April 2021

Bolsover – the Blackpool of the north midlands?

Though we don’t directly mention it in our VCH accounts of Bolsover there was a successful attempt by Bolsover Urban District Council (UDC) to hold its own illuminations in the town. This must have been a welcome diversion from the post-war gloom of the period. We cover this largely now forgotten event in this blog.

The Bolsover illuminations were a popular event and attracted many visitors to see them in the grounds of Sherwood Lodge. We’ll leave you to decide what this tableaux is about.

Bernard Haigh tells the story in his ‘More Bolsover remembered’ book. Apparently, the illuminations started by accident after the parks superintendent of the UDC, Arthur Lord, discovered some old cable that had been used to illuminate Bolsover Castle. In collaboration with Councillor Jack Spray (a talented cartoonist and shown at work in our second photograph), who drew some pixies, a couple of beds at Sherwood Lodge were illuminated.

By 1952 the illuminations were much bigger both in size and draw – all in the grounds of Sherwood Lodge. Between 1952 and 1957 almost half a million people had been attracted to see the spectacle. Visitors included a group of Blackpool’s own illumination organisers, who were suitably impressed. There was a final public appearance in 1973 at the Bolsover Festival.

The talented Councillor Jack Spray, an accomplished cartoonist, at work. We are not so sure that the subject would be appropriate today!

The illuminations featured a series of displays including fairy tales, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, Roundheads besieging Bolsover Castle, sporting and ghost scenes. The photographs here show a couple of examples. All our pictures here are courtesy of Bernard Haigh. There’s a further photograph on Picture the Past – https://picturethepast.org.uk/image-library/image-details/poster/ptpd004946/posterid/ptpd004946.html, dating from 1953.

Lest you might think that the UDC of the period was preoccupied with trivial things; as recorded in our VCH Bolsover books, by 1959 the UDC calculated it had built 89 houses on Oxcroft Lane, 272 on the Castle estate, four at Stanfree and 343 on the Moor Lane estate, all since 1945. But as a whole Bolsover was despoiled by the impact of industry – particularly coal mining and Coalite. As we state in ‘Bolsover, castle town and colliery’ , despite the UDC’s efforts the district appeared ‘grimy… its economy dependant on one industry’, which was, of course, coal.

In those years of the Bolsover illuminations a little light was no doubt shone into the lives of the those who attend the transformed Sherwood Lodge grounds.

A final look at one of the illuminated displays, which became increasingly complex. This is ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ .

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The price of coal

This blog takes a very brief look at the ‘price of coal’, particularly as highlighted through a simple postcard image of a 1938 of a Derbyshire well-dressing.

It’s an image of a Barlow well-dressing of 1938, bringing home the terrible price paid in the May 1938 Markham Colliery disaster, when 79 lives were lost after an underground explosion.  The previous year nine lives at had been lost in an explosion at the same colliery – our second photograph shows a line of hearses assembled on Ringwood Road at Brimington ready for the funerals of the some of the victims of that year’s disaster (courtesy the late Alan Wetton and Brimington and Tapton Local History Group).

This post card of a 1938 well-dressing at Barlow would have been a poignant reminder of the Markham colliery disaster of that year.
A sad scene at Ringwood Road, Brimington. Hearses wait to take part in the 1937 Markham Colliery disaster funerals.

Many local people will still remember the 1973 disaster, also at Markham colliery, after a critical component in the cage winding gear failed. The descending double deck cage carrying 29 men crashed on wooden baulks at the pit bottom with the result that 18 men died and the remaining 11 were seriously injured.

Victoria County History uses both contemporary newspaper reports and official publications to document these disasters in our history of local communities. But we don’t replace work done by local people to document the price of coal in their own communities.

There were, of course, other serious disasters in the coalfields throughout the country and more locally, including Creswell (1950 – 20 men killed) and Glapwell (1933 – 14 men killed). Particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries death and serious injury was an everyday occurrence in the coalfields.

At Markham, which finally closed in 1994, the new Markham Vale has grown up on the site of the old colliery. The three disasters and the lives lost at Markham are commemorated in a growing series of sculptures on a mining memorial trail (our final photographs). You can find out a lot more about this trail and the Markham disasters at https://markhamstorymine.org/

Memorial stone at Markham Vale.
Part of the ‘Walking Together’ mining memorial trail, commemorating the 1937, 1938 and 1973 Markham Colliery disasters.

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Newbold (Chesterfield) draft text now available

Newbold features in our latest draft text, uploaded to our Derbyshire Victoria County History Trust website. You can find this here.

Our two photographs are taken from the 1932 ‘Chesterfield Education. A record of four years of experiment and reconstruction’ book. This was published by a justifiably proud Chesterfield Corporation following reorganisation of the town’s schools.

Highfield Hall, then recently converted into an infant and junior school, taken around 1932.

Highfield Hall, then recently converted into an infant and junior school, features in the first photograph. The second shows a plaque which was originally fixed to the old Wheatsheaf inn on Newbold Road. When this old building was pulled down and replaced by the more recent Wheatsheaf the plaque was taken inside. Fortunately, it still survives, outside the recently built Cooperative store which has itself replaced the newer Wheatsheaf.

You can find out much more about Highfield Hall (from page 34) and other properties and estates in our draft text, but our education section is yet to come. We welcome comments by contacting us.

Draft text is very much work in progress. It’s written by our county editor, following research by him and our volunteer group. You can find out more about how our draft parish history text is structured here.

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Pilkington’s 1789 Chesterfield in a ‘very flourishing state’

These two pages from the Chesterfield section of James Pilkington’s ‘View of the present state of Derbyshire’ published in 1789, reveal another side to the town’s industry. Along with the perhaps expected ‘course earthenware’, iron smelting and casting activities, Pilkington mentions ‘a considerable number of shoes [are] made in the town for the London market.’ He also found that about 84 hands were employed producing carpets. By far the greatest manufacturing trade was in stockings, which was employing about 251 people. Overall, he found Chesterfield in a ‘very flourishing state’.

We make extensive use of 19th and 20th century trade directories and other contemporary publications in our work towards a new account of local communities. These are an excellent source of information for such issues such as industry, local governance, social history and others.

James Pilkington’s two volume ‘View of the present state of Derbyshire’ is just one source we use in VCH. Volume one contains a general survey of the county, including its geography and topography, mines and ores, medicinal waters and baths (then a lot more important then than now) and natural history. The second volume includes a survey of deaneries in the county, from which the extract here is reproduced.

In normal times you can consult Pilkington in some Derbyshire local studies Libraries.

Our volunteer Chesterfield research group has been pleased to make use of the excellent resources built up over many years in the local history section of the library at Chesterfield.

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Get involved

If you are interested in supporting our work, you are very welcome to join us here at the Derbyshire Victoria County History Trust.

The launch of our ‘Chesterfield Streets and Houses’ book was accompanied by a short talk and refreshments. Everyone who was a member of the Derbyshire VCH Trust at the time received a free copy of this book. At the launch in 2019 are the authors (L-R) our County Editor Philip Riden, Chris Leteve and Richard Sheppard.

We are currently concentrating our efforts on the Chesterfield area, having undertaken research which has been published on Bolsover and adjoining parishes.

You can find out more information on our activities at our website and by contacting us.

In normal times we run a weekly term-time research group in Chesterfield, which brings together a small friendly group of interested people under our County Editor Philip Riden. We also hold summer guided walks and usually hold an AGM, with a speaker on some topic of interest to those interested in the county’s history. Members of VCH also receive a free copy of our publications (but not back copies) and a periodic newsletter.

Our blogs and Facebook posts give some indication about the sources we use and the research we have undertaken. Membership of VCH is available from £5 a month, which automatically enters you into our monthly prize-draw. We are a registered charity.

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Don’t overlook those old company magazines

The Victoria County History makes use of a wide range of sources in our attempt at a new history of local communities. One of the forgotten aspects of Chesterfield’s claim to be the ‘Centre of Industrial England’ was the amount of in-house magazines produced by locally based companies for their employees. They can make an excellent source for both local, company and family history. Many are available in local studies libraries.

We feature just a few examples on this page. Our first is the front cover of January 1962’s Staveley News. Produced by the Staveley Iron & Chemical Company, the cover shows ‘…one of Staveley’s stockyards has as a background the neat block which houses Foundries laboratories and offices and the research department. Just behind are the roofs of foundry buildings…’

The second is Trebor Sharps’ Working Together, from Winter 1973. The front cover features Chesterfield’s ‘Maeve McGoaty at the hopper that feeds the wrap machine wrapping Trebor mints.’ In addition to the Chesterfield facility, at this time the Trebor group had factories at Woodford, Forest Gate, Maidstone and Stratford, their own printers (who printed the magazine) and overseas distributers. Their magazine covered all these locations.

The spring 1967 edition of Broad Oaks magazine (from Markham & Co., Chesterfield), featured the previous December’s Christmas party, an annual feature at many companies.

Broad Oaks was the magazine of the Markham & Co. Ltd., named after their engineering works at the bottom of Hady Hill. Like most other company magazines, it not only featured latest corporate news, but also such things like social events, sports and employee news. Our third extract is from the magazine of spring 1967. It’s a page showing the children’s Christmas party – an annual event at many companies during the period. We wouldn’t use this type of information in VCH, but it does seek to outline the ‘other things’ lost that the closure of large employers in the Chesterfield area and elsewhere has resulted in. Also lost were numerous sports-grounds and welfare facilities. The Staveley company and GKN were particularly noteworthy examples in the Chesterfield area of facilities that are no more.

In-house employee magazines can be an excellent source for tracing the development of local companies. For the family historian, many also contain photographs and other information on long-serving employees, even marriages and deaths. Take our final scan from the same January 1962 Staveley News. It features the retirement of three employees. One wonders if this photograph or the information in the article has survived or is available anywhere else?

January 1962’s Staveley News was not unusual in marking the retirement of long-serving employees. Leslie Brelsford, one of those featured here, was from a well-known Brimington family and went on to write a history of the Royal British Legion in Brimington.

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