Figure 1: Industrial Kirkby-in-Ashfield in 1965 with Kirkby (Summit) Colliery (1890 – 1968) dominating in the foreground. Photo Credit – Coal Authority
A Summit Circular
An industrial heritage walk looking into aspects of Kirkby-in-Ashfield’s coalmining and railways past.
Kirkby-in-Ashfield lies in the heart of the former Nottinghamshire coalfield, around twelve miles north-west of the city of Nottingham, its past staple industries being coalmining, railways and textiles. Originally a centre for framework-knitting, later in the nineteenth century, the area known as East Kirkby industrialised with heavy industry. The Butterley Company started sinking its Summit Colliery in 1890 and in 1903, the Midland Railway Co started building its Loco Sheds and Sidings on land adjacent to the Summit colliery.
From the early 1960’s to the late 1990’s these three main industries went into severe decline, causing significant economic and social upheaval in the Ashfield region. At East Kirkby itself the Summit Colliery and the Loco Sheds and Sidings closed between 1968 and 1970. The former Great Central and Great Northern railway routes through Kirkby closed in the mid 1960’s and by the early 1990’s just two collieries remained in the Ashfield region, Silverhill (closed October 1992) and Annesley-Bentinck (closed January 2000). The last textile factories in the region closed in the 1990’s, a victim of foreign competition.
However, in the mid 1990’s over three decades of decline was slightly halted when Stage Two of the Robin Hood Line reinstated rail passenger services to the town after a gap of thirty-two years. Over recent times, Kirkby has gradually moved into the service sector and largely become a dormitory town as a result of people now having to travel further afield for work than the previous generation.
Kirkby-in-Ashfield Railway Station (Robin Hood Line).
Ref. No.1 on the OS Map
The Robin Hood Line (RHL) came about as a direct result of the loss of the regions staple industries, providing an important transport artery though the former industrial region of West Nottinghamshire. Anderson and Cupit suggest that 41,000 jobs in the coalmining industry alone were lost between 1983 and 2000.
In 1988 two feasibility studies commissioned by Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC) looked at potential patronage on the RHL and the structural state of the closed Kirkby tunnel and following this in 1991, a consortium of local authorities, all based along the planned route, gave the go ahead for the RHL to proceed. The railway line opened in three stages between 1993 and 1998;
- Stage One: Nottingham to Newstead opened in May 1993.
- Stage Two: Newstead to Mansfield Woodhouse opened in November 1995.
- Stage Three: Mansfield Woodhouse to Worksop opened in May 1998.
Stage One and Three of the RHL were generally a case of updating old or existing freight lines to passenger status. Stage Two involved the building of a new section of line south of Kirkby-in-Ashfield during 1994/95 which took in routes of some former railway lines which had closed in the late1960’s / early 1970’s and also involved the reopening of Kirkby Tunnel (199 yards long).
Following the opening of Stage Two of the RHL, Kirkby had to wait another year for its railway station, which opened in November 1996. On a technicality, the fourth of Kirkby’s railway stations in its history, it is located on the Great Northern Railway’s (GNR) Leen Valley Extension line which opened in stages between1897 and 1900 from Kirkby South Junction, on the main line of the Great Central Railway (GCR), to Shirebrook, later known as Langwith Junction. The GNR’s prime purpose in the East Midlands region was to break the Midland Railways monopoly on coal traffic, which it did in no uncertain terms!
The 1972 Kirkby Deviation
The Leen Valley Extension line closed as a through route in May 1968. However, a short section of the line through Kirkby was reopened in April 1972 as part of the 1972 Kirkby Deviation which diverted the remaining Shireoaks Junction (Worksop) to Pye Bridge freight only line away from the town centre because of increasing traffic congestion at the two sets of crossing gates in the town, especially the one at Station Street (see Part 7). The former Midland Railway line here saw endless coal trains passing through the town centre taking coal from the North Nottinghamshire pits to the then new coal-fired power stations in the Trent Valley at Staythorpe, Ratcliffe, Castle Donnington, Willington and Drakelow
Southwell Lane Bridge (RHL) formerly GNR Leen Valley Extension Line.
Ref. No. 2 on OS Map.
The 1970’s bridge, which replaced an older one at a slightly different location, passes over the RHL (Fig. 4 below) and was formerly the route of the GNR Leen Valley Extension line as mentioned previously. The northern link of the 1972 Kirkby Deviation goes off to the right which now takes the RHL line over the site of the former Kirkby (Summit) Colliery (closed July 1968) to Sutton Parkway railway station (opened November 1995) where it joins the original route of the 1819 Mansfield and Pinxton horse-drawn railway or tramway as it is known locally. This was Kirkby’s first railway just over two hundred years ago.
Site of Kirkby (Summit) Colliery
Ref 3 on the OS Map.
Kirkby Colliery – the doomed Super Pit!
Twin shafts were sunk at Kirkby Colliery by the Butterley Company in 1890, with a third Lowmoor shaft being added in 1915. Throughout its life was one of the largest collieries in the Nottinghamshire coalfield in terms of production and manpower. Large collieries such as Kirkby were known locally as ‘Big Hitters’. In its early years, a large influx of Welsh miners came to work at the pit. Locally, it was always known as the Summit Pit.
In the early 1960’s it was planned to be a ‘Super Pit’ and was destined to become one of the largest coal complexes in Europe. However, it closed controversially in July 1968 following geological problems and as a result of the surge of cheap oil which hit the British coalmining industry hard at the time. The planned ‘Super Pit’ was a massive £3.5 million redevelopment plan and consisted of an underground link up with nearby Langton and Brookhill collieries at Pinxton, with all coal from the three collieries surfacing via two surface-drifts at Kirkby, to be washed and screened in a new £1.2 million Coal Preparation Plant (CPP) and then dispatched to the Trent Valley power stations from the existing rail-head, adjacent to the Summit Colliery.
The Ghost of the Summit!
The closure was controversial, under a Labour Government and local Labour Council. At the time that the closure was announced the workforce totalled 2,258, with some having transferred from Langton Colliery only weeks previously. In its last full financial year (1967/68) the colliery produced 1, 088, 264 tons of coal. Reg Heath (born 1929), said the closure announcement came like a ‘bolt from the blue’. Eddie (Pim) Holloway (born 1927) said he never forgot when they were told early in 1968 that their future was secure at Kirkby and six weeks later announced the closure of the pit.
At the 1968 Nottingham annual NUM Gala and Demonstration at Mansfield, the Kirkby branch of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) carried a mock coffin, adorned with the blood inspired inscription ‘Kirkby Colliery – Murdered by NCB Promises’ (Fig 6). A Youtube clip of archive 8mm footage shows the mock coffin amongst the procession of branch banners passing through Westgate, Mansfield. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00PpizDxVG4
Local folklore has it that the bricklayers were waiting to finish off work on the new CPP as the demolition crew were waiting to start at the other end. Stories of the Summit’s demise dominated talk in clubs, pubs and remaining pits in the area for years after.
Coal Age Burial Mounds!
Like with most other former pit sites in the region, Summit has a memorial to it. In fact, it has several memorials, all which date from later than the 1968 closure. They include a replica headstock wheel near to the former pit entrance (Fig 7) adjacent to the remaining former Pit Head Baths building and artistic impressions on stonework at nearby West Park (Fig. 8). A smaller brick memorial also exists nearby on Lowmoor Road.
Site of Kirkby Summit Sidings and Crossings
Ref. 4 on the OS Map
Origins of the Summit name
This is the location where the local name ‘Summit’ comes from. It was the summit of the original 1819 horse drawn tramway, which climbed the four miles from Pinxton to the summit at East Kirkby and then gradually descended to Mansfield, some three miles hence. The gradient of the current freight only Pye Bridge Junction to Shireoaks Junction (Worksop) line follows a similar profile. In the days of steam and in the early days of diesels, trains used to have to be ‘banked’ up this section from Pinxton to Kirkby.
Kirkby-in-Ashfield Loco Sheds and Sidings served a wide area of collieries in the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire coalfield. Endless coal trains left the sidings taking coal to industrial locations, power stations and yard runs. In an interview on Ashfield Community Radio in 1996, Alen Grice, a former loco fitter at Kirkby Loco Sheds (born 1932), recited all the collieries and industrial locations served by Kirkby Loco sheds and sidings.
The line through this part of Kirkby closed in April 1972 when the 1972 Deviation came into use. The former railway sidings at Kirkby was converted for use by light industry, retail and service industry.
Summit Pit Houses and site of East Kirkby Miners Welfare
Ref 5 on the OS Map.
Like most former coalmining communities, a good indication that it was a former coalmining area is the presence of former pit houses. The initial pit housing at the Summit area of Kirkby was built by the Butterley Company in the late 1890’s with Mary Street and Edward Street being added following the sinking of the Lowmoor shaft in 1915.
The National Coal Board (NCB) took over the running of around 140,000 houses nationally in 1947 including those at the Summit. In the early 1980’s the NCB commenced with the selling of its housing stock, with many former miners buying their properties and becoming property owners for the first time. The remainder of unsold pit housing initially went to Housing Associations and as former miners passed on, private landlords came into the equation, some being the sons and daughters of former miners.
East Kirkby Miners Welfare -The Stute
The former East Kirkby Miners Welfare Institute, known as ‘The Stute’ was situated opposite the Summit Crossings on Lowmoor Road between Alexandra Street and Edward Street. It was demolished circa 2010.
Kirkby Colliery Brass Band still survives in the early 21st century. Initially it was formed in 1897, and after several break up and reformations, the current band restarted in the 1970’s.
Site of Kirkby-in-Ashfield Loco Sheds
Ref. 6 on the OS Map
Situated at the side of Lowmoor Road, the initial three-road Loco Shed was built by the Midland Railway Company and opened in 1903 in the then still expanding East Midlands Coalfield. Known in railway terms as a ‘Garage Shed’ its sole purpose was to provide motive power to serve the local collieries.
At the Grouping in 1923 it went into the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) and at nationalisation in 1948 became part of the London Midland Region of British Railways (BR), firstly having a shed code of 16C, then 16B and finally 16E. As part of the 1955 Modernisation Act, Coaling and Ash Plants (Towers) were installed in 1957 followed in 1958 by a new two road shed building adjacent to the original shed building.
Sam Fisher became a Loco Driver at Kirkby, having transferred from Burton-on-Trent loco sheds in the late 1930’s. He recalled having the frightening task of having to learn five-hundred miles of railway to learn, signals, gradients, sections and an entirely new class of trains to work all the heavy coal trains. Initially he got digs at Kirkby on Hodkinson Road and later when his family eventually moved to Kirkby to join him, his wife commented that Kirkby was a horrible place he had brought them to! Sam Fisher finished on redundancy at Kirkby loco sheds in 1966 at the age of 64.
Folksinger, Dave Goulder, was a railwayman at Kirkby from the early 1950’s to the early 1960’s, last off being employed as a Fireman. As rationalisation kicked in, he left the railways and moved to northern Scotland running a youth hostel and becoming a proficient drystone waller, A renown folksinger / songwriter on the British folk music scene, perhaps his most famous song is ‘January Man’ which has been performed by many other artists.
Requiem for Steam.
In reflection, after leaving the railways, he wrote many folk songs about tales of railway folklore from the Kirkby area, including ‘The Turntable Song’, about an incident at Kirkby Loco Sheds in 1959 (Fig 14 – below) Details of Dave’s railway CD’s and other information can be found at https://www.davegoulder.co.uk/
He went to see the Foreman,
He was shaking at the knees,
Saying Sir, you’ve got an engine,
Parked at forty-five degrees!
Steam swansong and a new diesel era.
The 1960’s saw the demise of steam locos at Kirkby, the last ones, Stanier 8F 2-8-0’s, left early in 1967. These locos had a long association with Kirkby and five of the original ten locos were allocated there at one time. Over eight hundred of this class were built from 1935 and they were amongst the last steam locos to see service with British Railways (BR) when steam finished on BR in early August 1968.
Diesels, mainly in the guise of English Electric Type 1’s (Class 20’s) and Brush Type 4’s (Class 47’s) were allocated to Kirkby from 1964. Double headed Class 20’s in the region would form the main motive power to the remaining local collieries for the next three decades.
Fireman to Faceworker
As rationalisation hit the railways in the 1960’s, many former railwaymen went to work at the pit. John Burton (Burt) a former Fireman at Kirkby Loco Sheds became a Chock Fitter at Newstead Colliery. Following the closure of Newstead Colliery in 1987 he transferred to Annesley Colliery. On leaving the coal industry he became a Postman. A practical joker, he took the most obscure ‘snap’ to work on his ‘sarnies’; jam and onions!
The End at Kirkby-in-Ashfield Loco Sheds
The Loco Sheds and Sidings at Kirkby closed in the autumn of 1970, a knock-on effect from the closure of the nearby Kirkby Summit Colliery two years earlier. In the early 1960’s both locations employed around 3,000 workers, by the end of 1970 there were none! When the existing freight line through the centre of Kirkby was diverted in April 1972, the former railway and Summit Pit sites were redeveloped for light industry and retail units.
Site of Kirkby-in-Ashfield (East) Railway Station – Station Street.
Ref. 7 on OS Map
Kirkby-in-Ashfield (East) railway station was opened by the Midland Railway in October 1848 and saw its last regular passenger services, the Nottingham Midland to Worksop service, on 12th October 1964. It was a victim of the March 1963 ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ report, more commonly known as the ‘Beeching Report’ after its author, Richard Beeching. Technically, an unadvertised workman’s rail service from Mansfield to Chilwell Ordnance Depot still called at the station until September 1965.
Figure 19: Kirkby-in-Ashfield (East) Railway station in the mid 1960’s just after closure – Photo Credit – David K Dykes
Kirkby Station Junction (1892 – 1972)
South of the station was Kirkby Station Junction, the lines branched off here with one going via the more direct Leen Valley route to Nottingham and the other to Pye Bridge Junction on the Erewash Valley route. Much of the coal from Kirkby yards travelled the latter. (Fig. 20).
Figure 20: One of the endless coal trains passes Kirkby Station Junction in the mid 1960’s travelling via the Pye Bridge route. Photo Credit – David K Dykes
Coal, Cars and Congestion!
The Leen Valley route from Kirkby to Annesley was closed in October 1970 to allow the NCB at Annesley and Bentinck collieries to mine coal under Kirkby Tunnel. The remaining Pye Bridge line remaining open through the town centre until April 1972 when the Kirkby Deviation came into being as previously mentioned. The reason for the deviation was the increasing problem of traffic congestion as more and more people became car owners, a main reason for the demise of railway passenger services in the first place! (Fig. 21)
Figure 21: Traffic Congestion at Station Street, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, in early 1972 – Photo Credit Notts Free Press
Site of Mansfield and Pinxton Railway track bed.
Ref. 8 on the OS Map.
Just west of the former site of Kirkby-in-Ashfield (East) railway station is the trackbed of the 1819 Mansfield and Pinxton Tramway, at the point where it passed over Urban Road. An old crossing house building remained at this location until the 1950’s and the adjacent railway cottages became the Railway Inn. The pub was controversially demolished in 2006 and is now the site of an Aldi supermarket.
Figure 22: Route of the 1819 Mansfield and Pinxton Tramway at Kirkby Urban Road in May 2020. Photo by MuBuMiner
Mansfield and Pinxton Tramway – opened 1819.
The first coal from Pinxton passed here on opening day, 13th April 1819, and was met at Kings Mill Viaduct, Mansfield, by a large procession of people, who accompanied the horsed drawn train and its gang-lads into Mansfield with a banner which proclaimed ‘By Perseverance We Have Obtained’. At Mansfield some of the Pinxton coal was ceremoniously burned in the Market Place. The march was recreated, two-hundred years to the day, on 13th April 2019, as part of the ‘Mansfield and Pinxton Railway Bicentenary Project’ (Fig.23). A short video of the two hundredth ceremonial walk can be seen on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AjA4K2LJTo
The tramway was converted to a ‘conventional steam railway’ in 1849 and remained at this location until 1892 when an 1892 Kirkby deviation diverted the Pye Bridge line up to a new junction, Kirkby Station Junction (1892-1972).
Figure 23: Mansfield and Pinxton Railway Bicentenary (1819-2019) – Recreation of the opening ceremony at Kings Mill Viaduct, two-hundred years to the day, 13th April 2019. Photo by MuBuMiner
Two Hundred Years of Coal and Railways at Kirkby-in-Ashfield.
Coal was the ‘raison d’ etre’ for the railway’s arriving in Kirkby-in-Ashfield in 1819 and played a significant role over most of the next two hundred years. In that time motive power changed from being primitive horsed drawn coal trains in the era of George III to 4,000 horse-power diesel locos in the early twenty-first century.
The railways network at Kirkby peaked in 1916 with three railway companies being dominant in the region; The Midland Railway, The Great Northern Railway and the Great Central Railway. By 1970 that network had significantly diminished mainly due to the 1963 ‘Beeching Report’ and the rationalisation of the coalmining industry in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire from the late 1950’s.
Virtually no coal trains have passed through Kirkby over the last decade, the main rail traffic on the Pye Bridge freight only line now being from the Railway Technical Centre at Derby to its test track on the Shirebrook – Ollerton line and stock movements by Harry Needle Rail to and from its yard at Worksop. Since 1995, the line from Kirkby northwards formed part of the Robin Hood Line with passenger services running between Nottingham and Worksop.
Fig 24: Map of the railway network at Kirkby-in-Ashfield as it was from 1916 to September 1966 Photo Credit: MuBuMiner collection.
Fig 24: Map of the railway network at Kirkby-in-Ashfield c 1971 showing the extent of rationalisation between September 1966 and October 1970. Photo Credit: MuBuMiner collection.
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Ashfield Community Radio. Interview with Alen Grice, 7th August 1996.
Chad. Memorial unveiled to mark Mining Heritage, 19th October 2005.
Chad. Closed colliery brought back to life through artist drawings, 7th November 2010.
Fisher, S. The True Story of the life of Samuel Arthur Fisher, unpublished, date unknown.
Goulder, D. Dave Goulder’s Railway Songbook, 2012.
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