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. 

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. 

 

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 Perils of the Miners’ Pit Head Baths

Among our work, we have been creating a database from Derbyshire National Union of Mineworkers’ tribunal cases relating to illness and injury.  Among the many injuries, illnesses and diseases, were those caused by visits to and working in the pithead baths.

Before the construction of pithead baths at collieries, miners would travel to and from work in dirty, damp clothes. Pithead baths were first discussed by the Mineworkers Federation of Great Britain at its annual conference in 1910 but for many reasons, ranging from worry over illnesses to a proposed charge for using the baths, there was difficulty in persuading miners that pithead baths were needed.

The first baths in Derbyshire were opened at Grassmoor colliery in December 1929. By the late 1930s ten of the county’s collieries, including Markham colliery, had pithead baths. In the late 1940s the Ministry of Fuel and Power decided that every pithead bath should have an attached medical centre. By the beginning of 1947 pithead baths had been built at 366 collieries across the UK with provision for 450,000 men.

The main two groups of injuries and diseases that we have come across resulting from pithead bath use have been slipping and/or falling and skin diseases such as dermatitis and athlete’s foot.

There were strict rules about using the baths (picture courtesy of National Coal Mining Museum for England):Pithead Bath Rules - compressed

Each colliery might have their own set of rules, too.  This is from the Markham Collieries: ‘The Bather’s Handbook’ [1935-1939] (our ref D1920):
a476_7-the-bathers-handbook-markham-colliery-1935x1939

These next two photographs were taken at the National Coal Mining Museum for England near Wakefield, a highly recommended visit.
The pithead baths at this Colliery (no longer in use of course!) certainly put the accidents suffered by both the staff and bath attendants and the miners themselves into context.

lockers

The pithead bath locker rooms could be dangerous places if the miners were eager to get home after their shift!

 

No Money No Soap

A very clear message!