On Behalf of the People: Seventy-Fifth anniversary of the Nationalisation of the British Coal Mining Industry – The East Midlands Coalfield.
The 1st January 2022 saw the seventy-fifth anniversary of the nationalisation of the British coal mining industry and formation of the National Coal Board (NCB). In early January 1947, notices were erected at collieries throughout Britain, which proclaimed, ‘This colliery is now managed by the National Coal Board on behalf of the people.’
The Nationalisation Act passed through Parliament the previous year and 1st January 1947 became what is known as ‘Vesting Day’. Nationalisation was first suggested in the 1919 Sankey Commission report and was a long sort after goal for the coal mining trade unions, especially the Miners Federation of Great Britain (1889-1944), the forerunner to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
Fig. 2: Gaumont British News reel on the formation of the National Coal Board – 1st January 1947.
At 10.30am on 1st January 1947, Manny Shinwell, Minster of Fuel and Power in Clement Atlee’s Labour Government, presented a bound copy of the nationalisation act to Lord Hyndley, the first Chairman of the NCB, at a special ceremony attended by the Prime Minister, some Cabinets members and representatives from the mining unions. Afterwards, Lord Hyndley hoisted a NCB flag over Lansdown House, the first London HQ of the NCB.
Vesting Day celebrations in the East Midlands
Following Vesting Day, four days of celebrations took place throughout the coalfields of Britain to usher in the new era for the coalmining industry. In the East Midlands, celebrations took place at collieries including Sherwood Colliery, Nottinghamshire, NCB East Midlands No. 2 Area. At 10am on Sunday 5th January 1947, a parade left Mansfield Market Place for Sherwood Colliery where guest speakers included Sir Hubert Houldsworth, newly appointed Chairman for the NCB East Midlands Division, Bernard Taylor, MP for Mansfield and a former Sherwood miner and Herbert Booth, Nottingham Area NUM Official.
At Gedling Colliery, Nottinghamshire (NCB East Midlands No. 6 Area), Wilfred Miron, later to be Chairman of the NCB East Midlands Division (see Fig 1) unveiled the new NCB notice.
However, it would appear that not all colliery departments celebrated the new era for coal. In the colliery signing on book at Shirland Colliery, Derbyshire (NCB East Midlands No.4 Area) just a line was drawn between the last miner employed in 1946 by the Blackwell and New Hucknall Colliery Company and the first one employed by the NCB in 1947, with no mention of the new nationalised era for coal! (see Fig 4).
National Coal Board: A topsy-turvey existence!
The nationalised British coal industry would last for forty-eight eventful years. On its formation, the NCB went straight into a major crisis with the extreme winter of early 1947 with coal being in short supply. For the first ten years it was very much about the new organisation ‘finding its feet’ with the aim of supplying the country’s main energy source as life in Britain reconstructed after World War Two. However, from the late 1950’s rationalisation set in as other fuels became ready available and from that time it was a case of the NCB and its successor, British Coal (BC), trying to manage decline. Two distinct eras of decline occurred in the nationalisation period, the first from the late 1950’s to 1970, to be followed by another from the early 1980’s to 1994. The East Midlands coalfield was not immune from the effects of rationalisation and closures in both of these periods.
Fig. 6: 1989 British Coal Nottinghamshire Group publicity leaflet. Photo Credit: Mubu Miner collection.
The NCB also had to deal with three significant strikes in 1972, 1974 and 1984/85 plus the coal crisis of October 1992 to March 1994. In 1986, the NCB changed its name to the British Coal Corporation (BCC), a year later dropping the Corporation part of the title and just being known as British Coal (Fig. 6)
On Ist January 1995 a much-slimmed down coal industry went back into the private sector. The ceremony for this took place in the East Midlands at Asfordby Mine, the ‘Super Pit’ near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, where Tim Eggar (Energy Minister) and Richard Budge (RJB Mining) ushered in a supposed new era for British coalmining. That era would last just twenty-one years to 2015 when the last three large British collieries, Hatfield Main, Thoresby and Kellingley, all closed.
Fig. 7: Vesting Day celebrations at Bolsover Colliery, Derbyshire, NCB East Midlands Division No. 1 Area. Photo Credit – Coal Authority.
The NCB East Midlands Division (1947-1967)
The newly created NCB East Midlands Division was one of nine regional divisions set up at nationalisation. Initially it was sub divided into eight areas comprising of collieries in North and South Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. At Vesting Day the NCB East Midlands Division consisted on one hundred and sixteen large collieries (included in this figure were a number of colliery outstations for mine-water pumping etc.) and twenty-three small private mines with workforces under 30. The latter mined both coal and fireclay with the NCB granting licences for them to mine. Regionally, it also acquired five coking / by product plants, twelve brickworks, two pipe-works, six waterworks, 18,350 houses, one hundred and twelve farms and 14,300 acres of land.
Fig. 8: Table of NCB East Midlands Division Area HQ’s, No of collieries, annual tonnage and geographical location as at Vesting Day.
Early NCB reorganisation in the East Midlands
The Nottinghamshire collieries of Manton and Firbeck Collieries were soon reallocated from the East Midlands Division into the NCB North Eastern Division in South Yorkshire. In 1949 the first major reorganisation of the NCB took place only two years after nationalisation. The East Midlands Division No. 2 Area was disbanded and its ten collieries reallocated into the neighbouring East Midlands No. 1, 3 and 4 Areas.
Also in 1949, the NCB East Midlands No. 8 Area in Leicestershire was absorbed into the No. 7 Area to form one Leicestershire / South Derbyshire area with the Area HQ being at Coleorton Hall.
The first Area in the NCB East Midlands Division to be wound up was No. 5 Area in April 1966. By that time, just four collieries remained in operation from the twenty-five collieries at Vesting Day. Often, in accounts of the demise of British coalmining in the 1950’s and 1960’s, mention is made of the effects of pit closures and rationalisation in the peripheral coalfields of Scotland, the north-east and South Wales with little or no mention of the East Midlands. Derbyshire was one of the worst affected coalfields in Britain in this period, with many of its miners travelling from pit to pit in a short period of time, becoming known as ‘Industrial Gypsies’.
Figure 10. 1980’s commemorative pit plates for the East Midlands coalfields. Photo Credits – MuBu Miner
NCB Reorganisation in the East Midlands: April 1967.
In April 1967, a major NCB reorganisation took place and collieries in the former East Midlands Division were restructured into new areas. Nottinghamshire collieries formed into two new Areas; the NCB North Nottinghamshire Area (15 collieries) with the HQ at Edwinstowe and the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area (18 collieries) with the HQ at Bestwood. All north Derbyshire collieries, except Creswell (NCB North Nottinghamshire Area), went into the newly formed NCB North Derbyshire Area with the HQ at Bolsover and Leicestershire and South Derbyshire collieries went into the NCB South Midlands Area with the HQ at Coleorton Hall. From 1976, the latter Area also included the three collieries in the Kent Coalfield.
By the autumn of 1968, five of the eighteen collieries in the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area at its formation just eighteen months previously, had closed. These were the collieries at Clifton, Brookhill, Langton and controversially, two of the largest collieries in the Nottinghamshire coalfield at Bestwood and Kirkby (Summit). Likewise, by the autumn of 1970, seven collieries had closed out of the twenty-one at its formation, in the NCB North Derbyshire Area. These were at Denby Hall (1967), Alfreton, Swanwick and Denby Drury Lowe all in 1968, Blackwell A Winning in 1969 and Williamthorpe and Ormonde both in 1970. Three more colliery closures in the NCB North Derbyshire Area followed in the 1970’s at Oxcroft, Glapwell / Bramley Vale Drift and Langwith.
Fig. 11: Teversal Colliery, NCB North Nottinghamshire Area, just prior to closure in 1980. Photo Credit – Bob Bradley collection.
In contrast, the NCB North Nottinghamshire Area did not see its first closure until that of Teversal Colliery in 1980. Sutton Colliery had limited economic reserves from the early 1980’s and it finally closed in 1989. Both Sherwood and Mansfield collieries were working a single entry, modern room and pillar method of extraction to try to avoid excessive subsidence when mining under urban developments, which had increased significantly around Mansfield since the 1960’s. Mansfield and Sherwood collieries closed in 1988 and 1992 respectively. The likes of Thoresby, Welbeck, Ollerton, Bilsthorpe and Clipstone collieries were seen as the ‘big hitting, long life collieries of the Nottinghamshire coalfield.
The NCB South and North Nottinghamshire Areas merged into one NCB Nottinghamshire Area in 1985 just prior to the NCB changing its name to British Coal. On the formation of the latter in 1986, Nottinghamshire collieries became part of the British Coal Nottinghamshire Group and collieries in the former NCB North Derbyshire and South Midlands Areas went into British Coal’s Central Group. Later in 1993, as rationalisation of the British coal mining industry accelerated, remaining Midlands based collieries went into the British Coal Midlands Group.
Fig. 12: Gaumont British News reel of HM Princess Margaret’s 1954 visit to the Nottinghamshire Coalfield.
NCB Sinking’s and Major Developments in the East Midlands: 1947 – 1994
Because of its potential for high productivity and innovation, the NCB East Midlands Division became known as ‘Robens Promised Land’ after Lord Alf Robens, NCB Chairman from 1961 – 1971. Many miners from Scotland and the north-east coalfields of Durham and Northumberland, migrated to the East Midlands, especially to the Nottinghamshire coalfield to work at the new NCB collieries at Calverton (opened 1952), Bevercotes (opened production wise in 1961) and Cotgrave (opened 1964).
Fig. 13: Bevercotes Colliery, planned as the worlds first Push Button colliery in the 1950’s. Photo Credit – Chad Newspaper archive.
Problems at a new Push Button Colliery & Geordie Enclaves.
Bevercotes Colliery was planned as a high technology, world’s first push button colliery. However, it was temporarily closed on two occasions in the 1960’s for major remedial work to take place. Firstly, the shafts through the water bearing strata had to be relined to stop the ingress of water. Then the first coalface in the Parkgate seam, which was equipped as a Remotely Operated Longwall Face (ROLF), failed after only a few metres advance because of poor roof conditions and major driveages were necessary to avoid faulting. Most of the workforce were temporarily transferred to other Nottinghamshire collieries and on restarting production after two years, the NCB struggled to get them to go back to Bevercotes as they had settled at other local collieries. The NCB had to conduct major recruiting campaigns in the Scottish and north-east coalfields to man Bevercotes Colliery.
No pit houses were constructed near Bevercotes Colliery but new pit houses were built at Calverton and Cotgrave and they became known locally as ‘Geordie enclaves’. A 1968 NCB document states that half of the 1,300 strong workforce at Cotgrave Colliery was made up migrant miners from Scotland and the north-east with the remainder coming from closed collieries in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Fig. 14: Hucknall No. 2 Colliery with the 1950’s No. 5 headstock to the left of the photo. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner collection.
Like most of the British coalfields in the 1950’s / 60’s, many collieries in the NCB East Midlands Division saw major investment and reorganisation following the neglect of two world wars and the inter war period. In addition to the three new NCB collieries in Nottinghamshire, new shafts were sunk at Rufford and Hucknall No.2 collieries (Fig. 14) in the 1950’s to increase coal production. Large surface drifts were constructed at Bentinck, Pye Hill and Kirkby collieries in the 1960’s to speed up production.
In the Derbyshire coalfield new drift mines were constructed at Shipley Woodside in 1948, Bramley Vale at Glapwell in 1958 and High Moor also in 1958. The Avenue Cabonisation and Chemical Plant at Wingerworth, near Chesterfield, opened in 1956.
NCB Central Workshops were opened in each of the NCB East Midlands Divisions Areas for the maintenance and repair of mechanical machinery.
Fig. 14: 1986 NCB Brochure for the planned ‘Super Pit’ at Asfordby near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner collection.
Asfordby Mine: The coal mining White Elephant of all White Elephants!
The major development in the East Midlands in the nationalised period was the ill-fated Asfordby Mine, the planned Super Pit near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. It was developed to employ younger Leicestershire miners when the remaining collieries in the north-west Leicestershire coalfield became exhausted in the 1980’s. Originally planned as part of a three mine ‘Super Pit’ complex, the North East Leicestershire Mining Project became more commonly known as ‘The Vale of Belvoir’ Project.
A public inquiry scuppered the idea of the three-mine ‘Super Pit’ complex, the opposition to deep coal mining being led by the Duke of Rutland from Belvoir Castle. Only the Asfordby Mine was authorised, but it was situated on the edge of the area of coal planned to be worked and was continually plagued with geological problems beginning with one shaft being sunk on an old volcanic eruption which proved difficult to work! The two shafts had to be connected by a steep drift, immediately ruling out loco transport between the two.
Asfordby Mine was planned to produce four million tons of coal per annum. Thousands of metres of roadways were constructed at phenomenal drivage rates in readiness for producing coal from coalfaces in the Deep Main seam. However, serious geological problems were soon encountered and the decision was made by RJB mining to close the mine in August 1997.In total just 1.5 million tons of coal were produced in two years of production from 1995 to 1997. From inception to closure, estimates of the cost to the taxpayer range from £0.5 billion to £0.75 billion, in many coal mining circles it is referred to as the ‘white elephant’ of all ‘white elephants’ in British coalmining history!
Fig. 16: NCB Chairman, Lord Robens (right) inspects the control panel on the ROLF coalface at Ormonde Colliery, Derbyshire, in 1963. Photo Credit – Coal Authority.
End Notes: The Nationalised Coal Industry in the East Midlands
During the nationalised period of coalmining, the East Midlands coalfield was perhaps the most successful, in terms of mechanisation, productivity and labour relations throughout Britain. It was the biggest coal producing NCB Division in Britain producing almost a quarter of national output. Many innovations were tried and tested there including Remotely Operated Longwall Faces (ROLF) at Newstead and Ormonde collieries in the 1960’s. In the 1970’s Pye Hill Colliery pioneered the use of chainless haulage at the coalface, the system of moving the shearer along the coalface by driving directly on to a toothed rack instead of using a haulage chain. An underground, 25mph underground overhead electric manriding train was introduced at Gedling Colliery in 1983.
Fig. 17: Linby Colliery, Nottinghamshire, in 1986, two years before closure. Photo by MuBu Miner.
In the 1960’s Linby Colliery was one of the most productive and profitable collieries in Europe, regularly producing a million tons of coal annually with a workforce of 1,000. Other ‘million-tonner’ collieries in the region’ known as ‘big hitters’, had much larger workforces therefore coalface OMS (Overall tons per Manshift) at Linby was much higher. Following this period of high productivity, Linby started to struggle in the 1980s and closed in March 1988.
During its last eleven years of production in the nationalised period, the Annesley-Bentinck-Newstead complex increased production five-fold with overall tons per manshift (OMS) going from just over two tonnes in 1982/83 with a workforce of 3,800 to eleven tonnes per manshift in 1993/94 with a workforce of 1,100. Newstead Colliery closed in March 1987 and Bentinck Colliery became a surface only mine from 1991 to accept Annesley’s coal.
Fig 18: The closure of Ormonde Colliery as reported in the local Ripley and Heanor News, 2nd October 1970. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner collection.
It would be wrong to classify all of the East Midlands coalfield as consisting of profitable, long life collieries with easy coal! There is no ‘easy coal’ anywhere, in any coalfield, just some that is more difficult to mine than others! The East Midlands saw it fair share of rationalisation and closures from the late 1950’s onwards, especially in the Ilkeston to Alfreton corridor in Derbyshire during the 1960’s. When Ormonde Colliery at Loscoe, closed in September 1970, it was indeed the ‘End of an Era’ as coal mining ended in that part of Derbyshire after several centuries. The mood of the time was perfectly captured in Owen Watsons local dialect poem, ‘Wheer are t’gooin when Ormonde Shuts?’
Wheer are T'gooin when Ormonde shuts?
Fig. 19: The ill fated Kirkby (Summit) Colliery, Nottinghamshire, early in 1968 with the newly installed Coal Preparation Plant to the right. Photo Credit – Coal Authority.
Two of Nottinghamshire’s largest collieries at Bestwood and Kirkby (Summit) closed in 1967 and 1968 respectively because of geological problems. Just prior to closure, both collieries had workforces of around 2,000. The latter was a controversial closure as it scuppered plans for the Kirkby Super Pit. This was a planned merger of Brookhill, Langton and Kirkby Colliery, with a new surface drift and a Coal Preparation Plant at Kirkby with the adjacent railhead planned to take 1.5 million tons of coal annually to the then new Trent Valley coal fired power stations. The Trent valley from the 1970’s became known as ‘Megawatt Valley’ because of the large number of coal fired power stations located there.
Fig. 20: The politics of the NCB and the nationalised British Coalmining Industry.
Politics and Pit Closures in the East Midlands
Politically, many of the East Midlands closures occurred under the 1964-1970 Labour Government of Harold Wilson with twenty-six collieries closing including those at Bestwood and Kirkby as previously mentioned. This would have repercussions in the early 1980’s when favourable redundancy terms for miners over 50 were available at the remaining collieries. As the coal industry again began to contact, older miners left the coal industry in droves, many being heard to say, “We’ve seen all this before under a Labour Government and we are off!” Some suggested an ‘inevitability of closure’ attitude had entered the psyche of many older miners.
Fig. 21: Demolition of Ollerton Colliery headstocks in December 1994. Photo Credit – Chad Newspaper archive
In the 1980 to 1985 period, the East Midlands saw nine colliery closures, all of these taking place prior to or agreed before the year-long 1984-85 Miners Strike. These consisted of four closures in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, three in the Leicestershire coalfield and two in the North Derbyshire coalfield. The coal industry rapidly contracted from 1986 and by the end of 1995, the first year of the newly privatised coal industry, just seven East Midlands collieries remained open, all in Nottinghamshire. Three of these were reopened collieries at Clipstone and Calverton (RJB Mining) and Annesley-Bentinck (Coal Investments). Deep coalmining ended in the South Derbyshire coalfield with the closure of the Donisthorpe / Rawdon complex early in 1990, in the north-west Leicestershire coalfield in early 1991 when Bagworth Colliery closed and in the north Derbyshire coalfield in the summer of 1993 with the closure of Markham Colliery.
Although economics and politics played a significant role in the nationalised period of British coalmining, overall, when considering deep coalmining, it should also be remembered that it was an extractive industry, at its best a speculative venture, which was prone to quirks of nature and human error. In this sense, the East Midlands was little different to any other coalfield!
Fig. 22: NCB On Behalf of the People notice board.
Beardsley, in his memoirs of coalmining around the Ilkeston area of Derbyshire (NCB East Midlands No. 5 Area) made an interesting observation that as time went on in the nationalised period, the NCB ‘On Behalf of the People’ notices became dilapidated and eventually fell down. Nobody bothered to repair or renew them. He commented ‘it was as if the promises of the future had gone the same way as the notice boards!’
Posted by MuBu Miner
26th January 2022
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