Coal mining history
There is nothing more poignant than seeing the bronze statue of a kneeling coal miner with a Davy lamp at Silverhill Woods in Ashfield. The sculpture on a rock plinth is at the centre of a beautiful view, and commemorates the coal mining work that happened at 85 collieries in Nottinghamshire. Similar to many regions across the country, coal mining has a rich and deep history in Ashfield. It didn’t just bring employment and new homes, but collieries also shaped the identity of the area. Many of the pits that shut down in Ashfield have become green spaces in the region, and the memories of the coal miners who worked in difficult and often dangerous conditions live on today.
Silverhill Wood, near the village of Teversal, is today a place for runners, hikers, and horse riders who enjoy the surfaced woodland trails and mix of open meadows, ponds, and broadleaf and conifer trees. This area was originally Silverhill Colliery that closed in the 1990s. The mine spoil heap that was once there is now a popular place to climb one of the highest points in Nottinghamshire. When at the top of the artificial hill of Silverhill, you can see panoramic views across five counties and sites including Lincoln Cathedral, Bolsover Castle, and Hardwick Hall. The sculpture of the coal miner, locally known as Dave, includes a list on the base of the major collieries in the county that existed from 1819 right up until the early 2000s. Silverhill Colliery, owned by the Stanton Ironworks Company, opened in 1875 and closed in 1993.
Watch videos about the making of the sculpture, called Testing for Gas, by artist Antony Dufort.
The Stanton Ironworks Company is likely to have given its name to the village of Stanton Hill, which was initially only a street in Skegby before it become a larger area. The company started sinking Silverhill Colliery in 1878, but prior to that it was sinking Teversal Colliery in 1867. Skegby Colliery, owned by the Dodsley family, was based in what is now known as Stanton Hill. It was renamed New Skegby Colliery and then Sutton Colliery, and the pit shafts were sunk in 1873. Miners from areas around Nottinghamshire including Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, and Shropshire moved to the area for work increasing the population of Skegby from 805 in 1869 to more than 3,000 in 1884. New housing was built on Cooperative Street, Institute Street, and Cross Row close to the Stanton Ironworks Company. The colliery was taken over by Blackwell Colliery Company, who also created housing in the Stanton Hill area, naming some streets after directors of the company.
Sutton Colliery explosion
A major explosion happened at Sutton Colliery on 21 February 1957 in the Low Main Seam. Five men died of their injuries, including a teenager, and 25 men suffered multiple burns. The explosion occurred due to a rock falling on a circuit box causing a spark to ignite gas within the pit. There are timber statues at Brierley Forest Park Visitors Centre representing the deaths of the miners who lost their lives that day. Those who died were J.W. Betts, 55, a colliery ripper; L. Reeves, 45, coal getter; J. Lemm, 35, a Shearer assistant; W. Savage, 29, a coal getter; and J. Godber, 16, a supplies hand.
Brierley Forest Park
Sutton Colliery was also known as Brierley Colliery, most likely due to the Staffordshire miners who moved from the Brierley Hill area. Today Sutton Colliery has become Brierley Forest Park that is a haven for wildlife offering nature walks through woodlands, wetlands and meadows. The park, which officially opened in 1994, has several reminders of the site’s coal mining past. These include the timber miner sculptures outside its visitor centre remembering those who lost their lives due to the explosion, a commemorative stone on Rooley Tops, and pit wheels along the main path to Brierley Waters. In the late 1970s, the old colliery spoil tips were regraded, partly re-soiled and grassed, although Sutton Colliery did not close until 1989. Demolition of buildings and capping of mine shafts was completed later, together with final land re-profiling and soiling. Ashfield District Council purchased the spoil heap and surrounding farmland to make Brierley Forest Park a gateway site within the Greenwood Community Forest.
New Hucknall Colliery
A new mine called New Hucknall Colliery in Huthwaite opened in 1877 and employed around 500 people, increasing the population of Hucknall village to more than 2,000 by 1881. This workforce went up to more than 1,300, but it was actually the manufacture of hosiery products that became the major industry in the region. New Hucknall Colliery closed with other mines in the area in the early 1980s. Today, Rookery Park is where New Hucknall Colliery was based, and it has become a popular green space with woodland, wetland and grassland. It has surfaced pathways for runners and walkers to follow from one end of the park to the other, and head up to the summit of the former pit tip with views as far as Crich Stand, in Derbyshire.
One of the busiest coal mines in the county was Bestwood Colliery, which is now where Bestwood Country Park is located today. Visitors can head to Bestwood Colliery Winding Engine House that is the last remaining part of the colliery. The winding engine, which dates back to 1876, lowered the workers into the mine shaft and also winched up coal to the surface. Originally powered by steam, visitors can now see it working with an electrical motor. You can also venture to Dynamo House, which was the former electrical sub-station serving the colliery.
The Bestwood Coal and Iron Company sunk the coal mine in 1875, and it became the first mine in the world to produce one million tons of coal over a 12-month period. During the First World War, Bestwood’s coal industry made it a target for zeppelin bombing raids. Bestwood Colliery came under state control during the Second World War, and with the establishment of the National Coal Board in 1947 the government then owned the pit. The deepest shaft at the mine was called Top Hard, and was nearly half a mile deep. The pit had a reputation as being the dirtiest one to work in out of those based on the north side of Nottingham. The colliery ran for another 20 years and in 1967 mining ended at Bestwood, with miners offered redundancy or reallocation to nearby pits at Gedling or Linby.
Annesley Colliery was first sunk in 1865, and the village of Annesley was a traditional mining area where many of the workers lived. Cricketer Harold Larwood worked at the colliery as a teenager, while Bill Voce played for the Annesley Colliery cricket team before both became famous bowlers and played for county and country. The colliery officially became the Annesley/Bentinck mine in 1988 and when the pit closed at the beginning of 2000, it was the oldest working colliery in Nottinghamshire.
Where to visit
Head to Silverhill Wood to see the old site of Silverhill Colliery and the sculpture of the coal miner dedicated to the miners of the county. Take a trip to Brierley Forest Park, in Sutton in Ashfield, where Sutton Colliery was based, or Rookery Park, in Huthwaite, where New Hucknall Colliery was located. A trip to Bestwood Country Park is a great way to learn about how collieries worked by venturing to Bestwood Colliery Winding Engine House and Dynamo House. Why not also visit the coal mining mural on Low Street, in Sutton in Ashfield town centre, which depicts Ashfield’s mining heritage.