Markham Colliery Online Exhibition

The Arts and Humanities Research Council have been funding a joint project with the University of Wolverhampton and Northumbria University, known as ‘On Behalf of the People’, which focuses on coal mining communities from the nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947, right up until 1994 when collieries were winding down. Eight different case studies have been used as examples to highlight how these communities were similar or different across Britain. Dr Grace Millar has been using Markham Colliery, a colliery located at Duckmanton near Chesterfield, and once owned by the Staveley Coal and Iron Company, as a case study with the help of us at the Derbyshire Record Office and the Markham Vale Heritage Group.

Markham Colliery, which opened in 1882, was the largest colliery in the county. It had many pit shafts covering two different collieries at the site, which all shared a pit yard and other service buildings. Sadly it is probably most well known for it’s two large disasters in 1938 and 1973, before it finally closed in 1994.

Markham No. 2 and 3 Collieries, D4774/13/42/8 (1930s)

There were plans to have a physical exhibition about the project but due to the pandemic, a website has been created the case studies, including information on social clubs and activities, holidays, and strikes, just to name a few topics. For more information on the Markham example, please follow the link. https://www.coalandcommunity.org.uk/markham

For anyone who’s been following the blog posts on our own Mining the Seams project about the Derbyshire coal field, I’m sure you’ll like to follow the blog section of the above website. There are certainly some interesting topics there for you to delve into and I would thoroughly recommend taking a look if you have any interest in the former mining communities not just in Derbyshire, but country wide. They welcome feedback on the website and its contents, or any memories you may have of coal communities, so I’m sure they would love to hear from you. Make sure to look out for the submission box shown on the bottom of their homepage if you wish to do so.

Hopefully the project will be able to put on some form of exhibition in the future, but for now, I honestly think this is a good introduction to the social and economic history of the coal industry in Britain. If not, have fun reading into the lives of miners through this excellent website.

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Christmas 1946 at the Butterley Company

Sadly, Christmas won’t be the same for many of us this year. Whether that will mean not meeting family and friends or having no Christmas parties to attend. It will certainly look very different for many. It’s more important to remember the fun times we’ve had in the past, hoping that they will return again for next year’s celebrations. But how was the Christmas of 1946 marked by the Butterley Company?

It was customary for large companies, including colliery companies, to give gifts to employees at Christmas, and offer them Christmas parties or dinners, to thank them for their hard work during the year. The Butterley Company was no exception. As can be seen in this itemised list of dinners and parties for Christmas, the company was willing to reward their employees, including the kitchen staff who were the ones to cook the dinners.

Christmas dinners and related gifts, N5/188/3

Most colliery companies were also known to give coal as a benefit to their employees, including their families after an accident or death of a miner. They paid special attention to widows at Christmas, ensuring that they had a gift of coal to see them through winter. It’s funny now that we view receiving coal at Christmas as a bad thing, but perhaps that may have stemmed from a mixture of other traditions when coal as a main fuel was in its infancy. While we don’t use coal anymore, it seems to have reverted to that previous connotation.

However, from the mid-19th century until the middle of last century, coal was a major fuel resource and contributed to the wealth and power of the companies who worked in the coal industry. As winters were also much colder then, a gift of coal meant someone could spend winter in warmth.

List of money gifts, N5/188/3

The Butterley Company appears to be keen to recognise the hard work not just of their own employees, but those in the community they believed deserved just as much recognition, such as police officers, railwaymen and a postman. They did have to seek approval from the Local Fuel Overseer to grant gifts of coal. The most generous one given in 1946 was to Police Sergeant Herrett who worked at Heanor Police Station, who received 1 ton of coal. Others were given a small amount of money instead.

Permission to give coal to Sergeant Herrett, N5/188/3

After what has been a strange and awful year, it’s amazing to see that even in 1946, people were keen to recognise the contribution key workers made to their local communities. This year, please remember to do the same in whatever way you can, even if its just to spare a thought for those key workers who have kept us all going after the year we certainly won’t forget.

Bibliography

Charitable gifts at Christmas from the Butterley Company, N5/188/3

Christmas Central, What Does it Mean to Get a Lump of Coal in your Stocking? https://www.christmascentral.com/what-does-it-mean-to-get-a-lump-of-coal-in-your-stocking/

Linthicum, K., ‘Why Coal Symbolizes Naughtiness’, The Atlantic, 24 Dec 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/12/why-coal-symbolizes-naughtiness/578857/

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Blackwell Red Cross Hospital

During the First World War, the Blackwell Colliery Company played a large role in helping the war effort, both at home and on the front. A quarter of men employed by the company, 1128 men, went off to fight in tunnelling corps, while others who didn’t fight contributed funds for the war effort. Around 116 of those who fought were killed, meaning the village of Blackwell and its connected collieries would have known loss. Despite this, the company were determined to boost community spirit by providing Christmas entertainment during and after the war. These shows were held at the Brigade Hall for widows and orphans of the war.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of the colliery company’s role was providing a Red Cross Hospital, which operated in the Boys’ Brigade Hall in Blackwell. The idea was first proposed to the military in September 1914. The colliery company and its employees raised funds for the equipment needed and throughout the war, to make sure the space was offered as a free hospital. It opened in June 1915 with 10 beds. They were also allowed to be part of the Christmas audience.

N42-6-8_00108 (2)

List of Patients treated at Blackwell Red Cross Hospital, ‘Lest We Forget’: The Blackwell Colliery Company Ltd War Souvenir booklet, N42/6/8

With the hospital and a soldiers’ camp on the cricket ground set up in Blackwell, it meant that soldiers, especially injured ones, would have been a common sight. A volunteer corps was also created from locals who were unable to fight, so they would have also taken part in the defence of the village if required.

The hospital itself was seen as a successful venture. It would have been run by nurses from the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a joint effort run by the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance to provide field nursing, first aid, cooking and hygiene practices at hospitals either in the UK or in the Commonwealth. Before its closure in 1917, it had treated 133 patients with wounds and disabilities of differing severities. Someone who often visited to show her support for the hospital was the Duchess of Devonshire. Her visit is pictured below.

N42-6-8_00107 (2)

Photograph of the visit of the Duchess of Devonshire (1917), ‘Lest We Forget’: The Blackwell Colliery Company Ltd War Souvenir booklet, N42/6/8

Bibliography:

‘Lest We Forget’: The Blackwell Colliery Company Ltd War Souvenir booklet, N42/6/8

Forces War Records, British Red Cross in WW1, https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/collections/89/british-red-cross-in-ww1#:~:text=At%20the%20outbreak%20of%20the,hardship%20and%20traditional%20hospital%20discipline.

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

 

Brinsley Colliery’s Connections to D.H. Lawrence

The industrial life of Nottinghamshire is a key feature in the life and work of David Herbert Lawrence. Most notable is that of Brinsley Colliery that is on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border. The colliery features in a short story Odour of Chrysanthemums, written in 1909, and is used as a reference point for the Beggarlee Colliery in Sons and Lovers, written in 1913. More recently the headstocks at Brinsley, what many would probably call the winding wheel or winding towers that moved the cage that transported miners either underground or to the surface, were featured in the 1960s film adaption of Sons and Lovers.

You may be wondering why a blog post on a Nottinghamshire based colliery at Brinsley may be appearing on the Derbyshire Record Office blog. When it comes to many collieries and their connected companies, the distinction between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire is not as clear cut as we perhaps may think. Many companies from either county often had collieries in both or as is the case of the ones discussed in this post, they lay on the border and may have had workings under both counties, whether incidental or accidental. Thus the Barber Walker Company who owned Brinsley would have had interests along this border.

D4774-13-16-000001 (3)

Part of the Brinsley Colliery Headgear in a photograph taken c. 1960. D4774/13/16

D. H. Lawrence decide to use Brinsley and the mining community in the Eastwood and Underwood area as inspiration because his father, Arthur Lawrence, was a miner from the age of 7 until 28 at Brinsley. He then left to be a sinker at Clifton Colliery owned by the Clifton family. This industrial environment was something that the writer Lawrence was used to, especially as was born in the typical terraced housing provided by companies to those employed in their mines. He said in later life that those he who lived an industrial life surrounded by engines and machinery felt that “engines have a sort of individuality”. There seems to be some truth in that as even though collieries are now a thing of the past, in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, there is still a desire to remember those times, especially with the reuse of pit wheels as Town Council decorations or memorials.

The description of Brinsley Colliery given in Odour of Chrysanthemums would have been a familiar site to many, whether they lived in Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire.

“Just beyond rose the tapering chimneys and the clumsy black headstocks of Brinsley Colliery. The two wheels were spinning fast up against the sky, and the winding engine rapped out its little spasms. The miners were being turned up.”

In these mining communities, this would have not just been a description similar to any colliery in the East Midlands, but it would have been a description of their way of life. There was a sense of unity and pride within the workforce for doing the heavy work that collieries provided. This working class identity worked on both local and national level. The camaraderie this produced was reinforced by the social and physical welfare provided for the miners. For the Barber Walker Company this meant an attempt to copy feudal ideas of landlord and tenant relationships between the company and employees.

This way of life continued to be viewed by many who had only known the miner’s life as a family tradition and a job for life. The surviving headstocks of Brinsley Colliery alongside their description in D. H. Lawrence’s fiction are a surviving monument to those times. So when the colliery officially closed in 1970, the issue was what to do with these iconic structures. They were transferred to Lound Hall near Retford to be part of a mining museum and stayed there until the museum’s closure in 1989. The Nottinghamshire County Council asked for them to be reassembled at their original location and that is where they now are. The decision to send the headstocks to their homeland has prodigal son symbolism, again giving life to Lawrence’s words of the individuality of such machinery.

Bibliography:

‘Brinsley Merged with Selston Colliery After 78 Years’, http://www.healeyhero.co.uk/rescue/individual/Bob_Bradley/Bk-4/B4-1950-E.html

Bate, D. G., abridged version of ‘Headstocks of Brinsley Colliery’, Mercian Geologist, 18.2 (2013)

Emery, J., ‘Belonging, Memory and History in the North Nottinghamshire Coalfield’, Journal of Historical Geography, 59 (2018)

Gilbert, D., ‘Community and Municipalism: Collective Identity in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Mining Towns’, Journal of Historical Geography, 17.3 (1991)

Humphries, A. F., D. H. Lawrence, Transport and Cultural Transition: ‘A Great Sense of Journeying’ (2017)

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Logo

The Pacifist Directing Manager of Shirebrook Colliery Company

The Shirebrook Colliery Company was established in 1894 to work the pit at Shirebrook, on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border. Arnold Lupton was the company’s first managing director and was a controversial figure. With views linked to anti-vaccination, free religion and pacifism, it is clear to see why he was not a popular man.

His role as the managing director only lasted four years but ended on a sour note. He had to leave following a rather disastrous 17 week wage dispute in 1898 with employees. The anger of miners, who were striking because of poor working conditions and low wages, was made worse when miners from Glasgow and Wales were brought in to replace the striking miners. Eventually they were sent home and Lupton resigned. Ironically, in his later role as an MP for Sleaford in Lincolnshire, he was against the use of Chinese Labour in South African mines, seeing it as replacing the jobs of the more suitable white men. For this interest in international as well as domestic mining, he was known across the Commonwealth.

D3302-9-001 (2)

Abstract of title of Shirebrook Colliery Ltd to land and premises at Shirebrook, 1809-1891, D3302/9

Originally from Leeds, Arnold showed a keen interest in the mining industry. He had many different roles in the mining industry with many connections both in England and abroad. During his time at Shirebrook, he also held the title of Inspector of Mining between 1885 and 1898 and was Professor of Mining until 1905. Even after his connection with Shirebrook had ended, he still continued life as a mining agent, a type of manager involved in the technical and mechanical running of a colliery and wrote many books and pamphlets relating to the industry.

Yet despite what already seems like an interesting life, it is actions during the First World War that contain the most controversy. As a pacifist he was against the war, writing pamphlets on his views, especially one entitled Voluntary Service versus Compulsory Service, written in September 1915. Inciting pacifism was a legal offence, one for which he received a 6 month prison sentence in February 1918 for distributing other pacifist leaflets. The printer he used was fined £90, (around £2600 in today’s money).

More of Lupton’s activities during the First World War came out in the press following the end of the war. In 1922, Arnold Lupton attended an arbitration court made up of a mix of English and German people, to try and claim some money back from a pre-war deal settled in 1913. The deal comprised Lupton leasing an area of coal in the Nottinghamshire coalfields to the German industrialist Hugo Stinnes in return for £2000 (nearly £118,000 in today’s money). The deal mentioned related to Lupton’s role in establishing the Anglo-German Northern Union Mining Company to oversee the development of Haworth Colliery on the Nottinghamshire/South Yorkshire border. Despite the development of the colliery and the Germans who worked it being interned during the way, the German side had refused to pay Lupton his money. The arbitration court ruled that Stinnes was to pay the £2000 and 5% interest dating back to 1913, as well as £50 for costs to Lupton. When these dealings with Germans were leaked to the press, alongside the background of the horrors of the First World War, the public viewed it in an extremely bad light.

N36-9-11-8-00001 (2)

Wells/Sitwell dispute papers: Notes of Arnold Lupton, Mining Engineer, early 20th cent, N36/9/11/8

Bibliography:

‘English Pacifist Punished’, New York Times, 17 February 1918

‘German Industrialist Ordered to Live Up to Pre-War Contract with British Mining Engineer’, New York Times, 25 June 1922

‘Lunch for Mourners: Direction in a Will’, The Mercury, Austrialia, 24 Apr 1931

Amos, D. and Braber, N., Bradwell’s Images of Coal Mining in the East Midlands (Sheffield: Bradwell Books, 2017)

Chesterton, G. K., The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Volume 20 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001)

King’s Speech (Motion for an Address), February 1906, https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1906/feb/20/kings-speech-motion-for-an-address#S4V0152P0_19060220_HOC_186

Lupton, A., Voluntary Service versus Compulsory Service (September 1915)

Workmen’s Compensation Bill, December 1906, Third Reading, https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1906/dec/13/workmens-compensation-bill#S4V0167P0_19061213_HOC_309

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Logo

The Coal Strike of 1912

The Coal Strike of 1912, although only just over a month long, was a breakthrough in terms of the wages of miners. Prior to the Coal Mines Minimum Wage Act, that was passed as a direct result of the strike, miners wages were based on what was known as a price list. These price lists gave set amounts per task and were based on the standard ton of coal got from the face, as well as an increase for working coal seams with large amounts of stone or water, rather than just coal. The problem was that these prices often differed between collieries, companies and districts; there was no standardised minimum wage across the industry. The need to create standard wages was the reason for the strike.

D5345-1-000002

Whitwell Colliery Price List, 1894 (D5345/1)

Despite discussions and attempts for government intervention, the strike started in February 1912 at Alfreton Colliery. This is where my own interest comes in. I’ve lived in Alfreton all my life and the site of the former colliery, which is now the Meadow Lane Industrial Estate, is just a few streets away from my house. It’s probably why I wasn’t all that surprised to learn that Alfreton had started this strike. Soon after Alfreton’s action was taken, the strike movement spread across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. There were attempts in Wales, but outside of the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire coalfield, there was less enthusiasm.

D4774-13-1-000002

Front page of the Daily Mirror showing an Alfreton Miner on the First Day of the Strike, 27 Feb 1912 (D4474/13/1/7)

The miners generally treated the strike as a holiday, as at the time a strike could be seen as illegal. It was termed a ‘holiday’ to try and avoid this, but there was still the serious message of wanting a set minimum wage for the industry. Just over a month later and in the run up to Easter, hoping that the details of any settlement would be sorted out, the men returned to work. That did little to stop the confusion of whether the action was classed as a holiday or an actual strike.

It created uneasiness for the police, who drafted in civilian help for backup in case things got heated. In some places the army were drafted in. It may sound like a reflection of the much later miner’s strikes that are still within living memory, but there were serious disruptions posed by the strike of 1912. Coal was desperately needed to supply the railways and shipping industries and these were badly affected, most notably with the majority of train services being cancelled. This wasn’t helped by the act that the previous year, there had been a railway strike, and also in 1912, a dockers strike. Rudyard Kipling said of the situation that “there is no law in England save the whim of the unions”. It must have felt like that to some extent, and is probably the main reason why the government decided to pass the Coal Mines Minimum Wage Act, hoping that this would pacify any outstanding disagreements. It certainly did, but there were still district arrangements rather than national ones.

Bibliography:

Gill, P., National Coal Strike http://www.petergill7.co.uk/pieces/lawrence/national_coal_strike.shtml

Hind, J., When Coal Was King: Ladysmith and the Coal-Mining Industry on Vancouver Island (Vancouver: UCB Press, 2003)

Kipling, J. The Letters of Rudyard Kipling: 1911-19, Volume 4, edited by Pinney, T., (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999)

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Logo

The Bolsover Spitfires: 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain

You may think that crowdfunding is a relatively new thing but actually it isn’t. During both the World Wars, war bonds, or the National Savings Movement as it was known during the Second World War, were often used to raise money by advertising directly to the public. However, Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production, came up with a new public funding campaign to help build spitfires to defend the nation. This is part of the reason why the Spitfire still remains at the heart of the nation and our collective memory of World War Two.

Bolsover Colliery answered this call eagerly. The men who worked there and their families in the surrounding community managed to raise enough money to supply the RAF with not one, but two Spitfires! Yet at Chesterfield, the town were unable to raise enough money for one of the aircraft. The miners were able to raise so much money as they promised to give a penny for every 10 shillings they earned to another local fundraiser, Mrs Shepley of Holmesfield, as well as donating to their own Spitfire fund. The Spitfire built with the money raised from Holmesfield was named Shepley to honour the men who had died from that family.

Both of the Spitfires built from the Bolsover mining communities fundraising efforts were first flown in March 1940 and both were fitted with Rolls Royce engines manufactured in Derby. So in many ways, these planes felt very local, even though they were to fly over the Channel and fight over to the continent. The amount raised for each plane was £5,700, or £224,274 in today’s money. No one could accuse these miners of not being generous!

D4774-13-12-000001

Photograph of Spitfire given by the Bolsover Colliery Company, D4774/13/12

The miners at Bolsover were not the only miners who appeared to be good at fundraising. Miners in Durham also managed to raise enough money for two Spitfires. The estimated amount of money raised by the public across Britain and the Commonwealth for Spitfires by August 1940 was £3,050,000. From that figure it is clear to see just how much Bolsover had raised. The final total was round £13 million given by around 1400 funds to build 2,600 Spitfires. Most of these fought during the Battle of Britain.

So what actually happened to the Spitfires Bolsover Colliery paid to build? Only one of the planes survived the war. One of them was shot down by the Luftwaffe near Dungeness in September 1941, sadly killing its pilot. The surviving one had had two accidents during its time in service. One of these involved hitting overhead cables, another where it was tipped on its nose whilst taxiing. Unfortunately, it is not known what happened to this aircraft following it’s removal from service in 1947.

Bibliography:

‘Bolsover Colliery of the Bolsover Colliery Company’, http://www.oldminer.co.uk/bolsover.html

Bridgewater, A. N., North Derbyshire Collieries (2009) https://www.aditnow.co.uk/documents/Doe-Lea-Coal-Mine/North20Derbyshire20Collieries20Small20Update.pdf

Ferguson, N., The Battle of Britain: A Miscellany (Chichester: Summerdale Publishers, 2015)

Letter from the Royal Air Force Staff College to the manager at Bolsover Colliery detailing the Spitfires paid for by the colliery in the Second World War, November 1987, N42/1/5/10

Tebbs, A., Stories from Carr Vale and New Bolsover, Commissioned by Bolsover District Council (2014)

Watson, G., ‘Spitfire Fund: The ‘whip-round’ that won the war?’, BBC News, 12 March 2016, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35697546

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Logo

Coal mining records

A guide to records of the Derbyshire coal mining industry (written March 1993, updated June 2020).

Development of coal mining in Derbyshire

There has been coal mining in Derbyshire since the medieval period.  Mining initially took place along the eastern edge of the county, around Dronfield, Chesterfield, Alfreton, Ripley and Heanor, where the coal seams occur close to the surface.  Production was not large, as charcoal was widely available as a source of domestic fuel, and the extent of coal mining operations depended on the interest of the private landlords under whose estates the seams lay. 

The demand for Derbyshire coal increased from the 18th century.  Local lead was now being smelted using coal fired hearths, whilst the construction of the Derbyshire canal network and subsequently the rail network, meant that both lead and coal could be distributed to wider markets far more cheaply than had hitherto been possible.  The incentive of profit attracted entrepreneurs into the coal industry and led to the formation and growth of large colliery companies.  In 1790, the partnership of Benjamin Outram, Francis Beresford, John Wright and William Jessop bought the freehold of the Butterley Hall estate (see comment below), from which they shortly took the name The Butterley Company, and began mining for coal and iron-ore.  See D503 for the large archive collection for the firm.

Coal Mining Archive Collections

Derbyshire Record Office holds a number of private family and estate collections relating to to coal mining on private lands:

  • D1881 Coke of Brookhill
  • D76 and D187 Hallowes of Glapwell
  • D2535, D126 and D513 Hurt of Alderwasley
  • D517 Miller Mundy of Shipley
  • D2536 Oakes of Riddings
  • D1763 Palmer-Morewood of Alfreton Hall
  • D255 Ray of Heanor Hall
  • D505 Rodes of Barlborough
  • D1000 Sitwell of Renishaw
  • D551 Strelley of Denby Old Hall

In some cases  these landlords worked the coal themselves, as part of their estate, in other cases they leased the right to work the ground in return for mineral rents.

The main coal mining archive held at the record office was received from the National Coal Board (NCB) in various consignments.  The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 transferred the ownership of all coal mines from the private colliery companies to the State.  The NCB records are public records, and whilst they do contain some post-1946 material, the bulk of the archive is made up of pre-vesting material inherited by the NCB from 80 collieries and colliery companies, including 1,400 plans and hundreds of photographs.  The records of each colliery and each company have not been kept together but were split up by the NCB and much material has been lost. Over 2020 and 2021 we are cataloguing and conserving this collection as part of the Wellcome Trust funded project Mining the Seams, in partnership with Warwickshire County Record Office, who are also cataloguing their coal mining records.

Between 2016 and 2017, the large archive of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Derbyshire Area was also catalogued with funding from the Wellcome Trust.  As part of the project, it is now possible to search and download our anonymised data about coal miners’ occupational ill health and accidents in Derbyshire on the Miners’ Health and Welfare Project website.

A list of archive collections for coal mining companies can be found via the online catalogue, as can a partial list of Local Studies items relating to coal mining.

Coal Mining Records

Title deeds: large number of title deeds have survived both in the family collections and amongst the records of the NCB.  The purpose of the title deed is to show proof of ownership of the mine.  In many cases there may be a whole series of  title deeds for the same plot of land, tracing its ownership back to the Middle Ages.  In such cases it is unlikely that the early deeds will even mention coal.  Many colliery companies leased the right to work the local seams from the owner of the land and lease documents are likely to survive.

Other family and estate records: if the family worked the mines on its own estates then there may be accounts relating to the amount of coal produced and the costs incurred.  If however, the family leased the mines to a private company there may be accounts relating to the amount of mineral rent received.

Company records: by the late 19th and early 20th century colliery companies were producing a huge amount and variety of records, as the industry became the subject of increasing regulation.  The researcher may find sales ledgers, letter books, production figures, minute books, managers reports, equipment inventories, and even the occasional register of pit ponies.  For those attempting to trace an individual miner there are a limited number of staff registers, signing-on books, accident report books and pay records for several Derbyshire companies.

Price lists and Wage agreements: the early 20th century saw disputes over miners’ pay claims which culminated in the strike of 1926.  The NCB archive (formerly reference N3) contains much contemporary material relating to this issue, including a large number of price lists and wage agreements.  The price list is a printed list, published by the colliery company, detailing the amount the company is prepared to pay the miner for different types of work on a particular seam.  The prices paid are normally per ton of coal produced, or per yard mined, and will vary from seam to seam.

Maps and Plans: particularly of underground workings.  These can be difficult to use, especially when they do not show many (or even any) surface working to which the underground tunnels can be related. 

The Monocled Mutineer’s early career at Blackwell Colliery

On the 100th anniversary of the death of Percy Toplis, I thought it appropriate to look into the connections he had to the local mining industry. Toplis, better known as the Monocled Mutineer, is a bit of a local celebrity for being an imposter, claiming to be an army officer, being mutineer, deserter and a criminal. With that fairly long list of wrongdoings, it is clear that Toplis was a ‘wrong ‘un’, as we’d say in Derbyshire. It is not known how real the character created by the media at the time, who viewed him as Britain’s most wanted man at the time, actually was. It is clear that he was a troubled soul from an early age.

Having been born to poor parents in Chesterfield who couldn’t afford to keep him, he was passed around family between the Mansfield and Alfreton/South Normanton area. The main guardians for him were his grandparents, who lived in South Normanton. It was here that he went to school and was known to get into trouble often for bullying other children. They cared for him until his first criminal conviction in 1908 for obtaining two suits under false pretences. It was then that his grandparents admitted that they didn’t know what to do with the boy. He was passed on to his Aunt Annie Webster, who lived in Colliery Row, Blackwell.

28483644_121686948492

Photograph of Percy Toplis

His connections with Blackwell Colliery started when he left the school at South Normanton he’d been attending until he reached the age of 13. He then took up a blacksmith’s apprenticeship at Blackwell Colliery. An apprentice to a blacksmith was expected to learn the job for around four or five years until they were deemed qualified. Their job was an important one in the daily running of a colliery. They would help to create and maintain tools, mend machinery and shoe the pit ponies. However, the thoughts of a steady job appeared too much responsibility for Toplis and he didn’t enjoy the work at all. He seldom attended and was eventually caught skipping his night shift, in favour of spending a night in the pub at the Blackwell Arms. For this he was sacked and Toplis decided to become a wander, mainly in Scotland, and partaking in petty crime.

What happened to him following the outbreak of the First World War is widely known, so this post won’t go into the mutiny he was supposedly a part of or his various attempts of defrauding soldiers’ salaries or disguising himself as an officer, although I would recommend researching into that if you wish. Instead, I have tried to look at how Percy Toplis didn’t wish to conform to the Derbyshire tradition of working at a colliery, despite living in a time when it would have probably been expected of a boy growing up around many pits in the area around Alfreton, Blackwell and South Normanton. During Toplis’ lifetime, these places were built on the unity and pride that colliery working provided within a community built around this industry. Instead Toplis became famed for not conforming to any of society expectations, instead walking his own line at every given opportunity, no matter how wrong this was.

percy toplis

Headline from the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 09 June 1920

As we mark the anniversary of his death today, during a police shootout in Cumbria, after being recognised by a local constable, perhaps it is best to remember the charity given to him following his death. The Penrith Board of Guardians organised his burial in Christian ground at the Beacon Cemetery. There was opposition to this because of his many crimes but the Rev R H Law, Vicar of Christ Church, insisted upon a Christian burial, reminding others that Percy Toplis had been “violently removed from this life before he could be judged on earth.”

Bibliography:

‘How he deluded hotel guests’, Dundee Courier, 8th June 1920

Eden District Council, Percy Toplis, https://www.eden.gov.uk/leisure-culture-and-events/penrith-and-eden-museum/museum-collections/percy-toplis/

Emery, J., ‘Belonging, Memory and History in the North Nottinghamshire Coalfield’, Journal of Historical Geography, 59 (2018), pp. 77-89.

National Mining Museum, Skilled Colliery Craftsman, https://nationalminingmuseum.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/FF2-Craftsmen.pdf

Pixel Surgery, Percy Toplis Bothy, Tomintoul – The Enchanting Secret Behind the Monocled Mutineer, 17 March 2018, https://pixelsurgery.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/percy-toplis-bothy-tomintoul/

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Logo

Florence Nightingale’s Connection to Pleasley Colliery

I came across a rather unusual connection between the woman famous for nursing in the Crimean War and mining in Pleasley. At first it sounds like the two should be completely unconnected but it involves a little local legend and a connection to her father. What better time to share this story than in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale on the 12th of May 1820.

Pleasley Colliery between Chesterfield and Mansfield was once owned by the Stanton Coal & Iron Company. It opened as a small scale mine in 1872 after the mineral rights were leased from William Edward Nightingale, the father of Florence Nightingale. The Stanton Company decided to branch out into coal so that it could supply their ironworks, as well as competitors in the other local iron and steel businesses. It appeared that Pleasley was a good choice because of its location being close to Chesterfield and Mansfield, from which connections to Sheffield could also be easily made. This was helped by the wharf that was built onsite to sell commercial coal from.

D6326 2 3 000002

Village Scene with Pleasley Colliery in background from Maude Verney’s Pleasley watercolour sketch book [1919], D326/2/3/2

As Lord of the Manor in Pleasley, William Nightingale had the rights to any minerals found on the land but it was also his right to lease them. In remembrance of this, the first shaft to be sunk at the Colliery became known as Nightingale Pit. It was a fitting tribute despite the fact there is no evidence the Nightingales ever officially lived in Pleasley.

A local legend tells that Florence and her father dug the first hole, or sunk the first sod as it was then known, of what would develop into the Pleasley Colliery. How true this is just isn’t clear, but nonetheless, it certainly is a compelling story. Unfortunately, both William and his wife Francis often spent most of their time in Hampshire, rather than spending summers at their Derbyshire home at Lea Hurst, as they were both becoming increasingly unwell. It was Florence who nursed them in 1873, but the next year gave this role to her sister as she had to carry on running the school of nursing she’d established in London in 1860.

D1575 Box 36 81 (i)

Photograph of Florence Nightingale, D1575/BOX/36/81

Coal at Pleasley was first reached in 1875, three years after the mine was first opened. Whilst this would have been a time of celebration, it was somewhat short lived. Coal was reached despite problems of the shafts filling with water. To try and solve this problem, iron from the ironworking side of the Stanton Company was used to line the shafts. This was only a temporary fix and didn’t help when digging further underground. The water problems continued until 1877 when better iron equipment and a new pumping system were installed.

Following the death of William Edward Nightingale in 1874, the Pleasley estate was placed in the joint hands of Florence and her older sister Parthenope. This meant that the women, alongside Parthenope’s husband Sir Harry Verney, would inherit the mineral rights in Pleasley that were leased to the Stanton Company.

Pleasley Colliery stopped winding coal in 1973 and from then coal was sent underground to Shirebrook Colliery. It officially closed in 1983 but a shaft was left open to provide ventilation for Shirebrook. This shaft was totally abandoned in 1993. The buildings that remained standing after 1986 were then classed as Grade 2 listed. In 1996 the Friends of Pleasley Pit was formed to ensure the posterity of the site and it became a museum.

Bibliography:

‘Death of William Nightingale’, https://lifeandtimesofflorencenightingale.wordpress.com/biography/death-william-nightingale/

Bell, D., Memories of the Derbyshire Coalfields (Newbury: Countryside Books, 2006)

National Coal Board, Pleasley Colliery, 1873-1973 (1973)

Pleasley Parish Council, http://pleasleyparishcouncil.org.uk/page16.html

Pleasley Pit Trust, History, https://www.pleasleypittrust.org.uk/services

Weiss, M., Coal Mines Remembered 2 (2011)

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Logo