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.