In the early part of the 18th century, Somercotes and the surrounding hamlets were still very small and rural, although mining was becoming more intensive, particularly around Birchwood. As the mining industry and other local businesses in Alfreton developed, pressure for a transport infrastructure developed. The latter half of the 18th century saw the development of the Nottingham – Newhaven turnpike, which cut across Somercotes Common, and the construction of the Cromford Canal, which in turn attracted investment in heavy industry. The late 18th and early 19th centuries would see the rise of extensive coal and ironstone mining, together with an ironworks and associated industries. Throughout this period the hamlets of Leabrooks, Pye Bridge, Birchwood, Riddings and particularly Somercotes grew at an ever increasing pace.
1. THE NOTTINGHAM – NEWHAVEN TURNPIKE, 1759
The main highway from Alfreton through Somercotes and Pye Bridge did not always follow the same route that it does today. The original Alfreton-Nottingham Road ran via Flowery Leys Lane, over Cotes Park towards the bottom of Birchwood Lane, over Cockshutt Lane and eventually joined the current B600 at Lower Somercotes, across from the Black Horse Inn near to the junction with Cinder Road.
In the mid-1700s it was obvious to the property owners and businessmen in the area that the road system around Alfreton was inadequate, and not fit for purpose, considering also that this was becoming an important industrial centre.
In 1759, the interested parties obtained an Act of Parliament for the improvement or construction of the carriageways around Alfreton. The Act was titled “An Act for Repairing and Widening the Roads from Chapel-Bar near the West End of the Town of Nottingham to New-Haven and from the Four Lane Ends near Oakerthorpe to Ashborne, and from the Cross Post on Wirksworth Moor, to join the Road leading from Chesterfield to Chapel-en-le-Frith, at or near to Longton; and from Selston to Annesley-Woodhouse” This Act of Parliament expired in 1879.
The Act made certain provisions for the highway, one of which was that the carriageway should be of a width not less than 40 feet. The Act also made exception for roads constructed over common land for which the land could be used without compensation.
The Turnpike Trustees, who met at the George Hotel, Alfreton, made use of these provisions, and instead of following the road along its original course via Birchwood, decided to construct a new highway from Flowery Leys Lane, over Somercotes Common, directly to join the old road at the Black Horse Inn. This one single decision effectively created the opportunity for the development of land situated adjacent to the new road over Somercotes Common, which initially became known as Upper Somercotes, before it became the centre of the village in the mid to late 1800s. In consequence of this decision though, the hamlets of Pennytown, Muckram and to some extent Birchwood, became isolated. Lower Birchwood itself survives only due to Birchwood Lane, connecting the hamlets of Somercotes and South Normanton.
The Trustees were able, under the Act of Parliament, to charge a toll for using the highway. They did this by leasing out the right to charge the tolls, although the charges and rules were strictly enforced by Parliament. Such leases were auctioned locally. A toll gate existed at the end of Flowery Leys Lane, Alfreton, and also near the Black Horse Inn at Lower Somercotes.
Following is an extract from a Notice regarding a meeting of the Alfreton Turnpike Trustees where an auction of Tolls took place. It was published in the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald dated 23 September 1874.
"Alfreton and Derby and Alfreton, Higham and Tibshelf Turnpike Roads
Notice is hereby given that meetings of the Trustees of the above mentioned Turnpike Roads will be held at the George Hotel, Alfreton in the County of Derby on Thursday the 22nd day of October next at 12 o’clock at noon for general purposes, and at the said meetings the Tolls arising at the Toll Gates and Chains upon the said roads respectively will be let by auction to the best bidders for a term of one year to commence on the 1st day of January 1875 in the manner directed by several Acts of Parliament, passed and now in force… (The Notice carries on at this point)
Josh. Geo. Wilson
Clerk to the Trustees of the said Roads. Alfreton 21st September 1874".
By the time the above Notice had appeared in the Derbyshire Times, many Turnpike Trusts had ceased operation. The turnpikes were becoming a problem for the industrialists who saw them as an obstacle to free trade. Combined with the effect of the expanding railway network, many Turnpike Trusts would close long before the Alfreton Trust.
When Derbyshire County Council was formed in 1889, (under the Local Governments Act of 1888), it took over the management of the road system, and in turn Alfreton Urban District Council became responsible for the upkeep of the Alfreton-Mansfield and Alfreton-Nottingham Turnpike Roads, at least up to the County border, although tolls were no longer being charged.
Although the history of the road numbering system commonly used today is a little complicated, the main “A” roads were developed from around 1920, and part of the original turnpike road which ran from Alfreton to Watnall, a distance of some 12.1 miles, was designated the A613. This was still the same road that ran through Somercotes and Pye Bridge and was locally named “Nottingham Road”, “Somercotes Hill” and “Main Road, Pye Bridge”.
The construction of the M1 Motorway, particularly with its junctions close to Watnall and Alfreton, changed the level of traffic on the A613 and around 1970 the Department of Transport decided to downgrade the road and changed its designation to the B600.
Two distinctive legacies of the Turnpike Act can still be seen today. The Turnpike Trustees were required to erect mileposts within their parish along the route. One is located in the centre of Alfreton at the old George Hotel [as this is where the Trustees held their meetings] and states that Alfreton is “0 MILES”, the other is located on Somercotes Hill, across from the junction with Windmill Rise. This milepost has a Grade II English Heritage listing [ID. 79170] and has the inscription “ALFRETON PARISH/NOTTM 14 MILES/ALFRN 2 MILES”. It is the only structure listed by English Heritage within the current boundaries of Somercotes Parish.
PHOTO: Alfreton Hall, originally built about 1725
2. THE PINXTON BRANCH OF THE CROMFORD CANAL, 1790’s
Such was the impact of mining for coal and ironstone within the Parish that a branch of the Cromford Canal was constructed from Ironville to Pinxton, passing through Pye Bridge. This not only enabled the Butterley Company to transport their raw materials more easily from their coal and ironstone mines in Somercotes to the forges at Butterley and Codnor Park, but for other mine owners in general to transport their goods by barge throughout the country’s expanding network of canals.
The Pinxton Branch ran from the northerly end of Codnor Park Reservoir through to a wharf built at Pinxton, a distance of some three miles.
Pye Bridge at the time was a small hamlet located directly on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Its origins are not well documented but the Rolleston family had had possession of much of the land there since the early 16th century. A Deed dated 1597 refers to a corn mill located at Pye Bridge and is simply referred to in the document as “Pie Milne”. A map dated 1821 shows a mill and a building opposite [likely to be the Dog & Doublet Inn] and not much else.
The Derby Mercury of 18 December 1788 reports on a meeting held at the Peacock Inn, Oakerthorpe regarding the proposals for the canal: “CROMFORD CANAL – At a numerous meeting held at the house of Peter Kendal, the sign of the Peacock, near Alfreton, in the county of Derby, on Monday the 15th Day of December 1788, of the Gentlemen interested in making and maintaining a NAVIGABLE CUT or CANAL, from Langley Bridge, in the county of Nottingham, (and there to join with the present Erewash Canal) to Cromford, in the county of Derby; and also in making and maintaining a NAVIGABLE CUT or CANAL to Pinxton Mill, in the county of Derby, to join with the CUT or CANAL above described, at a place called Codnor Park Mill, in the county of Derby”. The report carried on with details of the subscriptions and share allocation, but clearly shows the intention of creating the Pinxton Branch. The Parliamentary Bill for the construction of the canal was passed without much comment on Monday May 25th 1789.
The main canal was opened in the August of 1794 and was initially a success, despite having cost twice the amount estimated for the construction. The Pinxton Branch was probably completed shortly afterwards. Several wharves were constructed on the Pinxton Branch, including one at Pye Bridge. It primarily carried coal and iron ore from the many collieries scattered along the route, and also pottery from the Pinxton Pottery factory. Along with the easy access to the coal and ironstone seams, the canal would have been one of the reasons why Thomas Saxilby & Company chose to locate their ironworks at Pye Bridge, a decision that would have an enormous impact on the district.
In 1852, following an Act of Parliament, the Cromford canal was purchased by the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction Railway, who took over the running of the canal. Soon after, they leased out the canal in a joint agreement with the Midland Railway and the London & North Western Railway, which saw an immediate decline in traffic for the waterway. The Midland Railway owned the track which ran almost parallel to the canal along the whole of its route, and much of the freight that it carried was transferred to the railway. It did not, however, lose all of its cargo and continued to operate. In 1870, the Midland Railway took full control of the Cromford Canal.
PHOTO: The Canal Bridge at Pye Bridge
By the late 1890s parts of the Pinxton Branch were becoming unusable. The canal was losing water through mining subsidence and the length from Pye Bridge to Pinxton became unnavigable. However, the length between Pye Bridge and Ironville continued to be used, particularly for the transportation of chemicals from the company owned by James Oakes and Kempson’s, which was situated by the side of the canal. They preferred this method of transport and this part of the canal remained in use until the 1930's.
The Butterley Tunnel was permanently closed in 1900, severing the link between Cromford and Ironville. Although the canal was used extensively by the Butterley Company for their Ironville works, by 1944 it had mostly been abandoned. The last part of the canal, a half mile stretch to Langley Mill, was finally closed in 1962. After closure, the canal was taken over by the British Waterways Board and acquired by Derbyshire County Council in 1974.
3. ALFRETON POOR HOUSE, SLEETMOOR LANE, 1804
In mediaeval England the poor were often looked after by the Church, whose Christian duty was to support those who, for whatever reason, fell on hard times. By the turn of the 16th century, one quarter of the church income of Alfreton was paid out to relieve the poor within the manor. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, and the subsequent sale of Crown lands, no provision was made for the poor of the parish.
This scenario played out throughout the land, to the extent that often violence erupted between those who were well-off and those who were not, and vagrancy became all too common. Eventually, the problem became such an issue that the first English Poor Law was passed in 1601, during the reign of Elizabeth I. This effectively formilised previous practices of poor relief contained in the “Act for the Relief of the Poor” in 1597. Local taxes were to be raised to pay for the relief. Poor people who were able bodied were set to work by the church wardens or overseers, with necessary tools and materials being supplied initially by the parish. Those deemed too ill, old or infirm were exempt, and relief was given in the form of money or food [called the “parish loaf”].
The Poor Relief Act of 1662 [also known as the Settlement Act] was passed to establish the parish to which a person belonged [and therefore clarify which parish was responsible for that person if they needed Poor Relief]. Although the church wardens and overseers could, if required, offer support to those in need, it was not required to extend relief for those to whom it was not responsible, and in those cases, removal orders were made. This Act also required labourers and other workers to provide certificates proving their domicile status if they wished to work in another parish.
As industrial development grew, parishes such as Alfreton required more workers and allowed incomers to settle, provided they could produce the required certificate. By the end of 1786, some 240 people had entered the parish to work.
During the latter part of the 17th century and the early part of the following century the economic climate in England worsened. Agricultural workers particularly suffered, as did those working in the textile industry, put out of work by the rise of the cotton mills. Poverty began to rise, and the need for Poor Relief increased accordingly. In February 1801 the churchwardens and overseers at Alfreton “ordered that 125 levies be raised for the poor within the Parish of Alfreton and gathered by three instalments”. The following September they “ordered that a second poor assessment of £120 be raised for the use of the poor, to be gathered in two instalments.”
The following extracts from the overseers books for 1801-02 [originally transcribed by Reginald Johnson], show how the Poor Relief was allotted:
Sarah Greaves wants 2s 6d per week. Order that Mr Bacon [an Overseer] buy her a quantity of flax to spin for the use of the Parish and pay her the usual price.
Thomas Masland wants his year’s rent of 40s paying; has 3 children, one 11, one 9 and an infant. Rent to be paid on condition of his having no further relief from the parish; if he has, his children are to be placed out.
Ralph Woodis wants £3 to purchase some needle makers tools. Not allowed.
That Job Aldridge’s daughter whose settlement appears to be at Sutton, be examined [questioned] and removed [from the parish].
The churchwardens and overseers at Alfreton took the decision that the rising costs of relief could not continue and at a meeting held on 29 January 1801 made plans in accordance with the Poor Law Statute of 1781 to establish a ”house for the reception of poor people who are and may be burthensome to this parish”. On 11 February following, a meeting was held at the George Inn to order that such a building should be erected for the poor who were legally settled in the parish. On 6 May the same year at a further meeting it was agreed to the conveyance of a “piece of waste ground for erecting a poor house” to the Visitors and Overseers of the Poor. Land of about 10 acres was allocated for the building on Sleetmoor Common, and was completed on 11 August 1804. It was known as the Alfreton Poor House.
It is not known how many people passed through the doors of the Alfreton Poor House but it may have been a significant number, as the level of poverty and need increased over the years.
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 [also known as the “New Poor Law”] completely replaced all previous legislation that had been based on the 1601 English Poor Law. This new law ensured that all poor people [those that requested or needed relief] were placed in workhouses, regardless of age or infirmity. Children received some schooling, but all inmates had to work several hours a day in order to “earn” their keep. The Belper Poor Law was established on 5 May 1837, its administration overseen by a Board of Guardians. It represented many Derbyshire Parishes, and the Parish of Alfreton joined on 30 September 1837. The Belper Union Workhouse was completed in September 1840 at Babington Meadow and began to take inmates from local parish poor houses, including the Alfreton Poor House on Sleetmoor Lane.
PHOTO: The Laburnum Inn, photographed shortly before demolition.
After its closure, the Alfreton Poor House was privately purchased by Charles Roland Palmer-Morewood in 1844. The substantial building was converted into cottages and a beer house, originally known as the “Old Workhouse Inn” but at some point the name changed to the “Laburnum Tree Inn”. Toward the end of 1896, Palmer-Morewood sold the Laburnum and seven other public houses at auction [including the George Inn at Alfreton].
Although it stood alone on Sleetmoor Lane, it was, at one time, a popular meeting place for local people. The building itself, however, was never refurbished or brought up to more modern standards. The Laburnum Inn closed and the building remained derelict for some time before it was finally demolished in January 1964, after 160 years.
4. THE ALFRETON INCLOSURE ACT OF 1812
The Inclosure Acts were a series of Acts passed by Parliament, under which common land and open fields were enclosed, creating legal property rights to the land. The Acts were passed over a period of many years and overseen by Inclosure Commissioners.
A notice was printed in the Derby Mercury dated 18 June 1812 referring to the enclosure of land in Alfreton, which is transcribed as follows: “ALFRETON INCLOSURE – Notice is hereby given that the Commissioners appointed by an Act, passed in the present session of Parliament, intituled [sic] ‘An Act for Inclosing Lands in the Parish of Alfreton, in the County of Derby’ will hold their first meeting at the George Inn, in Alfreton, in the County of Derby, on Monday the 22nd day of June instant, at 11 o’clock in the Forenoon, to proceed in the execution of the said Act. And also of an Act passed in the forty-first year of the reign of his present Majesty, intituled ‘An Act for consolidating in one Act certain provisions usually inserted in Acts of Inclosure, and for facilitating the mode of proving the several facts usually required on the passing of such Acts’. At which meeting all Persons claiming any Right or Interest in or upon the Commons or Lands by the said first mentioned Act directed to be allotted or inclosed, are required to deliver to the said Commissioners a Particular in writing of their respective Claims, and of the Estate and Interest in right of which such claims are made. And also at which Meeting a Banker or Bankers, or some other Person or Persons will be appointed by a Majority in value of the Properties of Lands and Hereditaiments within the said Parish of Alfreton, who shall attend such Meeting, into whose Hands the Monies to be raised under and by virtue of the said Acts will be deposited. By Order, Joseph Wilson, John C Hall, Solicitors, Alfreton June 6th 1812.”
As can be seen from the above notice, the Inclosure Acts favoured the wealthy landowners who already owned property in an area. Alfreton Parish was no exception, although as the area was by this time changing from a more rural farming community to an industrial centre, newcomers to the district also had a vested interest to own and develop land for mining and ironworking.
The complex nature of enclosing the common land around Alfreton meant that the final award of land was not made until 20 March 1823, but other than the Reverend Henry Case Morewood, Lord of Alfreton Manor, and a substantial freeholder named Hugh Wood [who was allotted “… that part of a certain Common called Swanwick green…”], very little land was awarded to other parties. Reginald Johnson gave a few examples in his book “A history of Alfreton” as follows:
Thomas Barker, freeholder of 140 acres - Awarded 4 acres
William Kirkland, freeholder of 172 acres - Awarded 5 acres
James Oakes, freeholder of 157 acres - Awarded 6 acres
John Wathey, freeholder of 73 acres - Awarded 2 acres
The Commissioners were bound by certain provisions in the Act that made exceptions to the allocation of land and property:
That the Lord of the Manor was to receive such part of the Commons as would be equal in value to one sixteenth of the Commons before any allocation of land was made.
10 acres of land located on Sleetmoor Common was to be held for a Poor House [for which the land had been allocated some years previously] and which was to be allotted for the Visitors and Guardians of the Poor.
The Lord of the Manor was to retain all his rights to the Coal and Ironstone “… as any mines within or under any of the lands to be inclosed by virtue of the Act”
Not all of the exceptions are included above, but one of the most important is the reference to the coal and ironstone upon which Henry Case Morewood made his living. The land in the parish could be bought and sold separately to the mineral rights, which could be exploited by the owner of the said rights or leased to a third party.
Evidence of the changes that the Inclosure Act would make to the district can be found in the Derby Mercury of 18 June 1812, when a sale of freehold land at Cotes Park was advertised: “COATES PARK Nr. ALFRETON – TO BE SOLD BY PRIVATE CONTRACT – A very eligible freehold estate (free from tythes, Easter Dues and Church Assessments) situate at Coates Park aforesaid, remarkably well watered, and contiguous to the Turnpike Road from Alfreton to Nottingham, the Pinxton Branch of the Cromford Canal &c. Consisting of Five Brick Dwelling Houses, with Barns, Stabling, Cow House, Stockinger’s Shop, Gardens, Orchards and other appurtenances in the occupation of Robert Alfree and his undertenants. Also Nine Closes of excellent Land adjoining the Homestead and Buildings, in the occupation of Charles Wilbourne and Anthony Dawes, containing by survey 34 acres 0 roods and 15 Perch, together with all Allotments to be made in respect of the said Premises, under the Alfreton Inclosure Act. To shew the Premises, Applications may be made to the Tenants and for further particulars apply to Mr Samuel Wilcockson, Saltergate, Chesterfield…”
The enclosure of the Common Land and open fields resulted, by necessity, the closure of many footpaths and tracks which traversed the district at this time. The Commissioners were given the power to divert or close public carriageways and bridle or footpaths within the Parish. The Inclosure Act, however, also created a need to establish certain permanent carriageways between the hamlets of the Parish for access, and the road network seen today is part of the consequence of this.
A notice was published in the Derby Mercury dated 18 March 1813 regarding the carriageways which were to run through the enclosed land: "ALFRETON INCLOSURE - We John Nuttall and James Green, the commissioners appointed by an Act of Parliament, made and passed in the 52nd year in the reign of his present Majesty, intitled ‘An Act for Inclosing the Lands in the Parish of Alfreton, in the County of Derby’ in pursuance of the said Act, and of another Act passed in the Forty first year of the reign of our present Majesty intitled ‘An Act for consolidating in one Act certain Provisions usually inserted in Acts of Inclosure and for facilitating the mode of proving the several facts usually required on the passing of such Acts’ DO HEREBY GIVE NOTICE - that we have set out and appointed the following Public Carriage Roads, through and over the lands intended to be divided, allotted and inclosed, that is to say:
Pentridge Road – From the Derby Turnpike Road at or near the North end of Swanwick Green and extending over the said Green to Pentridge Lane.
Greenhill Lane Road – From the Nottingham Turnpike Road, over Summercoates and Greenhill Lane Commons, to Newlands Lane.
Swanwick Road – Branching out from the last mentioned road, and extending over Swanwick Lane, the Delves Common and Swanwick Green, across Derby Turnpike Road to Pentridge Lane.
Upper West Lane Road – Branching out from Greenhill Lane Road, over Greenhill Lane Common to Upper West Lane.
Nether West Lane Road – Branching out from Greenhill Lane Road, over Greenhill Lane Common to the South end of Riddings.
Birchwood Road – Branching out from the Nottingham Turnpike Road, and extending over Somercotes Common and Birchwood Green to Birchwood Lane leading to South Normanton.
Prestwidge’s Road – Branching out from the last mentioned road, over Birchwood Green to the Lane End at or near Prestwidge’s.
Lee Lane Road – From the Derby Turnpike Road over Alfreton Common and Sleet Moor, along Lee Lane and over Somercotes Common to the Greenhill Lane Road.
All of which set roads are set out at the breadth of thirty feet. And we do also hereby give notice that a map in which the said roads are laid down, and described, is deposited at the office of Mr. Joseph Wilson, Attorney, in Alfreton, for inspection of all persons concerned; and that we intend to hold our next meeting at the House of John Brown, the George Inn, Alfreton on Monday the 29th day of March next at eleven o’clock in the forenoon at which time and place any person or persons, injured or aggrieved by the setting out of any such roads may attend and state their objections. JOHN NUTTALL, JAMES GREEN - February 26th, 1813."
5. THE ECCLESIASTICAL PARISH OF RIDDINGS, 1835
As the Ironworks expanded and the number of collieries grew, the local population began to increase. The nearest Anglican church was the Parish Church of St. Martin of Tours in Alfreton, but this was a distance away and was becoming too small for the growing population. James Oakes donated land for a new church and graveyard at Riddings, and contributed to its construction. Petitions were also made for a new parish to be established, centred on the newly built church at Riddings.
The Ecclesiastical Commissioners agreed that the Alfreton Parish should be divided, and the Order was printed in the London Gazette. The article makes for interesting reading, covering both the population increase and the laying out in detail the boundaries of the new Parish of Riddings. This new parish was to include Somercotes, Pye Bridge, Leabrooks and other small hamlets. Pennytown was mentioned in the report, along with Muckram Noll, both of which were to be included within the new parish [note that first mention of Muckram dates from 1614 as Mockerome Hole, and this report refers to it as Muckram Noll].
Following is a full transcription [without the preamble] from the London Gazette, published on 16 June 1835:
“…And whereas the said Commissioners have made a representation to His Majesty in Council, stating that when the last census was taken, the parish of Alfreton, in the county of Derby and diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, contained a population of 5691 persons: that the parish church affords accommodation for 566 persons; and that there is in the said parish, besides the parish church, one chapel built by your Majesty's said Commissioners, which affords accommodation for 928 persons, including 622 free seats appropriated to the use of the poor; that the said chapel has been consecrated and divine -service is regularly performed therein:
And whereas the said Commissioners have further Represented to His Majesty, that having, taken into consideration all the circumstances attending this parish, it appears to them to be expedient, that the said parish should be divided into ecclesiastical districts, under the 21st section of the said Act, passed in the 58th year of the reign of His Majesty King George the Third; and that one of the said districts should be assigned to the said new built chapel, called St. James's Chapel, at Riddings, in the said parish, for the purpose of affording accommodation for attending divine service to the persons residing in the said district, and for enabling the spiritual person serving such chapel, to perform all ecclesiastical duties within the district attached to such chapel, and for the due ecclesiastical superintendence of such district, and the preservation and improvement of the moral habits of the persons residing therein, and that such district should be named the Riddings District, with boundaries as follows;
The boundary to commence on the south-easterly side of the turnpike-road from Alfreton to Derby, on the border of Butterley-park, then proceeding on the south-easterly side of the said turnpike-road until it arrives at the middle of the village of Swanwick, where the four roads leading to Derby, Pentridge, Alfreton and Somercotes meet; thence proceeding on the southerly side of the road to Somercotes, bounding the lawn adjoining the northerly side of the house of the Reverend John Wood, at Swanwick, and so forward, leaving the school-house at Swanwick Delves, on the south, until it arrives at the three lane ends at Ley-brook; thence, leaving the road to Greenhill Lane the boundary proceeds up the easterly side of Ley-brook-lane, passing on the same side of the said road until it reaches the turnpike-road leading from Alfreton to Nottingham; the boundary then crosses the turnpike road, including within the district the house of John Cartledge, and a few others; it then proceeds in a north-easterly direction until it passes Penny town, at present within the township of Alfreton, leaving Penny-town within the Riddings district; it then passes in a north-easterly direction until it joins the boundary of the parish of South Normanton, west of Muckram Noll; then it passes on the boundary of South Normanton parish until it arrives at the road from South Normanton to Birchwood; it then crosses the said road, and passes on the boundary of Pinxton until it crosses the Pinxton-canal, and then joins the boundary of the parish of Selston, in the county of Nottingham following the course of the River Erewash unto the point where the said river enters the liberty of Codnor-park, in the county of Derby; thence it proceeds on the boundary of Codnor-park, including Iron-villa, to the north, until it reaches the road leading from Newlands lane to Butterley, crossing the said road it passes on the boundary of Butterly park until it arrives at the Alfreton and Derby turnpike-road, at which point the boundary commenced, as in the plan annexed to the said instrument of representation is particularly delineated.
That the consent of the Lord Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry has been obtained thereto, as required by the above-mentioned section of the said Act of the 58th year of His Majesty King George the Third and, in testimony of such his approbation, the said Lord Bishop has put his signature and seal at the foot of the instrument of representation so made by the said Commissioners; and it is thereby
humbly prayed, that His Majesty will be graciously pleased to take the premises into His royal consideration, and to make such order in respect thereto as to His Majesty's wisdom shall seem meet:
His Majesty, having taken the said representation, together with the map thereunto annexed, into consideration, was pleased, by and with the advice of His Privy Council, to approve thereof, and to order as is hereby ordered, that the proposed division, be accordingly made and effected, agreeably to the provisions of the said Acts.
6. THE EREWASH VALLEY RAILWAY ACT OF 1845
Like the Pinxton Branch of the Cromford Canal, the Erewash Valley Railway was financed and constructed to transport goods, chiefly coal, cheaply and efficiently throughout the country. The politics and necessity behind bringing the railway to the Parish would, however, be more complex.
During the early part of the 19th century, the coal proprietors of the Erewash Valley exported much of their output via the Cromford Canal, the river Trent and Leicester Navigation, to the city of Leicester and beyond. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Cromford Canal was a cost effective and efficient way of transporting large quantities of coal and other produce.
The coal masters who owned the collieries in the coalfields around the Leicestershire village of Swannington, however, did not have the advantage of a canal, and had to transport their production by horse and wagon on an inadequate road system. The result of this meant that although the Leicestershire coalfields where nearer to the marketplace, the coal was actually more expensive and took longer to deliver. When the railway became a viable alternative they quickly and successfully lobbied Parliament in order to obtain an Act for the construction of a railway line which would run from the coalfields into Leicester. They employed Robert Stephenson, the railway engineer, to lay the line. In 1832, the Leicester & Swannington Railway was opened. To the consternation of the coal masters of the Erewash Valley, the railway was an instance success, reducing the cost per ton of coal. It had an immediate detrimental effect on trade from the Erewash Valley coalfields.
A meeting between the relevant Erewash Coal and Ironmasters was held at the Sun Inn, Eastwood on 16 August 1832. Present at this meeting were some of the most influential men in the area, including Gabriel Britain of Butterley Park, Thomas Coupland of Birchwood and James Oakes of Riddings. An initial idea, agreed in principle, was to extend a tramline which already existed between Mansfield and Pinxton all the way through to Leicester, and a further meeting was arranged for 27 August at the George Hotel in Alfreton to which the public could attend and subscribe to the project.
The meeting was reported in the Derby Mercury, published on 5 September 1832: “AT a Meeting of Proprietors and Lessees of Collieries, in the Counties of DERBY and NOTTINGHAM, held at the George Inn, Alfreton on Monday, the 27th day of August, 1832, (EDWARD MILLER MUNDY, Esq. in the Chair) IT APPEARING:-
After some delay and changes to the initial proposals the plans were finally put before Parliament in 1834, but investment fell short of the required amount, resulting in further delays and more competition and complaints from other railways. Eventually, the Midland Counties Railway Bill went before Parliament and was passed in June 1836, but with opposition from many different quarters, including the owners of the Cromford Canal, the extension of the Erewash Valley Line was not included.
George Stephenson, meanwhile, had completed a railway from Derby to Leeds via Ambergate and Clay Cross, and whilst boring the Clay Cross tunnels had discovered rich seams of coal and ironstone. He formed the Clay Cross Company in 1837 and took up residence at Tapton House, Chesterfield. To Stephenson, the Erewash Valley Line proposal became of interest. In 1844, the newly established Erewash Valley Railway Company once again presented a Bill before Parliament, which this time had the support and influence of George Stephenson.
In 1844, the Midland Railway Company was formed from an amalgamation of three separate railway companies. Realising the potential of the Erewash Valley Line, which passed through an industrial area rich in coal and ironstone, it took over the Erewash Valley Railway Company in 1845 and pushed on with plans to extend the line through to Clay Cross. During June 1845, several committees were held in Parliament to hear evidence in relation to the proposals and an Act of Parliament was eventually passed the same year.
The Derbyshire Courier dated 14 November 1846 carried a long report on various Acts which related to the railways. A small part is transcribed as follows: “…And it is also intended by the said Act to enable the said Midland Railway Company to make and maintain another railway with all proper works and conveniences connected therewith, commencing by a Junction with the Line of the Extension of the Erewash Valley Railway to Clay Cross, as authorised by an Act in the last session of Parliament, near to the point at which the said extension Railway crosses the Cromford Canal in the hamlet or township of Somercoates in the parish of Alfreton, in the county of Derby, passing thence, from, in, through or into the parish of Alfreton and township of Somercoates, or one of them, terminating in the said township or hamlet of Somercoates, in the said parish of Alfreton, near certain ironworks known as the Alfreton Ironworks, the property of and occupied by, James Oakes Esq.” This report describes the termination of the extension at Pye Bridge, where the line joins the Midland Railway line.
At this point, the original plan to drive the line through to Clay Cross came unstuck. “Railway Mania” during the latter few years had seen investors over commit funds to the railways, and when the price of stocks and shares dropped in 1845 [the year the Act of Parliament for the Erewash Valley Line was passed], the money for investment dried up. Having now insufficient funds to complete the line as planned, the main branch terminated at Birchwood sidings, some 6.5 miles short of Clay Cross. The completion of the line had to wait until the confidence in the railways was restored and sufficient investment was received, particularly in order to bore the Alfreton tunnel which would stretch a distance of some 840 yards. Finally, on 1 May 1865 the tunnel was opened to rail traffic and the line quickly became the main Midland Railway route from Sheffield through to London.
Branch lines serviced the Cotes Park and Birchwood collieries, and at Pye Bridge other spurs ran into Kempson’s Acid and Tar works and the Riddings Ironworks, which itself had a considerable rail network within the site.
The Midland Railway Company also continued its expansion through acquisition, and in 1846 it purchased the Leicester & Swannington Railway [that had originally caused the coal masters of the Erewash Valley so many problems].
Due to the success of the railway the Alfreton Tunnel began to form a bottleneck in the network, slowing down the coal trains and the movement of goods. The Midland Railway took the decision to construct a second tunnel at a cost of £94,197, and spent a further £122,796 in widening the track from two to four lines at the approaches to the tunnel entrances. Construction work started in 1899 and was completed in 1901. The route through the tunnels then consisted of four tracks, two dedicated to express passenger trains and two dedicated for goods traffic. After the Dr. Beeching report of 1963, the two sets of tracks dedicated for the goods trains were removed, and the east tunnel was effectively abandoned. The Midland Railway became part of the London Midland Scottish [LMS] railway in 1923.
Although the Midland Railway and its predecessors no doubt had the greatest influence in the planning and construction of the railway through the district, the Great Northern Railway also constructed a western extension,
The predecessors of the Great Northern Railway started the planning and applications to Parliament in 1844, but the company was not incorporated as the GNR until 1846. The GNR saw the potential in constructing a line to the Erewash Valley and to the coalfields of north Derbyshire, and extended the line from Nottingham to run through Pye Bridge and up to Shirebrook, where it terminated. Coal trains were using this branch line by 1875. The two railways met at what became known as the Pye Bridge Junction.
As there were two separate railway companies and two separate sets of tracks meeting at Pye Bridge, it is no surprise that there were also two railway stations. A railway station was built at Pye Bridge for passengers using the Midland Railway line. The station was situated to the south of the railway viaduct. Under the re-organisation of the railways advised by Dr. Beeching in his report of 1963, Pye Bridge Station was closed in 1967.
Pye Hill and Somercotes Station was located to the north of Pye Bridge on the Great Northern Railway line. Although it seems that the station was somewhat misnamed, there appears to have been an attempt to differentiate between this and Pye Bridge Station, as they were only approximately half a mile apart. The station was opened by the GNR on 24 March 1877 and was originally named Pye Hill, but it was renamed to include the village of Somercotes on 8 January 1906. The station closed on 7 January 1963. This station was immortalised in 1964, in the song "Slow Train" written and performed by Flanders & Swann.
Originally two viaducts were built at Pye Bridge to carry the separate tracks for the Midland Railway and the GNR over the main road and the river Erewash. On 13 June 1924 one of the viaducts suffered a catastrophic failure and collapsed. It was reported extensively in local newspapers, and a transcript of part of an article printed at the time follows: “VIADUCT CRASHES INTO RIVER EREWASH – TWO ARCHES COLLAPSE AT PYE BRIDGE. An alarming occurrence took place at Pye Bridge on Monday afternoon, on the borders of Notts and Derbyshire. Erected 50 years ago as a junction between the GN Pye Hill and MR Pye Bridge, and which can be seen on the side of the main line between Nottingham and Sheffield, two arches of a viaduct collapsed without a moments warning. Over a thousand tons of debris fell and completely blocked the river Erewash, over which the second arch spanned… Mr. Raithby, the GN stationmaster, who resides a few yards away from the viaduct, stated that he and his wife were suddenly startled by a noise like thunder and the shaking of the house and crockery…”. Fate must have intervened in this event, as no train was passing over the viaduct when it collapsed, and no injuries were reported. The viaduct was then rebuilt.
The immediate impact of the rail network on the area cannot be underestimated. Within a relatively short time not only were the coal and iron masters benefitting from a more cost effective means of transporting their goods, but the population as a whole gained in terms of travel and access to other markets.
Perhaps this change can best be seen through the trade directories of the 19th century. Pigot’s Directory of 1829, prior to the railways, describes Alfreton as a market town and parish “in the Hundred of Scarsdale, including Birchwood, Greenhill Lane, Riddings and Somercotes”. Mail arrived at the post office from the north at nine o’clock and from the south at twelve o’clock. The posting houses were the Angel Inn and the George Inn. The Directory continues: “COACHES DAILY. TO BIRMINGHAM, the mail from Sheffield calls at the George Inn at a quarter past nine in the morning; goes through Ripley, Derby, Burton and Lichfield. And the Amity at half past eight in the morning. TO SHEFFIELD, the mail from Birmingham calls at the Angel Inn, at half past twelve noon; goes through Higham, Chesterfield and Dronfield: and the Amity calls at the George at one every day except Sundays” The Amity, referred to in the Directory was a coach which ran separate to the mail coach. The coaching inns ran a tight schedule, so that the times could be generally relied upon.
With the railways came a dramatic change. Whilst the canals offered nothing more than a means to transport goods, with passenger services being infrequent and very expensive, the railways offered a fast and efficient mail and passenger service, as well as the ability to deliver large quantities of produce. Although the horse drawn mail coaches were the first to suffer, the canals quickly followed. By the 1857 edition of the Derbyshire History, Gazetteer and Directory the transformation was already obvious. In its listing of the Alfreton parish was written “…3 miles SE from Alfreton is Pye Bridge, a railway station on the Erewash Branch of the Midland Railway from whence there are trains to Mansfield, Nottingham and Derby, three times a day.” Francis Millington is recorded as the Stationmaster.
By 1912 the railway was embedded into the fabric of society. Kelly’s Directory for that year included information on both railway companies “Somercotes is a large and populous village and parish, formed 20 October 1898 out of the parishes of Alfreton and Riddings, 1½ miles north of Pye Bridge on the Midland Railway and Pye Hill Station on the Kimberley and Pinxton Branch of the Great Northern Railway, 2 miles south-east from Alfreton and 130 miles from London”.
7. INDUSTRIALISATION IN THE 19th CENTURY
The industrialisation of the area, when it came, was quick to establish itself. Riddings Ironworks was established by Thomas Saxelby & Co in 1802 (originally it was known as the Alfreton Ironworks). By 1817 the company had been wholly purchased by James Oakes and there began a long association between the Oakes family and the surrounding villages. As the industry grew, so did employment opportunities and workers from far and wide moved to the district.
James Oakes & Company also opened several coal and ironstone mines in the locality [the most well-known was Cotes Park Colliery]. By the late 1800’s they employed some 800 workers at the ironworks and over 3,000 in the mines and collieries Perhaps the Oakes family more than any other were responsible for the growth and prosperity of Somercotes and Pye Bridge during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The whole area was also extensively mined by other coal and iron masters. The Butterley Company, Sir Charles Seely, John Coupland and his son Thomas, and the Palmer-Morewood family of Alfreton Hall all played their part in the industrialisation of the locality.
As the ironworks and mining industries flourished, there followed an influx of workers into the parish, followed by grocers, shoemakers and publicans, who all serviced the growing population.
The need to transport goods and services was responsible for the creation of the Nottingham-Newhaven turnpike, the Pinxton Branch of the Cromford Canal and the introduction of the railways.
It could be said with a degree of certainty that the Parish of Somercotes owes its very existence to the seams of coal and ironstone which were availably relatively close to the surface.
[More information can be found on the industries mentioned on the Industry & Business Tab]
PHOTO: Riddings Ironworks
8. THE ECCLESIASTICAL PARISH OF SOMERCOTES, 1898
The Church of England defines a parish as the basic unit of the Church. In modern times it is sometimes difficult to understand how much religion played a part in everyday life and how important the religious feast days were. A large percentage of the population would have considered themselves Christian, and most would have regularly attended church. It is true that over time a change in attitudes occurred, particularly among the working class, but even so, the church played a large part in many peoples’ lives well into the 20th century.
Prior to 1835, Somercotes, Riddings and their environs were part of the Ecclesiastical Parish of Alfreton, with the Church of St. Martin of Tours being the parish church. The Parish of Riddings was established in 1835 as it was considered that the population was then sufficient, and the parish church to distant, such that it became expedient to create a new parish. As the population increased during the 19th century it was in the village of Somercotes that they began to settle and as it grew in size, there was a demand for its own parish church. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners found in favour and the Parish of Somercotes was established in 1898.
The London Gazette published the Order creating the Parish on 25 October 1898 and a full transcript, including the details of the boundary of the Parish is transcribed as follows:
“AT the Court at Balmoral, the 20lh day of October, 1898.
PRESENT: The QUEEN's Most Excellent Majesty in Council.
WHEREAS the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England have, in pursuance of the Act of the eighth and ninth years of Her Majesty chapter seventy; of the Act of the fourteenth and fifteenth years of Her Majesty chapter ninety-seven; of the Act of the nineteenth and twentieth years of Her Majesty chapter fifty five; and of the Act of the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth years of Her Majesty, chapter eighty two; duly prepared and laid before Her Majesty in Council a representation, bearing date the twenty-first day of July in the year one thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight in the words and figures following; that is to say:- "We, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England, in pursuance of the Act of the eighth and ninth years of Your Majesty, chapter seventy; of the Act of the fourteenth and fifteenth years of Your Majesty, chapter ninety-seven; of the Act of the nineteenth and twentieth years of Your Majesty, chapter fifty-five; and of the Act of the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth years of Your Majesty, chapter eighty-two, have prepared, and now humbly lay before Your Majesty in Council the following representation as to the assignment of a consolidated chapelry to the consecrated church of Saint Thomas, Somercotes situate within the limits of the district parish of Riddings in the county of Derby and in the diocese of Southwell.
"Whereas at certain extremities of the said district parish of Riddings and of the parish of Alfreton in the county and diocese aforesaid, which said extremities are contiguous one to another and are described in the schedule hereunder written, there is collected together a population which is situate at a distance from the several churches of such district parish and of such parish respectively. And whereas it appears to us to be expedient that certain contiguous portions (being the portions containing the population aforesaid) of the said district parish of Riddings and of the said parish of Alfreton should be formed into a consolidated chapelry for all ecclesiastical purposes and that the same should be assigned to the said church of Saint Thomas Somercotes situate as aforesaid.
"Now therefore, with the consent of the Right Reverend George, Bishop of the said diocese of Southwell, as such Bishop with the consent of the Reverend Arthur Curtis Beckton the vicar or Incumbent of the vicarage of the said parish of Alfreton and as such vicar or Incumbent the patron of the vicarage of the district parish of Riddings aforesaid with the consent of Charles Rowland Palmer-Morewood of Alfreton Hall in the said county of Derby, Esquire one of Your Majesty's Justices of the Peace, the patron of the said vicarage of the parish of Alfreton aforesaid (in testimony whereof they, the said consenting parties, have respectively signed and sealed his representation) we the said Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England humbly-represent, that it would in our opinion be expedient that all those contiguous portions of the said district parish of Riddings and of the said parish of Alfreton which are described in the schedule hereunder written all which portions together with the boundaries thereof are delineated and set forth on the map or plan hereunto annexed should be united and formed into one consolidated chapelry for the said church of Saint Thomas Somercotes, situate as aforesaid and that the same should be named “The Consolidated Chapelry of Saint Thomas, Somercotes." We therefore humbly pray that Your Majesty will be graciously pleased to take the premises into Your Royal consideration, and to make such Order in respect thereto as to Your Majesty in Your Royal wisdom shall seem meet.
The SCHEDULE to which the foregoing Representation has reference, "The consolidated chapelry of Saint Thomas, Somercotes, comprising:—
All that portion of the district parish of Riddings in the county of Derby and in the diocese of Southwell which is bounded upon the west and upon the north-west by the hereinafter described portion of the parish of Alfreton in the said county and diocese and upon all other sides, that is to say upon the north-east, upon the southeast and upon the south by an imaginary line commencing at the point to the north-east of Lower Birchwood Colliery and a little to the south-east of the mile-post on the south-western side of the Erewash Valley Branch Line of the Midland Railway indicating a distance of fifty-six miles from Rugby, where the boundary which divides the said parish of Alfreton from the district parish of Riddings aforesaid crosses the middle of the said branch line of railway and extending thence south-eastward along the middle of the same branch line of railway for a distance of fifty-one chains or thereabouts to the centre of the bridge which carries the said branch line of railway over the footpath which leads from Pinxton Collieries past the house called Smotherfly and past the houses called Bonsall's Row towards Riddings and extending thence first westward then south-westward then north-westward and then again south-westward along the middle of the said footpath for a distance of sixty-one chains or thereabouts to its junction with the Nottingham and Alfreton high road nearly opposite to the junction of Cinder-road with the same high road and extending thence westward and in straight line for a distance of forty-nine chains or thereabouts (thereby passing to the north of the house called Roger's Provision Stores and to the north of the smithy near Leabrooks at the junction of the road leading from Riddings with the road leading to Seely terrace and with Swanwick-lane) to a point in the middle of the last-named lane upon the boundary which divides the said district parish of Riddings from the parish of Alfreton aforesaid.
And also all that contiguous portion of the said parish of Alfreton which is bounded upon the west and south-west by the new parish of Saint Andrew, Swanwick, in the county and diocese aforesaid upon the south-east by the district parish of Riddings aforesaid (including the above described portion thereof) upon the north east by the parish of South Normanton in the county and diocese aforesaid and upon the remaining side, that is to say upon the northwest by an imaginary line commencing at the point distant about five chains to the south-east of the north western end of Alfreton Tunnel on the Erewash Valley Branch Line of the Railway aforesaid where, the boundary which divides the said parish of South Normanton from the parish of Alfreton aforesaid crosses the middle of the said tunnel, and extending thence south-westward and in a straight line for a distance of forty-seven chains or thereabouts to a point in the middle of the Alfreton and Nottingham high road aforesaid at its junction with the occupation lane which leads through the premises belonging to the house called Nix's Stud Farm to the house called Outseats Farm and extending thence generally south-westward along the middle of the said occupation lane for a distance of twenty-seven chains or thereabouts (thereby including within the said consolidated chapelry of Saint Thomas, Somercotes the said house called Nix's Stud Farm) to the point near the said house called Outseats Farm where such occupation lane joins White's Lane and extending thence south-westward and in a straight line for a distance of thirty-one chains or thereabouts to a point in the middle of the Swanwick Colliery Railway distant five chains or thereabouts north of the middle of Sleetmoor-lane upon the boundary which divides the said parish of Alfreton from the new parish of Saint Andrew, Swanwick, aforesaid."
And whereas the said representation has been approved by Her Majesty in Council now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice of Her said Council, is pleased hereby to ratify the said representation, and to order and direct that the same and every part thereof shall be effectual in law immediately from and after the time when this Order shall have been duly published in the London Gazette pursuant to the said Acts; and ]Her Majesty, by and with the like advice, is pleased hereby to direct that this Order be forthwith registered by the Registrar of the said diocese of Southwell
A. W. FitzRoy”
[More information on the history of the Church of St. Thomas and the Non-denomination Chapels can be found on the Education and Religion Tab]
9. EXPANSION OF THE VILLAGE
Prior to the construction of the Nottingham-Newhaven turnpike over Somercotes Common the village itself was centered on the area known today as Lower Somercotes. Birchwood, Pennytown and Muckram were hamlets in their own right and Leabrooks and Pye Bridge were mostly undeveloped.
The villages had a natural increase in population during most of the 18th century, and although the turnpike had been constructed in the latter half of the century, development of the area was slow. What changed was the industrial revolution. The southern part of Alfreton Parish was rich in ironstone and coal, and the establishment of the ironworks at Butterley and Pye Bridge and the sinking of many more collieries took advantage of the local geology.
Even so, rapid development did not take place until the end of the 19th century. For example, a map of the ironworks in 1821 shows a corn mill at Pye Bridge and a building opposite, thought to be the Dog & Doublet Inn, but little else. A map of 1884 shows Somercotes Common, Leabrooks and Birchwood only partly developed. In Lower Somercotes a small amount of ribbon development on the right heading toward Pye Bridge had taken place. Cinder Road, Stanley Street and Norman Road all existed at this time, as did Furnace Row.
The development of Somercotes Common began with the building of Seely Terrace and the area originally known as Coupland Place, but the area from there to Birchwood Lane and the Church of St. Thomas was mainly fields. In 1884, the centre of Somercotes, including Victoria Street and the small row of shops did not exist. Around the Church and the Devonshire Arms a number of ribbon developments had been built, which stretched down Somercotes on the right, travelling toward Pye Bridge.
Birchwood Lane likewise was slow to develop, despite the construction of the Methodist Church. Houses were initially built on the right hand side travelling from the Devonshire Arms, but the land on the left toward the junction with Nottingham Road remained fields until after the end of World War two.
In 1884, from Sleetmoor Lane to Leabrooks Corner, there was virtually no development. A few houses were built around the Horse and Jockey Inn, and almost opposite, Leabrooks House had been built, standing alone. A ribbon of houses existed on the right, travelling from Somercotes, which started just before Leabrooks Corner, carrying on along Swanwick Road to where the development stops to this day (near to where the railway crossing was situated).
Much of the development on Somercotes Common and in Leabrooks occurred in the 1890’s and through to the early part of the 20th century. The population began to rapidly expand as the natural increase in population gave way to an influx of people from far and wide, as can be witnessed by the information collated on the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census returns. Much of the population, far from being born in the area, came from all over the country.
As part of the Alfreton Parish, the population figures for Somercotes, Riddings and Pye Bridge were not separated in the early census returns, but some idea of the increase can be seen from the overall figures, starting with the census taken in 1801:
Not surprisingly, the majority of the male population during the latter half of this period was employed in the mining and ironworking industries.
PHOTO: Somercotes Boys School and Church (c.1900)