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The Continued Rise Of The Industry
To 1913



The value of £1 in 1838 would be the equivalent of about £55 in 2010

Bad Harvest

Bad harvest for 4 years 1838 - 1842. The Irish potato blight in 1845 created famine. Families immigrated to England and USA in search of work. Many men found work in the coal mines.

George Stephenson

George Stephenson (d 1848) opened Clay Cross No1 pit (Derbyshire) in October of that year. Two 10 feet (3m) dia shafts were sunk relatively close together and a furnace built at the bottom of one of the shafts to create an airflow round the proposed workings.

Stephenson, a friend of John Buddle the eminent northern Mining Engineer, followed his ventilation and working practices closely except that he worked the coal on the longwall system. Several seams of good quality coal had been exposed whilst driving the 1,800 yards (1,646m) long tunnel close by for the newly opened North Midland Railway on 18th January 1838. The Bill had finally been passed in 1836.  The first sod of the tunnel was cut on 2nd February 1837 and it was completed by 1st May 1839.  The tunnel cost £105,460 and was 29 feet (9m) wide.

There were 10 shafts sunk to the line of the tunnel so that work could be carried out in several places at the same time. The deepest shaft was 48 yards (44m) at almost the centre point of the tunnel and was at 360 feet (110m) above sea level.

George Stephenson
George Stephenson
Stephenson was the Engineer in charge of the project and  recognised the significance of the seams of coal. He had knowledge of mining and had gained considerable experience from his pit at Snibston in Leicestershire, which was sunk in 1832 and at that time was the most-modern mine in the Midlands.

Mining had been carried out in the area around Clay Cross for around 200 years, but only on a small scale and there were several shafts sunk to coal seams around the line of the tunnel. George Stephenson was quick to realise the potential of opening up the area. 

George Stephenson and Company was formed in 1837 (his son Robert, George Hudson railway financier, and Joseph Walmsley) began to mine coal.  It was later to become the Clay Cross Company and would eventually sink or work eleven pits. The first coke ovens at Clay Cross (above) were opened in 1840. Railway engines were fired by coke at the time and the Blackshale seam is particularly good for coking so the potential for the new pits was enormous.

Collieries Sunk or Opened 1838

  • Old Beggarlee pit (Barber Walker) (Nottinghamshire) sunk to Top Hard.
  • Rutland No2 pit was sunk at Ilkeston (Derbyshire) to the Soft coal at 106 yards (97m), No3 pit was 65 yards (59m) deep.  It was found in later years as the workings advanced that they met ‘Ancient Hollows’.
  • Hempshill (Thomas North) was sunk near to Cinderhill, (Nottinghamshire) in 1837-1838                          
  • Dolly pit (Clough Head) and Thornsett (Lady Gate Brook) pits were sunk in North West Derbyshire around this time.

Salt Water Burst In

  • At Riddings pit (James Oakes and Co) when opening out at 250 yards (229m) deep, salt water burst into the heading in quantity.  The water was collected in a sump and then raised up the shaft in tubs at night and discharged into the nearby Canal.
  • John Chambers of Tibshelf, Derbyshire formed the Wingerworth Coal Co and took over the Lings colliery (J Butler), which was deepened to the 4 feet 7 inches (1.39m) thick Top Hard seam at 150 yards (137m) deep. 
  • Tupton colliery was at work now.  An ironstone level existed to the west under Far Tupton Wood.
  • There was a coal pit at Upper Danesmoor nearby, and a coal pit engine at Stretton (Timberfield).
  • A small colliery at Cossall (Lord Middleton).
  • Babbington colliery (North and Wakefield).
  • Butterley Co sank Butterley Park No5 High Holborn about this time.         

Other Collieries Sunk or Opened in 1838

  • Beggarlee Old (Barber, Walker and Co) sunk in the early 1700s, re-opened, Top Hard.
  • Comber Wood (Ashley) Top Hard, High Hazles.
  • John Dodds pit, Ilkeston.
  • Newbold (Botham’s) Deep Hard.
  • Willey Lane (Barber Walker and Co) near Underwood, sinking.

Fatal Accidents 1838

  • Awsworth, (North and Wakefield), John Siddon (40) and William Fisher (28) were both killed when they became entangled in the whim gin wheel 14 Aug 1838. Also a lad, the son of Siddon was seriously hurt. On Monday forenoon at 10.30am the 3 of them were in the chains riding the shaft when the whimsey had stopped winding partway up the shaft for want of steam. After a while the whimsey started up again but did not stop at the level at the bank and continued to revolve thereby dragging them over the wheel and dashed them to the ground.
  • Yesterday morning at 6am when it was dark, although there were fires burning round the pit bank the deceased went along with about 20 others and were standing near the bridge tree waiting to go down the pit. Matthew Hanson who was in charge of the bridge tree went to push it over so that the lads might fasten themselves in the chains and when he was some 14 yards (12.8m) away Severn put his foot out to step onto the bridge but did not notice that it was not there and he fell down the 121 yards (110m) deep shaft.
    There is generally a scramble among the boys as to who gets into the chains first but it matters not whether they go down in the first bantle or second bantle. It was the duty of Henson to make sure that the bridge tree was there over the shaft.
    The deceased was taken out of the pit quite dead and his forehead was fractured, right thigh and left leg and left arm broken, 17 Nov 1838.
    The whimsey boy Chambers (14) had been there for about 9 months and stated that his father had been moved to drive a whimsey at another pit. His father received the boy’s wages and he had been in charge of the whimsey since Easter and had not had an accident.
    On the morning in question when the whimsey stopped he had gone into the engine house to mend the fire. On his return a collier named Wheelacre started the whimsey and endeavoured to take the hand-iron out of his hands and that during that time he did not observe the men coming level with the pit bank not till he saw them on the wheel.
    In consequence of what the colliers might say to him he had run away. Wheelacre denied that he had been there at all but two colliers saw him coming away from the accident.
    Several witnesses expressed their concern that the boy was too young to be in charge of the whimsey.
    The Coroner’s Jury returned a verdict of accidental death and in each instance levied a deodand of £15 on the machinery of North and Wakefield on 24 Aug 1838.
  • Babbington (North and Wakefield), Joseph Straw whilst taking out a stay in the shaft that is a piece of wood set in the shaft wall for the pump to act on. Whilst in the act of doing so he fell the last 40 yards (37m) to the bottom of the shaft and was killed, 5 Dec 1838. He left a widow and 9 children.
  • Bagthorpe (Kirkby Fenton), Francis Varley (25) the deceased had worked at Bagthorpe for 12 months and at the New Bagthorpe pit for one month. He was employed in filling dirt in trunks and boxes that were to be drawn up the pit and thrown on the pit bank. On Wednesday afternoon last at about 1.30pm the deceased was working in the middle of the bottom of the shaft and after he had filled the trunks took shelter in the heading away from the water dropping down the shaft. As soon as he had entered the heading a piece of stone weighing 2½ tons fell from a height of 5 feet (1.5m) from the fresh cut side and as it fell broke in two and about 5 hundredweights fell on his head and back. Varley was the brother-in-law of Henry Maltby who had been killed at the same pit the week before. Joshua Boquet working with him was also caught by the fall which hit him on the head and injured him severely, 20 Nov 1838.
  • Bagthorpe New pit (Kirkby Fenton), Henry Maltby, whimsey-man and he and William Riley were at work on the Friday night. At 5am Riley saw a box of dirt go over the wheel in the headstock and fall to the ground. He called out to Maltby to stop the engine but he could not until it had revolved 3 times. He then went and fastened a small rope to the pit rope and took it up to the headstock to draw the rope again over the pulley wheel and when he was halfway up Riley saw him fall against the handrail and he fell over and went headfirst down the 121 yards (110m) shaft. It had been raining all night and may have made the ground slippy.
    He was taken up a mangled corpse, his lower jaw broken off, his right leg, left thigh and one of his arms broken and his right eye knocked in, 7 Nov 1838.
  • Eastwood High Headstocks (Dr Manson), on Monday 1 Oct 1838 John Bradshaw (19) was clearing dirt out of a heading with another man named Henshaw. A loud explosion was heard accompanied by a great flame.
    A man working 50 yards (45.5m) away felt the coal slack go by him and his candle went out.
    Bradshaw was much hurt and his arms, neck, face and small of his back were badly burnt, also his clothes. However he got out of the pit and walked home albeit that he must have been in terrible pain Several remedies prescribed by Dr Manson for men in such a situation were tried for a fortnight and Mr Davenport a surgeon attended him on Tuesday the 16th October 1838 but by then he was in an erysipilatious state.
    During the last two days of his life he bled from his bowels, nose, eyes and mouth and must have suffered great agony. The explosion took place because a boy aged about 11 had not closed an air door which caused the air to go in the opposite direction to where the men were working and the foul air coming from a fault in the coal came in contact with the candle flame. Had the door been kept shut the explosion may not have happened however there had been several harmless flashes since the door had been kept shut. The Overlooker whose job it was to ensure that the boys did their job properly would have beaten the boy had he seen the door open.
    The Jury brought in a verdict that the deceased had been accidently burnt in a coal pit.
  • Eastwood High Headstocks (Dr Manson), James Severn (9), ass driver.
  • Heanor, Jabez Bircumshaw was killed on 17th Sep 1838 when he fell from a trunk whilst ascending the shaft.
  • Ilkeston, John Durow aged 11 killed on 10th Mar 1838 when there was a fall of roof.
  • Killamarsh, near Chesterfield, on 9th Oct 1838, a young man named Hill was being drawn up the pit shaft when he was overpowered by the some iron piping in the corf, which he had neglected  to fasten and fell down the shaft and Hill's brother hearing the pipes striking the sides of the shaft dived out of the way but his brother was dashed to pieces and his mangled body lay at his feet.
  • Ripley, Len Tagg was placing himself on the chains to descend the shaft on 7th April 1838 and he got between the chains and on swinging of the brig tree he fell down the 180 yards deep shaft and was killed instantly.
    On the same day at Shipley, Godfrey Baker fell down the 240 yards deep shaft.
  • Selston, Kirkby Woodhouse (Fenton), Thomas Smith (16) was engaged with some others clearing the level of the pit on Wednesday sen’night when they incautiously took a lighted candle into a place where there was no wind and the candle coming into contact with foul air (firedamp) caused an immediate explosion and two of the men were very severely burned, Smith died from his injuries on Saturday 14 Mar 1838.
  • Staveley, Netherthorpe pit. On 8th Mar 1838 George Allen was letting down a fire pan when he slipped and fell down the 50 yards deep shaft.

Oakerthorpe, Swanwick, Thomas Kerry was ascending the shaft when the horse which worked the gin was frightened by a box of coal being shot up, and ran away. Kerry was drawn up to the pulley and 2 of his ribs, collar bone and thigh were broken and fortunately the horse that had only been used on the gin for a day or two was caught at that moment or he would have been drawn over the pulley and fallen down the shaft.

Riddings a pony that had been employed at the bottom of the pit for 9 years and had never been out of the pit during that period was let out for a week before being taken back down again on 26th Sep 1838 to resume its duties.

Collieries Closed in 1838

  • Comber Wood (Ashley).
  • Pigeons (…?) Pinxton.
  • John Dodds pit.
  • Newbold (Botham’s).


Eastwood pit 86 yards (79m) deep to Deep Soft worked previously by Dr Manson, (not profitably) was leased to Barber, Walker and Co in May. The pit had many faults and was expensive to work because of the continual pumping of the water given off at the faults, however it did much to drain Cotmanhay colliery which had been sunk around 1838.The water at Cotmanhay had arisen from water rising up the closed down Bennerley colliery shaft and making its way to the Cotmanhay workings to the dip side.
Thomas North’s original lease for pits at Babbington etc was for a period of 21 years in 1838. This was to be followed by a further lease for 21 years from 29/9/1858.


Upper Birchwood (John Poundall and Others?), since opening in 1832 over 26 acres (10½ hectares) of Soft coal and 23 acres (9⅓ hectares) of Hard coal had been extracted.  Vaughn H Radford owned the Carnfield Estate.


President of Board of Trade, Henry Labouchere (Whig) 1839 – 1841.

Sheffield Independent
Saturday 28th September 1839

The Race of Death” – A cat chased a rat up the windlass of a coal pit and descended the rope and both were found dead at the bottom of the shaft. Wyke, Worcestershire.

Wildcat Drilling

A wildcat drilling at Lady Lee (app co-ords E456400 N379400) to 980 feet (298.75m) was carried out in 1839 - 1840 to below the Wales seam (poor quality, locally worthless).  Later, drilling in the Shire Oaks area (North Nottinghamshire) revealed ironstones in the Upper Coal Measures.

Collieries Sunk or Opened in 1839

  • Denby colliery (Denby Colliery Ltd).
  • There were several pits at work around Holmewood and a pit at Grass Moor (Robert Knowles?).
  • Robinett was sunk in 1839 by Thomas North and Co.  
  • It is thought that the Newfield pit (Moira) began to produce coal (sunk 1832?).
  • Willey Lane (Barber Walker and Co) sinking.
  • Around this time Old Radford (Lord Middleton) was sunk to the west of the railway. A tram line was built to a wharf at Bobber’s Mill to the north and one to the south on the Wollaton to Nottingham Road. The shaft was 70 yards (64m) deep and another shaft (an old one?) was to the north. Ancient workings would be found to the north and south west.
Eastwood High Headstocks (Dr Manson) 1834-1839 was then taken over by Barber, Walker and Co.

Collieries Closed in 1839

  • Bell House (George H Barrow) Top Hard seam wrought, workings up to old level 1837 in main Top Hard coal from Halt Lane engine pit, (plan would be made 1857 copied from a plan of 1825 showing ironstone measure and ball).
  • Halt or Hall Lane (owner…?), Top Hard, Staveley.
  • Hard Coal pit.
  • Lower Hartshay (CV Hunter or Butterley Co?), Deep Soft, Deep Hard.
  • Nether Thorpe or Old Colliery (owner…?), Top Hard.
  • Padley (CV Hunter). 

Fatal Accidents 1839

  • Brinsley (Barber and Walker), John Gregory (40) was shifting timber and his mate Robert Limb holing out under the coal. Before knocking out a beam Limb told Gregory to set another prop but he laughed at him and said that there was no danger. He struck the beam and the roof came in on both of them but fortunately for Limb a projecting piece of coal protected him but Gregory was killed, 1 Oct 1839.
  • Brinsley (Barber Walker and Co), John Davis a collier was ascending the shaft with some others when some bricks fell out of the shaft wall and one brick hit him on the head and he bled profusely with part of his brains hanging out. He was taken home on a shutter and was met on the way by an assistant to surgeon Mr Smith who attended to the wound and took out several small pieces of bones, however Davis (42) did not survive for more than a few minutes after that. He left a widow and 8 children. It appeared that the shaft was in a very bad state and needed constant repair.
    The two Butties in charge Thomas and Joseph Sisson were responsible for the repairs and as the shaft could never be made absolutely safe it was implied that a bonnet be made to cover the men whilst riding in the shaft, 20 Nov 1839.
  • Eastwood (Barber Walker and Co), Thomas Knighton (14) collier, with his brother were asked by Thomas Sisson whether they would like to ride out of the pit by the chains (the normal way) or in a box. They decided to go up in the box but after they had gone some distance up the descending chain fell into the box. The deceased brother shouted to the whimsey man to stop whilst they put it right and proceeded to pull the chains out of the box however in their haste they told the whimsey man to start again but as it lowered again it tipped Thomas Knighton out of the box and he fell at the feet of Joseph Sisson at the bottom of the 59 yards (54m) deep shaft. 
    Joseph Sisson said that it was safer to go up on the chains than in the box but said also that it was not his business to make men go up in the tackle. The deceased skull was smashed, his lip cut through and his bowels knocked out and his right arm broken in two. He stirred once but was dead within 5 minutes.
    Joseph Sisson and Luke Beardsley brought the deceased out of the pit on the chains and Samuel Haywood took him home, 5 Dec 1839.
  • Eckington, on 21st April 1839, John Goodwin a young collier was killed when there was a fall of roof. Some time before one of his brothers was killed underground and another brother was at present recovering from accident wounds he received whilst working on the railway.
  • Nuthall and Cinder Hill waggon way. William Calum? (14) employed to work with William Henson labourer. Between 10 and 11 on Tuesday morning they were returning empty waggons to the pits and at the old Canal road Henson put a lock peg to make it safe and told the deceased not to ride on the waggons but instead of stopping his horses he went on. The witness heard a scream after a couple of minutes and found Calum standing up between a loaded waggon and an empty one, but quite dead. It would appear that he was probably trying to loosen the horses and couldn’t get out of the way in time.
    The witness said that he had been working with him for a fortnight but thought he was too young for the job, and added that we were both sober and had no quarrel, 18 Dec 1839.
  • Portland No4 pit (Butterley Co), Samuel Wilkinson was engaged in looking over some boys in the pit on 1 May 1839 when there was a fall of roof. Whilst in the act of picking up a small piece a further large fall happened and buried him. He was got out very quickly and badly bruised and taken home, however he died from his injuries next day.
  • Radford (Lord Middleton), William Winfield (32) was assisting his father Samuel Winfield the engineer at an engine to change the nether cluck because it was deficient. He was about to descend the engine pit but William went down to the second scaffolding but came back for some spun yarn. He went back down again and had just alighted on the scaffold when a joist broke. He fell off the scaffold to the third scaffold some 37 yards (33.8m) below and broke through it resting some 3 yards (2.5m) further down on a lead pipe. He was got out but quite dead, 30 Nov 1839. The deceased left a widow and 4 children.
  • Swadlincote colliery owned by Messrs Wilkinson 4 men, Henry Kent, John Heap, John Harvey and William Taylor were descending the shaft when the chain broke and they fell 150 yards to the bottom of the shaft.  A wooden scaffold had been erected across the shaft near the pit bottom for the purpose of getting a shallower seam. This collapsed due to the men falling down the shaft. There was some water at the shaft sump and their bodies were not recovered for some time. An inquest was held and the jury deemed that the chain was not as efficient as it could have been when it broke and a deodand of £5 was imposed on the chain.
  • Staveley, Newthorpe, At about 3 o'clock on Tuesday morning 19th Nov 1839 at the New pit, two men and a lad saw the corve over the shaft and thought it was ready for them to descend the pit, but the rope being out of gear was loosed and all three fell down 90 yards and the rope fell down upon them. One man had his leg broken in two places and the other an arm and a leg and similarly the lad was seriously injured. All three were smashed in such a horrible way they were not expected to survive.
  • Wollaton (Lord Middleton), John Waplington (61) was holeing under the coal and at about 3am a fall of roof buried him and another workman John Williamson (50) who was killed on the spot.
    Waplington was got out and taken on a cart to the Infirmary but died on the way, 19 Aug 1839. 


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