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Short History of Mining in the East Midlands

Click Here For Robert Bradley's comprehensive history of mining in the Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire Coalfields

Coal by G. Clausen R.A.

Wollaton Hall, NottinghamIt was during the wood famine of the 16th century that fortunes were made, by 1588 Sir Francis Willoughby was able to finance the building of Wollaton Hall from the wealth created by coal mining. Local coal was converted for use in blast furnaces to replace charcoal for the production of iron. Codnor Park, Morley Park, Somercotes, Chesterfield and Staveley had large deposits of ironstone which was smelted in a dozen charcoal furnaces.

Coal was also used in limeburning and brewing but it was not until the 17th century, with the introduction of chimneys that coal became a popular domestic fuel due to the fumes it gave off.

But even though demand continued to grow, several developments had to take place before Nottinghamshire could benefit. As mines became deeper during the l6th century, drainage became a major problem and generally the mines were situated in basins where sough drainage was not so effective as in the Derbyshire lead field. Soughs were built, but often drained into underground sumps from which the water had to be raised by hand or horse power. The first sough was constructed at Wollaton in 1552 and another begun by Sir John Molyneux in 1703 from Blackwell to Teversal was five miles long when completed by the Duke of Devonshire in 1774. John Fletcher and family constructed a system of soughs during the early 18th century; these included the Loscoe, Langley and Owlgrove soughs draining into the River Erewash.

Despite ingenious machines designed to drain the soughs, by Huntingdon Beaumont in the late l6th century, it was the arrival of the Newcomen atmospheric engine patented in 1712 which was the most important single innovation. By the end of the eighteenth century, engines based on Newcomen's invention were also used for winding. Mining and steam power were to be linked for over two centuries.


Newcomen atmospheric engine
Photograph by Professor Mark Csele at the Henry Ford Museum

Horse Gin - Paul Sandby 1775
Horse Gins

Haulage has always been a problem in coalmines because of the bulky nature of the material and the greater depths involved. Steam power was used for winding both materials and men, although horse gins did survive into the 19th century and an example from Pinxton in Nottinghamshire can be seen in the Industrial Museum in Wollaton Park. Vertical and horizontal winding engines replaced the beam engine: I understand that a rare example of the former is preserved at Bestwood in Nottinghamshire. Engine houses survive in isolated spots, like the curiously named "Who'd 'a Thought It" and "Seldom Seen" pits in Leicestershire and Derbyshire respectively.

By 1604 transportation was improvedwhen Huntingdon Beaumont constructed a wooden wagonway from the bell pits at Str elley down to Wollaton Lane, for carriage to the Nottingham market but it was the coming of the canals that really brought in the big expansion of the coal market.

The local colliery owners encouraged the building of the Erewash Canal in 1779 and the Nottingham Canal in 1796. Railways soon followed. The first significant line was the horse-drawn tramway between Pinxton and Mansfield opened in 1819. The Leicester and Swannington Railway opened in 1832. The Midland Counties Railway opened between Derby and Nottingham in 1839 going southwards to Leicester and Rugby in 1840. George Stephenson, already an established coal owner in Leicestershire, was the engineer for the North Midland line from Derby to Leeds, which opened in 1840 and in 1847 a line up the Erewash was completed.

From: Des Greenwood
Sent: 03 November 2007
Subject: History of mining and the Erewash canal

I note the photo above, the building of the Erewash canal which could imply a connection.

The photo is I believe from ‘The history of Denby written by Mark Fryer who was the manager of Denby Drury-Lowe colliery around 1890. The photo is of men loading coals into carts (mules) for transport to the Little Eaton gangway to the Derby canal. The cart on the right is a normal one going for local distribution whereas the left one is for the canal by rail. The gangway was laid down as an extension to the canal from Little Eaton to the Denby pits and the Denby ironworks by Benjamin Outram around 1810. The mule as they were known was a wooden frame fitted to a set of wheels. These ran on Outrams edge railway (forerunner to the flanged rail) and at the end of the track simply ran on the highway. When the carts arrived at the wharf at Little Eaton the frame was lifted off by an arm crane straight into the barges. Containerisation I believe? Most of the photos in the book were taken at the time of the Last gang’ being taken by rail to Little Eaton in 1908. See photos below.

Trust this is of some value

Best regard

Before mechanisation, ponies were also employed to pull loads underground. They were kept in stables underground and never emerging into daylight; these 'pit ponies' led a very hard life and often went blind.

Several coal seams were discovered whilst driving the Clay Cross tunnel and he established, what later became the Clay Cross Company, to exploit these reserves. Although Stevenson's main market was London, he also built coke ovens to supply fuel for railway locomotives.

During the l9th century, mines were generally leased from the landowners by partnerships of mining entrepreneurs, who raised the necessary capital for development. Villages like Hucknall and Bulwell in the Leen Valley grew to accommodate coal mining and added to the existing occupations like framework knitting. This resulted in diverse industrial conurbations rather than total mining community.

New settlements were created early in the 19th century, such as George Stephenson's new town of Coalville, which grew up around Long Lane and Snibston pits along the Leicester and Swannington Railway. Men came to work here both from both Leicestershire pits and adjoining counties: some were housed in tenement blocks known as Barrack Row and Deputies Row, but these were uncommon on the East Midland coalfields where terraced houses predominated. Other new settlements, like the Bestwood Iron and Coal Company's village in Nottinghamshire, were close to older centres of population and integrated with them.

Not until the exploitation of the concealed coalfield in Nottinghamshire in the later 19th century were planned mining communities created in areas of previously sparse settlement, such as Creswell near Bolsover, where 280 two-storey houses were built around a large green and a variety of public buildings were provided. Creswell is a far cry from the scattered houses and farms around Coleorton, and the two settlements illustrate the transition of coal mining from a part-time to a full-time occupation over a period of several hundred years.

The coal-mining activity in the Erewash valley now flourished. Leases on mineral rights were taken out by many, including North, Barber, Fletcher, Walker and Outram whose businesses grew to very large companies. Many entrepreneurs like Morewoods of Alfreton, the Drury Lowes of Denby, the Miller Mundys of Shipley and the largest of all, the Dukes of Newcastle were the landowners themselves. A great many of these families however had their mines managed for them by mineral agents like the Boots of Huthwaite, who also acted as mining consultants for the next 120 years.

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