village of Vobster is
situated just north of the Nettlebridge valley, seven kilometres
north-west of Frome. Its rural tranquility belies an industrial past
at the heart of the Somerset Coalfield. This area of Mendip contained
both coal mines and stone quarries which were working up until the
The Vobster area lies north of the Beacon Hill Pericline and is underlain
by highly contorted and faulted Coal Measures. In places, the Carboniferous
rocks have been so severely folded that they have been overturned
on themselves to form a recumbent structure known as a nappe.
Here, the Carboniferous Limestone which forms the 'nose' of the nappe
has been thrust over the younger Coal Measures. The isolated knolls
of Carboniferous Limestone in Lily Batch Wood, Luckington and Soho
are also nappe structures.
Aerial view of the Vobster area (click to enlarge view).
North of Mells, the Carboniferous rocks are unconformably overlain
by the gently dipping Jurassic Charmouth Mudstone and the Inferior
Oolite. The higher ground of Mells Down and Kingsdown forms an escarpment
of Great Oolite strata.
The masses of Carboniferous Limestone around Upper Vobster were worked
for aggregate but closed in the 1950s. One of the quarries, Vobster
Quay is now flooded and is used as an inland diving centre.
The Coal Measures contain thin coal seams, some of which have been
worked. Many small collieries and pits were worked around the area;
the main pits being Vobster, Vobster Old, Vobster Breach, Newbury
and Mells collieries. None of these were very profitable and they
were all closed down in the late 1800s or early 1900s with the
exception of Mells Colliery which was operational until 1943.
The site of Newbury Colliery is now an industrial area, but the winding
and pumping engine houses still stand, as do the colliery offices.
Little remains at the other collieries apart from a few spoil tips,
except for Vobster Breach Colliery where the remains of two banks
of coking ovens can be seen. Most have now collapsed, but approximately
12 remain intact although now seriously overgrown.
(click to enlarge view).
tramways and railways
Several old canals, tramways and railways sprang up to serve the
coal mines and quarries. The earliest scheme was a canal through
the Nettlebridge valley, linking the Somerset coalfields with the
woollen mills of Frome, and to link with a proposed Bristol to Poole
canal. In the end, only about 13 km of canal was cut and the Bristol–Poole
canal never materialised. In 1803 the work was abandoned, but the
line of the canal can still be seen just south of Vobster Cross.
The Newbury collieries were connected by rail to the broad gauge
Great Western Railway in 1857. It ran close to the route of the Somerset
Coal Canal, and in places used the old canal bed. A narrow gauge
tramway was laid to connect the railway with the pits in the Nettlebridge
valley to the south. Part of the tramway, which is now followed by
a footpath, ran along an inclined plane just east of the pub in Vobster.
Map of old collieries, quarries, tramways, railways and canals
(click to enlarge view).