Figure 1: Watnall Colliery (Barber Walker Company) in 1905. Photo Credit: 250 years in Coal.
Watnall Colliery – Seventieth Anniversary of closure.
Watnall Colliery in the Nottinghamshire Coalfield finished production seventy years ago on 23rd December 1950. Located between the coal mining towns of Eastwood and Hucknall, sinking of the shafts commenced in 1872 by the Barber Walker Company from Eastwood with coal being reached in the Top Hard seam in 1875 at a depth of 342 yards. It was one of several large collieries they developed in the locality during the 1860’s and 1870’s which would form the bedrock of coal mining locally for the next one hundred and twenty years. The population of Eastwood grew significantly over the next forty years and was immortalised by DH Lawrence as ‘Bestwood’ in his 1913 novel ‘Sons and Lovers’.
Figure 2: OS Map of Watnall Colliery from the early 20th century
Up at Watna
Locally, the pit was known as ‘Watna’ and at the time of sinking it was the Barber Walker Company’s biggest venture so far. Technically, the colliery was ‘New Watnall’ as an older Watnall Colliery was situated nearer to the village just below the Royal Oak public house. With the colliery being off the beaten track, a ‘miner’s halt’ (small station) was built near the colliery for the ‘Paddy Train’ which took miners to and from work.
Figure 3: Disused Miners Halt at Watnall Colliery in 1955, five years after closure. Photo Credit: KLHS
At nationalisation Watnall went into the National Coal Board (NCB) East Midlands No.5 Area, with the HQ being at Eastwood Hall, the former HQ of the Barber Walker Company. In the final four years of NCB production, Watnall turned just over 100,000 tons of coal per annum with a workforce of around 400.
Year Tonnage Workforce
1947 105,571 406
1948 107,239 390
1949 121,837 410
1950 102,527 327
Figure 4: Disused Watnall brick kilns in 1973. Photo Credit – Alf Henshaw.
A brickworks was situated adjacent to the colliery producing bricks made from colliery spoil. The kilns were demolished in the 1970’s but the four chimneys were a well-known landmark until they were also demolished in 2009. In the 1980’s the pit site was used for a very popular Sunday market. Watnall bricks still turn up during local demolition in the early twenty-first century.
Figure 5: NCB Watnall brick. Photo Credit – ELHS
Disturbance at Watnall Colliery: 1893 Miners Lockout.
During the 1893 Miners Lockout (late July – November 1893), as serious incident of disorder took place at Watnall Colliery on 7th September 1893. A large crowd estimated at 1,500 initially gather in Bulwell market place and made their way to Watnall. It was suspected that coal was being turned there but the hostile attitude taken by the Barber Walker Company to the relatively new Nottinghamshire Miners Association (NMA), formed in 1881, was also thought to be the root of the disquiet.
When the crowd reached Watnall Colliery, it was estimated to be 5,000 strong. A set of wooden railway wagons in the pit sidings were set on fire, along with some building and damage done to some machinery. The police arrived, the Riot Act was read after which there followed some serious disturbances. Seven of the ringleaders were arrested and the rest of the crowd were dispersed by police charges.
Following the Watnall Colliery incident, a large military and police presence was brought to the coalfield district from various parts of the country. However, the NMA played a role in restraining the activists in order to try and keep public support for the strike.
Figure 6: Map showing the route of the Barber Walker colliery railway. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner
The Barber Walker Railway
Following the development of its new larger collieries in the 1860’s and 1870’s, the Barber Walker Company constructed a seven mile standard gauge colliery railway to connect all of its collieries. It ran from Langley Mill on the Derbyshire borders where there were connections with the Cromford Canal (Beggarlee Wharf), the Midland (MR) and Great Northern Railway (GNR) Companies. It ran through to Nuthall where connections to the MR and GNR lines were also made. A colliery branch at Nether Green connected Brinsley and Selston (Underwood) collieries. Short branches to coal wharfs were established at Watnall and near to Hilltop, Eastwood.
Following the merging of High Park Colliery with Moorgreen Colliery and the closure of Watnall Colliery, the eastern part of the colliery railway closed in the 1950’s. The Brinsley part of the railway features in DH Lawrence’s short story ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’. The last section of the Barber Walker railway, from Moorgreen Colliery to Langley Mill sidings (ex MR), closed in July 1985 when Moorgreen Colliery finished production, bringing deep coal mining in the region to an end
Figure 7: NCB train with internal wagons on the Barber Walker railway between Watnall & High Park collieries in the 1950’s. Photo Credit – Alf Henshaw collection.
Watnall Colliery site 1950-1970’s.
Following the finish of production in 1950, a single shaft remained at Watnall until the mid 1970’s as a second means of egress for Moorgreen Colliery. For a short period during the 1970’s, Moorgreen miners travelled the Watnall shaft as it was nearer to some of the Moorgreen workings and gave more ‘Machine Available Time’ (MAT). As a NCB apprentice in the mid 1970’s, the author remembered being among a group of pit-lads being taken underground by the NCB Instructor at Moorgreen, surfacing via the Watnall shaft and travelling back to the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area Training Centre at Moorgreen in a NCB mini-bus.
Anderson, P. Moorgreen and the Barber Walker Dynasty, Railway Bylines, June 2015, p312-318.
Coleman, A Eastwood through Bygones Ages, Eastwood, 1970.
Griffin A.R. The Miners of Nottinghamshire Vol.1 1881 – 1914, Basford, 1955.
Healey Hero website: Watnall closed after Seventy-Five Years, 1950, page 6
Henshaw, A. The Great Northern Railway in the East Midlands: The Erewash Valley Lines, RCTS, Nottingham, 2000.
Moore, R. Community and Conflict in Eastwood: A Study of the Nottinghamshire Coalfield before 1914, University of Nottingham (Dept. of Adult Education), 1995.
Whiitelock, G.C.H. 250 Years in Coal: The History of the Barber Walker and Company, Eastwood, (1956).
Heritage Resources Officer
7th December 2020.