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.

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)

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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)

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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.

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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)

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Pit Ponies at Ireland Colliery

Pit ponies were a vital part of the coal mining way of life. They worked just as hard as the men by pulling tubs both above and below the surface, delivering coal and many other heavy jobs that their human counterparts couldn’t. This large variety of jobs required for the horses meant that they came in varying sizes. Smaller ones worked directly at the coal face, while bigger ones worked in underground spaces with larger roofs or on the surface. In the majority of mines there would have been ponies somewhere, especially as each seam had stabling for around 15 horses.

If you ask anyone who heard tales of the pit ponies, of which I have heard many myself from relatives, they would often tell you that they were often a miner’s pride and joy. Many of them were perhaps better treated than those who always lived above ground. They would be well fed and cleaned after their shift. Most importantly, their wellbeing was a priority to the regular horse inspectors who would come and check on them, ensuring they had a week off above ground if necessary. A pony driver could also be fined or sacked if he was found to be negligent towards his pony. These were often checks that weren’t carried out on horses working in other industries. Just like the men they worked alongside, any injuries or accidents were recorded in their own accident books.

Most pit ponies would have been allowed up on the surface for either holidays or weekends, as well as if they were deemed unwell by the inspectors. The majority of these were ones deemed special enough to be paraded in shows or competitions. However, during strikes, ponies would be brought to the surface for the entire strike action. After all, why not? They were hard workers too!

Ireland Colliery Pit Ponies

National Coal Board East Midland Division No. 1 Area, List of Ponies at Ireland Colliery, Nov 1960. N42/1/26/7

Whilst researching into the everyday life of pit ponies, Ireland Colliery on the outskirts of Staveley near Chesterfield brought up some interesting documents. First of all was a list from 1960 giving the names and defining features of some of the colliery ponies. If you notice their short names, this was because if there was an emergency, it was quicker and easier to say a pony’s short name. Each pony would have had this name placed above their stable. I find this piece of information, no matter how small, wonderful as it gives them all an identity and personality that shines out of the past.

Whilst on the topic of personalities of ponies, I found an amusing letter written to a Mr Bishop, probably from one of the pony keepers, about a certain pony named Sam. From the letter we can guess he was a new pony arrived at the pit. Unfortunately not much detail is given as to Sam’s short time working there other than the last line indicates “he would be no good for pit work”. I would have loved to have known more about what exactly this meant, but perhaps it just meant he was too naughty. Whatever the circumstances, you can easily imagine the pony’s temperament from this statement.

Letter of bad Sam

Letter to Mr Bishop detailing the removal of Sam the pony from Ireland Colliery, 24 Nov 1947, N42/1/26/7

Generally ponies were no longer needed by the 1960s due to the increased mechanisation of the coal mining process, but some did last longer than that, particularly in Wales. What didn’t change is how much miners were attached to their ponies. Many would bring treats, knowing that the job was just as dangerous for the ponies as it was for them. It’s estimated that up to a horse a fortnight was killed, often by being crushed by the tubs. When accidents like this occurred, men often risked their lives to try and save ponies, in return for the many times ponies refused to move when they sensed danger, often saving many men by doing so. It is with these small memories that pit ponies are remembered, especially during times of trouble.

Bibliography:

Kirkup, M., Pit Ponies (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Summerhill Books, 2008)

Slaney, L., ‘Pit Ponies’, Reflections, Feb 1999, pp. 9-11.

Winter, J, 4 Oral Histories: Cyril ‘Sonny White’ (c. 1996)

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Welcome to the Mining the Seams Project

The Mining the Seams project is a 2 year collaborative project with Warwickshire County Record Office and funded by the Wellcome Trust. Our small team aim to shed more light on the National Coal Board collection we have, with particular focus on the medical and compensation aspects. In the future, this particularly means helping to catalogue this collection in more detail so it is more accessible to those interested in this type of industrial history.

Having graduated from the University of Derby’s MA Public History and Heritage course last November, I’m so far enjoying my time delving into a period of history I don’t usually cover. Still, this isn’t my first time here at the Derbyshire Record Office as I have been involved on and off since my internship on the Pop-Up Archives Project in 2017. It’s so great to be getting more involved in the nitty gritty of how an archives works. As someone who lives in Alfreton and has done all my life, I can’t ignore the town’s mining heritage and that some of my relations have been miners. For me this project is a way to understand what their way of life once was, particularly my maternal grandfather who I never knew but had always heard stories about him coming home black from the coal. My uncle who is now recently retired also played a role in the local Miners Strikes.

So far there isn’t much to write about other than a brief introduction to the project’s aims and introducing myself as a project archives assistant, so apologies for the very brief post! However, there will be more posts on interesting items and themes that come along, which will be posted at the beginning of every month. I do hope you can follow the project’s progress and that some of you may become volunteers when we start looking for them at the beginning of next year.

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!

A busy week with some interesting finds

As you may know we are constantly adding “new” material to our collections (some of it new, i.e. recent, especially in local studies, and some of it much older). It is rare to go more than 3 or 4 days without accessioning new material, this was a little exceptional though with 7 new and additional  archive deposits and gifts in just 2 days.

Some of this was fairly typical of the material we take in on a regular basis, for example, late 20th and early 21st century school governors minutes. Some was was a little less typical and I got a little excitable as I looked through these new accessions to produce a summary for the official receipt and online catalogue.

One of the key professional duties of an archivist is to undertake an initial assessment of material that is being offered (whether it is being offered as a donation or a deposit, where the organisation offering the records remains the owner and the Record Office acts acts the custodian). We then summarise and describe the records and record in our database where the material has come from. This is known as as the accessioning process, and also involves assigning a running number to each new accession in addition to giving it a catalogue collection number. If we already have other records relating to the same collection (for example, in the case of a parish, school or business), we use the existing “D” reference number. If this is the first accession of material for a particular collection it is also assigned the next “D” reference (we have almost reached D8000 by the way).

Once we have entered all the necessary information into the database (which may also include information about access restrictions and copyright, amongst other things), we produce an Accession Receipt for the donor/depositor to sign along with the duty archivist. Both parties then each have a copy of the receipt.

Screenshot of our internal database for recording accessions and catalogues, showing list of accessions received on 14 July 2016

The next stage is to add information about the new accession to our online catalogue so that people know what we have. Very occasionally, if the new accession is quite small and individual records easily identified, we can add individual catalogue entries for each record and assign it a unique reference number. I was actually able able to do this on two occasions this week, for new material that came in from the Parish of Draycott and a separate accession from Ilkeston St Marys Mothers’ Union.

When it is not possible for this to happen a summary of the new accession is added under ‘Description’ at home collection level entry on the catalogue until full cataloguing and number if can take place in the future. This is what I have done with the rest of the new accessions received last week.

So what new accessions did we receive this week? Can you guess which ones I was particularly excited about?

On Monday, two boxes of governors records arrived from Aston-on-Trent Primary School (ref: D6701) this was by far the largest deposit and contained a large number of documents that are not required or considered appropriate for permanent preservation in the archives. I undertook an initial assessment of which files contained archive material, returning those that didn’t to the school this week. The remaining files have now gone to be processed by our Records Assistants, checked, boxed and added to our archive strongrooms. However, as only the initial assessment has yet been completed, further appraisal will be required to identify other material within the files not appropriate for permanent preservation – for example there are a number of duplicates of items and publications from other bodies that do not relate to the school.

On Thursday, the first to arrive were were the minutes and reports from the Ilkeston St Marys Mothers’ Union, which sadly disbanded earlier this year. This material has already been fully catalogued and added to the existing collection under the reference D4603. Two deposits were received from the Parish of Wilne with Draycott, including an original Register of Apprentices for Draycott, 1804-1816 (ref: D2513/5), an apparently very comprehensive survey and valuation of the whole of Draycott, including names of owners and occupiers, produced by William Cox in 1810 (ref: D2513/6) – see images below.

The deposit for Wilne (the mother church to Draycott) was much larger and generally much more recent, including for example, Parochial Church Council minutes 1993-2004, inspection reports, inventories of 1908 and 1935 and papers relating to various works and improvements undertaken between the 1950s and 2000s  (although these latter files will be appraised further as part of the cataloguing process – see my post in February “to keep or not to keep”) – ref: D2513. The star of the accession was undoubtedly the addition of the parish copy of the Wilne Tithe Map and Award of 1847-1848. Although we already hold the Diocesan copy of these important and incredibly useful records, Wilne was one of the few Derbyshire parishes for which we were not also protecting and preserving the parish copy. Nevertheless, the parish had clearly been taking good care of it as it is in very good condition:

Parish copy of the Wilne Tithe Map and Award 1847-1848 (D2513)

We also took in a small collection of printed items (see picture above), with a couple of photographs and news cuttings, relating to William Rhodes Junior School (later, and now, Primary School), donated by a friend and former colleague of the teacher who collected them during her employment there from the late 1960s to her retirement in 1983. Although not yet fully catalogued this material has been added to collection D5234, which also includes log books and admission registers for the infants and juniors from the 1930s.

Finally, we had two donations via the British Cave Research Association Library in Ashbourne. The first consisted of the only collection of material specifically relating to the Peak Forest Mining Company, including letter books and accounts from the late 19th century (ref: D7981). This material had once been in the possession of a past member of the Association (formerly the British Speleological Association), Mr Peter Crabtree, who passed away in 2003. And it was the research and other papers of Mr Crabtree that complete our list of new accessions received  (ref: D7982).