Iconic Longwall Pioneer, Matthew Spedding, Passes
Matt Spedding, for many years the President of Dowty Corporation, based in Zelionople, PA and one of the major manufacturers of longwall mining machinery, passed away on April 4, 2023.
Matt was well-known and respected throughout the coal mining industry.
He was one of the pioneers in promoting longwall mining in the U.S. in the early days of American longwalling, and became an iconic figure as he contributed so much to the advancement of longwall technology from the early days to the highly advanced system of coal mining it is today.
Born on October 17, 1927, Matt was the second son of Joseph and Sarah Jane Spedding, nee Clementson. He is predeceased by his parents; brothers, Mark, Thomas, Joseph; sister Elizabeth; grandson Michael Bruce Goettman, and beloved wife Hilda, and son Paul.
His Dad, Joe, wasn’t exactly pleased but Matt followed in his footsteps anyway, starting as a mining apprentice in 1943 with the National Coal Board (NCB) later known as British Coal and working in the Cannock Chase Area. The NCB paid for his education at Cannock Chase Mining College. He was dubbed “gaffers boy” and after the shift would often have to defend himself from bullies at the pithead as the union frowned upon its members going into management. Matt worked at Walsall Wood Colliery for further management training and experience. The next pit he went to was West Cannock No. 5 where he was a shotfirer and deputy then on to Coppice Colliery, where he was appointed overman in charge of an underground district.
Another promotion took him to Chatterly Whitfield Colliery, near Stoke-On-Trent, where he was Undermanager. Next, his travels took him for a short stint as Assistant Manager at Hafod Colliery, near Wrexham. He was offered a further promotion to the Colliery Manager position at Point of Ayr Colliery, Gresford, in North Wales. Both of his children were born there and it was Hilda’s favorite place so the decision to move was an easy one.
After eight years at Point of Ayr, Matt was appointed to the important position of Agent Manager then General Manager of Haig Colliery in Workington, Cumberland. While enjoying the challenge of his work very much, Matt saw the writing on the wall for the future of the mining industry in the UK, so he started looking for work elsewhere. He had two offers of positions that interested him, one in Rhodesia and the other in the USA. Flipping a coin to choose, USA won and he moved with his family to Cranberry Township, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on January 4th 1969.
Joining Dowty Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Dowty group, he held successive positions of Sales Manager, Vice President then President. Surrounding himself with other well-known and highly experienced mining personalities such as Harry Martin, Bill Harrison, and Alan Peacock, with Matt at the helm, Dowty won a significant share of the U.S. market for longwall face conveyor equipment and roof supports. From that time, longwall mining production increased from 2% of underground coal mining to 60%. Matt led the company through the eras of early chock-type supports, to chock-shields, to modern 2-leg shields.
In 1979, Matt was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his outstanding contribution to British commerce, which was a proud moment indeed. The award was personally presented by the Queen to Matt at Buckingham Palace and Hilda with daughter, Jane, travelled with him to London to witness the memorable occasion. He retired from Dowty Corporation as Chairman in 1992.
Matt also served as Chairman of Owens Manufacturing Company in Bristol, VA and on the Group Board of Meco International. After Matts “retirement” he joined the Oldenburg Group, where he held the position of Vice President-Mining Products, Chairman of Stamler Corporation (an Oldenburg Group Company) and in 1996 was named Chairman and CEO of the Mining Division, which included branches in England, Australia and Mexico.
Throughout his long life, Matt received many honors and was a member of several organizations including: The Masons, and McCandless Lions Club. He was a Legion of Honor, Fifty Year Member of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. Since 1983, he was an active member of the King Coal Club and the Old Timers Club, both of which are by invitation only, confirming the high admiration of his peers.
Matt had a great work ethic, lots of drive, personality, and considerable knowledge of his industry. He suffered no fools and at the same time was a caring and compassionate person with a unique sense of humor. He had considerable experience in the application of mining machinery in coal mines and did an unrivalled job in contributing to the mining industry that he loved. Throughout his life, Hilda was often by his side providing love, support and encouragement.
Matt did not want a “funeral” saying, “buy my friends lunch at Rico’s my favorite Italian restaurant”. On April 15, 2023, eighty of his friends congregated there and he would have been so pleased at the turnout!! Guests shared some lovely tributes. There were tears but many laughs!
By his own admission Matt had a great life: he loved his family, made a great contribution to the coal industry, had the opportunity to travel internationally, and was honored by Queen Elizabeth II. Throughout his career he also met Prince Phillip and Prince Charles. As Matt would say, “not bad for a Geordie pit boy from Cannock.”