Rat Pit photograph puzzle
Below is a blog post written by Anthony Price, one of our team of wonderful volunteers working at Shropshire Archives. The photograph itself is such a bleak and evocative landscape and we hope you enjoy reading about the possible story behind the image. It’s also an example of the great lengths that the volunteers go to in order to provide accurate and helpful captions to the photographs. Over to you….
At present I am trying to identify photographs in a box of assorted pictures. One Christmas, I found the picture below. On the back was written ‘Rat Hall’. It took until mid May to solve the riddle of the picture.
I could find no reference in the archives or the internet to Rat Hall. Looking closer at the picture, on the far right there is a railway line with signals. These signals were only found on the GWR, so that meant that the site had to be on a railway line operated by GWR. I tried looking at all 25inch to the mile maps along the railway lines run by Great Western in Shropshire, but nothing looked right.
I put the photograph to the back of my mind and went on to other photographs. I was trying to identify a photograph of pit head gear, by looking through a book about mining, from Cardiff library.
I came across a picture of ‘Rat Pit’, 1899, with a caption adding that it adjoined the railway line between Wellington and Oakengates, (this was a GWR line). There was also reference to a report from L C Lloyd in Transactions of the Shropshire Archeological Society 1947.
I then tried searching for Rat Pit and found a reference to Rat Pit in The Shropshire Caving and Mining Club Magazine, together with a further photograph of Rat Pit, which had in the background the same hill as my photograph.
I looked at the current OS maps for roads similar to the road in the photograph. Adjoining a railway line and between Wellington and Oakenagates I found one possible site. So I drove along the road which runs from Hadley to Wombridge and found the road ticked all the boxes. The only problem was that on either side of the road were large holes and the pit mounds had gone.
I then checked every large scale OS map from 1840, until I came to the 1901 map, which matched the photograph exactly.
Behind one of the mounds were a row of houses (‘one up, one downs’) called Ragfield Row. These were demolished in 1930’s. I looked on ‘Find My Past’ for the families on the 1911 census living at Ragfield Row. There was only one family with young children. They were the Dean family. It can be argued the woman in the picture was Mrs Dean with two of her children, Ethel and Mabel, who were aged 1 & 2 years, and that she was returning home from shopping in Hadley.
While I was doing this research I found the pit ash and spoil was taken from this area to level the new airfield which was being built at RAF Cosford in the mid 1930’s. This could explain where the mounds went.