The Butterley Company of Ripley, founded in 1790, built a name for themselves as engineers (the roof of St Pancras Station being one of their finest achievements), but also had a profitable business selling coal and iron. The success of their coal operations in the first half of the 20th Century owes much to Henry Eustace Mitton, originally their mining agent, and later becoming General Manager for that side of the business. His expertise and achievements within the mining industry were recognised not only in the coalfields of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, but across the nation. A lot of Derbyshire miners, especially those directly employed by the Butterley Company, held Mitton in high regard for his campaigns to improve the health and welfare of miners.
Henry was born 5 September 1872 in Bishop Auckland in County Durham as the son of a clergyman. At the age of 19, he moved to Canada to become a gold miner. His time there was successful, and he made a name for himself, but decided to return to England in 1894. Upon his return, Henry became an apprentice for the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Company and after the end of the apprenticeship he was appointed the Assistant Manager of the company’s Langwith Colliery. This was only the start of his career in the coal mining industry as he then went on to become the General Manager of the Tredegar Coal & Iron in South Wales.
Whilst he had already worked with many companies, the Butterley Company was the one that Mitton would work for the longest. He first became associated with the Butterley Company in 1905 when he was employed as a mining agent. At the time of Mitton’s career, the role of a mining agent, involved anything from negotiating pay deals, negotiating leases to mine coal, improvements at colliery sites, making surveys and plans, and much more. Under his authority, lighting and power on the coal face was extended to all Butterley Company owned coal mines, at a time when this was in its infancy.
Following the end of the First World War, new coal reserves were needed to replace the dwindling ones the company had previously worked, and it was decided that Nottinghamshire would be a good place to search for new coal seams. Mitton suggested Ollerton as a place to investigate and he would oversee the development of the village and colliery, once it was decided the coal reserves there were viable. It was he who wanted to make the village a ‘model’ one that provided everything the miners and their families would need, such as medical care, schooling, church and sports grounds. The housing developed was also ahead of its time, with facilities such as indoor bathrooms and running water.
Mitton’s talent for innovation was also evident in his role designing a working model of a coal mine for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley. It may sound like an utterly mad idea, but it paid off. The coal mine included a real shaft and the latest machinery used underground. The amount of detail was amazing, right down to miners hewing replica coal. Mitton, as well as the Butterley Company team who designed it, were commended for the years of hard work and creativity they put into the project.
An amusing tale about Henry was that during a railway strike he got into serious trouble with the Midland Railway Company for breaking the strike by driving a Butterley Company owned train to Derby himself. If Henry really did this, it would have posed serious safety issues. However, when questioned about his actions, Henry’s response was that he did it so that the people of Derby would have coal. Sadly its uncertain whether this story is true or not.
Besides his work for the Butterley Company, Mitton wrote many books and articles about technical aspects of the mining industry, including the Rheolaveaur coal washing system, which he introduced from France, as well as how to develop collieries, amongst other topics. He also wrote about his experiences in Canada. These writings brought him to a wider audience than just those in the coal mining industry and showed the vast knowledge and unique experience he was able to bring. This experience was something he was very willing to pass onto new generations of miners. He set up a scholarship scheme at Nottingham University for prospective mining students, as well as sponsoring other such schemes around the country.
Even after Mitton stopped being the General Manager of the Butterley Company in 1934, he still remained very much involved by still being a director and consultant for them, as well as a consultant for the Hardwick Colliery Company. In an interview he did for the Nottingham Journal in 1941, he admitted that this kept him as busy as ever and that he had “no hobbies, no time”. I would definitely like to have known what his wife, Augusta, had to say about that!
He died on 7 September 1946 from complications following an operation. Many newspapers across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire reported that his death was a sad loss for the mining industry. He had been President of the Institute of Mining Engineers between 1929 and 1931 and the Institute awarded him a gold medal for his work in advancing lighting in collieries. Not only was he crucial to the technological advancements within the industry, he genuinely cared about ordinary miners. He had helped to improve the welfare of miners by suggesting many welfare schemes, but also helped to improve the conditions they worked in.
A special memorial service was fittingly held at Ollerton’s St Paulinus Church, the village he had been instrumental in designing. In letters between his son, Nelson, and Mr M. F. M. Wright of the Butterley Company, it is clear the family wished for this service to be held in Ollerton as Henry had seen the development of the colliery and village there as his greatest achievement. The Vicar who presided over the service ensured that those in attendance knew this too.
‘Appointment of Henry Eustace Mitton’, http://www.healeyhero.co.uk/rescue/individual/Bob_Bradley/Bk-2/Bk2-1905.html
‘Death of Mr H. E. Mitton, Notts Colliery Expert’, Nottingham Journal, 10th September 1946
‘Death of Mr H. E. Mitton’, Nottingham Evening Post, 9th September 1946
‘Henry Mitton’, http://www.healeyhero.co.uk/rescue/individual/Bob_Bradley/Bk-3/B3-1926-C.html
Codnor & District Local History and Heritage, ‘Ormonde Fields House’, http://www.codnor.info/ormonde-fields-house.php
Griffin, A. R., Mining in the East Midlands, 1550-1947 (London: Frank Cass & Company Ltd, 1971)
Marriage notice of Henry Eustace Mitton and Augusta E. Bazeley, North Devon Gazette, 6th February 1906
Obituary of Henry Eustace Mitton, The Dunelmian, December 1946
One thought on “Henry Eustace Mitton”
Thank you very much for sharing this. I found it fascinating as I have close links to the Butterley Company through my grandfather who was the first lamp man at Ollerton Colliery when it opened, and subsequently worked in the wages office. He and my grandma and mum lived in one of the new colliery houses on Boughton Road, now called Forest Road, and then on Walesby Road / Lane. My dad worked at Ollerton Colliery for a while then at Butterley Brickworks at Boughton / Kirton for nearly 24 years.