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Joseph Henshaw - History, Midlands Coal Field


"A Mine of Local Information"

General Information
The towns of both Eastwood (Nottinghamshire) and Ripley (Derbyshire) lie in the southern portion of the Notts, Derbys and South Yorkshire coalfield, the largest in the UK.  Both are located on the exposed section of the coalfield on the Westphalian (coal measures) geological sequence, i.e. they are not concealed by younger rocks which occurs moving Eastwards.

Bell Pit
Bell Pit
Consequently in both locations, coal has been worked for centuries from shallow deposits (outcrops) down to very deep seams as mining technology advanced.  A variety of methods from simple early “opencast” methods, adits and bell pits to advanced deep-mines (shafts/drifts) were employed in the region, followed by large-scale mechanised opencast methods beginning as an emergency measure in World War II.

Throughout their history deep mines would open, close and sometimes reopen depending on the profitability of the pit, itself a function of available reserves, the market, and level of operational difficulty e.g. geological faulting, ground stability, water ingress, gas etc.

Terminal decline of the deep-mines on this part of the coalfield probably began in the 1960s, and by the mid 1980s was all but finished.  The last closure in the region was the Annesley-Bentinck mine in 2000, but this was an exception as most had gone much earlier.  Prior to this there had been much consolidation to the larger production units, and even these saw mass closure in the 1960s despite considerable remaining reserves.  Due to the progressive impact of oil, gas, and falling demand, there was surplus capacity at this time, and successive governments concentrated on larger, deeper, more efficient pits, many on newer parts of the coalfield.

Durban House
Durban House
Durban Heritage Centre Has Now Closed
The former Barber Walker Colliery Company offices on Mansfield Road, Eastwood

Both Eastwood and Ripley, in common with most in the Erewash Valley region were coal-mining towns, and owed their expansion to the pits.  Each had a number of mines, numbers changing over a period of around 200 years, with a peak around 1900.  The Butterley Company was the major coal owner in the Ripley Area, with the Barber-Walker family holding a similar position around Eastwood.

The only remaining coal-mining in the area are highly controversial opencast developments; these are basically quarrying operations on the exposed coalfields.

It is not unknown for these to return to the same site two or three times over the course of time, each occasion retrieving deeper reserves, and often working coal from abandoned deep-mines in great quantities. 

This is extremely damaging to the environment, and also the final insult to mining families who lost jobs with pit-closures.

Ripley (Hartshay) Collieries

Two pits, Upper Hartshay and Hartshay, both operated by the Butterley Iron and Coal Company Ltd, are mentioned in the Ministry of Fuel and Power returns of 1945, both located roughly one mile to the West of Ripley.

I do not have a date for sinking of these pits, but by 1899 only Upper Hartshay is extant, but with many remains including old shafts in the region of (lower) Hartshay.

I would suspect that Hartshay dated from around 1800, with Upper Hartshay somewhat later, c.1830.  Coal production appears to have ceased by 1923 from the Upper Hartshay pit.

A 1903 geological survey of Upper Hartshay Colliery (Grid Reference 3873 5031) reveals one particular shaft of 1196ft in depth, reaching the Kilburn coal at 1175ft, after passing through twenty other seams beginning with the First Ell coal.  The Kilburn coal, although variable (as with all coals) in quality and thickness was the highest quality seam in this part of the coalfield, which is why collieries would plumb such depths.  At Upper Hartshay it was 4ft 4 inches in thickness in the shaft. 

Other seams likely to have been worked from the pit were the Deep Soft and Deep Hard (favourites of the area prior to Kilburn, and consequently interrupted at Upper Hartshay by older workings), along with the Low Main coal; many other seams were probably too thin or poor quality to warrant development. 

The Kilburn coal mined at the Shipley Woodside colliery some four miles away was reckoned amongst the best house-coal in the country, and fuelled the fires at Balmoral until exhaustion at Shipley in 1937.  Here, a typical local pattern of working the seams was undertaken exploiting Deep Soft and Deep Hard by shaft, followed by Kilburn as the deepest (but most valuable) seam, then returning up the shaft to develop lower quality seams such as Piper, Low Main, and Mickley.  Shallower coals e.g. Top Hard and Waterloo were also exploited, particularly by drifts, with opencast then taking over to remove whatever it could, sometimes at depths of up to 400ft!

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