Thomas Braddyll and Haswell Colliery.
Before 1821 the Durham coal trade had been a virtual monopoly in the hands of a few influential coal-owning families. They felt secure in the knowledge that Winch, a principal geologist of the time, had assured them that if coal did exist beneath the magnesian limestone it was of inferior quality and not worth extracting.
In 1810 a bore hole put down at Hetton threw some doubt on his assertion, and, although the first attempt to sink a shaft failed, a second attempt by Messrs Mowbray, Cochrane and Baker, succeeded in reaching coal measures which were of the very highest quality.
This discovery meant that underneath the limestone lay a 'hidden coalfield' ready for exploitation by anyone who might care to subsidise the venture.
The Braddyll family - Thomas as a boy with his family.
Painted in 1789 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Thomas Braddyll was one of the first in the field and when news reached him of the find he left his home at Conishead Priory, rebuilt by him at a cost of £140,000 and came to Haswell. Braddyll was rich and influential, owning a number of ironworks in Ulverston and the Lake District. He added to these estates great tracts of land at Haswell, planting woodlands and building a house for himself in the area on which now stands Haswell Lodge.
He began to sink a shaft at South Hetton in 1831 and at the same time made an attempt to put one down at Haswell. The Hutton seam at South Hetton was reached before the attempt at Haswell was abandoned and the first colliery in the Easington district was opened. The Durham coal-owners openly showed their hostility and anger at his success and Braddyll suffered great opposition and many insults.
The luck that had been with Braddyll at South Hetton deserted him when he engaged in a number of unwise coal speculations. If he had made enemies in Durham he also had them in Ulverston. He borrowed large sums of money, and more, in an effort to recoup his losses. However, despite his efforts his creditors foreclosed and by Order of the Court of Chancery, dated July 27th 1847, all his holdings and estates were directed to be offered for sale by public auction.
This auction took place at the Braddyll Arms Inn in Ulverston on October 19th and 20th 1848. His home at Conishead and all his lands were sold. The Baker family bought most of his farms at Haswell and thereby added greatly to their estate. The Haswell Coal Company bought some land and his Haswell Home, The Lodge, which became the residence for their viewer and agent.
Thomas Braddyll became and died a pauper. The woodlands he had planted were felled during the first world war and the colliery houses that bore his name have been demolished. After changing hands several times Conishead Priory was bought in 1929 by the Durham Miners Welfare Committee. In 1972 the Durham Miners tenure at Conishead came to an end and the house and contents were auctioned off. The house stood empty and neglected until 1976. Conishead Priory is now the home of Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre, an international Buddhist College and the Mother Centre of Kadampa Buddhism.