The area around the village of Somercotes was rich in coal and ironstone. The whole area exists as it does today because of the natural resources discovered underground.
Mining for coal goes back centuries. The coal seams at Birchwood particularly lay just below the surface, and evidence of their exploitation goes back to at least the 14th century, when the neighbourhood around Birchwood was mined by the monks of Beauchief Abbey. Many Bell or Beehive pits were dug in the following centuries, following the coal seams across the landscape.
After the dissolution of the Monasteries which began in 1536, the land owned by Beauchief was taken by the Crown, but eventually sold and the land and mineral rights were exercised by the Lords of the Manor and freeholders, who had purchased certain parts of the manorial estate. It was often made a condition of a man’s tenancy of his farm and cottage to work for a number of days per year in the mines and provide wood for pit props from his land.
Originally the deeper shafts would be accessed by a horse gin, a type of capstan powered by a horse, which through a pulley system allowed items to be raised or lowered down the shaft. The horse gin was sometime called a horse whimsey . The name lives on today in Somercotes. The pond serving the boiler house at Swanwick Colliery was referred to as the Whimsey by local people, and the access road to Nix’s Hill Industrial Estate, built on the site of the old colliery, was named Wimsey Way, although the spelling is now different.
Extensive deep mining largely began in the early 19th century, although by then many smaller mines had been sunk. Mines appeared all over the Alfreton parish and it is difficult to trace some of the early collieries. The mines were sunk and although subsequently closed, the shafts were often used as secondary shafts for larger mines.
The following chapters start with an introduction to mining practices in the area, followed by some of the collieries which worked the seams in this district. Due to the complex nature of the subject it cannot be considered complete, but hopefully gives an overview of the mining industry surrounding Somercotes.
1. THE BUTTY SYSTEM
During most of the 19th century, the butty system was used in collieries throughout the country. The butty was, in effect, a sub-contractor; a man who had saved sufficient money to be able to purchase tools for mining operations and was able to employ labourers to work at the mines. The colliery owner usually sank the shaft and prepared the heading, and although a manager would be employed, it was the butty that, as a middleman, operated the mine on a day to day basis. The butty was responsible for producing the largest amount of coal or ironstone for the smallest amount of money possible. He was paid directly by the colliery manager, usually per ton of coal or ironstone delivered to the surface, and it was the butty that hired and paid the miners. In effect, the less he paid his workers and the less he spent on equipment, the more money he kept for himself.
The butty was rarely supervised, and was left to work the seams in such a way as to obtain the maximum tonnage possible. He was the person ultimately responsible for any mistreatment of his workers and the conditions in which they worked.
It was common for the colliery owners to pay the butties only once a month, sometimes even longer, and in turn, they would pay their workers similarly. To enable them to make ends meet, the workers were often allowed to buy produce and various necessities on credit, but only at places controlled or in allegiance with the butties, and even then, at inflated prices.
Despite the way the butties worked and regardless of the overall effect on the workforce, the colliery owners and managers did not interfere with the arrangement and were, in many respects, just as responsible for the ills of the mining industry at that time. Mr. Michael Fellows, in his report on the Employment of Children and Young Persons in the Mines & Collieries of Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire would state “…in most cases children are engaged by the butties, which system I consider one of the greatest evils throughout the whole district…”
Although the New Plan and other measures which began to be introduced in the 1840s by the colliery owners and managers would severely restrict the butties power, the butty system continued to operate at some pits in the district until 1872.
2. THE NEW PLAN, AS INTRODUCED INTO THE LOCAL AREA
The New Plan or New Principal originated in the coal fields around Barnsley. Before the New Plan, coal mining was inefficient and relied too much on young children and the butty system, which was hated by the workers and their families and treated with much suspicion by many of the mine owners. The New Plan was, essentially, a way of increasing productivity, but had several other benefits. The system was different in Derbyshire to that operated in other parts of the country, and seems to have been pioneered by George Stephenson (of railway engineer fame), who at the time was residing at Tapton House, Chesterfield and owned the Clay Cross Iron & Coal Company, and in Riddings and Somercotes by James Oakes & Company.
The New Plan was, in many respects, very simple. By making it easier to transport coal from the coalface to the processing centre on the surface, mining would become more efficient and safer. To achieve this, rails were laid underground from the shaft bottom to the coalface. The coal would be mined by the hewer and loaded directly by a loader into wheeled iron tubs which were sat on the rails. A reasonably standard weight of coal would be loaded per tub (usually five or six hundredweight) and this would be drawn or shoved by boys between the ages of 13 and 18 to the shaft bottom, although sometimes where possible, pit ponies would be used. The Loader was responsible also for extending the rails as the coalface advanced, so that the tubs could be easily loaded.
At the shaft bottom, the tubs would be pushed into a cradle that would be raised up the shaft by an engine. As the weight per tub was now uniform it stopped the strain on the engine, which was previously an issue, as many of the old corves full of coal would weigh anywhere up to three quarters of ton or more. The standardisation also meant that in many cases, a smaller engine could actually be used. Once at the pithead, a cover would be positioned over the shaft and the tub lowered onto rails which then extended directly to the processing centre. The cover over the shaft gave an added safety advantage. While the cover was in place, nothing, and more importantly, no-one could fall down the shaft.
There was, of course, much more to the New Plan than a simple transport system for the coal. To enable the tubs to be moved efficiently the ventilation doors were changed or removed. This meant that the ventilation in the mines had to be improved, and as the air doors were no longer used, very young children were not required to open and close them. The butty system too, changed for the better, with miners often being employed directly by the mine owner or manager, instead of a sub-contractor, although the butty system itself persisted until the early 1870s.
The advantage of the New Plan was obvious to the owners. Productivity increased dramatically, sometimes by a factor of four. As an added bonus, their workers were often happier, better treated and paid more regularly. The age of the philanthropic mine owner had begun. By the early 1840s, all of the new shafts sunk by Oakes and Stephenson were on the New Plan, and it is known that, where possible, James Oakes & Company adopted the system for their older mines.
Edward Fletcher, mine agent for James Oakes & Company was interviewed for the Children’s Employment Commission report of 1842. A transcript from the report follows: “He has been (agent) for 20 years. They now have five shafts for coal, one for coal and iron. Three of them are on the New Principal, one of which has been at work for about a year. He thinks the plan so good that they are sinking all upon that plan. The reason he prefers this method is that nearly all the asses and children are done away with. The Corves are filled from the loader and with wheels attached are raised to the mouth in a much shorter time than by the old method. There is also another advantage; the corves are obliged to be filled with a regular weight, say 5 or 6 cwt, whereas before, a load of 15 cwt was frequently hung on, which oppressed the engine and occasioned accidents. The coal is got out much cleaner. This method allows double the number of loaders to work at the same time. Another advantage is that a 12hp engine will do the work as full and easy as a 14hp by the old plan.”
The New Plan was, in many ways, the beginning of the modern era of mining. Perhaps also stung by criticism, perhaps by their own conscience, the mine owners of Somercotes and the surrounding area, Oakes, Seely, Coupland and others would look not just to their own material and spiritual comforts, but also to those of their workers.
3. EMPLOYMENT OF CHILDREN IN THE LOCAL COLLIERIES & MINES
A Children’s Employment Commission was set up and in 1842 a report was published by John Michael Fellows titled “On the Employment of Children and Young Persons in the Mines & Collieries of Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire and on the State, Condition and Treatment of such Children and Young Persons”
The Commission’s report began with a list of the collieries and mines visited, including information, where available, on the owner, the number of shafts and the number of young persons and children engaged in work, separated into those of 18 years of age and under, and those under 13 years of age. Of the local collieries listed, in only three instances were females recorded; one at Butterley Park Colliery, one at Newlands Colliery, both owned by the Butterley Iron & Coal Company and one working for Humphrey Goodwin at New Birchwood Colliery. The following local collieries were recorded:
Newlands area collieries, owned by the Butterley Iron & Coal Company. This area had one coal and four ironstone shafts and worked 144 boys under 18, 125 under 13 and 1 female.
Somercotes mines owned by the Butterley Iron & Coal Company. These mines had two ironstone shafts. No information was available on the employment of young persons and children.
New Birchwood Collieries owned by Humphrey Goodwin. This colliery complex had three coal shafts and employed 13 boys under 18 and 15 boys under 13, as well as one female.
Swanwick & Somercotes Collieries, owned by Palmer-Morewood. Three shafts were declared, but no information was available on the number of young persons or children who worked at the collieries.
Riddings collieries, owned by James Oakes & Company. The area within the report also included Greenhill Lane, and numbered some six coal and thirteen ironstone mines. According to the report, the numbers of young persons and children could not be ascertained as the manger refused to give this information.
Despite the good name historically bestowed on many of the colliery and mine owners, the report left the reader in no doubt as to the mistreatment of children and the poor and dangerous working conditions that existed in many of the mines at this time.
Evidence of the conditions under which the children worked, and about the children themselves, was collected by Mr. Fellows and included in his report. As this is an important piece of social history, several of the interviews have been transcribed below:
Newlands Collieries, owned by the Butterley Iron & Coal Company
James Dallison – He is 12 years old and has been for three years the banks lad. He goes to Swanwick Methodist Sunday School reads the Testament pretty well.
Ann Wardle – She drives the gin horse and she is near 13 years of age and has driven for about two months. She likes it better than lace making, which she worked before. She has been nine years at the Riddings Methodist School but cannot write but reads the Bible. She cannot spell Bible or Derby.
William Thorp – He is 12 years old and is the banks boy at No 1 (this is Butterley No 1 Pit). He does not know how long he has worked but has never worked in a pit. He has been at the Codnor Methodist School above a year and is in easy lessons. He is very ignorant on every subject.
Somercotes Collieries, owned by the Butterley Iron & Coal Company
George Spencer – He is eight years old and has worked half a year. He comes at six to six with half an hour allowed for dinner. He goes to Riddings Methodist Sunday School and has been there for four years. He reads the Bible and spells pretty well. He drives the gin horse.
John Nitingale – He does not know how old he is and has worked for half a year where he picks over the stones and hammers off the dirt. …He goes to Ranter’s Sunday School at Summercotes. He reads the Testament. He is very ignorant and cannot spell either cow nor coal.
New Birchwood Collieries, owned by Humphrey Goodwin
Richard Gascoign – He is ten years old and has worked for three years for Mr. Goodwin. He goes to Mr. Goodwin’s Sunday School and is in easy lessons. He cannot spell cat or dog.
Hannah Fidler – She is thirteen years old and has worked a year at the pit mouth. She goes to Mr. Goodwin’s school and used to go to the day school in South Normanton. She reads the bible and can write her name and is, in general, more intelligent than any I have met with.
Riddings Ironstone Pits, owned by James Oakes & Company
George Daws – He is 15 years old and has worked for 7 years. He now hangs on and has 2s per day and is paid once a month. He goes to the Calvanist Sunday School at Riddings but cannot write yet, they teach him nothing. He has been four years to Sunday School. He reads the Testament. He cannot spell church or chapel.
John Watts – He is nine years old and has worked half a year driving the gin horse. He works from six to six with one hour for dinner. He goes to neither church nor chapel nor school. Cannot say a letter. He does not know what either bread or cloth are made from.
Greenhill Lane Hard Coal Pit, owned by James Oakes & Company
William Lees – He is 8 years old and has worked above a year…He is sure he works from six to nine or half past eight and has only 20 minutes for dinner (a staggering 14½ or 15 hour shift!). He now helps his father on the bank. He goes to Ranter’s Sunday School at Summercotes and has been for three years. He is in easy lessons, but can neither spell cow, cat or dog.
John Bell – He is 12 years old and has worked for five or nearly six years. The first year he opened and shut the door and had 10d per day (this refers to the ventilation doors underground which were often operated by young children). He then drove between and had 1s per day. He now helps the loader. (It would appear that John Bell spent nearly his whole childhood working underground).
The above extracts represent only a very small portion of the interviews carried out for the report. By the time the report was published, however, some collieries were already operating on the “New Plan”, and no children under the age of 13 were working underground at those pits which had adopted this system.
The Mines and Collieries Act 1842 prohibited all women and girls, and all boys under the age of ten years from working underground. The Act was a direct response to the Children’s Employment Commission mentioned above. Parish apprentices between the ages of 10 and 18 could continue to work in the mines. Those collieries that had not adopted the New Plan or had continued to use children underground had to change their working practices in line with this Act of Parliament.
Further Acts of Parliament and legislation were introduced in the following years. In 1850, the Coal Mines Inspection Act introduced legislation to address the unacceptable rate of accidents in the mines. The Coal Mines Regulations Act of 1860 increased the age limit for boys from 10 to 12 years and introduced further rules on safe working practices. The year 1872 saw the Coal Mines Regulations Act introduced, which made it a legal requirement for colliery managers to have state certification of their training and competence. Further Acts of Parliament would be introduced, particularly to address the high accidents rates, over the following decades.
4. THE BIRCHWOOD COLLIERIES
Of all the mining areas centered on Somercotes, it is probably Birchwood that has, over the centuries, been exploited the most. There were upwards of a dozen well established shafts, with many smaller pits remaining unrecorded. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many of these would be absorbed into larger mining complexes, leaving only New Birchwood and Lower Birchwood Collieries to continue mining operations.
One of the first collieries, as opposed to a Bell Pit, was a shaft sunk at Birchwood and owned by Palmer-Morewood, of Alfreton Hall. The shaft was sunk to the Furnace Coal at a depth of 51 yards in 1821. It was leased to Sir Charles Seely in 1867 and may have been used as a ventilation or access shaft, although further information regarding this colliery or its exact location are not known. As far as can be ascertained, it was known simply as Birchwood Colliery.
Glover’s Directory published in 1829 mentions local coal masters operating in the area, as this publication lists “Coupland & Goodwin, Coal Masters, Birchwood” Here, they are referring to John Coupland of Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire and Humphrey Goodwin of Shirland. In Pigot’s Directory of 1831, a longer list is printed:
Gabriel Britain, Greenhill Lane
Coupland & Goodwin, Birchwood
Haslam Brothers, Swanwick
William Palmer-Morewood, Swanwick Colliery
James Oakes & Co. Riddings
Samuel Woolley, Birchwood Colliery
The partnership of Coupland & Goodwin was dissolved in 1834, and was reported in the London Gazette as follows: “London Gazette, November 1834 (p.2114) – Notice is hereby given that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between the undersigned, John Coupland and Humphrey Goodwin as Coal-Masters at Birchwood and Cotes-Park in the County of Derby was this day dissolved by mutual consent; and that all debts due and owing to and from the said concern will be received and paid by the undersigned Humphrey Goodwin, by whom the said business will in future be carried on. As witness our hands this 10th day of November 1834…”
The Foundation Colliery was sunk around 1830 and was owned by the Butterley Iron & Coal Co. This was actually known as the “New Foundation” colliery in certain records and may well have replaced an earlier shaft. Maps of the area do show two shafts very close together. The Butterley Iron & Coal Co. had an early interest in the land and mineral rights around Birchwood. The Foundation Colliery lay near the border between the villages of Birchwood and Pinxton, and in 1831 Butterley purchased the mineral rights for the Upper Coal Seam, underlying the neighbouring Morewood Charity Lands. The coal extracted from this colliery would have been used in the forges at Butterley Iron Works. It is believed that the Foundation Colliery closed in 1847.
Ten years before the closure of Foundation Colliery, the first shaft was sunk at Shady Colliery, and probably opened for coal extraction the following year, 1838.
Several shafts seem to have been sunk at this time, all owned originally by Samuel Woolley. “Old Birchwood Hard” (referring here to the Hard Coal seam) was sunk to 130 yards, “Old Birchwood Soft” to 95 yards and “New Birchwood Hard” to 115 yards.
The story of the Woolley family is interesting, and is recorded in Reginald Johnson’s book “A History of Alfreton”. John Woolley inherited a farm and estate from his uncle James Woolley, a clockmaker from Codnor, Derbyshire. John, also listed as a clockmaker, inherited "..all that Farm and Estate situate and lying at Nether Birchwood in the Parish of Alfreton…". Nether Birchwood is the old name for Lower Birchwood, and the Estate mentioned was known as Muckram. John Woolley lived at Birchwood Cottage, which still appeared on a map of the area dated 1942. His son, Samuel, opened at least two mines on the land, which appear to have been known as the "Birchwood Collieries". The Woolley family later had business problems, which led them to sell the collieries to cover debts.
Further mines were sunk in the area during this period. Birchwood Landsale was sunk in 1840 and originally owned and operated by Humphrey Goodwin of Shirland. It seems that Humphrey Goodwin was also responsible for sinking the first shaft at Shady Colliery two years before in 1838. There were at least two shafts called Balguy (pronounced “Balgee”) at Birchwood. Both were named after John Balguy the landowner on whose land the shafts were sunk. The first shaft was sunk prior to 1840 and originally operated by Samuel Woolley. It was located very close to the Shady Colliery, and by 1841, this shaft had become part of the Shady Colliery complex. The second Balguy shaft was sunk in 1854 by Sir Charles Seely and was located north-west of the earlier shaft.
MAP: Map of the Birchwood Area
Shady Colliery (also known as New Birchwood) would become the major colliery complex in the area. It was visited as part of the Children’s Employment Commission by John Michael Fellows in 1842. His report included details of interviews carried out with some of the mine owners or managers. The details are listed under the name of New Birchwood, and give an insight into the colliery at that time. New Birchwood operated three shafts. The manger in 1842 was William Goodwin, son of the owner, Humphrey Goodwin. The report states “They have three shafts at work, Balguy, Shady and Landsale. The Balguy is 80 yards deep with a seam three feet ten inches and headway about four feet. There are two banks, each of 100 yards and one wagon road of 50 yards. The wagons are shoved by boys from 13 to 17 years of age. They are winded from an old shaft and each of them is well ventilated and dry. Shady is 60 yards deep with two banks of 60 yards each and wagon way 80 yards. The wagons are drawn by boys but from 30 to 60 yards by asses. The other pit is worked on the same principle and is quite dry. Landsale is worked by one horse and is 60 yards deep with a seam four feet and headway the same. There is one bank of 60 yards and wagon road is 90 yards. The wagons are hurried by boys from 15 to 16. There are no asses. It is winded from an old pit. They have a Davy lamp but it is never used except in the heading. This coal field is worked by butties by ton and they engage all under them both men and children. Mr Goodwin has established a school and reading room. There is a club to which men pay 1s, the boys under 12 pay 6d per month. The men receive 6s per week in case of accidents or sickness, boys 3s. This is optional for the workpeople. Mr Goodwin pays for medical men.”
A further extract from the report confirms the close proximity of the Shady shaft and Balguy shaft originally sunk by Samuel Woolley: “William Barlow, Engine-man of New Birchwood Colliery – ‘The engine works both Shady and Balguy Shafts; neither of them are laid in lime; there are cabins and flat ropes to each, but neither bonnets or Davy Lamps…”. Note that this engineman contradicts the mine manager regarding the availability of the Davy lamp! The “bonnet” referred to in the report is a cast iron “umbrella” that was positioned over the ropes so that items falling down the shaft would be deflected from hitting any descending or ascending miners.
Although the owner is listed in the Children’s Employment Commission report of 1842 as Humphrey Goodwin, a change of ownership appears to have taken place in 1846 to Coupland & Goodwin, which seems to have resurrected the previous partnership between these two coal masters.
The Landsale shaft to which the report refers was also sunk by Humphrey Goodwin in 1840 to work the soft and hard coal seams. This pit used a horse gin and not an engine. The colliery closed in 1847 after the lease to mine the mineral rights expired, although the shaft would probably still have been used for ventilation and access. The landsale or land-sale system was a rental or tenement system occurring in the 18th and 19th centuries in Great Britain, in this case named after the practice of operating small scale collieries and selling the coal locally.
There is also reference to a further shaft named Shady which may have been sunk by Charles Seely in 1840. This would have been in the vicinity of the other shafts mentioned above. It was not uncommon to find the same name being used for two local collieries which had different owners, although no further information has been found on the Seely shaft. It is known however, that New Birchwood Colliery operated Shady No 1 and Shady No 2 shafts some years later.
Probably around the same time as the Shady and Balguy shafts were sunk, the Victoria Colliery was opened. This was listed on the C J Neale plan of 1853/54 at a depth of 90 yards. Although this colliery eventually closed, it was used by New Birchwood Colliery as an emergency shaft up until its final closure in 1941.
It is probable that Humphrey Goodwin died sometime after 1846, and that the business and partnership with John Coupland was taken over by his son, William. The business interests of William Goodwin failed and the partnership dissolved. The London Gazette of January 1851 reports on the case of William Goodwin as follows: “Pursuant to the Acts for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors in England. Before the Judge of the County Court of Derbyshire, holden at the County-hall, Derby on Saturday the 15th day of February 1851 at Eleven o’clock in the forenoon precisely: William Goodwin, late of Chesterfield, in the county of Derby, out of business, and in lodgings, previously of Birchwood, in the parish of Alfreton, in the county of Derby, farmer and mineral surveyor, and during part of which time working a colliery at Birchwood aforesaid, in co-partnership with John Coupland.”
Coupland at this point seems to have been the sole proprietor of the colliery complex at Birchwood. On 2 September 1852, John Coupland, Sir Charles Seely and John Kirk Keyworth entered into a partnership which, under the agreement they made, was to last for 11 years. This partnership began operating under the name of Coupland & Co. and seems to have traded under this name for approximately three years. The Shady Colliery complex was included in this arrangement, as by 2 January 1853, they seem to have been operating both the Shady Colliery and a Coupland Colliery situated at Cotes Park. The name of Goodwin does not appear in this agreement. The partnership, however, did not last for the intended 11 years, and was dissolved in November 1855, as reported in the London Gazette at that time. It is believed that Sir Charles Seely then took full ownership of Shady Colliery.
PHOTO: New Birchwood [Shady] Colliery
On 1 May 1847, John Coupland purchased 26 acres of land at Birchwood from a William Dannah. This was a continuous strip of land that ran almost opposite Bonsall Drive, Somercotes to the bottom of Birchwood Lane. Both John Coupland and his son Thomas sank the “Gin Pit” on this land, which was situated close to the Birchwood Allotment Gardens opposite the Methodist Church. The disused shaft is marked on a map of 1942. It is not known when this pit was sunk, but it can be assumed that it would been around 1847 or 1848 shortly after Coupland purchased the land, as this would have been the main reason for his investment. John Coupland would follow this with other pits at Birchwood and Cotes Park, and continued with several partnerships in the area. His son Thomas was responsible for erecting houses on Somercotes Common which were known as “Coupland Place” and were originally built to house his workers.
Rachel pit was sunk in 1870, and was situated close to Queen Street, off Birchwood Lane. The owners and operators are not known. It ran a shallow seam from the shaft toward Nottingham Road at a point close to the Old English Gentleman Inn. According to Reginald Johnson in his book “A History of Alfreton”, the landlord of the Old English Gentleman at the time, Samuel Lycitt, could hear the miners at work from his beer cellar. A small tramway carried the coal from Rachel to Muckram at Lower Birchwood, where it could be transferred to the Midland Railway. Rachel Pit was only open for a few years, closing around 1875. Despite this short operating period, the owners were reported to have been satisfied with the return on their investment
Also in 1875, the name of Shady Colliery officially changed to New Birchwood and the owners at that time were recorded as Charles Seely & Co. Like many of the pits, there is some confusion over the names this colliery used. Although officially known as New Birchwood from 1875, this complex would to the local population always be known as Shady Colliery.
Sir Charles Seely and his son, also named Charles, purchased the Babbington Coal Co. in the same year of 1875 from the estate of its owner, Thomas North, (after his death it was found that North owed a great deal of money to the banks, and the estate was sold to cover his debts). As well as Basford Hall, the Seely’s purchased all of the mining estates including Babbington Colliery at Cinderhill, Nottingham. At some point after this, New Birchwood (Shady) Colliery seems to have been operated by the Babbington Coal Co., which was then fully owned by the Seely family.
The following year, 1876, the Old Birchwood Soft and Old Birchwood Hard seams were closed, although mining of other seams continued. A survey of pits was carried out in 1894, and there is a listing for “Shady No. 1” and “Shady No. 2” exploiting the Tupton and Silkstone Seams. The survey appears to be referring to the shafts which may have continued to use their old names.
Over the years, the Seely’s would create a small empire in the area. They not only owned New Birchwood, they built a row of terraced houses on Nottingham Road at the top of Somercotes Common, which was known as Seely Terrace. They also purchased or built many other houses and owned farms and land throughout Somercotes and Birchwood.
New Birchwood Colliery continued to mine coal for the Seely family until they sold their holding in Birchwood and Somercotes to the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Co. in the 1930s. They remained the owners although production declined and seams were abandoned, until they finally closed the colliery in 1941. In 1942, the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Co. sold the entire estate in over 20 auction lots, including farms, houses and other premises.
The Butterley Iron & Coal Co also mined at Birchwood. Old Birchwood Colliery was opened prior to 1842, as this is listed in the Children’s Employment Commission report of that year. When John Spencer, the engineman at Old Birchwood was interviewed he stated that “…the engine is 10 hp and they use both rope and chain and always the rope to let the men and boys up and down…the pit is 120 yards deep…the wagons are drawn by young men…”. There were several shafts that Butterley sunk between 1823 and 1874, all of which could have been part of the same complex. The original shafts seem to have been sunk to exploit both the Soft and Hard Coal. According to a Colliery Trade Gazette, Old Birchwood was still working in 1881, and at least one shaft was extended to some 223 yards deep. The Lower Hard seam was closed in 1875, and the Low Main seam, which had been worked out, was closed in 1917.
A Nether or Lower Birchwood Colliery was first sunk in 1854 by Milnes & Eggleshaw, although this pit may have closed within a few years of opening. Charles Seely & Co also sank a shaft thought to be called Lower Birchwood. Opened in 1861, it seems to have been dug to exploit the Deep Hard coal seam, although the ingress of water in the heading appears to have stopped mining within a relatively short time. They continued to mine the Deep Soft measure for some time after this. There are certain instances known were Lower Birchwood was also called Shady Colliery (New Birchwood). A map of 1942, shows the shaft of Lower Birchwood not more than a few hundred metres from the Shady Colliery complex, but it does list it as a separate colliery. There may have been some reason for Charles Seely & Co to separate the two collieries, but it is difficult to understand given the close proximity Lower Birchwood Colliery has to Shady (New Birchwood) Colliery. Lower Birchwood closed around 1930.
Upper Birchwood Colliery lay in the parish of Pinxton. In the early 1800’s the land was owned by John Poundall, a farm bailiff. He sank at least one shaft in 1830. Several sales of land occurred at Upper Birchwood in the first half of the 19th century, and one in particular, in 1847, referred to the mineral rights. This auction does not mention exactly where the estate is, but at nearly 67 acres in total it almost matches the land mentioned in a previous sale of 1829. The interesting part is the sale of the mineral rights and the reference to specific coal measures which at that date had not been fully exploited. This area was extensively mined from the 13th century onwards, and shafts had to be sunk deeper in order to extract the coal from the lower seams.
The auction notice was published in the Derbyshire Courier on Saturday 26 June 1847, and read: “BIRCHWOOD, near ALFRETON, DERBYSHIRE – VALUABLE FREEHOLD ESTATE, COAL and IRONSTONE - TO BE SOLD AT AUCTION BY MR. BREAREY - At the house of Mr. John Allen, the George Inn, in Alfreton, in the county of Derby, Monday, the 28th day of June instant, at 4 o'clock in the Afternoon, subject conditions thereto exhibited; ALL that valuable FREEHOLD ESTATE, situate at Over Birchwood, in the parish of Pinxton, in the county of Derby, consisting of a Messuage or Farmhouse, and the Yards, Barns, Stables, and other Outbuildings thereto belonging; and also a modern-built Cottage, with all requisite Outbuildings, Counting-house, Offices, Gardens, and Pleasure Grounds thereto attached; and nearly Sixty-seven Acres (including the sites of the Buildings and Pit Hills) of excellent Arable and Meadow Land, divided into convenient enclosures, lying in a ring fence, near the farmhouse.
About 12 acres each of the main hard and soft Coal Beds in the Estate remain ungotten, and the FURNACE COAL lies under the whole of the Estate, with shafts sunk two-thirds of the depth thereto. The Estate also contains various Rakes of valuable IRONSTONE, which may be gotten from the shafts now sunk, and which are already drained. The Pinxton Canal, which is within a short distance of the Estate, affords an easy and cheap transit for the minerals, and a branch of the Erewash Valley Railway, from Pye Bridge to Clay Cross (an act of parliament for the formation whereof obtained), is intended pass through part of the Estate, or so near as to within the prescribed line of deviation.
The Estate will be offered in one Lot, or the Land and Minerals in separate Lots, as may be agreed upon at the time of Sale.
The whole Estate is in the occupation Mr. John Poundall or his under-tenants, to whom application to view the same may be made; and further particulars may be had on application at the Offices ol MESSRS. MILNES & NEWBOLD, Solicitors, Matlock; MR. CURSHAM Solicitor, Nottingham; or MESSRS. RICHARDS & SON, Solicitors, Alfreton. 7th June, 1847.”
The auction notice stated that the shafts [in the plural] had already been sunk to two thirds of the depth to the Furnace Seam and a portion of the Hard and Soft Seams remained. There were several collieries with the name Upper Birchwood, and it is likely that these were all sunk in the area covered by the auction lots and the map. The following details give a chronological history but tracing all references is difficult.
|1830||John Poundall||Upper Birchwood||This colliery is listed as being sunk in 1830|
|1832||John Poundall||Upper Birchwood||Colliery opened|
|1836||John Poundall||Upper Birchwood||Colliery closed – this may refer to abandoned seams only – see 1839|
|1839||John Poundall||Upper Birchwood||Listed as opened in 1832. By 1839 over 26 acres of Soft Coal and 23 acres of Hard Coal had been extracted|
|1842||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Noted as one of thirteen Butterley pits working [the only one in Birchwood]|
|1854||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Noted in a list of Derbyshire Collieries|
|1856||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Amongst a list of working collieries|
|1865||Butterley Company||Birchwood||Sunk by Butterley in 1865. This is almost certainly a different colliery to the one mentioned in 1856, although it could be a shaft in the same complex|
|1870||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Mentioned as a Butterley Company colliery [Derbyshire Courier 03.12.1870]|
|1871||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Listed as a Butterley Company Colliery|
|1873||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Listed as closed in 1873|
|1874||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Noted as working under Sleights Farm [which was owned by Col. E T Coke]. This reference is either a note that Upper Birchwood WORKED under Sleights Farm [as it closed the year before] or it is a reference to the new pit sunk in 1865.|
|1893||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||One of several collieries listed as part of the Miners Lock-Out dispute when work at the pit was stopped. [Nottingham Journal 09.11.1893]|
|1921||Butterley Comapny||Old Birchwood||Butterley changed the name of Old Birchwood [reference as just Birchwood above] to Upper Birchwood.|
|1921||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Listed as a Butterley Colliery|
|1924||Butterley Comapny||Upper Birchwood||Last seam abandoned at 233 yards deep and colliery listed as closed.|
One of the problems tracing the history of a colliery is that of ownership. In the 17th and early 18th centuries particularly the land and mineral rights were often leased to a developer or operator, sometimes separately so that it becomes difficult to understand who owns the land and mineral rights and which companies are actually mining. For example, although James Oakes & Company operated the Cotes Park Colliery until nationalisation, they did not, in fact, purchase the freehold of the estate until the 1930’s. It is certainly the case that much of the land at Upper Birchwood was purchased by the Butterley Company, as they proceeded to dispose of their holdings in 1944, although no firm date for their initial purchase can be currently found. They were certainly mining at Upper Birchwood in 1842, but it seems that much of the land and mineral rights were not sold until the auction of 1847.
Despite reference to the Butterley Company owning or operating a pit named Upper Birchwood in 1842, the Northern Mine Research Society records a different history, which is as below:
|1854||Butterley Company||Upper Birchwood||Listed as operating the colliery from 1854 to 1873.|
|1874||Charles Seely & Co.||Upper Birchwood||The colliery was leased to Charles Seely until 1885.|
|1885||-------||Upper Birchwood||No reference is made regarding the new owner/operated after Seely’s lease expired, but it may be assumed that it reverted back to the Butterley Company.|
|1925||W & H Seaton||Upper Birchwood||This company took a lease on the colliery which it operated until it was closed, presumably prior to 1944..|
After the closure of Upper Birchwood Colliery the Butterley Company kept their estate around Birchwood and Somercotes for several years, but finally sold it in seven auction lots in 1944.
5. THE COTES PARK COLLIERIES
Cotes Park is, in many ways, an extension to the Birchwood story. A shaft of some 160 yards was sunk by John Coupland around 1851 and was called Skellingthorpe, after the village in Lincolnshire where Coupland’s family resided. A further shaft, close by to Skellingthorpe, was sunk by Charles Seely in 1853, which was called Heighington, again after a village in Lincolnshire. The book “County Families of the United Kingdom” records “Charles Seely Esq (of Heighington)”. The Derbyshire History, Gazetteer & Directory of 1857 lists Charles Seely as owner of the Birchwood and Cotes Park Collieries with William Clark as the clerk at Cotes Park. The shaft sunk by Coupland also appears to have been known as “Coates Park” Colliery, which appeared on the C J Neale plan of 1853/54, and was reported to be mining the Hard Coal seam.
Perhaps the type of mines both Skellingthorpe and Heighington were, can be appreciated in a newspaper article regarding the retirement of a miner after a staggering 66 years at work. As part of a long report, he talked about his time working at the Cotes Park pits and Shady (New Birchwood) Colliery. A extract has been transcribed as follows: Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald 6 February 1924 – “SOMERCOTES MINER RETIRES – Mr Samuel Bacon of Seely Terrace, Somercotes … He began work at the age of ten at two shallow pits situated at Cotes Park and belonging to the late father of the present members of the Babington Coal Co. The Birchwood Shady Colliery was also working then, but they were shallow seams. Mr Bacon remembers the sinking operations to the present seams. When the Cotes Park pits finished he went across to the Shady Colliery and there completed his long service. His first introduction to mining was as a pony driver upon a twelve hour shift. For months, Mr Bacon told us, he never saw daylight except at the week-end…”
Although not much has been written about John Coupland, there can be no doubt that he was a wealthy man. An article appeared in the Chelmsford Chronicle, published on 5 September 1845 regarding an “Important sale by Auction of an Estate in Lincolnshire” Part of the article is transcribed as follows: “…the property of the heirs of the late Ellys Anderson Stephens Esq. of Bower Hall in this county took place at the Mart, London on 28th Ult. …After a spirited competition between the Hon. Lord Worsley and other influential capitalists the estate was knocked down and sold for sixty thousand pounds to John Coupland Esq. of Skellingthorpe, near Lincoln.” In 1845, the sum of sixty thousands pounds was a considerable amount of money. Even taking the simplest of calculations the minimum equivalent rate in the year 2000 would have been over 3.5 million pounds. A further newspaper transcript, this time from the Morning Chronicle obituary column of 9 February 1855 reads simply “On the 5th inst. of Skellingthorpe Hall, Lincoln, John Coupland Esq, aged 65”. His business interests seem to have been continued by his son, Thomas.
At some point the ownership of Skellingthorpe Colliery appears to have changed to Charles Seely & Co. although the date is not known. It continued to be worked until 1875, when it was closed. This is also the same date recorded for the closure of Heighington, also owned by Charles Seely & Co. The two shafts were located very close together and were positioned at the side of Cotes Park Farm.
The land owner of much of the Cotes Park Estate was James Henry Barker. He developed a partnership with Charles Seely and they opened a colliery at Cotes Park in 1857 to mine the Soft Coal seam. This was named the Barker Colliery. The coal seam was abandoned and the pit closed in 1862. The Derbyshire History, Gazetteer & Directory of 1857 records “About 1 mile NW (of Somercotes) is Cotes Park, a rapidly improving district, containing two extensive collieries and a few farms. J H Barker and Charles Seely Esqs. are the owners”
A further shaft was sunk c.1850 by James Oakes & Co. which became the Cotes Park Colliery. It seems that a second shaft was also sunk, as one had a depth of 143 yards to the Deep Soft seam and the other 160 yards to the Deep Hard seam. They were known as Cotes Park No 1 and Cotes Park No 2. This colliery also appears on the 1853/54 C J Neale plan.
PHOTO: Cotes Park Colliery and Farm
In 1868, mineral rights were leased by the company to exploit two coal seams (named the Bottom Hard and Main Soft) which ran under the Outseats Estate at Alfreton. They were leased from William and Joseph George Wilson. The lease was dated 3 July and ran for a period of 30 years. The surface area under which the seams were leased stretched between Flowery Leys Lane and Mansfield Road, Alfreton. As a precaution, there was a ‘dumb fault’ and ‘dumb ground’ crossing for the Carnfield railway tunnel area to ensure that subsidence did not affect the main railway lines which crossed the mining area.
The manager and agent for Cotes Park Colliery in the early years was George W Laverick, who was responsible for all of the mines owned and operated by the company. Laverick Road, Jacksdale is named after him.
In 1897, a third shaft was added to the complex, to work the Tupton and Silkstone seams. Cotes Park No 1 was then abandoned in 1903, after the royalty on the mineral rights for the Deep Hard seam were worked out. The following year, the Deep Soft was also abandoned.
On 23 April 1909, a serious fire occurred in the winding house of the colliery. It was reported extensively in all of the local newspapers – “DAMAGE AT COTES PARK - A serious fire occurred last Friday evening at Cotes Park Colliery, near Alfreton, belonging to Messrs James Oakes and Co. A large winding-engine house has been completely gutted, and much valuable machinery destroyed. The fire occurred in the engine-house of the new shaft. The engineman, Edward Langton, of Somercotes, lowered the ostler into the mine about 4.30pm, and for a few minutes left his engine. When he returned the engine-house was on fire. He gave an alarm, and the under-manager (Mr T Barker) and the engine wright (Mr. Watson), who live close by the colliery, were quickly on the scene. Mr. Barker wired for the Alfreton Fire Brigade and the Butterley Fire Brigade, both of which were on the spot in a very short time. They never had the slightest chance, however, of saving the building. The Butterley brigade brought an engine, and the flames were mastered by about 7 p.m., but the engine-house was a complete wreck. The fire spread so rapidly that the roof fell in within 15 minutes of the outbreak. There were several men in the pit at the time on the night shift, and they were got out through another shaft. Flames leapt dangerously near the headgear, but this was saved. The brigade secured water from the company’s reservoir, and fortunately there was an ample supply. The damages are placed close to £400. Mr. C. H. Oakes, J.P., a member of the firm, and Mr. B. Maclaren, the general manager, visited the colliery during the evening and directed operations. The cause of the fire is a mystery. The premises are lighted with electricity, but this was not in use. The pit was working again as usual on the Tuesday”. Several newspapers claim that the fire may have been started from a spark from a locomotive, which passed by the engine house, but no firm conclusion was ever reached. The building and equipment were fully insured.
James Oakes & Co. eventually purchased the freehold of the Cotes Park Estate in the 1930s and continued to mine until the colliery was nationalised in 1947. The new owners, the National Coal Board, removed the steam engines and boiler house, and converted the mine completely to electric power. The maximum tonnage produced at Cotes Park was recorded in 1956, but from then on the output reduced year on year. It finally closed after 113 years in May 1963, on economic and geological grounds. The last Colliery Manager to work at Cotes Park was a Mr. T. H. Jameson.
In total, six coal seams were exploited during the life of the colliery; Deep Soft, Deep Hard, Tupton Low main (from 1899 to 1941), Yard (between 1915 and the collieries closure in 1963), Silkstone Blackshale and the Tupton Threequarter seam (originally driven between 1916 and 1931, the seam was reopened around 1940 and worked until 1962).
6. THE GREENHILL LANE AND RIDDINGS AREA COLLIERIES
Like almost every other area around Somercotes and Riddings, Leabrooks and Greenhill Lane had a complicated mining history. Shafts were sunk and sometimes quickly closed, or used as ventilation or access shafts for other mines. With the information currently available it is not possible to give a definitive history of mining around Greenhill Lane, but hopefully the information given below will convey the scale of the various operations.
There are records of Cinderhill No. 1 and No. 2 shafts sunk on Greenhill Lane by Palmer-Morewood around 1802 and 1806, which was originally called the Cinderhill Colliery. These appear to have been sunk to exploit the Top Hard coal seam. They were situated toward the end of Slack Lane, off Greenhill Lane.
Three shafts all seemingly named Engine were situated in the Greenhill Lane and Newlands area. The original Engine Pit was sunk in 1795.
Most of the mines in the area appear to have been sunk by the Palmer-Morewood family of Alfreton, although, amongst others, the Butterley Iron & Coal Company, along with James Oakes & Co. also owned and operated several mines. Many of the pits owned by Palmer-Morewood may have been small, and most seem to have been sunk to exploit the Top Hard coal seam. Unusually, the majority were named and the locations can be traced.
The largest proportion of mines was sunk to the west of Greenhill Lane and Newlands, although several were sunk by James Oakes & Co. within Riddings, most notably next to the Riddings windmills (though the windmills were built at a later date).
Of these mines, very few would have been working for long. As each pit closed, probably due to the working conditions, a new shaft would have been sunk further along the seam. The Top Hard coal seam was completely abandoned in 1893, at which time all of the remaining shafts were closed.
Map of the Greenhill Lane pits (the named shafts are in blue). Greenhill Laneand Newlands Road are to the right of centre.
A list of Palmer-Morewood pits follows. It is not known how or when the names were given, and no doubt this record is not complete:
Old Engine – 1795. One of the earliest collieries sunk by Palmer-Morewood in this area. It was situated almost equidistant between Newlands Road and the old railway line, and the pit shaft known as “Seldom Seen” was sunk next to it.
Engine – 1799. This pit was sunk close to the old tramway, which at this point deviates from the line of the old railway, giving a direct route to the Cromford Canal wharf at Newlands..
Cinderhill Nos 1 & 2 – 1802, 1806. These shafts were sunk several hundred metres apart, just north of Slack Lane, off Greenhill Lane.
North – 1804. This pit was sunk to about 38 yards. It is close by to Clay’s Pit, which was sunk the same year.
Air 1805. The Air Pit is recorded as being just 7 yards deep, which makes it the shallowest of all those listed in these pages. If the depth is correct, then this would have been an old Bell Pit style mine, and much like all those in the area at this time, would have been operated with a Horse Gin or Wimsey.
Old Level - 1805. Old Level Mine was sunk towards the rear of what is now Amber Business Centre, off Greenhill Lane.
Parkin – c.1801.Parkin Mine was located a hundred metres or so from the Old Level, close to the Amber Business Centre.
Bond - 1806.Bond was sunk to 30 yards.
Clay – 1804. Clay was a relatively shallow pit, some 20 yards deep.
Orchard – 1812. This pit is the closest sunk to the south side of Swanwick Road, Leabrooks, adjacent to the old colliery railway line, which is now a public footpath (the railway line did not exist in 1812, but an old tramway followed this route to take the coal and ironstone to the Cromford Canal wharf at Newlands). Several depths are recorded for this mine. Originally at some 29 yards, Orchard is also listed as a relatively deep pit for the area, at 103 yards. If the information is correct, then the shaft was, at some point, extended to exploit a deeper seam.
Cupola – c.1817. Cupola was sunk about 1817, following a line some 50 metres from the Orchard Pit and adjacent to the old tramway.
Folly – 1810. The Folly shaft was sunk in 1810 to 70 yards and opened on 21 August 1815. It closed on 19 February 1817..
Baker – 1808. The Baker shaft was sunk to 44 yards
Lane – c.1808.
Crabtree – 1812. Crabtree was one of the later pits sunk by Palmer-Morewood in this area. It was sunk in 1812 and opened on 14 October the same year. It closed on 29 December 1817.
Dam – 1811. This is another pit that was located close to where the Amber Business Centre, Greenhill Lane is now situated.
Seldom Seen c.1800. Contrary to what might be thought, the name “Seldom Seen” was used for several mines in England, and the “Seldom Seen Engine House” at Eckington Woods in Derbyshire is now a listed National Monument. More often than not, the name derives from the fact that the workings were seldom seen within the landscape.
Not all of the known collieries and mines are included in the above list.
As mentioned previously, several pits were owned and operated by James Oakes & Co. These, however, do not seem to have been named or at least had more generic names than those operated by Palmer-Morewood.
A Riddings Colliery was operated by James Oakes & Co, and was sunk to a depth of 100 yards to the Hard Coal Seam. Although it is not known when the shaft was sunk it could have been as early as 1826 and appears to have been closed in 1856. To confuse matters, several different collieries in the area were known as Riddings Pit.
Three shafts appear to have been sunk in close proximity to one another, situated on what would become the site of the Riddings windmills, at Greenhill Common. Sunk by James Oakes & Co. they appear to have been known collectively as Greenhill Colliery, although Soft, Hard and Furnace shafts are recorded and relate to the coal measures each was sunk to exploit. It is difficult to put an opening date on these shafts, but Reginald Johnson, in his book “A History of Alfreton” refers to the mine operating from 1826. The Peak District Mines Historical Society records that the colliery was still operating in 1842, with the Soft Coal shaft sunk to 100 yards and the Furnace shaft to 50 yards. These shafts used the same engine, which indicates how close the shafts actually were. The Soft Coal shaft was operated under the “New Plan” and is also mentioned in the Mines Records Office publication in 1854. The roadway was 152 yards, working a seam some 3 feet 10 inches thick. The heading was excavated to 4 feet 6 inches. The Furnace pit is recorded as working to the “Old Principle” (that is, not on the New Plan). The Hard Coal shaft used a separate, 14hp engine and was sunk to 100 yards. This shaft had one bank at 100 yards and two wagon roads, one of 131 yards and the other 133 yards. In one wagon road the wagons were drawn by pit ponies, but in the other, boys between the ages of 10 to 15 years were used to shove the wagons to the shaft bottom. The Hard Coal seam was 3 feet 6 inches thick, with the headings worked to about 4 feet.
A tramway extended from this colliery past the edge of Riddings Park all the way down to the Ironworks, part of which now follows the line of Parkside, Somercotes. Trucks full of coal and slag would have been hauled up and down the tramway during the collieries operating life. In later years, this tramway would also service the windmills, which were built in 1877. It is believed that the Soft Coal shaft closed around 1856, and the Furnace in 1862. A date for the closure of the Hard Coal shaft is not known, although it is believed that the Greenhill Colliery complex had closed by the time the windmills were constructed on the site.
Another shaft, also sunk by James Oakes & Co was situated at the top of Parkside, adjacent to the tramway. This may have been sunk as late as 1864, and also appears to have been called Greenhill Colliery, although there is a reference to a New Main shaft sunk to a depth of 100 yards. Two further shafts, unnamed and sunk side by side, were located behind the houses on West Street, and another, to the north of Spring Road, Riddings was also a James Oakes pit.
In total, by 1842, James Oakes & Co. operated six collieries and thirteen ironstone mines.
Three collieries were sunk at Riddings by the Butterley Iron & Coal Co., which were on a line east of Leabrooks, Newlands and Golden Valley, following the line of the old railway. Britain Colliery was located near to Britain’s Farm and Swanwick Junction Station, and was sunk in 1827. It was probably named after Gabriel Britain who had previously owned several mines in the area. Originally sunk to a depth of 125 yards, in 1848 the shaft was extended to 250 yards. The pit mined the Deep Soft, Deep Hard and Low Main coal seams. Brands Colliery was located behind the Newlands Inn at Golden Valley, towards Riddings, and was close to the Britain Pit. Mining was abandoned at Brands in 1906, but the shaft was used as part of the Britain Pit complex. Western Colliery was situated close to Jubilee Wood, near to the site of the Newlands Inn at Golden Valley. It was sunk around 1854. After the mine was abandoned in 1906, the shaft was used to ventilate the Britain Pit which was still operating close by. In the 1923 Colliery Year Book the colliery manager was recorded as Mr H. H. Holmes and the pit employed 803 workers below ground and 228 on the surface, a considerable number for the area. The Britain Colliery complex continued to work until 1946, when it was closed.
PHOTO: Part of the old Britain Pit Complex, now in the grounds of Butterely Park Museum.
Several collieries were located to the west of Newlands Road. One is thought to have been sunk by Palmer-Morewood in 1809 to a depth of about 44 yards. A Newlands mine was also sunk by the Butterley Iron & Coal Company. A 12hp engine worked the coal shaft at 110 yards, and the No. 1 ironstone shaft at 80 yards. This mine always used a bonnet (a shaft guard). There were two banks, about 28 yards each and the wagons were drawn by pit ponies. The coal seam was 3 feet 4 inches, with the heading slightly larger. The engineman, George Jackson, who was just 14 years old in 1842, reported that the shaft was “very bad”. The colliery appears to have closed in 1874.
There are other collieries in this area, including the Balance, Thin and the Ripley A & B shafts, of which the latter were almost certainly owned by the Butterley Iron & Coal Company.
7. THE PYE BRIDGE COLLIERIES
Although James Oakes is probably better well-known for his contribution to the founding and expansion of Riddings Ironworks, the company also had other interests in the area, including the Gas Works at Pye Bridge, the Pipe and Clay Works at Pye Hill and many coal and ironstone mines.
Several unnamed shafts have been recorded within the boundaries of Riddings Iron Works and the area between Pye Bridge, Bullock Lane, Riddings and Codnor Park.
The history of the mines that James Oakes & Co. owned and operated covers a period of over one hundred years. Some collieries that were opened in the early 1800s are not well documented, and were probably fairly small.
After the acquisition of much of the Rolleston Estate together with the mineral rights in 1818, James Oakes & Co., began to mine coal and ironstone between Riddings and Pye Bridge. Sometime probably around the mid-1830s two shafts, known originally as Deep Main No. 1 and Deep Main No 2 were opened, initially to work the Low Main seam, but the owners extended the shaft to reach the Kilburn seam at 250 yards deep. At the time, it was one of the deepest mines in the country. The colliery was situated at the side of Bridle Lane between the ironworks and the canal at Pye Bridge.
In 1838 during mining operations, a torrent of salt water burst into the workings. To ensure that mining could continue a sump was dug to collect it, and it was brought to the surface in tubs at night and discharged into the Cromford Canal. The company was not actually committing any offence by disposing of the water into the canal, as the “Cromford Canal” Act of Parliament stated that “every colliery owner was compelled to discharge all of the waste water from their mines along the canal’s course”. They would have had no idea of the consequences at that time. Eventually the volume of salt water entering the mine decreased, to be replaced by a substance whose properties were then unknown. This too, was discharged into the canal as required under the Parliamentary Act. This substance floated on the surface of the water and gradually made its way to Pinxton Wharf, where, in an act of serendipity, children there found they could set the canal alight by throwing hot coals and embers into the water. It was not long before the colliery manager ordered an investigation.
James Oakes finally decided that this substance might be worth exploiting, and asked his brother-in-law, the eminent scientist Lyon Playfair to carrying out further tests. Playfair knew James Oakes well, having spent time at Riddings House carrying out research into blast furnaces, and subsequently marrying his sister, Margaret Oakes. In the autumn of 1847, Playfair tested a sample of the substance and found it to be Naptha (also known as Rock Oil or Petroleum). Today, the term “Crude Oil” is more commonly used. Although the world was very familiar with the product it was considered to be of little commercial use, and in Britain it was mainly added as an ingredient to medicines or used in the manufacture of expensive soaps.
To his credit, however, Oakes could see the potential for other products, although at heart he was an ironmaster and not a chemist. Playfair offered to contact an old colleague, James Young, an industrial chemist from Scotland who at the time was working in Manchester. On 3rd December 1847 he wrote to Young explaining that “…My brother (in-law) intends to set up stills for it immediately, but as they are ironmasters, this would be a separate industry." He went on to ask Young if he would be able to establish a profitable business by manufacturing oils from the natural spring, which at the time was producing a staggering 300 gallons a day. Accepting the challenge Young leased the spring from James Oakes in early 1848 (he did not lease the mineral rights or the mine, which continued to work the coal and ironstone seams). The same year he set up the world's first oil refinery at Riddings Ironworks.
Young initially produced two products by distillation. One was a lubricating machine oil, for which he found a ready market in the cotton industry, and the other, Paraffin Oil, to be used for burning in oil lamps. A third, discovered only after a problem relating to the crude oil becoming opaque, was found to be Paraffin. Playfair advised Young to make two Paraffin Wax candles, which at great expense he did. They burned much brighter and cleaner than candles made from animal fat or beeswax, which were the only substances used in candle making at the time. Playfair used them at a lecture at the Royal Institution in London, which caused a great stir among the eminent scientists in the audience. After this successful demonstration, paraffin wax candles would become a very big business for James Young.
By 1851, however, the crude oil seeping into the Deep Main Colliery had all but ceased, but nonetheless, the mining of coal and ironstone continued.
The importance of this discovery and subsequent experiments cannot be underestimated. Young not only produced the products, but after underground visits found out how the oil had formed and had been released. He went on to make his fortune from the discoveries. It is perhaps remarkable that the men involved and the colliery itself is not more well-known.
In 1846 a new colliery was sunk to exploit the Kilburn seam at 230 yards to work the ironstone. This was sited near Nottingham Lane. To distinguish it from the earlier colliery, it was named the “New Deeps”. It is possible that the older mine had the local name of the “Deeps”, reflecting both the official name (Deep Main Nos 1 & 2) and also referencing the fact that it had two shafts. It was not until 1884, however, that this earlier mine was renamed the “Old Deeps”. The “Old Deeps” workings were eventually driven to join up with the “New Deeps”.
In 1885, the “New Deeps” colliery closed and finally, after an eventful history, the “Old Deeps” closed in 1888, bringing to an end mining in Pye Bridge itself.
8. THE SMOTHERFLY COLLIERIES
Smotherfly, like Birchwood, has long been associated with mining. None of the pits at Smotherfly seem to have been named. It is assumed that they would have simply been called Smotherfly or named after the land owner and operator. A record of some of the shafts follows, though it is far from complete:
The Turner Family lived in Swanwick during the 17th and 18th centuries. They owned swathes of land throughout the area, including much of the mineral rights. They mined extensively in Alfreton, Somercotes and the Greenhill Lane area. After the death of Charles Turner in 1736, the executors of his Last Will & Testament formed the Swanwick Colliery Company, which sunk four coal pits on Greenhill Lane alone. Due to their mining activities, the Turner family became very wealthy.
Their family tree is complicated. John Turner built Swanwick Hall around 1690 and was one of the great industrialists of the area. His son Charles, although disinherited from his father’s Last Will & Testament, eventually took over half of the estate, including the Turner coal mines and mineral rights. When Charles died without issue in 1736, the legitimate Turner family line finished, and the estate was split and given to other relatives. However, John Turner also had an illegitimate son named George Boote, who inherited the other half of the Turner estate, including clay and brickworks. It was his father’s wish that he take on the name of Turner. As the collieries at Smotherfly are recorded as being owned by the Turner family, it must be assumed that this was a descendant of George (Boote) Turner. A more complete history of the family can be found in Reginald Johnson’s book “A History of Alfreton” and in information available at Swanwick Hall School.
The reference to a partnership between Coupland and Riley appears in several documents. William Riley was the son of a framesmith who inherited the estate on his father’s death. It seems that he invested his inheritance in coal, and is described in later documents as a “coal merchant, dealer and chapman” [the definition of Chapman is given as an “itinerant, dealer and hawker” but in this case is probably used as an alternative to “merchant”]. William certainly had an interest in property and land at Birchwood, and owned a share of a lease of mineral rights. The only references to coal mines relating to William Riley are to be found in areas around Smotherfly, but this would be consistent with other recorded details. The date of any partnership between Coupland and Riley, and of any colliery they were working must have been prior to 1824, as William was declared bankrupt in that year. Like so many investing in a new enterprise, William Riley probably had no previous experience or qualification, and his finances almost certainly became overstretched. The Edinburgh Gazette, published on 12th March 1824 listed those recently declared bankrupt including “William Riley, now or late of Birchwood, Alfreton, Derby; coal merchant and chapman”.
Following the declared bankruptcy, William Riley’s assets were duly listed for auction. A notice for the auction was published in the Derby Mercury on 2nd June 1824, which gives an insight into the land and property owned by him and others at this time. “VALUABLE MINERAL PROPERTY, to be sold by auction at the Sun Inn, Eastwood on Tuesday 15th next by the direction of the assignees of William Riley, a bankrupt. One Moiety or undivided half part of and in a newly erected Messuage or Tenement, Cottage and other farm buildings and several closes, parcels or pieces of arable, meadow and pasture land containing in the whole by estimation 74 acres 1r 32p. ALSO the other moiety of the two present working seams of COAL under the said lands held under a lease at a moderate Coal Rent for 99 years, of which 92 years are unexpired. This property is very advantageously situated at Birchwood near Alfreton and is in the immediate neighbourhood of several extensive Founderies [sic] and by means of a railway to the Cromford Canal communicates with different canals running into Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. A preference has been given to the soft coal of this colliery by the Nottingham, Derby, Loughborough and Leicester Gas Companies. For a view of the property apply to Mr. William Riley, the agent at the colliery. Particulars are obtainable at the place of the sale and at the Black’s Head, Nottingham, King’s Head Derby and the principal inns in Chesterfield, Mansfield, Alfreton and Wirksworth. Further particulars also may be had of Mr Edward Fowler and Mr John Coupland, merchants, and Mr Moore, solicitor, Lincoln. Lincoln, 24th May 1824.”
There are several interesting parts to the auction details. The size of the property is substantial; there is reference to one colliery with two working seams; reference to the lease indicates that the colliery was opened in 1817 or thereabouts and the share that William Riley had was one undivided half. It can be presumed, although there is no clear evidence, that the other half of the property was owned by John Coupland.
Despite the auction being listed for 15th June 1824, it would seem that the property was withdrawn from sale, possibly due to the actions of John Coupland or other creditors. A notice in the London Gazette dated 24 September 1825, over one year later, stated “The Commissioners In a Commission .of Bankrupt awarded and issued forth against William Riley, now or late of Birchwood, in the Parish of Alfreton, in the County of Derby, Coal-Merchant, Dealer and Chapman, intend to meet on the 6th day of October next, at Eleven o'Clock in the Forenoon, at the Office of Mr. Joseph Moore, Solicitor, in the City of Lincoln, in order to receive the Proofs of the Debts of such of the Creditors of the said Bankrupt as have not already proved their debts under the said Commission”. On 1st October 1825 the same publication printed the following notice: “NOTICE is hereby given, that, in pursuance of an Order of his Honour the Vice-Chancellor, made on or about the 12th day of August last, on the hearing of a petition of John Coupland and Humphrey Goodwin, praying that the agreement, in the said petition mentioned to bear date the 9th day of August 1824, tor the sale to them of all the estate, right, and interest of William Riley, now or late of Birchwood, in the Parish of Alfreton, in the County of Derby, Coal-Merchant, Dealer and Chapman, a Bankrupt, in and to certain mines, hereditaments, and premises, situate at Birchwood aforesaid, might be confined, the Creditors who have proved their debts under the Commission of Bankrupt awarded and issued against the said William Riley, are requested to meet at the King's Head Inn in the Town of Derby, on Tuesday the 1st day of November next, at Five o'Clock in the Afternoon, for the purpose of then and there electing a fit and proper person to have the conduct and management of the resale of the said estate, right, and interest of the said Bankrupt of, in, and to the said mines, hereditaments, and premises in the said agreement mentioned, which, by the- said Order, is directed to be made”.
Exactly the same notice was published again in the London Gazette on 1st April 1826, with the date of the meeting in Derby amended to 1st May. This appears to be the last record of the estate of William Riley and no information as to the final outcome was published, although it is very likely that John Coupland, then in partnership with Humphrey Goodwin, purchased the undivided half of the property and mineral rights.
No closure dates for any of the Smotherfly pits are known. They were probably worked out by the mid to late 19th century, and the area has now returned to pasture and grazing land. At one time Smotherfly would have been a hive of activity, and it is believed that even a Smithy was present on the site, in a field known as Smithy Close. Traces of this, too, have all but vanished.
THE SMOTHERFLY OPENCAST
Although Smotherfly and the surrounding area had been mined from ancient times no deep mine was sunk there, and much of the coal remained unexcavated. Some of the site was heavily contaminated from other industrial activity, including the Midland Acid Works and Kempson’s Chemical Works at Pye Bridge. The British Coal Corporation applied for planning permission to opencast 205 hectares of land to recover approximately 1.6 million tonnes of coal. Permission was granted on 17 March 1989.
Various provisions were made in the planning, particularly for decontamination of the land and restoration it to its natural state after completion of the mining operations. Diversion of the River Erewash was also granted, together with certain applications regarding the Pinxton Branch of the Cromford Canal. The London Gazette, published on 11 September 1992 reported on the diversion of public footpaths, the preamble to which is transcribed as follows: “COAL ACTS - BRITISH COAL CORPORATION - OPENCAST COAL ACT 1958 - SMOTHERFLY OPENCAST COAL SITE -Suspension of Rights of Way Order 1989… Notice is hereby given that the British Coal Corporation in connection with the workings of coal by opencast operations propose to apply under section 15 of the Opencast Coal Act 1958 to the Secretary of State for an Order amending alternative way as described in the Schedule below…”
The contract for the opencast was awarded to Kier Mining in March 1993, to extract coal from the Deep Soft and Deep Hard coal seams. By the time the opencast site was operational the coal industry had been privatised, and RJB Mining became the owners of the site.
Production finished in March 1999, after extraction of some two million tonnes of coal from a total of 11 seams. In total, the site covered an area of 510 acres, of which almost 100 acres was taken from the former Pye Hill No 2 Colliery site. The toxic waste from the acid and tar works was removed and buried in concrete coffins 180ft underground.
Restoration of the site included the planting of a woodland and wetland area. The wetland area was originally known before opencasting as Pye Bridge Meadows, and reflects its former state.
9. THE SOMERCOTES COLLIERIES
There were several collieries in Somercotes itself, but these are not well documented. They were probably sunk in the late 18th or early 19th centuries.
There are references to a Somercotes Upper and a Somercotes Lower mine. These appear to be both ironstone mines and were operated by the Butterley Iron & Coal Company. The Upper Mine was 38 yards deep. The report issued for the Children’s Employment Commission stated that the “wagons are shoved by young men from 14 to 18 years of age. There are no corves but the whole is worked with iron boxes with wheels fixed under.” The report was published in 1842 and the description of the working practices seems to be referring to the New Plan. The Lower colliery was sunk to a depth of 27 yards and both mines were operated by a horse gin. Although the names imply that the mines might have been in Upper and Lower Somercotes the shafts were, in fact, relatively close together, as it is recorded that they ventilated each other, sometimes by using a fire basket to draw the air through the workings. At the time of the report in 1842, Charles Naylor was the butty to both of the Upper and Lower mines.
A colliery was also sunk by Palmer-Morewood at Somercotes and seems to have been known as the Summercotes Colliery. It was sunk to a depth of 42 yards to the Soft coal seam and worked by a small 8hp engine. The seam was 3 feet 9 inches thick and was worked with two banks, one at 100 yards and the other at 20 yards. The colliery was ventilated from a separate engine shaft. The Children’s Employment Commission report stated that “Mr. Morewood sinks the shafts, prepares the headings and finds a certain quantity of tools. He then lets it to their own butties at so much per ton. The butties then employ holers by stint, the loaders and banksmen by the ton and the hammerers, woodmen and children by the day. If he sees they are ill-used he interferes, but in other respects the butties are the masters of the children who are neither hired nor apprenticed.”
The Somercotes Furnace pit is mentioned in several records, and was sunk to work the Furnace Coal. It seems that it was sunk about 1804. This may be the colliery that was included in a book by John Farey, who published a list of collieries that were working in 1808. The book, Agriculture and Minerals of Derbyshire, was published in 1811. A reference to a Somercotes Colliery also exists in the records of the National Archives, and this particular mine can be located exactly. It was sunk in the corner of a field behind Furnace Row, Lower Somercotes and consisted of two shafts, close together. John Farey positions the colliery in his book some 2¼ miles south east of Alfreton, and it is probably the same one as recorded in the National Archives records.
As well as the collieries mentioned, the Reverend Henry Case Morewood also opened several pits in the area, including one in Somercotes. The Reverend Henry Case married Ellen Morewood, widow and heiress to George Morewood of Alfreton Hall. After the marriage, he took on the name of Morewood and continued the family’s business activities. His name is mentioned often in connection with mining in the area around the turn of the 19th century.
MAP: A map of the Somercotes area showing a few off the mines
Although some of the collieries are known by name, their locations are much more difficult to ascertain. The sites of abandoned shafts in Somercotes are known, but not names or owners, although some will almost certainly be the mines previously mentioned.
A shaft was sunk close to and behind the Old English Gentleman public house. There are no dates available for this shaft but it appears on C J Neales Plan of 1853/54.
Three shafts were sunk close to Windmill Rise, adjacent to the B600
Two shafts are marked in a field close to Furnace Row (already mentioned)
A shaft was also sunk adjacent to the B600 at Lower Somercotes, after the last row of houses and before the Lodge.
Finally, a report from the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald published on 6 October 1855 on a mining accident stated: "On Wednesday, the 3rd. instant, at Somercotes, on the body of Anthony Daws, of Somercotes Colliery, labourer, who died on the previous Saturday, aged 55 years. On the 18th September deceased was working in a coalpit at Coates Park, near Alfreton, belonging to Messrs. Oakes, with a naked candle; the candle ignited the firedamp which was in the pit, and deceased was severely burnt; he died from the injuries which he then sustained. Verdict, "Accidental Death"." This report refers to Cotes Park but also specifically mentions Somercotes Colliery. It also states that the colliery was owned by James Oakes & Co. There are other short references to a Somercotes Pit at Cotes Park, but no further details have been established.
10.THE SWANWICK COLLIERIES
Mining at Swanwick and around the area south west of Alfreton had been taking place almost since the locality had been settled. The Turner family of Swanwick originally owned much of the mineral rights and are recorded sinking a coal pit in 1636. In 1789, George Morewood, Lord of the Manor of Alfreton, purchased this pit and the mineral rights from the Trustees of the estate of Charles Turner, who had died in 1736. The Turner estate had been held in trust under the conditions of Charles Turner’s Last Will & Testament, under which the Executors established the Swanwick Coal Company in order to help administrate the estate.
In 1816, following the Inclosures Act, over 263 acres of land in the district of Alfreton was enclosed, and the Palmer-Morewood family started to mine on what was then called Alfreton Common. Both Palmer-Morewood and the Swanwick Colliery Company sank several shafts in the area around what would become the Swanwick Colliery complex.
From various sources, the dates (in some cases approximate) for the various shafts at the complex can be determined as below:
The coal exploited at Swanwick was considered to be of the very best quality. White’s Directory of 1857 states “…About 1 mile S.E. of Alfreton lies the Swanwick Colliery, the property of William Palmer Morewood, Esq. The superior quality of this coal has induced a number of persons to vend a very inferior article in its name, in places where it has never been introduced. The seam is about five feet in thickness, and is raised to the surface by a small engine of eight horses’ power. The works are kept dry by an engine of forty horses’ power, which is also assisted in very wet weather by a smaller one. The coal is conveyed by railway first to the summit of an inclined plane, by means of a small engine of eight horses’ power, the waggons being attached to a wire rope, about 400 yards long. On the summit is a wharf for the sale of coal, near to which is the Alfreton Old Poorhouse, converted into cottages since the New Poor Law came into operation. The situation of the wharf and poorhouse is called Sleet Moor, and about fifty years ago it was a wide common which was used as a race course.”
The “Alfreton Old Poor House” referred to in White’s Directory was last converted to the Laburnum Inn, on Sleetmoor Lane, which itself was demolished in January 1964.
The fact that the coal mined in this area was seen as superior to others can also be confirmed in a newspaper notice from 1806, some 51 years prior to the publication of the Whites Directory mentioned above. The article describes the lengths that the mine owners were going to in order to curtail the practice of selling inferior coal as “Swanwick Coals”. The article was printed in the Derby Mercury, published on 6 February 1806.
“Swanwick and Somercotes Coals
Whereas it is understood that numbers of Coal Higlers or Carriers carrying coals from Cromford Wharf to different parts of the country round about, have for some time made the practice of taking coals of inferior quality and selling them again for Swanwick Coals, and thereby greatly imposing on the public contrary to the desire of all those whose wish it was to have Swanwick Coalsat by which unlawful proceedings the sale of that Valuable Article (which is allowed by all disinterested persons to be inferior to none of the best Quality) has been greatly prejudiced & the interest of the Proprietor very much injured. This is therefore to give notice, which it is hoped will act to give caution to all persons desirous of purchasing the above Coals that NATHENIAL WHEATCROFT and SAMUEL WRAGG of Cromford aforesaid are appointed by and solely for the proprietor, the only retailers at the above Wharf of the said Swanwick and Summercotes Coals by whom all persons willing to favour them with their commands, may depend on them having the above Coals without having any mixture whatever – And the friends of the proprietor and the public in general are desired to take notice that in future none of the said coals will be sold from the above Wharf without a ticket from the Cromford machine, which ticket they are required to demand from every Higler or Carrier of the above Article, in order that they may not henceforth be imposed upon. And all persons who are in future detected in the above legal practices will be dealt with as the Law directs in such cases.
Cromford Wharf Feb 3rd 1806”
Like those at Birchwood and Cotes Park, the collieries of Swanwick would all merge and grow into one larger complex, known as the Swanwick Collieries. The Palmer-Morewood family owned the mine until 1947, when it was nationalised and became part of the National Coal Board. In 1958, along with other collieries in the locality, Swanwick became part of the National Coal Board’s No 4 Area. It continued to mine the Black Shale seam until it was finally closed in September 1968. It was the last colliery in the district to close. During the life of Swanwick Colliery over 80 miners were fatally injured in accidents, the last being in 1966.
The region of the Damsteads at Alfreton is also an old mining area, closely associated with the Swanwick Collieries. It was a post medieval industrial site known as the Damstead Forge, and was situated between Lilley Street Farm and Each Well Lane at Alfreton.
In Reginald Johnson’s book, “A History of Alfreton”, there is reference to a sale of the land in October 1614, when an agreement was concluded between John Zouch, then Lord of Alfreton, and Leonard Sutton, comprising of “two closes called the Damsteads” for a fee of £100. The sale included the area known as Flash Dam, the dam head and land extending to eight acres. In 1614 it was already described as an “ancient iron mill”. Near to Lilley Street Farm were two closes called the Bloom Smithies and Milne Fields (here, Milne is thought to derive from the word Mill). The whole area was given over to iron working. In 2011, a survey was carried out by Thames Valley Archaeological Services prior to the planning consent for Amber valley Crematorium, and during the investigation slag and cinder from the iron mill was noted at the Damsteads, centuries after production had ceased. Being already an industrial area, sited on top of a rich layer of coal seams, it was perhaps only logical that mining would follow. The Damstead Colliery was sunk by Palmer-Morewood in 1811 who by then presumably owned the land. Three shafts were sunk in total. Two were at a depth of about 50 yards and one at 47 yards. It is not known when these were sunk, but the colliery appears to have been closed around 1853.
In the 19th century, various other shafts were sunk in this area, but their details and exact whereabouts are not fully known.
Swanwick Cinder Pit was open in 1800. It was a shallow pit sunk to a depth of 25 yards, and would have been worked by a horse gin or wimsey. Like most of the collieries in the area, the Cinder Pit was owned by Palmer-Morewood. Two more Palmer-Morewood pits were the Landsale and Crabtree. These were both recorded at Swanwick in the Children’s Employment Commission report of 1842. The Landsale was 20 yards deep and the Crabtree 35 yards, both being worked by a one horse gin. These two shafts were sunk relatively close together, as it is recorded in the report that ventilation was generated from each other as well as a wind shaft. A shaft called the Swanwick Wood Pit was sunk in 1821 to a depth of 58 yards. This pit is not recorded in the report of 1842 and may have already closed by that date.
11. ALFRETON & CARNFIELD COLLIERIES
Two shafts were sunk at Carnfield by Coke & Company. Carnfield No. 1 was opened in 1826 and was sunk to 112 yards. The seam worked was 3 feet 9 inches thick. This pit closed in 1870. A second shaft, Carnfield No. 2 was sunk in 1835. Also owned by Coke & Company, this colliery was located about one mile south of Carnfield Hall and was sunk to 110 yards to work the Deep soft seam, which at this point was 3 feet thick. Carnfield No 2 was particularly subject to wildfire (methane). In 1837, an explosion killing two miners and badly injuring four others was recorded, although in those days fatalities at most working pits was not uncommon. It was recorded in the Children’s Employment Commission report that neither shaft was laid in lime and no bonnets were used (which would have protected the miners in the shaft from falling debris). Carnfield No 2 was abandoned in 1878.
Like other owners, Coke & Company would sink the shaft and prepare the headings. Their agent (at the time this was a Mr. Joseph Machin) would fix the price of the coal per ton, and offer it to the butties who would then be responsible for employing their own workers to extract the coal. Coke & Company had several collieries at Pinxton and South Normanton as well as Sleights Colliery, at north Birchwood.
The Reverend D’ewes Coke was born at Mansfield Woodhouse in 1747, the only son of George Coke (1725–1759) of Kirkby Hall, Nottinghamshire. The name D'Ewes came from Coke's great-grandmother, Elizabeth D'Ewes, who was the mother of the first D'Ewes Coke. He spent much of his childhood under the guardianship of a Sarah Lillyman, of Brookhill Hall, Pinxton, and when she died in 1780, he inherited her estate. He formed the Pinxton Colliery Company which sank several pits in the area, and although he died in 1811, his son John carried on the business in the form of Coke & Company.
Alfreton Colliery was sunk in 1885 and was operated by the Blackwell Colliery Co. The colliery was situated close to Meadow Lane at Alfreton. Originally it was to be called the Blackwell "C" Winning, but the name was quickly changed to Alfreton Colliery. Two shafts were sunk. No. 1 shaft was sunk to 153 yards to work the Deep Soft seam and was deepened in 1957 to the Low Main seam at 246 yards. No. 2 shaft was originally sunk to 76 yards. A drift was also driven at an incline of 1:6 to the Deep Hard seam. Alfreton Colliery was prone to flooding and water had to be constantly pumped out of the workings.
PHOTO: Alfreton Colliery
In 1947 the colliery was nationalised and became part of the National Coal Board. It continued to work several seams but in February 1968 the Yard seam, the last to be worked, was abandoned and the colliery closed. At the time of closure the Colliery Manager was a Mr. J. S. Dodd.
12. THE GOLDEN VALLEY COLLIERIES
Three pits were sunk by Butterley Iron & Coal Co on land between Golden Valley and Ironville which have a connected history. The Cloddy mine was opened in 1843, consisting of two shafts, Top Cloddy and Bottom Cloddy, which were officially named Butterley Park Nos. 7 & 8 respectively. Bottom Cloddy was originally sunk to 98 yards and lay near to the railway line between Golden Valley and Codnor Park. They mined coal from the Clod Seam, from which the shafts take their name. Top Cloddy was the upcast shaft and Bottom Cloddy was the down cast shaft. They also mined ironstone seams. A newspaper report in an issue of the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald of 27 June 1863 reports of a serious accident at Cloddy Mine. It states in the article that the mine is owned by James Oakes & Co. This could simply be an error, or there could be some partnership between the two companies with regard to this mine.
Butterley sank the Exhibition Mine in 1851. It was named after the Great Exhibition held at Crystal Palace the same year. It was officially named Butterley Park No. 9 and mined the Kilburn Seam at a depth of 300 yards, which for the time was a very deep shaft. The Exhibition mine was not very successful, due mainly to the seam being very thin and also because of the ingress of water. It was affectively abandoned in 1871, although the shaft was used for ventilation in the New Main colliery, to which it was connected. It finally closed in 1881.
New main Colliery was an amalgamation of the Cloddy and Exhibition Pits. An edition of the “Midland and Northern Coal & Iron Trades Gazette” published on 9 March 1881 records that New Main Nos. 7 & 8 and Exhibition No. 9 were situated at Codnor Park. The Nos. 7 & 8 refers to the Top and Bottom Cloddy Pits, and this listing confirms they were working in the early part of 1881. New Main closed in 1884, effectively ending mining in all three pits.
13. CLOSURE AND LEGACY
By nationalisation in 1947, only three collieries remained in the locality; Swanwick, Cotes Park and Alfreton. They all closed within a short span of time. Cotes Park was the first, in 1963. At this time, the Alfreton Urban District Council, as it was then, could have done nothing, but with the help and encouragement of local MPs and other government departments a plan was made and adopted to clear and develop the site of Cotes Park colliery and turn it into an industrial estate. Initially it was a relatively small industrial complex, and much of the adjacent land at Birchwood remained untouched. Over the next 50 years however, the need for a larger industrial estate grew, and the land to the east was also re-developed. With the construction of the MI at Pinxton and the A38 linking the motorway with Derby and beyond, Alfreton and Somercotes became an important industrial centre.
PHOTO: The memorial to the mining history of Somercotes and district, located on Nottingham Road, adjacent to Cotes Park
Alfreton Colliery closed in February 1968, followed a few months later by Swanwick. Such was the impact of these closures that Raymond Fletcher, the local Member of Parliament, brought up the subject in the House of Commons. Once again, both colliery sites were cleared and turned into trading and industrial estates, which became as successful as Cotes Park. It must be said that Somercotes, Leabrooks and the other nearby villages are now virtually surrounded by vast areas which have been given over to industry and commerce. The landscape has changed beyond all recognition. However, without these changes the villages and the town of Alfreton, so long partly dependent upon the mining industry, would no doubt be a shadow of what they are now.
14. GLOSSARY OF MINING TERMS
Many of the words used in the mining industry do not occur in everyday use. The definitions changed over time and also depending on the area of the country. Below is a short list of words which may be found in the above text. It is far from exhaustive.
BAILIFF: Foreman or overman
BANKSMAN: The banksman was in charge of the surface at the head of the shaft, loading and unloading the cage at the Pit Bank [the shaft entrance]. A banksman had to pull a full tub from the cage and replace it with an empty one. He was responsible for weighing the tubs and kept an account of the quantity of coal and stone drawn each day. He also supervised the men, and controlled the “motties” [numbered tokens] so that it was evident how many men were underground. He liaised with the Onsetter at the bottom of the shaft and with the engine-man in the winding house by a signalling system to ensure everyone’s safety as the cage was lowered and raised.
BANK OR BENK: the coal face [not to be confused with the ‘Pit Bank’ or surface]
BETWEEN [as in “DROVE BETWEEN”]: A boy working between two ponies or asses to drive the corves or tubs.
BONNET: a cast iron “umbrella” that was positioned over the ropes so that items falling down the shaft would be deflected from hitting any descending or ascending miners
BOTTOMER: A person employed to attend to bottom of shaft
BRAKEMAN: The engineman who attends to the winding engine; another name for the person who worked the winding engine used for lowering and raising the cage or tubs.
BUTTY: A contractor employed to work on behalf of the colliery owner who was responsible for employing all the men and boys and was in charge of coal production. The Butty had a bad reputation for the mistreatment of his workers and the practice of employing such a person was phased out by the mid to late 1800’s.
CORVES: Wicker baskets used for moving coal underground [before the use of tubs]. These were dragged or pulled to the shaft bottom by young men and boys.
CORVERS: The corves were made and kept in repair by contractors, named Corvers, who were paid by the score of corves drawn, [usually around sixpence to one shilling per score, or from 1d. to 2d. per ton].
DEPUTY: Each Deputy was responsible for the management of the district over which he was appointed and the safety of the men working in it. Work included supporting the roof with props, removing props from old workings, changing air currents and clearing away any gas or fall of stone or delegating this to others so that the work of the Hewers was not impeded. Deputies started work two hours before the Hewer.
DOOR BOYS: see Trappers.
DRAWER: A waggoner or person who pushes or pulls underground tubs
DRIVER: A boy employed in driving the horses on the main road underground. He was usually 14 or 15 years of age.
ENGINE TENTER: Engine man; also known as the brakeman
FIREDAMP: another word for Methane.
GANGER: A Ganger was a person with a horse who took the empty tubs and timber to the Stalls and returned the full tubs to the bottom of the shaft (called the Pit Bottom). Quite often a Ganger was an older man who was unable to work at the Coal Face cutting or loading.
GIN: an early mechanical means of lowering and raising men and coal from the shaft bottom which was driven by a horse. The shafts were relatively shallow.
GIN DRIVER: A boy employed to drive the horses in the gin or engine used in raising coal from pits of a moderate depth [before engines were installed].
HANGER-ON: (see Onsetter)
HEWER: A person that hews or cuts the coal from its natural situation; the man who “works” the coals; the actual coal digger. The seam that he worked could be so low that he could hardly creep into it on his hands and knees and not high enough for him to stand upright. He was responsible for loosening the soil from the bed and he cut and dug the coal with a pick. Every Hewer had his own blades for his pick and they were marked with their names and sharpened by the Blacksmiths. It was essential that each Hewer had a well-maintained pick and they were sharpened every day and taken down the mine in special frames ready for when the Hewers started work. Hewers were divided into Foreshift and Backshift men. The former worked from four in the morning until 10am and the latter from 10 until 4pm. Each man worked one week on the Foreshift and one on Backshift alternately. It was extremely dangerous work.
HOOKER-ON: The hooker-on was a term in use before the introduction of the new Plan; The Hooker-On hooked the corves to the mechanism at the pit bottom to raise the coal.
HORSE FETTLER: Ostler
HORSE OR PONY KEEPER: A Horse Keeper attended to the horse at the pit as his name suggests. He looked after them, fed them, gave them bedding and water and checked them over. Horses were very important as they were used to haul materials around the underground tunnels and to transport tubs to and from the coal face to the shaft.
INCLINE MAN: A person attending to work on an inclined plane.
LAMP KEEPER: A man who has charge of the Davy Lamps or helmet lamps in the Lamp Cabin
LOADER: This job involved loading the coal and stone into tubs and waggons. It was hard, laborious work shovelling all day.
LOWERER: A person who lowers the waggons down an inclined plane.
METAL MAN: A person who takes the roof down to give more height to the roadway behind the coal face.
ONCOSTMAN: A workman not paid by the day but paid by the amount of coal produced.
ONSETTER: This person was also known as a Pit Bottomer. He was the person in charge of loading and unloading the cage underground at the bottom of the shaft and was the underground equivalent of the Banksman. He signalled to the Brakeman when the cage was loaded and ready to move. When tubs were being loaded he had a boy to help him. Quite often he searched the miners for cigarettes, pipes and matches which were not allowed underground.
SCREENERS: those who take the small coal from beneath a screen of iron, over which the coals, as they come from the hewers, are poured into the waggons or carts; A person who passes the coals over the screens into the waggons, and clean them from stones, slate etc.
STALLMAN: Sub-contractor in charge of a "stall" or working place
TRAPPERS [also known as “Door Boys”: young boys employed to open and shut the ventilation doors, which keep the air in the workings circulating. They are the youngest boys employed in the mine. They are stationed at traps or doors in various parts of the pit, which they have to open to let the corves or tubs through. They often worked long shifts for little pay and often worked in complete darkness until he was required to open a door.