This is a wonderful article from local history rapscallion Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler which I think readers will really, really enjoy. Peter has developed a reputation hereabouts for being something of the iconoclast; formerly he has not pulled punches in his explorations of mining and industrial history, often to the surprise of readers.
Continuing this theme, Peter has explored an altogether more heartening history. It is, as ever, a wonderful, though-provoking and prescient article, and I thank him for that most profusely.
If you have any comment to make on this article, or wish to discuss the points it raises, please don’t hesitate to contact me – either add your view here at the foot of the post, or mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.
The Fair Lady, Coppice Colliery
Unlike the Harrison family, the Hanbury family were landed gentry and their line can be traced back prior to 1549. Robert Hanbury, who died in 1601, was an ironmonger in Wolverhampton and is buried in the chancel at St. Peter’s Church. Their involvement locally came when Francis Hanbury married Elizabeth Hussey and acquired parts of the Norton estate, and thus eventually, along with the Hussey family began the mining for coal on Brownhills Common.
The fortunes of the Hanbury family seem to have fluctuated, and it was William Harrison Jnr who took over the lease of the Brownhills Collieries from William Hanbury, on the land owned by Hussey, around 1850. In the mid 1840s the Hanbury family managed to buy back the title of Lord of the Manor of Norton.
It was in 1871 that Robert William Hanbury  inherited the estate, and went on to acquire Ilam Hall in Derbyshire. In 1893 the Coppice Colliery was opened, but on his death in 1903 his estate passed to his wife. By February 1904 Mrs Hanbury had remarried and became Mrs Bowring Hanbury. It appears that the late MP had made a simple will that was contested by his nieces, and eventually, on appeal, went before The Lord Chancellor in 1905. The estate was deemed her absolute property during her lifetime and to be passed to his nieces after her death.
Mrs Bowring Hamilton lived at Ilam Hall until 1926 when the estate was sold, and she moved to the family residence, 5 Belgrave Square London.
On her death in March of 1931 the Birmingham Mail says…A delicate and spontaneous compliment was once paid by the miners of Heath Hayes, to the late Mrs Bowring Hanbury, who was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London, on Saturday….Coppice Colliery, Heath Hayes… Mrs Hanbury turned the first sod in 1892 when the pit was sunk. She was a strikingly beautiful and vivacious women, and became so popular with the mining community in the village that the men wanted to name the pit after her, and called it the “Fair Lady”. It is still known as such throughout the Chase District.
Considering Ilam Hall is a long way from Heath Hayes the Fair Lady seemed to make regular visits to the village.
In July 1904 when she visited with her new husband, the Lichfield Mercury reports that the village was gay with bunting from one end to the other, and even the poorest cottager had decorated the front of his dwelling in honour of this occasion. Mr and Mrs Bowring Hanbury, who were accompanied by Mr and Mrs Charles Fisher, the manager of Fair Lady Colliery, had an enthusiastic reception as they drove to the Colliery, which is their property, and which was Named by the miners the Fair Lady after Mrs Hanbury, who cut the first sod when the Colliery was opened 12 years ago. Opposite the handsome mission church, which was erected recently, was displayed a pretty decoration, “Welcome to our master.” At the Primitive Methodist Chapel, the stone laying ceremony which was graced by the presence of Mr and Mrs Hanbury, and at the church also, handsome bouquets were presented, and a pretty one of cottage garden flowers, bearing the motto “with love from those who work for you.” was handed from the crowd……Mrs Bowling Hamilton witnessed the arrival at the surface of the surface of 600 men employed in the mine, and were afterwards photographed amidst the groups of colliers as they came from the Pit. The visitors took a journey on a locomotive that bears the name Fair Lady. Both this and other engines were decorated, as were the horses and the tubs working on the pit bank.
The Fair Lady was a supporter of the Red Cross, and when in London she would donate articles for sale at the auctions in aid of the Charity, often purchasing them herself and placing them back in the auction.
In September of 1913 a deputation of miners asked her to intervene in a dispute where two miners had been dismissed. She did not conceded to the sacking of the manager but the two employees were reinstated.
In December of 1905 the Fairy Lady gained nationwide notoriety being involved in robbery at Euston Station while travelling back to Ilam with her Maid. There had been a little time to spare, the smaller particles of luggage were placed on the seat of the compartment in which they were to travel. They scarcely lost sight of it for a moment, but a glance at the luggage just before taking off revealed that a portion was missing…. Unfortunately it was at first impossible quickly and accurately decide what had been lost, so the thieves had a week in which to get rid of their plunder.
In February 1906 the Pall Mall Gazette…Despite the increase from £200 to £600 (later £1000) in the reward that has been offered, that is little hope of recovery of the £8000 worth of Jewels that were stolen from Mrs Bowling Handbury at Euston station a few days before Christmas.
Scotland Yard noted…Simultaneously with the robbery there disappeared from London a well-known jewel thief who had served more than one term of imprisonment. This man, it is believed transfered of the jewels to United States…… There is every reason to suppose he and his accomplices got safely away to America, where it is the practice of expertise to break up the jewels, melt the gold, and so mix with others of similar description and size so that is impossible afterwards to identify them….
The CCMHS have an excellent publication with more tecnical information concerning the Leacroft and Coppice Collieries. However, again I would take issue with the idea that Mrs Bowring Hanbury’s actions were typical of the ‘family coal owners’ in the Cannock Chase District. For me the comparison does her an injustice.
Around the mid 1800s the ‘family’ concerns were becoming Companies with the ‘family’ being major shareholders and providing much of the board members. The William Harrison Co Ltd had been formed in 1890, and the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery was a Limited Company in 1865. After the Fair Lady’s death the Pit became Coppice Colliery Limited.