Somercotes, Leabrooks and Pye Bridge do not have an ancient history as villages. Their history proper begins, not with the Norman invasion in 1066, nor with the medieval or Tudor periods, but more with the industrial revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In fact not until the mid to late 19th century did they begin to form into the villages that we know today.
Birchwood is an ancient land, long known for its coal and ironstone deposits, and was a place name in its own right, along with Pennytown and Muckram. During the 20th century these places all but disappeared and the area they covered absorbed into the village of Somercotes. Their names are remembered now mainly on street signs; Pennytown Court, Birchwood Lane, Birchwood Way and Birchwood Crescent.
Notwithstanding the above comments, there is a history to the land itself, owned at times by the Abbott of Beauchief Abbey and the Lords of Alfreton Manor. A short history can be read in the following sections:
Perhaps a transcription from the White’s Derbyshire History, Gazetteer & Directory, published in 1857 best describes the villages at the time:
SOMERCOTES is a large village, on Nottingham Road, 2 miles S. E. from Alfreton, and 14 miles N. W. of Nottingham. A Chapel of Ease to Riddings, dedicated to St. Thomas, was formed here in 1854. It was formerly the Methodist Chapel, but was purchased by subscription for about £400, and after undergoing the necessary alterations and improvements was dedicated as above. It is now a neat brick and stone edifice, with turret and one bell, and will seat about 600 persons, there is a burial ground attached of about one acre. The Wesleyan Reformer’s Chapel, situated in Birchwood Lane was erected by John Smedley Esq., of Lea Bridge. It is a handsome building with tower and one bell. In connection with which is a good school, eligible for all the children in the village. The school-room is lighted with gas and heated with hot water, will accommodate about 200 children; average attendance 135. The Primitive Methodists have a chapel, built in 1830, and in 1845 a corn mill, called the Alfreton Steam Mill, was erected by John Chadborn; it is of 12 horses power, and works three pairs of stones. About 1 mile N. W. 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. To the N. E. of the village is a small district called Nether Birchwood and 3 miles S. E. from Alfreton is Pye Bridge, a railway station on the Erewash Branch of the Midland Railway, from whence there are trains to Mansfield, Nottingham and Derby three times a day. A Sick Society is held here at the Dog & Doublet Inn.
PHOTO: Nottingham Road, Somercotes, from around the early 1900s
The increase in population, along with the industrialisation of the surrounding area, can be implied in the description given in Kelly’s Directory of 1912. A much more comprehensive description is given, whilst still dwelling on the religious aspect of village life. Interestingly, it describes the land as “chiefly in pasture”. Over one hundred years later, this land has been nearly all consumed by the industrial and trading estates on which the village now ultimately depends. The development of the village from the earlier text, including the formation of the ecclesiastical parish can be easily compared.
SOMERCOTES is a large and populous village and parish, formed Oct 20, 1898 out of the parishes of Alfreton and Riddings, 1½ miles north of Pye Bridge on the Midland Railway and Pye Hill Station on the Kimberley and Pinxton Branch of the Great Northern Railway, 2 miles south-east from Alfreton and 130 miles from London, in the Mid division of the county, Scarsdale Hundred, Belper Union, Alfreton Petty Sessional Division and County Court district, Alfreton Rural Deanery, Chesterfield Archdeaconry and Southwell Diocese. The ecclesiastical parish was constituted in 1891. The Church of St. Thomas, erected in 1852, and rebuilt (with the exception of the old chancel) in 1902, is an edifice of brick and stone, consisting of chancel and nave: the chancel was built and the stained glass window inserted at the sole expense of Thomas haden Oakes Esq., J. P. of Riddings House; there are 412 sittings. The registers, previous to 1898, are incorporated with those of Riddings and Alfreton. The living is a perpetual curacy, net yearly value of £240, in the gift of the Bishop of Southwell, and held since 1902 by the Rev. William Percy Mahony of St. Bees. At Birchwood there is a mission room in connection with the church. The Primitive Methodist Chapel, built in 1898, has 25 sittings, as 250 sittings and there is another at Leabrooks built in 1905. There is also a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, built in 1860; a United Methodist Chapel at Sleetmoor Lane, built in 1867; one at Birchwood, built in 1853 by John Smedley Esq., late of Riber Castle, and a third at Leabrooks, erected in 1859 and rebuilt in 1896. The Salvation Army hold their services and meetings in a corrugated iron building, erected in 1894, in Sleetmoor Lane, and holding about 300 people. A cemetery of about 4 acres, situated at Leabrooks, was opened in 1895, and is managed by a Burial Board of 8 members, representing the Urban District Council of Riddings, Somercotes and Swanwick Wards; the mortuary chapel is a neat structure of brick and stone facings, in the Gothic style, and was erected at a cost of over £600. The Working Men’s Institute and Club, in Seely Terrace, is the property of Sir Charles Seely Bart. and has about 150 members; there are reading and news rooms, a wall lighted and fitted billiard saloon, with two full size tables, and a good library of 517 volumes; there is a cricket club attached. A market is held here every Friday evening, and is well attended. Near here are several tramways for the collieries. The Empire Palace, opened in 1912 has accommodation for 1,200. The Morewood Charities for this place are distributed annually from Alfreton, and particulars will be found under that town. The principal landowners are James Oakes Esq,. J. P. of Riddings, Sir Charles Seely Bart. of Arnold and Capt. Rowland Charles A. Palmer-Morewood, of Alfreton. The land is chiefly in pasture. To the north-east of this village is a district called Birchwood, where are the Birchwood and Cotes Park Collieries. The acreage and rateable value is included under Alfreton. The population in 1901 was 4,447.
Since the text for the 1912 directory was written, Somercotes, Leabrooks and Pye Bridge have continued to grow. Information on the churches and chapels, along with other details can be found throughout the website, which will continue to be updated.