A Brief History Of South Derbyshire Coal Mining

Coal mining in the Midlands area is a tradition which is centuries old, from bell pits to deep seam mining the Midlands has seen it all. In the 17th century coal mining assumed an increasingly important role in relation to agriculture with farming incomes often being supplemented by the sale of coal. The coal industry itself was in poor shape by the end of the 17th century with some collieries operating at a loss. New technology was needed to improve production and safety, and slowly developments were made in combating underground fires, flooding and gas. Water and wind pumps were installed at Oakthorpe colliery and in 1660 the longwall system of mining was introduced in Measham; this was a major step in achieving higher productivity and played a significant part in the developments of the mining industry in North West Leicestershire and Derbyshire.


Throughout the 19th century a number of collieries were established in the Swadlincote area of the South Derbyshire Coalfield which is one of the smallest in the Midlands. 
The earliest reference to Swad’s mineral deposits can be found in an agreement between Henry de Verdun, Lord Delaxon and Thomas, son of Richard de Alrewas dated to 1294 which states 
“… the said Henry and his heirs shall make their profit of sea coals and other minerals found underground in the aforesaid land…and…shall have free power to make marl pits”
Although a limited amount of coal mining had taken place in this area since the medieval period, extensive development did not begin until the Industrial revolution when there was a huge increase in demand. The main collieries in the area were Granville sunk in 1823, Church Gresley 1829, Stanton 1854, Bretby 1855, Gresley Wood 1856, Cadley Hill 1861, Netherseal 1872, Coton Park and Linton Colliery 1875. As the shallower seams dwindled towards the end of the century deeper shafts were sunk and more advanced methods of extraction used.
The Ashby canal which was opened in 1802, and its associated network of tramways played an important part in the development of mining and other industries such as the potteries. A number of toll roads passed through this area including the Swadlincote Railway which was a horse-drawn tramway that was opened in 1827. This was closely followed by Midlands Railway’s Burton – Leicester line in 1849 which had branches to Woodville and Swad. Eventually all the major collieries had access either by rail or canal, a prerequisite for transporting bulky goods cheaply and efficiently.
In 1947 the coal industry was nationalised with the formation of the National Coal Board. At that time there were eleven collieries on the South Derbys. Coalfield; eight in Derbyshire and three in Leicestershire employing over six and a half thousand men who mined 2.7 million tonnes of coal a year. This was to increase by one million tonnes when output peaked in 1964/5.
By the late 1960s coal production declined leaving a landscape scarred by industrial dereliction. By 1982 only four collieries remained in the coalfield, of these Donisthorpe was the main colliery, being connected underground to Measham, Oakthorpe & Rawdon. Donisthorpe was  still a significant employer until its closure in 1989 which, sadly for many communities, marked the end of deep coal mining in S. Derbyshire & N W Leicestershire.

Today, there are museums dedicated to mining history and groups, such as the South Derbyshire Mining Preservation Group, who preserve our mining heritage for future generations. Perhaps coal mining in South Derbyshire will never really be gone whilst there are those who can tell us about the times when.........

‘There were a mine ‘ere once me duck’.

Thanks to Landshapes for the brief history


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