This short history of Pye Bridge is intended to reflect the small hamlet that was, at one time, home to some of the most important industries in the area. These industries are the main reason why the surrounding villages and the town of Alfreton expanded and grew the way they did. Like its neighbours, Pye Bridge does not have an ancient history, but is nonetheless an important part of the past.
The heavy industries around Pye Bridge have complicated histories that require their own story. Please also refer to the following histories on this website, which give more detail about the specific industrial or social activity:
I. ORIGIN & EARLY HISTORY
The origin of the name Pye Bridge and its neighbour, Pye Hill is shrouded in the mists of time. Although there is no written evidence so far found it is likely to refer to the hill and the bridge that spanned the River Erewash that once belonged to a man named Pye. They were probably known as Pye’s Bridge and Pye’s Hill. The surname Pye is an old English name of early medieval origin, and although not common can be found throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
With the exception of Erewash Street, Pye Bridge is a ribbon development built along part of the original track that ran from Alfreton to Nottingham. Although the ancient bridge that crosses the small river has probably been replaced many times, a bridge would almost certainly have taken the road across the Erewash since the area was originally settled. It is not known when the first dwellings were built, but the creation of the Newhaven-Nottingham turnpike, which used the old track through Pye Bridge was a significant development. The Act of Parliament creating the turnpike was obtained in 1759. Titled “An Act for Repairing and Widening the Roads from Chapel-Bar near the West End of the Town of Nottingham to New-Haven and from the Four Lane Ends near Oakerthorpe to Ashborne, and from the Cross Post on Wirksworth Moor, to join the Road leading from Chesterfield to Chapel-en-le-Frith, at or near to Longton; and from Selston to Annesley-Woodhouse” it made certain provisions for the new highway, one of which was the width of the carriageway, which had to be not less than 40ft. The Turnpike was a toll road and tolls were levied at Toll Gates located at certain points along its route. The fact that there was a Toll Gate at Pye Bridge can be seen in a notice printed in the Derby Mercury, published on 23 August 1781, regarding the letting of tolls on the Turnpike. The article, in part, read: “NOTICE is hereby GIVEN, that the tolls arising at the Toll Gate upon the Turnpike Road leading from Nottingham to Newhaven, called or known by the name of the Pye Bridge Gate, will be let by auction to the best bidder…”. This is one of the earliest references to the hamlet that is known. The Toll Gate would also have had a Toll House or Cottage associated with it.
Many years later, the site of the toll house was sold to Thomas Haden Oakes. The “Calendar Records of the County of Derby” records that on 31 December 1870 “… John Watson, William Gibson and Thomas Bishop, described as before To Thomas Haden Oakes of Riddings in the county of Derby, esquire. Conveyance in fee [by deed poll] of a piece of land at Pye Bridge in the parish of Alfreton, in the county of Derby, containing three hundred and forty square yards, on part of which Pye Bridge Tollhouse then recently stood, and the remainder of the said land was used as a garden thereto.
Certainly by the end of the 18th century the hamlet had started to grow. A man named Edward Waters was, at the time, a prominent land owner in the area. The first reference to Waters was published in the Derby Mercury on 8 February 1798, when his name appeared in a list of gentlemen who were members of the South Wingfield Association [this was an association established for the arrest and conviction of felons who had committed a crime against its members]. The membership included Edward Waters of “Puy” Bridge. Waters owned the Saw Mill at Pye Bridge for many years, although the date when this was established is not known.
II. THE CROMFORD CANAL
In the early 1790’s the construction of the Cromford Canal would make a further significant contribution to the development of Pye Bridge. The Derby Mercury of 18 December 1788 reported on a meeting held at the Peacock Inn, Oakerthorpe regarding the proposals for the canal “CROMFORD CANAL – At a numerous meeting held at the house of Peter Kendal, the sign of the Peacock, near Alfreton, in the county of Derby, on Monday the 15th Day of December 1788, of the Gentlemen interested in making and maintaining a NAVIGABLE CUT or CANAL, from Langley Bridge, in the county of Nottingham, (and there to join with the present Erewash Canal) to Cromford, in the county of Derby; and also in making and maintaining a NAVIGABLE CUT or CANAL to Pinxton Mill, in the county of Derby, to join with the CUT or CANAL above described, at a place called Codnor Park Mill, in the county of Derby”.
The Parliamentary Bill for the construction of the canal was passed without much comment on Monday May 25th 1789. According to various published accounts “Lord George Cavendish brought up the report of the Cromford Canal Bill; after a short conversation, the house divided on receiving; Ayes 55 – Noes, 33 – Majority for the Bill”. The following year, the plans and specifications for the canal were in place, and those people who were willing to contract for the work were requested to contact Benjamin Outram, of Alfreton (as reported in the Oxford Journal – October 1789). The work was to be divided into three distinct contracts, the third being the construction “of the whole canal between the deep cutting at the east end of the (Butterley) Tunnel, Pinxton and the Erewash Canal, to be completed in eighteen months”
Several wharves were constructed on the Codnor Park to Pinxton branch of the canal, including one at Pye Bridge. During the 1790s, the hamlet became a central point for goods that were received or despatched to other parts of the country. The early coal masters in particular required the canal to move production at a competitive rate. So vital became this link that a notice for an auction of farmland printed in the Derby Mercury on 17 January 1799 specifically referred to the convenience of the Cromford Canal – “Auction held at the George Inn, Alfreton – Lot III … all the above farms lie in a ring fence, and about 3 miles from Pinxton and Pye Bridge Wharfs on the Cromford Canal.”
After the construction of the railway, the canal was the first to suffer economic decline. In 1852, following an Act of Parliament, the Cromford canal was purchased by the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railways, and this purchase included the Pinxton Branch which ran through Pye Bridge. They in turn, leased it in a joint agreement to the Midland Railway and the London & North Western Railway. In 1870, the Midland Railway took full control of the entire canal. This had a devastating effect on the amount of traffic that the canal handled. By the late 1890s, parts of the Pinxton branch were becoming unusable. The canal was losing water through mining subsidence and the length from Pye Bridge to Pinxton became un-navigable. However, the length between Ironville and Pye Bridge continued in use, particularly for the transportation of chemicals from the chemical company owned by James Oakes and Kempsons, who preferred this method of transport. This part of the canal remained in use until the 1930s.
From that point, the canal went into a steep decline. Owned then by the British Waterways Board, in the 1960s it was decided that the only option would be to fill in the canal. In certain parts, the canal bed itself was destroyed. The Smotherfly opencast coalmine operating in the 1990s also damaged the remains of the canal.
PHOTO: Canal Bridge No. 8, taking the B600 over the canal
III. DEVELOPMENT OF HEAVY INDUSTRY
The coal and ironstone deposits in the district around Alfreton had been known for many centuries and had been exploited by various landowners since at least the 13th century. Pye Bridge itself lay close to a geological area known as the “Riddings Dome” which contained an ironstone rake of high quality. Together with the proximity of the Cromford Canal it made an ideal location for the site of an ironworks. The Butterley Company had already established an ironworks and forge in 1790 to exploit a similar geological formation called the “Ironville” anticline and just over ten years later in 1802 the Derby company of Thomas Saxilbye opened the Alfreton Ironworks at Pye Bridge, with one blast furnace, a small foundry and eventually several collieries and ironstone mines.
The ironworks, collieries and mines required a workforce that would migrate to the Alfreton area from all over the country, and as the population began to swell the numbers of houses, shops and the associated infrastructure began to develop. By 1817 James Oakes had become the sole owner of the Alfreton Ironworks and had established the firm of James Oakes & Company. The Oakes family were to have an impact on the small hamlet well into the 20th century.
Changes to the ownership of the ironworks occurred over the years. In 1920, it was acquired by Stanton Ironworks of Ilkeston. The following years were turbulent, as the relationship between workers and management throughout the country often broke down. After the unions called for a general strike which officially began on 3 May 1926, production at the ironworks was halted. Although the strike was initially solid, many employees drifted back to work, and the Dundee Evening Telegraph of 11 May 1926 summed up the mood at the time “LESS ENTHUSIAM FOR STRIKE… Stanton Ironworks, Derbyshire, where four thousand men are employed, resumed work this morning. Alfreton Ironworks, belonging to the same company, are also working, though not at full strength.” In the years after the Second World War, Stanton Ironworks suffered a slow but steadily declining business. A company called Stewarts & Lloyds Ltd already owned the Staveley Iron & Chemical Company, and in 1960, they took over the Stanton Ironworks Co Ltd and merged the two firms together to form Stanton & Staveley Ltd. whose assets also included the Riddings Ironworks. In turn, Stewart & Lloyds Ltd itself, along with all of its associated subsidiaries was nationalised in 1967, and became a part of the British Steel Corporation.
After the closure of the ironworks on 13 June 1969 the local authority at the time, the Alfreton Urban District Council, along with others, decided to redevelop the site of the ironworks into Pye Bridge Industrial Estate, much as it had done in Somercotes after the closure of the collieries there.
By the mid-1800’s other industries had been established in Pye Bridge. Kempson & Howell built a chemical company on land on Pye Bridge Meadows, near to the railway. The opening of this works has not been determined but the firm is listed as Kempson & Co., Pye Bridge in the 1857 edition of White’s Trade Directory and as Kempson & Howell in the “Chemical Manufacturers Directory of England & Scotland” were they are described as “Sulphuric acid, naptha, anthradine, pitch and carbolic acid suppliers”. Perhaps one of the most tragic incidents at Pye Bridge happened at Kempson’s. A fatal accident occurred on 14 November 1893, in which three workers at the company died. A memorial to the men is situated in the churchyard of St. Thomas, in Somercotes. The main inscription reads: “In the memory of Walter Greaves aged 47 years who while working in a still at Pye Bridge Chemical Works on Thursday, Nov 14th 1893, was overpowered by poisonous gas. Samuel Andrews aged 42 years and John Heath aged 20 years who bravely sacrificed their lives in attempting to rescue their comrade. Samuel Andrews has been for several years a faithful and industrious Foreman at the above works”. The accident was widely reported, even making an edition of “The Advertiser” which was published in Adelaide, South Australia on 1 January 1894.
The Riddings & District Gas Company was established through an Act of Parliament which was passed on 28 June 1888. The applicants were Thomas Haden Oakes and Charles Henry Oakes. A small gas facility was already present on the site of the ironworks, but this Act of Parliament gave the company the right to build a new works which was established to the west of the hamlet. It came under the control of James Oakes & Company although it was originally a joint venture with the Butterley Company. The gas produced was used to supply the ironworks and the local area, including Alfreton [the whole parish], South Normanton, Pinxton, Codnor Park and Selston. The company acquired the Pinxton Gas Light & Coke Co., in 1914 through the Riddings District Gas Act of the same year. The company was dissolved on 1 May 1949 on nationalisation, and was absorbed into the Derby sub-division of the Nottingham and Derby division of the East Midlands Area Gas Board, under the Gas Act of 1948. The two gasometers used for storage were not demolished until around the late 1960s.
In 1913, Kempson & Co Ltd established a joint venture with James Oakes & Company and formed the Midland Acid Co Ltd. It is not known exactly why this joint venture was agreed, but James Oakes & Co had business properties only a few hundred metres away and would no doubt have been seen as the ideal partner. The fact that the two businesses ran almost side by side can be seen in the Pye Bridge listings for Kelly’s Directory of 1925, which states: “Kempson & Co. Ltd. Pye Bridge Chemical Works” and as a separate entry “Midland Acid Co. Ltd. Sulphuric Acid Manufacturer”. The manager for the Midland Acid Works was listed as Frederick Bettison, whose family connections in the area stretched back over many years. Other evidence to show the close relationship between the two companies can be seen in a report in the Nottingham Evening Post of 26 September 1930, when a serious fire broke out at the Midland Acid Company works. The report stated that the works were “situated alongside the Erewash Valley system of the LMS railway and near Messrs. Kempson’s chemical works”.
PHOTO: Kempson & Company Chemical Works at Pye Bridge (probably taken in the 1950's)
Certainly by the 1960s, both sites seemed to have merged and were known locally as the “acid works” but the two companies existed as separate entities. Around this time the local business interests of the Oakes family were being wound down. The London Gazette of April 1965 reported the impending liquidation of Kempson’s as follows: “An extraordinary General meeting of the above named company duly convened and held at the registered office of the company, Riddings, in the county of Derby on the 5th day of April 1965 the special resolution was formerly passed that Kempson & Co. Ltd. be wound up voluntarily…” The London Gazette also noted in 1968 that the “Midland Acid Company, manufacturers of sulphuric acid, registered office at Pye Bridge” appointed liquidators on 29 November 1968. The company continued to work for a couple years after the administrators were appointed, but finally closed in 1971. The site of the works was included in the plan for the Smotherfly opencast mine, and all traces of it have since been removed.
IV. THE DISCOVERY OF OIL
The most significant event in the history of the district happened at Pye Bridge when the world’s first small oil refinery was established within the ironworks.
The Old Deeps was a colliery owned by James Oakes & Co. and located near to the Pinxton Branch of the Cromford Canal, by the side of Bridle Lane between the canal and the Ironworks site at Pye Bridge. In 1847, a decision was made by the company to extend the shaft to a deeper level to extract coal from the Kilburn Seam. As mining operations continued at the lower level, a torrent of salt water burst through the workings which was transferred at night into tubs, taken to the surface and disposed of in the Cromford Canal. In time, as the flow of water diminished, it was followed by a black treacle-like substance which began oozing into the workings. Considered just another hindrance to mining operations, it was similarly disposed of.
Much of the contaminating substance found its way along the canal to Pinxton Wharf, where it is said that children, during the autumn nights of 1847, used to set the canal on fire by pitching hot cinders and burning twigs into the water. A brewery at Codnor Park also began to raise concerns about the water they were using from the canal for brewing, stating that it gave their ale an odd flavour.
Finally realising that something needed to be done about the situation, James Oakes began an investigation and contacted his brother-in-law, the eminent scientist Lyon Playfair for help with the problem.
In the autumn of 1847, at his brother-in-law's request, Playfair tested a sample of the substance and discovered it was the mineral then commonly known as naphtha, [also known as rock oil]. Today we would call it crude oil. Although familiar around the world from ancient times, it was considered of little commercial use. Whilst James Oakes could see that the oil had business potential his expertise was in iron making and not in chemical manufacturing and Playfair offered to contact a college friend named James Young, from Scotland.
After conducting a series of experiments Young succeeded in producing two different oils by distillation. The first product was a heavy oil ideal for lubricating machinery, which found a market among the cotton manufacturers of Lancashire to replace the use of whale oil for lubrication. The second product [later known as paraffin oil] was found to give a fine white light and was perfect for burning in lamps. Early in 1848, Young leased the rights for the oil from James Oakes and set up a small business refining the crude oil at the Pye Bridge works with his friend and assistant Edward Meldrum. This was the world’s first oil distillation and refining plant.
The Geological Society Special Publication No. 465, titled “History of the European Oil and Gas Industry” records that James Young made a “…nostalgic return visit to Riddings from Scotland on 1st February 1868 and noted in his pocket diary ‘Wandered about H&R with Mr. Oakes looking at old places. The petrol is coming out at a rate of 200 galls a week. The old man Sawyer is working it under Mr. Horsley senior’”. Mr. Horsley, to whom Young refers, was an engineer and former Iron Works Manager, having been superseded by his son, Thomas Horsley a few years previously.
Years later, oil was still flowing. A letter from a W. Thompson was published in the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald on 21st November 1947 regarding an anecdote told to him by his father, who worked at the Ironworks. He told his son that as late as the 1880’s oil was still being raised to the surface of the pit, and used for the lubrication of wagons and trams at the collieries owned and operated by the company.
Sadly, the exact site of the refinery at the ironworks is not known.
V. THE RAILWAY
By the 1840’s the traffic on the Cromford Canal would have been substantial, but it was slow and expensive. The railways had made a huge impact on the movement of freight in other parts of the country, particularly in the areas where the coal from the Erewash Valley was sold. The opening of the Leicester and Swannington railway in 1832 began to have an immediate impact on the businesses around Alfreton and the coal and ironmasters of the area determined that the solution was to establish their own railway in answer to the problem. A meeting of the relevant parties was held at the Sun Inn, Eastwood on 16 August 1832 and present were some of the most influential men in the area, who were determined not to let their businesses suffer. Although their plans were completed, delays caused by amendments to the route and financial constraints meant that a proposed railway through to Pinxton and the collieries of the Erewash Valley were not included in an Act of Parliament titled “The Midland Counties Railway Bill” passed in June 1836. It was not until 1844 that an Act of Parliament was passed, followed by others concerning various parts of the route. Finally in 1847 the railway line, then owned and operated by the Midland Railway, reached as far as Pinxton, passing through Pye Bridge. Although the Midland Railway and its predecessors no doubt had the greater influence in the planning and construction of the railways through the area, the Great Northern Railway also constructed a western extension, with a line that passed through Pye Bridge, and ran from Nottingham Victoria through to Shirebrook. The two railways met at what became known as the Pye Bridge Junction. Coal trains were using this line by 1875.
As there were two separate railway companies and two separate sets of tracks meeting at Pye Bridge, it is no surprise that there were also two railway stations. The main station was owned by the Midland Railway and was called “Pye Bridge Station”. The rail tracks crossed the road and the river Erewash by means of a small viaduct, and the station was accessed by a road constructed from the turnpike which rose to the top of the viaduct and railway bank. The station was situated to the south of the viaduct. The Great Northern Railway built a station located to the north of Pye Bridge, which they named the “Pye Hill Station”. Although it seems that the station was somewhat misnamed, there appears to have been an attempt to differentiate between this and the “Pye Bridge Station” of the Midland Railway, as they were only approximately half a mile apart. The station was opened by the GNR on 24 March 1877. It was re-named to include the village of Somercotes on 8 January 1906, becoming the “Pye Hill & Somercotes Station” as by then Somercotes was becoming much the largest village in the district.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected things to happen in the village was the collapse of one of the railway viaducts, which occurred on 13 June 1924. It was reported in several local newspapers: “VIADUCT CRASHES INTO RIVER EREWASH – TWO ARCHES COLLAPSE AT PYE BRIDGE – An alarming occurrence took place at Pye Bridge on Monday afternoon, on the borders of Notts. and Derbyshire. Erected 50 years ago as a junction between the G.N. Pye Hill and M.R. Pye Bridge, and which can be seen on the side of the main line between Nottingham and Sheffield, two arches of a viaduct collapsed without a moments’ warning…” Astonishingly, no one was injured in the collapse.
In 1947, the railways were nationalised and became part of British Railways. Under the re-organisation of the railways advised by Dr. Beeching in his report of 1963, Pye Bridge Station was closed in 1967. The Pye Hill and Somercotes Station closed on 7 January 1963. This station was immortalised the following year, in the song "Slow Train" written and performed by Flanders & Swann.
VI. INNS & PUBLIC HOUSES
Other businesses also opened around the beginning of the 1800’s. The “Old House At Home” public house was located on the Pye Bridge Meadows, adjacent to the Cromford Canal and almost certainly dated from the late 1790’s. The name of this public house is not uncommon. There were at least two others named “The Old House at Home” in Derbyshire alone, one of which was at Larges Street, Derby. Although this public house is often described as “between Pinxton and Pye Bridge”, its actual location within the boundary of the hamlet can be seen by many notices and articles printed in local newspapers. One such article appeared in the Derbyshire Courier dated 10 December 1912, which related to a contract for Scavenging [this was, at the time, the official name for a refuse collector]. The notice read “ALFRETON URBAN DISTRICT COUNCIL – CONTRACT FOR SCAVENGING – The Alfreton Urban District Council are prepared to receive tenders for SCAVENGING by contract for the undermentioned district, viz: No. 4 from Somercotes Market Place on one side and the “Devonshire Arms” P.H. on the other side, including all properties from there to Pye Bridge Wood Yard on both sides of the road and the “Old House at Home” P.H. and the whole of Quarry Road, Somercotes…”
The “Old House At Home” itself made the headlines when it was auctioned in 1880. A notice regarding the sale of the premises was printed in the Derbyshire Advertiser & Journal on 29 October 1880. The details read: “AT SOMERCOTES AND PYE BRIDGE – LOT IX – All that Public House known as “The Old House At Home” with the Brewhouse, extensive stabling, cowsheds, piggeries, garden, orchard and appurtenances thereto, bordering upon the Cromford Canal, and in close proximity to the Pye Bridge Stations of the Midland and Great Northern Railways”. The notice for the auction implies that the premises and land were extensive. Most of the articles in local newspapers in which the “Old House at Home” is mentioned relate to accidents and drownings in the Cromford Canal, of which there seems to be many. The landlord or customers of the public house were often called as witnesses, and several Coroner’s Inquests were held there. As the trade on the canal declined, the Old House at Home must also have suffered economically. The Old House at Home finally closed its doors on Sunday 4 April 1954. The closure was reported in the Ripley & Heanor News as follows: “THE LAST DRINK AT PYE BRIDGE INN – The last customer had his last drink last Sunday at the Old House at Home, a centuries old inn bedise the Cromford Canal at Pye Bridge. The inn, built to serve canal boatmen when the canal was crowded, now attracts so few patrons that the Magistrates refused to renew the licence which expired last Sunday.” The building was demolished, and all traces were finally erased by the Smotherfly Opencast.
The “Dog & Doublet Inn” [which unlike the “Old House At Home” was a small coaching Inn] was probably established shortly after the opening of the ironworks, but could be older. Like many inns and taverns, the Dog & Doublet was the centre of village life and was the focal point of many meetings held in the village. Meetings of the local Ironworkers Union took place there, as well as the “Sick Society”, an association run for the benefit of workers and their families in times of illness, and probably underwritten by James Oakes & Company. In the 19th century, Coroner’s Inquests would also be held locally, so that witnesses could easily attend, and many of these would be held in the Dog & Doublet Inn.
The “Dog & Doublet Inn” was also the main subject of a Notice, printed in the Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald, when it was auctioned on 12 June 1891. The Notice read: “PROPERTY SALE – There was a large gathering of capitalists at the George Hotel, Alfreton on Friday night, when Messrs. W. Watson and Son, auctioneers, Alfreton, offered for sale several valuable lots of freehold property, at Pye Bridge and Somercotes. Lot 1, the old-established fully licensed inn, the Dog and Doublet at Pye Bridge, the outbuildings, and a field of pasture land containing about 8a. 0r. 38p. The Brampton Brewery, Chesterfield, the present tenants, were the purchases at £3,275.” This was not an inconsiderable sum for the 1890s. Landlords too, sometimes made the news. The Derbyshire Courier, 23 January 1904 reported a case brought before the Alfreton Petty Sessions: “Henry Parsons, Dog and Doublet Inn, Pye Bridge, was fined 17s and costs for permitting drunkenness on his licenced premises…”.
PHOTO: The Dog & Doublet Inn, Pye Bridge 
VII. OTHER BUSINESSES
Across from the “Dog & Doublet” sat the Steam Grist Mill, which was run under the partnership of Thomas Wass and John Wild. This steam powered mill was erected in the early 1800’s. The mill is first mentioned when the partnership of Wass and Wild was dissolved and the record published in the London Gazette and Derby Mercury of 25 February 1819: “PARTNERSHIP DISSOLVED – Notice is hereby given, that the Partnership lately subsisting between us the undersigned Thomas Wass, of Pye Bridge, in the county of Derby, and John Wild, of Selston, in the county of Nottingham, Millers, trading at Pye Bridge, under the firm of “WASS and WILD” was this day dissolved by mutual consent. All persons having any demands on the said Partnership are requested to send particulars thereof to Mr. Edward Waters, of Pye Bridge; and persons indebted thereto, are required to pay their respective debts to the said Mr. Waters. As witness our hands this 18th day of February, 1819. THOMAS WASS. JOHN WILD. Witness R. B. Rickards.”
The article confirms that Edward Waters and Thomas Wass were living in Pye Bridge at the time, but maps of the area show little of the development that was to come in the following years.
A further report on the mill was published in the same newspaper dated 4 March 1819, and relates to an auction of the property after the partnership between Wass and Wild was dissolved: “TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, by Mr. Hopkinson, at the house of Mr. Clarke, the Bull & Butcher, Selston… Wednesday the 10th day of March… LOT 1 – All that newly erected and substantially built STEAM GRIST MILL, known by the name of PYE BRIDGE MILL, situated at Pye Bridge in the county of Derby, containing four pairs of Stones, viz. French, Grey, Black and Shelling Stones, and complete Machinery for making and dressing Flour and Oatmeal, with the steam engine (of 8 Horse Power), Drying Kiln, and Stable for 3 horses, in the occupation of Wass and Wild, the whole being in perfect repair, and capable of extensive business, having a Reservoir sufficient for working the Mill in the driest season, and very advantageously situated for land and water carriage, being contiguous to the Turnpike Road from Nottingham to Alfreton, and the Pinxton and Cromford Canal; possession whereof may be had at Lady Day next. ALSO Two newly erected Dwelling Houses, situated near to the said Mill and Premises, with the gardens thereto respectively belonging in the occupations of Peter Taylor and John Sharpe; and a small piece of Tithe free land.”
The Steam Mill operated for many years. In 1838, a report in the Derbyshire Courier of 27 October read “FLOUR STOLEN – In the night of yesterday week a quantity of flour, belonging to Mr. Chadborn, was stolen from the Steam Corn Mill at Pye Bridge, Nr. Alfreton.” John Chadborn also opened a Steam Corn Mill at Mill Yard, Somercotes in 1845, which was known at the time as the “Alfreton Steam Mill”. The Derby Mercury of 6 February 1878 printed a notice which read “A Steam Corn Mill to Let, with five pairs of stones and usual appliances etc., with or without dwelling house, situated about 300 yards for the Pye Bridge Stations of both the Midland and Great Northern Railways, Erewash Valley, with good connection, and surrounded by a large and increasing iron works and collieries, with immediate possession. For particulars, apply to Mr. T. Parsons, Alfreton, Nr. Derby.”
As the village grew, shopkeepers and grocers were attracted to the hamlet. By 1925, Kelly’s Directory records various residents in business. These are listed below, but do not include the heavy industries:
The same trade directory in 1941 records the changes to the businesses and lists fewer retailers at Pye Bridge:
Over the following years changes in the retail environment combined with the closing of the heavy industries led to all of the small shops and businesses to cease trading.
VIII. THE MISSION ROOM
Pye Bridge has never had its own church and was, until 1984, part of the parish of Riddings. In 1887, a Mission Room was established and run by the parish church of St. James. According to Kelly’s Directory of 1895, the Mission Room had seating for 120 worshippers and was also used as a classroom for infants. The Derby Mercury, published on 29 June 1887, records the opening: “A CHURCH MISSION ROOM – The inhabitants of Pye Bridge have hitherto been destitute of any place for the holding of religious services, and as it is some distance from Riddings or Codnor Park, the want of a local building as long been felt. Through the kindness of Mr. T. H. Oakes JP, a Church of England Mission Room has been opened at Pye Bridge and services in future will be held in it. In addition, Mr. Oakes has promised to consider the utility of arranging for an infant’s school to be held there. In connection with the opening Mr. Oakes provided a meat tea to 150 of the inhabitants.”
The Mission Room was dedicated to St. Barnabas, and in various texts and maps relating to Pye Bridge is shown as the “St. Barnabas Mission Room”. The building was located at the side of the Cromford Canal, but has long since been demolished. It is not known when the Mission Room closed.
IX. MODERN TIMES
Much of the land that constituted Pye Bridge Meadows had been heavily contaminated from industrial activity, including the Midland Acid Works and Kempson’s Chemical Works. The land in this area had been earmarked for opencasting, to recover the coal not already exploited during the previous centuries. 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.
Today, various companies occupy the site of the old ironworks. The site of Kempson’s and the Midland Acid Company, which was subjected to the opencast development, has now been landscaped, and no trace on the ground can be seen to record their existence. The gas works, too, has long since gone. The village itself, however, still survives, and the Main Road still follows the old route through to Nottingham along the old Turnpike Road.