My Family’s Claim Against the Butterley Company

One of my main tasks as an archive assistant on the Mining the Seams Project, is cataloguing documents. For me, this involves checking over documents and creating spreadsheets to correctly describe them for future users. Since I started on the project in October 2019, a lot of this has involved looking through various correspondence of the Butterley Company. The Company was established by Benjamin Outram in 1790 to work Derbyshire’s minerals, initially iron ore for their ironworks, but this expanded to include coal, which would help fire the ironworks. When coal became a popular fuel to use, they created large collieries to meet increasing demand for coal. It was one of the largest employers in the county, so you can imagine just how much material there is to wade through.

The one thing I didn’t expect to find was correspondence about Hill Top Farm in Swanwick, where my paternal grandma, Margaret, grew up. As this task is shared task with my colleague, Neil, due to current restrictions meaning I’m only in the office one day a week (prior to a change in COVID restrictions), it could have easily been him who came across the reference to mining damaging the farm.

As this task is shared task with my colleague, Neil, it could have easily been him who came across the reference to mining damaging the farm. To me though, finding a letter in my two times great grandad’s handwriting was emotional. Sadly I don’t know much about my family history on my dad’s side as both my grandad and grandma refused to talk about large aspects. My grandad ran away from home for an unknown reason at 14, and my grandma’s father sadly committed suicide, so she never wished to talk too much beyond her own childhood.

My great, great grandad’s initial letter to the Butterley Company, 26 Oct 1925, N5/166/3

When I first saw a the below letter mentioning repairs needed at Hill Top Farm in Swanwick, my heart jumped as I knew that was the family farm my grandma lived on as a child, but her sister, Josephine, when she was old enough worked with her husband. As soon as I saw that the person who had brought the claim was a Joseph Calladine, I knew it was my family because that was grandma’s maiden name. I quickly checked the census, just to find out what the connection was and found he was my two times great grandad. It meant even more than it would have done before because my grandma sadly passed away in April.

Letter written following inspection of the property, 5 Nov 1925, N5/166/3

So what was my great, great grandad doing writing letters to the Butterley Company for? He was claiming for damages done to the farm and 3 cottages he owned, which had been possibly caused by subsidence from workings at the company’s nearby Britain Colliery. The company came to inspect the damage a week after Joseph Calladine’s letter. It appears that Joseph had brought the mineral rights to a pillar of coal on his land at a similar time to him building the 3 cottages mentioned, probably hoping to avoid any possible damage. However, within 5 years, there were cracks in most of his buildings, including the cow shed.

Brief report of inspection, 4 Nov 1925, N5/166/3

Thankfully the inspection noted that no serious damage was done, but repairs should be completed once the ground had settled. So far I haven’t come across any mention of any more repairs that needed to be done later on, as was suggested might happen. I will have to keep an eye out just in case!

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. 

Mining the Seams Project Update

First of all, I hope you’ve been enjoying the blog posts about some of the interesting things that have been found so far during the project, which seeks to catalogue the archive left to us by the National Coal Board. The project has a particular focus on the medical and compensation aspects, but as it’s such a large collection, there are bits of everything in it. Now that Mining the Seams is roughly half way through, and into another lockdown, we thought it a good time to update on what we’ve done so far.

Working from home has meant reduced time checking and cataloguing documents in person for me. However, that still is going on thankfully and it still means progress on the hundreds of boxes to be checked and drafted for future cataloguing purposes. This particularly means adding more detail to descriptions of documents for the future use of those interested in industrial history. In total we have completed 379 out of 631 boxes, which is around 60%.

The largest collection we are working on is N5. This is a mixture of accident and compensation records, but mainly correspondence on a wide range of topics relating to the coal industry in the early and mid-twentieth century, including medical issues, the planning of Ollerton Colliery and village, and helping the war effort during WW2. Of course this is not an exhaustive list considering how large the collection is, but look out for some future blog posts and tweets on some topics from the N5 collection.

Letter detailing a U.S. Army Depot at Boughton, 23 Aug 1943, N5/182/3

If you’ve been following the progress so far, you’ll remember that during the first lockdown, we were working on transcribing compensation forms for the Butterley Company. Now 40 bundles have been finished, with 25 fully checked over. These are also being used to track miners who had more than one accident they claimed for.

The compensation forms aren’t the only thing we were able to do from home. One of the other main collections being catalogued using our scanning technology are photographs from D4774, making it easy to do during lockdown. The majority of these are of colliery buildings at various collieries. There are some interesting ones, such as the one below showing the Miners Rescue Team at Ormonde Colliery.

Photograph of the Ormonde Colliery Rescue Team, 1950, D4774/13/49/12

If you would like to know more abut the project, please don’t hesitate to visit the project’s information page at https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/record-office/records/record-office-projects/record-office-projects.aspx. Or if you have any queries about the project or related coal mining collections, please email the Derbyshire Record Office at record.office@derbyshire.gov.uk.

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.

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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.

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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. 

 

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Lead Mining Records

The Miners Tearms are like to Heathen Greek – Edward Manlove, 1653

A guide to the brief history of lead mining in Derbyshire and notes on the sources available for research (written March 1993, updated June 2020).

Administration and Customs

There are few primary series for the study of Derbyshire lead mining before the 16th century.  By this time the unique set of laws and customs which govern Derbyshire lead mining were already well established.  Most of the ore fields within the county were within the estate of the Duchy of Lancaster and thus belonged to the Crown.  A royal inquisition held at Ashbourne in 1288 recognised the “immemorial” right of miners to dig for lead anywhere on the Crown’s estates except under churchyards, gardens, orchards and highways, but it also codified the mining laws in order to regulate this activity.  The mining laws of 1288 remained substantially unaltered and were accepted as the basis for the Derbyshire Mining Customs and Mineral Courts Acts in 1852 (see D163/1 and Local Studies 622.344).

The Crown’s ore fields were divided into the Kingsfield of the High Peak in the north and the Kingsfield of the Low Peak (also known as the Wapentake of Wirksworth) in the south.  Each field had its own Great Barmoot Court, which met twice a year and had exclusive jurisdiction over matters connected with mining.  The Great Barmoot Court was presided over by a steward, who could also summon a more frequent small Barmoot to hear lesser cases.  Both the High Peak and Low Peak ore fields were subdivided into smaller administrative units known as liberties, each of which corresponded to a mining township, and an officer called a Barmaster was appointed for each liberty. There were some lead mining areas outside the Crown’s estates on private lands.  These are known as the Private Liberities and had their own Barmoot Courts, Barmasters and mining customs, modelled on those of the Kingsfields.

Barmoot Court Books/Rolls: are the official minutes of the mining courts.  At the beginning of each session should appear the title of the court, the name of the Lord of the Court (if a Private Liberty), the date of the session, and the name of the steward presiding.  The business of the court will then follow and may include the appointment of the Barmaster and his deputies, the swearing-in of jurors, the delivery of accounts (of “lot” and “cope” collected) by the Barmaster and his deputies, and the details of cases of plaints brought before the court.  There may be subsidiary papers such as jury lists, the articles of the court, court orders, case notes, and notes on mining laws and customs.

Records of the Barmaster: barmasters’ notebooks or diaries provide a day-to-day record of their activities, and cover the full range of official duties.  These included

  • recognising a new claim in return for a dish of ore (freeing the founder meer)
  • making (nicking) the windlass (stowe) of an idle mine and re-allocating its possession after it has been nicked three times
  • investigating the sudden death of any miner within the Liberty,
  • making summons for breaches of the mining laws
  • measuring lead ore, and
  • collecting the mineral duties.

Lot was the payment of a set fraction of the ore raised by the miners. Cope was a monetary payment per load of ore measured, which was normally paid by the lead merchants or smelters.  There are usually separate account books recording the amounts of ore measured and the lot or cope paid.

Derbyshire Record Office has three particularly good and complimentary collections for the study of lead mining administration and customs:

  • D258 Gell family of Hopton, near Wirksworth.  The Gell’s were prominent lead smelters in the 16th and 17th centuries and held the farm of cope from the Crown.  Their archive contains a lot of material on the operation of the Barmoot Court and the Barmasters in the Wapentake of Wirksworth.
  • D504 Brooke-Taylor of Bakewell, solicitors, contains a large amount of similar material for the Kingsfield and Private Liberties in the High Peak.
  • D1289 Rieuwarts Collection is an artificial collection of lead mining records covering the private liberties of the Duke of Rutland.
Development in Lead Mining Technology

Initially lead production was fairly limited: the smelting process was primitive and the depth of the mines was restricted by problems of ventilation and flooding.

Smelting: was originally carried out using boles, wood fired furnaces on westerly facing hilltops.  Smelting could only take place when there was a south westerly wind to fire the furnace, usually about twice a year, and would fail if the wind failed.  the second half of the 16th century saw the introduction of the smelting mill.  Lead was produced in a specially designed ore hearth, fired by bellows that were powered by a water wheel, thereby enabling production to take place continuously throughout the year.  In the 18th century the ore hearth itself was superseded by the Reverbertory Furnace or ‘Cupola’, which used coal instead of wood to generate the heat for smelting.  These changes in smelting practice can be followed using records including those relating to Sir John Gell’s smelting mill in the 1640s (see D258) and the county’s largest 18th century lead cupola in Lea owned by the Nightingale family (see D1575).

Soughs: were drainage tunnels designed to lower the water table, or free the mines of underground streams, by diverting the water into the near river valleys.  the earliest recorded sough is the Longhead sough, driven by the Dutch engineer Sir Cornelius Vermuyden between 1629 and 1636 to unwater the Dovegang mines at Cromford.  The Gell collection (ref: D258) contains material concerning early soughs including contemporary copies of documents concerning the draining of Dovegang.  The largest sough driven in Derbyshire was the Hillcarr Sough.  It was begun in 1766 and drained the mines at Alport-by-Youlgreave by carrying water a distance of four miles to the River Derwent at Darley Dale.  A good number of records for this project are held at the record office, including the minute book of the proprietors 1775-1821 (ref: D200), as well as a contemporary copy of the sough articles, title deeds, plans, accounts and other material (ref: D504 and D1575).

Other records

Individual Derbyshire lead miners have left few records, and will only appear as names in the Barmasters diary or the Barmoot Court Book.  From the beginning the lead trade was controlled by the wealthy smelters and merchants.  As mining became deeper and more expensive the merchants grouped together to form mining companies.  Many of the surviving records are therefore in family or company archive collections.  These include account or reckoning books for particular mines detailing expenditure on wages and equipment, against income from the amount of ore produced.

See our online for a list of the archive collections of lead mining companies, lead dealers Barmoot Courts and Barmasters and a list of items in Local Studies relating to lead mining.

The Barmaster’s Library

The Barmaster’s Library is a collection of publications and other items about the history of Derbyshire (particularly Buxton and the Peak District) including a number of items specifically relating to lead mining.  Originally brought together by William and George Eagle Esquires, Barmasters of Wirksworth, it was presented to the Whitworth Institute at Darley Dale probably in the early 1930s – the original catalogue was produced in March 1931 but it is unclear if the catalogue was produced at the time of the presentation or some time later.  It was transferred to the custody of the Local Studies Library (then based at Matlock Library) in 1968.

There are some early 20th century publications in the collection, but most of the items  date from the 18th to 19th century – the earliest items are from the 16th and 17th century

Further Reading
  • Edward Manlove Liberties and Customs of the Lead Mines (ref: Local Studies 622.344 for 1708 edition and D2193/1/1 for a photocopy of the c1653 poem)
  • Blog Post – Acquisition of lead mining plan of Winster, 1769 (ref: D8163/1)
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (1998) Glossary of Derbyshire lead mining terms
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (2007-2012) Lead Mining in Derbyshire: history, development & drainage (4 volumes)
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (1972) Derbyshire’s old lead mines and miners
    J. H. Rieuwerts (1988) A History of the Laws & Customs of the Derbyshire Lead Mines

A large number of records relating to lead mining in Derbyshire are held at Chatsworth Archives, including several items that originally formed a series with some items held under D504.

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.

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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.

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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. 

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Langwith Colliery and its disputes with the War Department

Before building started for a secret munitions factory at Langwith in September 1915, the area was already home to Langwith Colliery owned by the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Company and the Langwith By-Product Plant. With these places of industry already in existence, it is easy to see how disputes could arise with the War Department’s decision to build a munitions factory. The reason for the location was because of the By-Product plant that produced the gas the factory would need for the chemicals produced for the sea mines used during the First World War, as well as its closeness to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway that already served these neighbouring industries.

It was the coal mining industry in the local area that had first established a need for the railway. Following the construction of the factory, it was used to take workers on special trains to the new factory. This was another source of contention with the local industries who saw the factory as a means of taking away their workforce. It had around 800-1100 staff working there and many travelled in, some from as far away as Kirkby-in-Ashfield. The workers were paid on average £3 a week, a lot more than other industries were offering. With these types of wages, many women sought munitions work as a means to improve their own standard of living and it was seen as an acceptable way for working class women to do war work in a way that they were usually excluded from participating in.

Langwith 1975

Part of plan of Langwith Pit Village in N42/1/28/3

The By-Product Plant was given £1145, around £67,500 in today’s money, to purchase the neighbouring 27 acre plot of land on behalf of the War Department from the Earl Bathurst, with the excuse of helping the war effort. Of course the company was less than happy about a rival moving in next door, especially when they had little choice in the matter. Once building started it caused a lot of disruption for the By-Product plant as it went way beyond the deadline of being running by February 1916. The skilled workforce need to build the chemical baths needed for production couldn’t be found. Instead local women and 150 soldiers had to be trained for this. Production eventually started in October 1916 but there were still problems with the chemical process, meaning output was only running at the target levels from June 1917. With the full capacity up and running, the factory produced 2,173 tons of ammonium perchlorate between June 1917 and December 1918.

The local mining industry did somewhat influence life at the munitions factory. It took the example of events and housing provided by local colliery companies but not in quite the same generous ways. Dances open to all locals were provided in the onsite restrooms and housing was built, but only given to the management and chemists working on the site.

After the end of the war, the site gradually reduced production and staff levels until its eventual closure came in 1922. Little was known of the factory’s existence after that, let alone the friction it caused with the Sheepbridge Company, as all workers were forced to abide by the Official Secrets Act. Photographs of the site during its construction were also under this and were not made available at the National Archives until the 1960s or even later. With the closure of the munitions factory, its main source of income, the By-Product Plant decided to cease production and after its closure in 1927, the land was sold to the Sheepbridge Company to expand their workings at Langwith Colliery. It was thought the land was not worth building on and was turned into a tipping site. The building of the former munitions factory was demolished so that the land could be let to a Mr C. Glough to build a smaller factory.

The site of the former munitions factory and neighbouring By-Product Plant is now part of the Poulter Country Park. The people who died in the two serious accidents there are still remembered and one lady in particular, Cicely Eady, has an inscription on her grave stating she “gave her life for her country”.

Bibliography:

Jenkins, D. E., Sheepbridge: A History of the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Company (Old Whittington: Bannister Publications Ltd, 1995)

‘Langwith Munitions Factory’, https://livesofthefirstworldwar.iwm.org.uk/community/3966

Warrener, T., A History of Langwith, Nether Langwith and Whaley Thorns (Langwith: Design and Print Services, 2008)

Woollacott, A., On Her Lives Depend: Munitions Workers in the Great War (California: University of California Press, 1994)

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. 

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Brickfall at Bondland shafts, Heage

Whilst going through some correspondence files for the Butterley Company, I came across reports for an accident. What was unusual about this accident was the amount of detail mentioned in the company’s correspondence. It gave detail from the time of the incident and included the consequences for those involved and their rescuers. The following is paraphrased from those documents found in N5/99/7.

William Ratcliffe was a brick contractor brought in to help with this work. He was first mentioned in a letter addressed to Mr Mitton, a manager at the Butterley Company’s Colliery Department, on the 20th of February, stating he was willing to continue his work helping to sink the three shafts. Within 4 days, he would unfortunately be caught up in a fatal accident.

On the 24th of February 1926, William Ratcliffe and Fred Warren were tasked with helping to brick the bottom of the Bond Land shaft. Both these men were day contractors and were not regular employees of the mine. However, they still suffered as a result of a brick fall. This shows that just how dangerous working in a mine was, regardless of who was working there.

At around 12:30 pm a loud crash of bricks, louder than the usual unloading from the hoppit (a tub lowered for bricks and debris). A man above shouted to ask if everything was alright and a response came to send someone down. Something was clearly wrong. Bernard Hurley and Benjamin Walters immediately volunteered for this. Once underground they saw the scaffold the men had been working from was tilted and a pile of bricks lay on one side. Warren was injured but standing and it soon became obvious that Ratcliffe was more seriously injured as he was crouching in pain. He had to be helped into the hoppit so that all 4 men could return to the surface. Hurley and Walters were slightly injured themselves by further bricks falling on their ascent to the surface. The brick fall continued until about 3:30pm and it was estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 bricks had fallen during that time.

Hurley and Walters were praised by the Inspector of Mines on their “prompt and plucky” rescue, which stopped a more serious situation from happening. Sadly, this was not enough to save William Ratcliffe from his injuries and he died in hospital 2 days later. He died from fractured ribs and other possible internal injuries. Fred Warren was lucky as he had head wounds but these were not of a serious nature and he survived.

Hurley and Walters were commended for their bravery that day. They went to a place of unknown danger in order to rescue their colleagues, even if they may not have known them well as they were day contractors. The Butterley Company were keen to recognise this from the start. How to do this was of some discussion. Did they deserve money or a clock or something similar for their efforts? It was certainly decided that a medal from the Mines Department would not be suitable as “many others would do exactly as “Hurley and Walters did”. The two men were eventually given a gold watch each for their efforts.

Bravery for Accident

Letter detailing the presentation ceremony for Bernard Hurley and Benjamin Walters, 8th Apr 1926, N5/99/7

The accident increased discussion about safety in the mine, especially when it came to securing the hoppit. The idea of using a double rather than single chain for this mechanism was discussed in a letter dated the 26th of March. This was done in hopes that it would help prevent further deaths like that of William Ratcliffe.

However, that was not the end of the story, certainly not for the families of those involved. An entry for a compensation arbitration court shows that William Ratcliffe’s daughter, Winifred, disapproved of the £65 she was offered for her father’s death. As he was an outside contractor, he was not entitled to as much as an ordinary worker. Still, £65, or around £1800 in today’s money, was not much for the loss of a life.

William Ratcliffe

Workmen’s compensation acts Record of agreements, arbitration cases and liability memoranda, 1899-1944, N5

Winifred, as seen in the arbitration description above was instead hoping to get £150 pounds in compensation, not the £65 that her brother’s were willing to accept. Unfortunately, she didn’t win the case and the £65 still stood. The saddest part is that by 1928, the shafts to this exploratory mine at Heage were deemed unworkable and they were filled in, making it feel that William Ratcliffe’s death was for an unworthy cause.

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. 

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My Personal Connection to Rhyl Miners’ Holiday Camp

I’ve known about Rhyl Miner’s Camp in North Wales for most of my life. A photograph of my mum aged about 4 with my grandma whilst on holiday there has been on our wall since forever. The picture must have been taken in around 1951 or 1952. Whilst the pair look happy and my mum cradles a cat, the sad part is that around a year after that seemingly happy holiday that my grandparents took my mum and uncle on, my grandma died from cancer. This of course was something my mum talks of with utter sadness that she never got to knew her own mum well enough.

However, when my parents and I decided we’d like to go to North Wales on our own holiday, not long after my mum’s brother was also given a terminal cancer diagnosis, we decided to try and find where the Miner’s Camp in Rhyl had once stood. Google didn’t provide much detail as not many people wanted to remember this long lost place that once allowed many mining families a chance for a seaside holiday. The Skegness Miner’s Camp seemed to be a more popular search term as well, so it became hard to figure out what had happened. That was until we came across a small post online detailing the new street names of the housing estate that now sits on top of the former Miner’s camp land and strangely enough, they all had a Derbyshire connection.

Upon arriving at Marsh Road, my mum instantly recognised some older buildings at the entrance to the Miner’s Camp. In fact, she remembered a lot more than she thought when standing in the place she hadn’t seen for over 60 years. The miniature railway close by was one of these things.

Rhyl Miners Camp

Derbyshire Miners’ Holiday Centre Rhyl brochure [Mid 20th cent]. N42/6/7/1

Not much was remembered about the site, but from the brochure pictured below, it reminds me of similar caravan holiday camps we went to when I was younger! Lots of on-site entertainment and food in the canteen. At the time my mum stayed there it wouldn’t have been a large site as the Rhyl Holiday Camp had only been set up during the Second World War, compared with the one in Skegness, which had opened in the 1920s. Still, it provided many families with the opportunity to go on holiday to the seaside, my family included. In the holiday season of 1952, it was full. Perhaps this was the year my grandparents took my mum and uncle. This had been helped by the 1938 Holidays with Pay Act, ensuring that workers were entitled to a certain amount of holidays with pay, ensuring that working classes could manage to get away from the dirt and grind of their jobs. It had to be accommodation suitable to their budget but was still comfortable to feel like a holiday. This meant that for mineworkers, the Miner’s Holiday Camps were the best solution.

Rhyl Miners Camp 2.jpg

Derbyshire Miners’ Holiday Centre Rhyl brochure [Mid 20th cent]. N42/6/7/1

Holiday camps were a wider part of the welfare offered to coal miners during this time. The National Coal Board had inherited a welfare system of providing housing, sport and leisure activities from the private coal companies who ran the miners prior to nationalisation. The type of activities usually differed in each area but the premise of creating a sense of community for the workers and their families remained the same whichever mine you worked for. This can be seen in a wage agreement booklet discussing the terms of the Derbyshire District Colliery Workers Holiday Savings Scheme, stipulating that all Derbyshire collieries, excluding the South Derbyshire area must abide by the same wage and holiday pay rules.

holiday pay

Wage agreement made between the colliery owners of the Derbyshire District and the Representatives of Workmen working at the collieries excluding South Derbyshire, Nov 1937. N3/B/66/2

Bibliography:

Barton, S., Working-Class Organisations and Popular Tourism, 1840-1970 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005)

Hayes, N. and Hill, J. ‘Millions Like Us’?: British Culture in the Second World War (Liverpool: Liverpool University 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. 

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