Coal mining has been a big part of British society for a very long time, even today communities are still feeling the reverberations of the decline in the mining industry; a piece of history that Newark and Sherwood are trying to keep alive.
Coal mining goes further back than you might think
Would you believe that coal mining in the UK actually goes right back to before the Roman times? During excavations, Stone and Bronze Age flint axes have been discovered embedded in coal! Early miners first extracted coal already exposed on the surface and then followed the seams underground.
Also, in the 13th century there are even records of coal digging in Durham and Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire, the Forest of Dean and North and South Wales.
Obviously coal mining experienced a boom during the Industrial Revolution as fuel was required for steam engines. UK coal production continued to grow and eventually peaked in 1913 at 287 million tonnes being produced annually…that’s pretty impressive right?
Ninety-five percent of the coal came from roughly 1,334 deep-mines that were operational at the time, with the rest from around 92 surface mines. After modernisation of underground mining, a deep shaft could produce 700 million tonnes annually, which is even more impressive!
However, the 80s arrived and so did Maggie Thatcher. In early 1984 she announced plans to close 20 coal pits, which led to the year-long Miners’ Strike. Unfortunately, the strike was unsuccessful in stopping the closures and in 1994 John Major privatised British Coal after announcing closures, with the majority of operations transferred to the new company UK Coal.
Coal mining employed 4,000 workers at 30 locations in 2013, extracting 13 million tonnes of coal. One of the three surviving deep pit mines was Thoresby, near Sherwood, which closed in 2015.
According to the National Grid, on 21 April 2017 Britain went a full day without using coal power to generate electricity for the first time since the Industrial Revolution!
Nottinghamshire was quite a prominent coal mining area and Newark and Sherwood contains a number of ex collieries. I’ve already mentioned the colliery at Thoresby, which opened in 1935 and sadly closed in 2015 as Nottinghamshire’s last coal mine.
Clipstone Colliery was owned by the Bolsover Colliery Company and passed to the National Coal Board in 1947. The colliery was sunk to exploit the Barnsley seam or ‘Topheard’ as it is known locally. The colliery was closed by British Coal in 1993 and was reopened by RJB Mining in April 1994. However the colliery was finally closed in April 2013 and presently the headstocks and powerhouse are grade II listed buildings.
A pit at Bilsthorpe was opened in July 1925 with two shafts, with the mine completed in 1928. The mine saw three disasters that ended with unfortunate deaths during its time as a colliery and the mine was closed in 1997 with a memorial being unveiled in October 2011.
Preserving the past – Bilsthorpe Heritage and Mining Museum
Bilsthorpe Heritage Society was conceived shortly after the closure of the mine at Bilsthorpe. Its intention was to preserve the heritage of mining in Bilsthorpe, as mining wasn’t just a job for many, it was also a way of life.
A handful of residents had the foresight to begin collecting artefacts and memorabilia from the local mine and surrounding area before it was lost in time. This was so the history of mining, not just in Bilsthorpe but across the industry, could be preserved for future generations.
Since its inception the society has received a large amount of donated items and over the years has amassed an incredibly impressive collection dedicated not only to the mining industry but also the social history surrounding Bilsthorpe.
The Bilsthorpe Heritage Museum was officially opened in July 2014 and received Arts Council England Museum Accreditation in November 2017. It truly is a fascinating collection full of interesting and important artefacts that have been collected in order to inform future generations of the importance of coal mining in the UK.
If you would like to take a look for yourselves the museum is open to the public on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and the incredibly knowledgeable staff, often ex-miners themselves, are on hand to guide you through the displays.
Written by Rebecca Firmin (BA) Hons in History
Apprentice Projects Assistant, Newark and Sherwood District Council
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