William Stenson and the Birth of Coalville

William Stenson, the initiator of Whitwick Colliery and founder of Coalville, was officially recognised by the laying of a memorial stone in 1999 on the site of his former home “Coalville House” by the then Chairman of the District Council in the presence of some of his descendants.

William Stenson was baptised in nearby Coleorton in Ashby in 1773 and gained his early mining experience locally before moving to Derbyshire in the early 19th century, where he enhanced his reputation in the coal-mining industry. He then moved to Coleford in the Forest of Dean where he became mine bailiff for Thomas Halford and David Mushet’s colliery company and subsequently formed a partnership with Arnold Bailey at Bixlade. He stayed in Coleford until about 1822.

On his return later to Leicestershire, a newspaper in 1827 reported that;
“Coals are about to be got at a place called Long Lane in Whitwick. The coal is the same as that at Swannington and is the best quality. ………The name of the gent who is proprietor of the colliery is Stenson, and he is esteemed a first rate mineralogist and engineer.”

In partnership with Whetstone and Smith-Harris, two shafts were sunk and a 6 feet thick seam of coal was reached by 1828. They were then faced with the problem of transporting coal to the market in Leicester and, in absence of no satisfactory economical ways to cart the coal to Leicester, Stenson consulted the great railway engineer George Stephenson and his son Robert Stephenson with a plan for a steam-locomotive hauled railway. Thus in 1830 he became the initiator of one of the world’s earliest railways, the Leicester and Swannington Railway.

George Stephenson., impressed with Stenson’s achievement, formed a partnership with associates in the Liverpool to Manchester Railway Co and purchased an adjacent estate at Snibston in order to sink his own Snibston mine near to Stenson’s Long Lane Colliery. Snibston Colliery Co..and William Stenson’s Colliery Co., later known as Whitwick Colliery, rapidly, attracted a growing workforce to area and in 1833, with the arrival of the railway, the town of Coalville was born.

The impact on the surrounding area was quite dramatic and his efforts were officially recognised at a dinner held in his honour at the Bell Hotel in Leicester at which he was presented with a silver cup carrying an inscription – “Presented to Mr. William Stenson, by his friends residing in the Town and County of Leicester, as a testimony of their respect and esteem for the skill, talent and perseverance in opening the Leicestershire Coalfield.”

William Stenson and his wife Hannah, whose maiden name was Varnham, had nine children: Rebecca, born at Coleorton in about 1797; Charlotte, born in Coleorton in about 1800; Hannah, born at Shipley in 1803; Thomas Alexander born in about 1805; William Jnr., born at Shipley in 1807; Selena, born in Riddington in 1810; Caroline, born at Coleford in 1813; John Forester, born in about 1815 in the Forest of Dean; and Ann, whose birth date and place are still be found.

On their return to Leicestershire, William and Hannah began to worship at Hugglescote, the only Baptist Church in the neighbourhood at that time. The Coalville Baptist Church with its School, which he helped to found, was initially under Hugglescote’s control but in 1855 it separated in order to take control of its own affairs.

The first official record of the Stensons was made in the 1841 census for Long Lane when he was 65 and his wife Hannah was 64. They were both shown as being born in Leicestershire and his occupation was given as Engineer. Hannah was killed in a carriage accident at Heather on 18 November 1843. In the 1851 census William Stenson was recorded in Coalville, aged 76, described as Coalmaster and Farmer and in the 1861 census, aged 88, as Retired coal proprietor. Living with him at these times were individual members of his family, the Turners and Burgesses.

It would seem that William and Hannah retained their allegiance with Hugglescote Baptists, although William’s son William and his wife Letitia were inaugural members of new Coalville Baptist Church, for when William Senior died on 27 November 1861 he was buried in the Hugglescote Baptist burial ground, where his memorial can still be found.

In his obituary published in the local press it was reported,
“The whole country knows that Mr. Stenson was the originator of Whitwick Colliery many years ago, what he made of it, and how celebrated he left it; and thousands through him have been provided with their daily bread, and thousands more to this moment continue to enjoy a warm fireside. No man can question that Whitwick, directly or indirectly, has grown into importance and profited greatly”.

In his will he left houses to the use of his daughter Hannah Turner and family, to the use of his daughter Rebecca Tugby and her family, to the use of his daughter Caroline Burgess and family and a further one to the use of the four children of his deceased daughter Charlotte Stenson. Land was left to his grand-son William Turner and his grand- daughter Caroline Turner. Two 8-day clocks were also left to these two grand-children and his silver stopwatch to his grandson John Stenson Turner. The rest of his estate was to be used by his Executors and trustees to provide his son William Stenson with an annuity of £10 per annum for 14 years and the rest was to be divided into seven shares for his children Rebecca Tugby, Ann Butcher, Hannah Turner, Selena Grundy, John Stenson and Caroline Burgess and the seventh to the four children of his late daughter Charlotte Stenson. The Silver cup was left to his son William Stenson and in a codicil his son Thomas Stenson was left an annuity of 6 shillings for the rest of his life.

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