbow.co.uk

Do get in touch and say hello- we love a chat 😊 

Thanks so much for your time and chatting with you about your business!