It is assumed that the Romans quarried stone here as they did for lead on the Mendips. The pennant sandstone in Nailsea, Portbury and many areas of Bristol gave rise to coal mining which flourished locally for some four hundred years.
The earliest date for coal mining in Nailsea is 1507 when coal was being transported to fire the limekiln at Yatton. At this period the coal would only have been mined where it outcropped near the surface, but by the mid nineteenth century the Golden Valley Pit operated at a depth of six hundred and twenty feet. Whilst some seams were up to three feet six inches thick, others were only eighteen inches and barely viable. The last pit closed in 1882 in the face of competition from larger mines in South Wales and the North of England where the coal was easier and cheaper to extract.
Several examples of winding and pumping houses remain, three as ruins, two as conversions into dwellings. The most obvious is the small winding tower and horse whim in the Millennium Park, but of national importance is the Middle Engine Pit complex in Golden Valley, now a scheduled monument.
The abundance of good quality coal attracted a glassworks to Nailsea in 1788.
In the 18th and 19th century Nailsea was a substantial producer of glass and gave its name to a particular type of coloured glass which has become highly sought after by collectors around the world. (There is a fine collection of Nailsea Glass on display at Clevedon Court – a National Trust Property about 3 miles from Nailsea). Established on the open heath against the Nailsea / Wraxall border, John Robert Lucas initially built two cones – one for bottle making, the other for the production of window glass for the so-called Industrial Revolution. His works became the fourth largest glassworks in Britain covering some six acres between the Royal Oak Public House and Nailsea Park. Crown, cylinder and plate glass were produced, along with a limited amount of coloured. However, it was the 'end of shift' domestic ware and novelty pieces made by the skilled and apprentice blowers that have accorded Nailsea glass its international recognition.
When the glassworks closed in 1873, and the last mine within the following ten years, most of the skilled workers moved away and Nailsea reverted to a largely agricultural community as well as having a vibrant cider making industry. After the initial decline in the population, it remained fairly static until the middle of the last century. In the late 1950', Nailsea, a village which had inherited an unusually large population, was selected by Somerset County Council as a site for a new town.
Over the last thirty years, Nailsea has grown from a village into a small town with a present population around 18,000.
Janet Woods remembers her early experiences of Nailsea: Born in Bristol in May
1939, I lived in...
Janet Woods writes: I must have started
school, aged five in 1944. I could read before I...
Richard Simmons (now a musician and playing the mandolin in the photograph) sent in his childhood...
The Tithe Barn, home of schooling for over 200 years, is a wonderful resource for learning about the past. Curriculum linked resources and activities are available across all key stages.