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.

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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Find 1926 General Strike documents on Warwick University’s map

1926 map

Our colleagues at the University of Warwick’s Modern Records Centre have been busy.  They have completed the digitisation of over 450 documents on the General Strike of May 1926, including TUC reports, bulletins issued by strike committees, and transcripts of BBC radio broadcasts.

A lot of the documents have particular local content, which you can access by finding pins on the interactive map associated with this resource.  I had a play with it just now and managed to find the text of a speech about the coal industry by J F Vardy of Stanton Ironworks, delivered at the Welfare Institute at Pleasley on 25 Jul 1925.

The site also has some additional contextual material including a summary of key events before, during and after the strike.

Treasure 21: Maude Verney’s sketch of Pleasley

This treasure, from collection D6326, is to be found in a sketch book kept by Maude Verney around one hundred years ago.  It was chosen by Becky, one of the archivists.

Treasure 24 Maude Verney (a)

The artist was the wife of Frederick Verney (1846-1913), Member of Parliament for Buckingham.  The Verneys were benefactors of the area, and related to the family of Florence Nightingale. Becky says:

I chose this item because of the different perspective it gives to mining and collieries.  The typical mental image of mining is bleak and grey, but this image, drawn from real life, emphasises that the colliery could be beautiful in its surroundings.

Treasure 7: the Pleasley burial register, 1813-1893

Treasure 06 Pleasley register (a)

This register (D739/A/PI/5/1) records all the burials in the parish of St Michael, Pleasley, from April 1813 to January 1893.

Pleasley is one of the ancient parishes of Derbyshire, lying in the north-east of the county on the border with Nottinghamshire (Pleasley Hill is actually part of Nottinghamshire). It originally consisted of the townships of Pleasley, Shirebrook, and Stoney Houghton, which included the colliery villages of Upper Pleasley and New Houghton. The earliest surviving registers of baptisms, marriages and burials go back to 1553.

The register was nominated by Kate Henderson, a regular user of Derbyshire Record Office and a member of our Focus Group. Strictly speaking, the purpose of the register was to record the fact of a burial having taken place, and the name and age of the deceased – but Kate notes that this is not always all: “Occasionally a clerk will give fuller details of an unusual cause of death or of a great age achieved…

Treasure 06 Pleasley register (b)

…One can appreciate the interest such a vicar had both in his parishioners but also his understanding of the interest in these people in future generations.”

Comets, plague and fire as seen from Pleasley, 1665

Has 2012 been a Good Year?  There are still 39 days of it left, of course, but whatever happens between now and January, I doubt the news reaching Derbyshire can be quite as depressing as during 1665 and 1666.  I spotted these entries in the general register for Pleasley parish recently:

It’s an entry from early 1665, and it reads like this: “A blazeing starr hath here appeared continueing its flames for abouts eight weekes past eastward inclining to the north; it did rise in the east and sett in the west…”  What I like about this is the little doodle that accompanies the entry.  It looks like an inkblot in the left-hand margin, but it isn’t: it’s the minister’s attempt at an illustration of a comet.

In common with many of his contemporaries, the cleric looks back on the arrival of the comet as a portent, in two subsequent notes.  The first is from late 1665:

“In this yeare after the blazeing starr is the warr at sea with the Hollander and the greate Plague at London and many other places in this nation.  In London in this yeare there dyed of the Plague above ninety thousands”

The second is from September 1666:

“Now is that famouse cyty of London destroyed by the great judgement fire; the warr with the Hollande continueth still”

I say “the cleric”, because the identity of the commentator is unclear – to me, at least.  If you happen to be using the register (still available on microfilm at Local Studies) and spot a name or signature, let us know using the comment box at the bottom of this post.   The Clergy of the Church of England Database (www.theclergydatabase.org.uk – ridiculously useful if you need that sort of thing) tells us that a John Legat was rector at Pleasley from 1662 to 1665 and that John Lilliman was appointed rector in 1667.  The handwriting doesn’t change, before or after the 1666 interregnum, so I suppose a curate must have been maintaining the register.