A partnership agreement was signed on 24 January 1791 to sink a pit in a field called Broad Close in Timsbury. Broad Close is number 142 as shown on this extract from the 1784 map of Timsbury. This is the area we now know as Upper Conygre. The two dots shown on this map might even show the position of the shafts which became Upper Conygre Pit. The original partners were Samborne Palmer, Jacob Mogg, William and John Crang (jointly), Alexander Adams and James Savage. Each of the partners was active in the development of coal mining in our local area. They were known as the Timsbury Coal Proprieters.
But Broad Close was in fact owned by a Mrs Smith and was used as pasture before 1791. In fact, the scene in 1784 at the crossroads looking towards Upper Conygre would have been very different to that of a few years later once the mining had started or the view we have today. Not only was Broad Close used for pasture, the plots of land to the south were orchards. Broad Close was also a large field bounded by North Road, the Avenue, Newmans Lane and what we know now as the path south of the cemetery. Also the route of what we know as The Avenue was very different going from the crossroads towards the church.
However, Mrs Smith is also the Proprietor of the Coal. So, what is the connection between Mrs Smith and the partnership that started mining at Upper Conygre Pit?
Mary Barnes Palmer married Bartholomew Smith in 1769. A brief investigation into the family history of both Mary and Bartholomew gives a clear indication of the social status of both of these people.
Mary Barnes Palmer was the daughter of Thomas Palmer and Mary Barnes. Thomas Palmer was a member of the Samborne Palmer family who lived in Timsbury House, the Elizabethan manor house. He was Lord of the Manor. On his death in 1766, Thomas passed a third of the Timsbury estate to his daughter Mary. In fact, according to the schedule of the 1784 map of Timsbury, she owned 20.1% of all the land in the parish. The other major land owners were Samborne Palmer (19.6%) and John Crang (11.6%).
Bartholomew Deeke was rector of Timsbury for 42 years between 1689 and 1731. His daughter, Mary, married John Smith. It was their son Bartholomew who married Mary Barnes Palmer in 1769. Bartholomew and Mary’s son, Bartholomew Deeke Smith was also a rector, in Bradford-upon-Avon.
Mary Smith’s 1/3 of the Timsbury Estate included two other important pieces of land which are connected to the development of coal mining in Timsbury. She owned Purlinch which was the site of Lower Conygre Pit. She also owned the Withy Mills Estate and sold land below the farm to the embryonic Somerset Coal Canal Company.
By the time of this mid-19th century map Broad Close had become the fully functional Conygre Colliery. But the colliery was designed in a way to minimize the industrial view from Timsbury Manor. The pit chimney was castellated. Also, a new boundary was built which included two parallel stone walls with the intervening space planted with trees to hide the view of the pit buildings. Part of the stone wall still exists alongside The Avenue. The route of The Avenue was changed. In fact, The Avenue used to be called Coalpit Lane. The route used to come south from Upper Conygre Pit almost in front of Timsbury House and St Mary’s Church. It was moved east to join up with Church Hill creating the significant bend in the road just north of the cemetery.
Walking through St Mary’s Church, the large monument to Mary Barnes and Bartholomew Smith is a reminder of the person who was actively involved in the development of coal mining in Timsbury and the change of the pasture in Broad Close to the industrial site that is Upper Conygre.