The Discovery of Coal in Kent
Geologists first speculated that there was coal beneath Kent the in 1840's but it was not until 1890 that the theory was properly investigated.
In 1880, work began at Shakespeare Cliff on a Channel Tunnel from Dover to Calais but in 1882 the government halted the work while it considered the military implications. With its workers lying idle, the company decided to drill bore holes to investigate Kent's geology and both iron ore and coal were found in 1890.
Shareholders of the Channel Tunnel Co. declined to allow the company to exploit the coal and in 1896 Arthur Burr set up the Kent Coalfields Syndicate to buy the mineral rights and then commenced Shakespeare Colliery at the old tunnel workings.
During the next 25 years the Kent coalfield came close to being abandoned on numerous occasions. From 1896 more than 45 test bores were carried out in east Kent and at least 10 collieries started yet it took 16 years of continual investment before any commercial coal was raised to the surface.
Part of the problem was that the coal was down very deep, in thin undulating seams and was difficult to mine. More serious were the vast pockets of water held in the chalk greensand beds. They provided a constant stream of water into mine workings, often as high as 250 gallons (1135 litres) a minute. This taxed pumps to their limits leaving miners wading in water and in constant fear of the pumps failing. There was also a danger of flash floods, which, on occasion, killed miners and filled 1,000 feet shafts to surface level within minutes.