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North Derbyshire’s Coalfield Railways – a short summary

Early history

The earliest scheme for a modern, locomotive operated railway in the north Derbyshire coalfield, proposed in 1832, was for a line running down the Erewash valley in the north-east of the county, to compete with canals linking the coalfield with Nottingham, Derby and the Trent. This was not built for some years but the wave of railway promotion in the mid-1830s included a line which ran north from Derby through the Derwent and Amber valleys, before tunnelling beneath the watershed to enter the Rother valley south of Chesterfield. From there it continued to Rotherham and Leeds. As soon as this North Midland Railway opened in 1840, branches were built to nearby pits. The modern history of mining in Clay Cross and neighbouring villages began.

The railway network around Bolsover at its greatest extent, about 1920. Stations are shown as dots. Note the number of line duplications. (The map above gives an indication of the extent of railways in the area. It does not show every branch or tunnel).

The Midland Railway

The Midland Railway was formed in 1844 by the amalgamation of the North Midland Railway, Midland Counties Railway and the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway. The Midland retained the advantage gained by being the first to serve the Derbyshire coalfield. A second line through the southern half of the coalfield, from Clay Cross through Alfreton and the Erewash valley (to join the Derby-Nottingham line at what became Trent junction), was opened in 1862, to which colliery branches were soon added. In the early 1870s, when interest grew in exploiting the deeper coal seems beneath the magnesian limestone to the east of Chesterfield, the company built a line between Mansfield and the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR) at Worksop. It was this line that enabled the Sheepbridge Company to open their colliery at Langwith. Without the prospect of collieries being sunk it was uneconomic for a railway company to consider a new line; without a railway it was impossible to open a colliery.

The Midland continued to build branches as mining east of Chesterfield expanded. A line from Staveley up the Doe Lea valley to Glapwell was later extended to join another Midland branch built from Westhouses (near Alfreton) through Pleasley to Mansfield. A second line from Staveley ran via Clowne to the Mansfield-Worksop branch at Creswell. Although these  lines had passenger services they existed mainly to carry coal. In some cases they also took miners to and from collieries where the men did not live locally.

From the 1923 ‘railway grouping’ the MR became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

In the 1890s three other companies tried to secure a share of the local coal trade, encouraged by colliery owners who disliked being dependant on a single carrier.

The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR)

The MSLR, as part of their scheme to build a new trunk route from south Yorkshire to London, opened a line between Beighton and Annesley. This ran parallel with the Midland as far as Staveley and then passed to the east of Chesterfield (which was served by what quickly became a loop from the main line) through Heath and Tibshelf to the Leen Valley, north of Annesley. Branches were put in to each colliery on the line, most of which were already served by the Midland.

The Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway

The other scheme of the 1890s was the independent Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway (LDECR). This was promoted largely by E.M. Bainbridge, the founder of the Bolsover Colliery Company. This line was intended to link the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coalfield with new docks on both the east and west coasts. In the event, the company built a line from Chesterfield to near Lincoln which provided an outlet for coal from the Bolsover area (and later the Dukeries coalfield) to the east coast ports in competition with the Great Central (as the MSLR was renamed after the opening of its line to Marylebone).  The LDECR was unable to survive as in independent concern. In 1907 it was absorbed into the Great Central – from the 1923 ‘railway grouping’ part of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).

The grandly named Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway reached neither the East Coast nor Lancashire. Passenger wise it was something of a ‘dead-duck’ but its eastern end was, at one time, an important route for coal traffic to the east coast and latterly to coal fired power stations.

There’s more about who we think designed the imposing Chesterfield Market Place Station buildings and other station buildings of the LDECR here.

The Great Northern Railway

The third company to penetrate the coalfield was the Great Northern, whose Leen valley line was extended in the late 1890s through Pleasley to Langwith Junction.

By 1914, therefore, both the older Derbyshire coalfield and the newer mining district on the magnesium limestone were served by a dense network of branches, mostly built by the two major railway companies of Britain, the Midland and the Great Central. At the grouping of railway companies in 1923 these became principal constituents of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) respectively. The Great Northern became a constituent of the LNER in 1923.

British Railways era

With some renationalisation, these company lines continued to serve the north Derbyshire coalfield for the reminder of its life, even after nationalisation in 1948 as a unified British Railways. Just as lines had been built to enable collieries to be sunk in the late 19th century, so the branches were abandoned from the 1960s as the pits closed. By then most passenger stations had long gone, early victims of the more flexible bus services introduced from 1920 onwards, while the small stations on the main lines also closed in the 1960s.

So too did the depots built to house locomotives that were used to carry coal from the pits to sidings on the main lines, where larger trains, hauled by some of the most powerful steam locomotives used in Britain, were made up every night to take coal to the power stations of the Trent valley or to the domestic markets of London and the Home Counties. Just as the end of mining in Derbyshire brought with it the end of a distinctive way of life for many communities, so (on a smaller scale) did the disappearance for the railway from places like Westhouses or Langwith Junction.

Forty years on some of these lines have been converted into footpaths (notably the Five Pits’ Trail around Tibshelf and North Wingfield) while others have disappeared as completely as the collieries they served.

The north Derbyshire coalfield area was difficult railway terrain, with many engineering works required and subsidence caused by colliery undertakings. One example was the 2,624 yards Bolsover Tunnel on the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway. This tunnelled under the town, but was troublesome with water ingress and deformation due to mineworking. Passenger services between Chesterfield
and Langwith Junction were discontinued early in December 1951 after maintenance became unsustainable. An attempt was made to infill it with colliery waste, as shown in this photograph, which appeared in Aveling-Barford News of April 1967. Note the centre supports. Thus illustration via the late Derek Grindell – who wrote and article on the LEDC and the filling-in of this tunnel which you can download below.

The demise of Bolsover Tunnel

Download the late Derek Grindell’s article on an attempt to fill in the LDECR’s Bolsover Tunnel by clicking on the button below.


Select list of the area’s railways station’s opening and closing dates

BOLSOVER (Great Central)

Opened:  8 March 1897 by the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway Company. Renamed BOLSOVER SOUTH by British Railways in 1950. Closed: 3 December 1951

BOLSOVER (Midland)

Opened: 1 September 1890. Closed: 28 July 1930. Reopened and renamed BOLSOVER CASTLE by British Rail 28 July 1977, used occasionally for excursion traffic. Closed: 1981

The former site of Bolsover (Midland) Station in April 1998. By this time the surviving platform had been removed. This albeit truncated line had survived for sometime as it was used northwards from here to supply the Coalite cooking works with coal. (The late Alec Jackson, courtesy Chesterfield & District Local History Society).

PALTERTON AND SUTTON (Midland)

Opened: 1 September 1890. Closed:  28 July 1930. GLAPWELL (Midland). Opened:  22 August 1892. Closed: 28 July 1930.

ROWTHORNE AND HARDWICK (Midland)

Opened: 1 September 1890. Closed: 28 July 1930.

SCARCLIFFE (Great Central)

Opened: 3 January 1898 by the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway Company. Closed: 3 December 1951

For further information see Butt, R.V.J. The Directory of Railway Stations (Sparkford, 1995).

Many lines in the north Derbyshire coal fields area had, in reality, a sparse passenger service. But special excursion traffic would have been a welcome feature. For example, fancy a trip along the part of the former Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway to Cleethorpes during the summer of 1933?

There’s more about railway stations in Chesterfield borough in our blog here.


Sources used in this account (except that in the last section) are fully referenced in our Derbyshire VCH Volume III Bolsover and Adjacent Parishes.

North Derbyshire’s Coalfield Railways – a short summary Read More »

Bolsover Colliery

Bolsover Colliery in 1989 – the year of its centenary. (From the centenary history of the mine produced in 1989).

Introduction

The modern history of coalmining in the district began with the sinking of Langwith colliery, just inside Scarcliffe parish, to the Top Hard seam in 1872–9, which led to the building of a new village at Whaley Thorns, close to the eastern boundary of Bolsover parish.

The surface layout at Bolsover Colliery in 1920 from the Ordnance Survey 1:2500 map. The road to centre left comes from Chesterfield – that to the right continues uphill toward Bolsover town centre.

Bolsover beginnings

John Plowright Houfton (1857-1929), general manager of the Bolsover Colliery Company.

For Bolsover itself a more important date was 1888, when Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge (1845–1911), previously a manager of collieries in the Sheffield area, acquired leases of the coal beneath the Portland estate at Creswell (in Elmton) and Bolsover. He proceeded to promote the Bolsover Colliery Co. Ltd, with J.P. Houfton as general manager. The company’s capital was fully subscribed by the beginning of 1890 and sinking began at Bolsover in June that year. The Top Hard coal was struck in September 1891 at a depth of 365 yards. A second colliery at Creswell was sunk in 1894–6 and in 1905 work began on a pit at Crown Farm in Mansfield Woodhouse (Notts.).

Bolsover colliery stood to the north of Chesterfield Road immediately east of the river Doe Lea, although spoil tips and an associated brickworks lay to the south of the main road. Further south again the company developed a model village, complete with schools, an institute and a co-operative store, built between 1891 and 1895, which became known as New Bolsover, and later executed a larger scheme of the same sort at Creswell.

By 1895 output at Bolsover colliery had reached 1,800 tons a day and the pit was employing about 850 men. In 1905 Bolsover was raising 2,850 tons of coal a day and the following year exported 300,000 tons from the pit.

The interwar period and beyond

By 1923 the Bolsover Company was producing 11,000 tons of coal a day. At Bolsover itself the extension of workings to the Waterloo and Deep Hard seams in the late 1920s, as well as the opening of the Coalite works next to the colliery in 1936, were seen as developments that would lengthen the life of the pit and provide for the `prosperity and contentment’ of the community for many years to come.

Unlike other concerns in the Derbyshire coalfield, the Bolsover Company remained generally profitable during the inter-war period and was able to modernise its older collieries as well as developing new ones in north Nottinghamshire. At Bolsover hand getting and haulage by ponies had given way to mechanised cutting and the use of electrically powered rope haulages by the early 1930s. On the surface pithead baths were opened in 1935. An aerial ropeway to carry spoil from the pithead to tips south of Chesterfield Road was installed in 1943.

In 1944 the company demonstrated a Meco-Moore power cutter-loader at Clipstone; after vesting, the Gloster Getter, developed by W.V. Sheppard, formerly of the Bolsover Company, almost doubled output per man-shift and made possible the development of continuous longwall mining at Bolsover. The technique pioneered at the colliery became known as the `Bolsover System’ and considerably reduced the cost of producing coal.

This staged image was taken from a 1952 safety booklet issued by the Bolsover area of the NCB. It might well have been taken at Bolsover. It shows a group of miners having taken retreat to safely during shot-firing – when explosives would be used to blast into a coal seam.

Bolsover colliery remained an important part of the coal industry in north Derbyshire for half a century after nationalisation, although by the mid 1950s, when the pit was producing 10,000 tons a week and employed 1,000 men, the more profitable and easily accessible seams had long been worked out. The headgear and winding engine at the original (No 1) shaft were removed in 1974; the winding engine at No. 2 shaft had been replaced by an electric winder in 1968; and in 1976 skip-winding was introduced at No. 3 shaft.

In the late 1970s the colliery still employed between 900 and 1,000 men, who in 1978 were said to be breaking all previous output records and picking up large bonuses. In this period half of the output of the colliery went to power stations, 30 per cent to carbonisation plants, and the rest to other industrial and domestic markets.

Decline and closure

A decline set in after the dispute of 1984–5: in 1987, when output was 650,000 tonnes, the number of employees had dropped to 750. Three years later only 600 men, including 150 contractors, were working at Bolsover. In August 1992 British Coal announced that more than 450 miners would lose their jobs the following spring when Bolsover was due to close. Ironically, early in 1993, the year in which coal was last turned at Bolsover, the remaining 350 men at Bolsover were said to be producing coal very cheaply and once again breaking output records.

After Bolsover colliery closed some of the surface buildings were adapted to create an industrial estate for small businesses.

In 1947 the former headquarters of the Bolsover Colliery Company, built on higher ground to the east of the pit became the NCB area office. The premises remained in use for this purpose until the contraction of British Coal in the late 1980s, when the former North Derbyshire Area was absorbed into a Midland Area with headquarters at Leicester. After the offices closed this site was also converted into units for small businesses.

Once one of the centres of the coal industry – this 1952 extract from a safety publication shows the collieries of then East Midlands Division, number 1 area, with its HQ at Bolsover.

Sources used in this account are fully referenced in our Derbyshire VCH Volume III Bolsover and Adjacent Parishes. Additionally we have used a National Coal Board safety publication produced in 1952. We would especially like to credit Bernard Haigh and his centenary history of the Bolsover Colliery, published by British Coal in 1989.

Bolsover Colliery Read More »

Coalite, Bolsover

Beginnings

In 1936 the Derbyshire Coalite Company Ltd, a subsidiary of Low Temperature Carbonisation Ltd, decided to erect a plant comprising eight batteries of retorts to make Coalite (an early form of smokeless fuel) on a site to the west of Bolsover colliery. The Bolsover company agreed to supply coal to the plant and was given the right to nominate two additional directors to the Coalite board. Two years later an associated company, the British Diesel Oil & Petrol Co. Ltd, opened an extensive chemical works on an adjacent site to refine the liquid products arising from the treatment of coal by the Coalite process.

Production at the plant began in November 1936 and the site was officially opened by the duke of Kent the following April. It was then using 500 tons of coal a day from Bolsover colliery, thus securing the jobs of 400 miners; 200 men were employed in the carbonisation plant and about 120 on the by-products side.

This 1970s map shows the extent of the works at this time. To the top side of the B6418 (Buttermilk Lane) is the chemicals complex. Below this, with the network of railway lines into it for import of coals and export of coke, is the carbonisation plant. (Ordnance Survey Sheet SK 47/57 – Revised: 1958 to 1971, Published: 1973. Courtesy National Library of Scotland). For a photographic overview of the operation visit the excellent Britain From Above website – you might like to start with the image here.

Full orders

In 1938 it was reported that both the government and local authorities had placed large orders for Coalite, and that the Bolsover plant was working at full capacity. A research laboratory had been opened at the works. In its early years the Bolsover plant also played a leading part in attempts to manufacture petrol and diesel road fuel and oil from coal: the refinery operated by the British Diesel Oil & Petrol Company was in full production in 1939 and working at maximum capacity the following year. The Coalite and by-products plant at Bolsover was then valued at £264,000 and the refinery at £180,000.

Low Temperature Carbonisation’s activities did not fall within the scope of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act of 1946, as the minister of fuel and power, Emanuel Shinwell, made clear when he visited the Bolsover plant in May that year. In 1948, however, the holding company was renamed Coalite & Chemical Products Ltd, which continued to operate the Bolsover site through two subsidiaries, Derbyshire Coalite Co. Ltd, responsible for the smokeless fuel plant, and the British Diesel Oil & Petrol Co. Ltd, which ran the distillation plant, refinery and chemical works. In 1952 the registered office for all three companies was moved from London to Bolsover.

A 1951 advertisement for Coalite.

The company prospered during the economic growth of the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1953 Coalite ceased to be rationed, although supplies of coal were disrupted that year because of the failure of the Deep Hard seam at Bolsover. In 1956 it was reported that the Coalite plant would shortly have 19 batteries of retorts in use and that there had been a corresponding extension to the chemical plant. When the Clean Air Act came into force the same year Coalite was made an `authorised fuel’ that could be burnt in domestic grates.

Change

In 1960–1 a new research centre for the company’s chemical and chemical engineering activities was built at Bolsover and in 1966 a new wing was added to the head office to house a computer. In addition to the Bolsover plant, where the refinery business was now being run by Coalite Oils & Chemical Ltd, the company was making Coalite at Askern, near Doncaster (Yorks.). In 1972 Coalite employed over 1,200 men in Bolsover.

In 1978 Coalite & Chemical Products was absorbed into Charrrington Industrial Holdings Ltd, whose activities were said to lie mainly in the distribution of solid and liquid fuels, although the group also owned the manufacturers of Dormobile camper vans and the Falklands Islands Company. Three years later what was now the Coalite Group PLC, chaired by Eric Varley, the former Labour Cabinet minister and NUM-sponsored MP for Chesterfield, reorganised its two operating companies into one, Coalite Fuels & Chemical Ltd, which took over the Coalite plants at Bolsover, Askern and Grimethorpe, and the refinery at Bolsover. The Askern plant was closed in 1986. Three years later Varley led an unsuccessful campaign against the takeover of Coalite by the Anglo-United group.

The chemical plant around the mid 1980s.

Run-down

Under Anglo-United the Bolsover plant began to contract. In 1991 26 jobs out of a total of 388 at the site were lost, the company pointing to a recession in the chemicals industry and in particular the reduced demand for agrochemicals. Anglo-United also sold the Falkland Islands Company that year, to provide funds for its mainstream activities in solid fuel manufacture, fuel distribution and chemicals.

Health and environmental issues

By the 1990s the owners of the Bolsover site were operating in a much more hostile environmental climate than a generation earlier. As early as 1973 the company’s doctor, a Bolsover GP, had defended conditions at the plant, claiming that cases of chloracne among workers and their families arising from the absorption of dioxins were due to men `not availing themselves of the high-grade personal hygiene facilities at the works’. In 1981 a county council tribunal investigating the long-term effects of an explosion at Bolsover in 1968 found dioxins in opencast coal and clay workings in various places in north-east Derbyshire, although once again the company’s doctor claimed that exposure to dioxins among workers at the plant had no significant long-term effect on their health, apart from persisting minor chloracne in some cases. An article in a trade magazine the same year pointed out that the 1968 explosion had killed one man and left 79 others with severe chloracne. It also drew attention to buried dioxins at Carr Vale and Stretton, where a former clay pit was owned by Cambro Waste Products, one of whose directors was then chairman of Coalite.

Although a report commissioned by the district council in 1989 concluded that most pollution in Bolsover was caused by domestic fireplaces, and another two years later by HM Inspectorate of Pollution was inconclusive, by 1992 the county council was demanding an inquiry into the plant and the National Rivers Authority was taking the company to the Crown Court over dioxin levels in the river Doe Lea near the works said to be 1,000 times higher than normal. MAFF was also concerned at dioxin levels in milk, eggs, meat and herbage around Bolsover, and in 1992 the National Union of Farmers planned to sue Coalite on behalf of three of its members who had been banned from selling their produce for eighteen months after their land had been found to be contaminated.

In 1993 the company opened a new incinerator at Bolsover but continued to be pursued by both Greenpeace and HMIP. In 1995–6 Coalite Chemicals Ltd pleaded guilty to charges brought by the Inspectorate and were fined £150,000 with £300,000 costs; the judge commented that he had taken into account the fact that the company had incurred a great deal of odium locally, probably out of all proportion to the actual risks created by the events leading to the prosecution.

Letter heading from the mid 1980s, incorporating the once-familiar Coalite cross. During this period the group comprised a surprisingly diverse portfolio including the Falkland Islands Company.

Final phase

The long struggle between environmental concerns and a wish to retain industrial jobs in a district from which most had disappeared entered its final phase after the turn of the century.

In January 2000 Coalite Smokeless Fuels (the trading name of Coalite Products Ltd) announced the loss of 62 manual and eight office jobs from a workforce of 350, blaming the mild winter and investment in new plant. A year later the Environment Agency issued an enforcement notice against the company after several hundred gallons of coal oil were released onto neighbouring land. When the plant changed hands in 2002 the new owners announced a reduction in the output of solid fuel and investment in oil production and a tyre-recycling plant. The company went into administration in 2003, the administrators blaming `unresolved difficulties’ with the Environment Agency over the recycling plant, despite the investment of over £4 million since the change in ownership, and pointing out that nearly 200 jobs were at risk. Although the county council approved plans to extend the tyre recycling operation and oil production the administrators failed to find a buyer and in June 2003 announced the loss of a further 70 jobs at the chemical plant in addition to the 82 lost from the smokeless fuel plant two months earlier.

Coalite Products Ltd appointed receivers in April 2004, who in September that year, having also failed to find a buyer for the company, closed the Bolsover site.

Regeneration

After remaining partially derelict the coking and chemical site has been decontaminated and regenerated, particularly over the last few years. During this work the once-familiar coal-tar ‘Coalite’ smell appeared again, perhaps for one last time. At one stage housing was suggested for part of the site, but since the early 2020s most of it is being progressively built on for industrial and warehousing use, after remnants of the former activity were cleared. Both the chemical and coking plant site is now being marketed as ‘Horizon 29‘.

What it was once all about – the carbonisation of coal into the work’s top selling product. A mid 1980s sales leaflet.

Sources used in this account (except that in the last section) are fully referenced in our Derbyshire VCH Volume III Bolsover and Adjacent Parishes.

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Successful Wingerworth book launch – report

This book is now available at Waterstones in Chesterfield or direct from the Trust using the link here – Derbyshire VCH Trust (google.com) (opens in a new window). It retails at £20. It is another in our series of interim VCH ‘spin-off’ books.

The book’s author – David Edwards – is pictured left with series and county editor Philip Riden, right.

The book is the third produced by the Derbyshire Victoria County History Trust in a series of interim studies of Chesterfield and its adjoining communities. It is by far the most detailed account of Wingerworth yet published. The author – David Edwards – has been a resident of the parish since the 1960s and has long taken a keen scholarly interest in its history. Of just over 200 pages, in A4 hard-back format, it is fully indexed, with copious references and over 40 illustrations and maps. To find out more about the book, take a look at our recent post here.

The book’s launch included a well-attended free talk given by Philip Riden, in the parish church, which gave an overview of both the book and of Wingerworth’s history.
After the talk refreshments were served and book sales held in the Church Centre.
Our thanks to members of the congregation at Wingerworth parish Church for facilitating the launch event. We presented them with a copy of Dr Edward’s book at the launch event. The parish churchwarden is seen here, far right, receiving the book, together with Dr Edwards and Philip Riden.
The event also included a chance to see, first hand, this commemorative mug made by Pearsons of Whittington Moor. It was produced by Philip Hunloke in 1906. This side shows Wingerworth Hall, the other side has Major Hunloke’s crest, initials and date on it. This image is taken from the book.

Many thanks to our team of volunteers who helped organise the launch event, serve refreshments and sell books. A big thank you to those who attended.

Successful Wingerworth book launch – report Read More »

Wingerworth book – details about our new publication

Front cover of our new Wingerworth book.

The launch

Our latest Victoria County History (VCH) ‘spin-off’ book – ‘A History of Wingerworth’ by David Edwards – was launched at Wingerworth Parish Church on Friday 1 March 2024. There was a free talk by our county editor Philip Riden, in the church, followed by refreshments and book sales in the adjacent Church Centre.

The book

The book is the third produced by the Derbyshire Victoria County History Trust in a series of interim studies of Chesterfield and its adjoining communities. It is by far the most detailed account of Wingerworth yet published. The author – David Edwards – has been a resident of the parish since the 1960s and has long taken a keen scholarly interest in its history. Of just over 200 pages, in A4 hard-back format, it is fully indexed, with copious references and over 40 illustrations and maps. It retails at £20. The book should appeal to both local residents and anyone with a serious interest in Derbyshire history.

How to obtain the book

It is available at Waterstones in Chesterfield and by on-line ordering from the Trust at this link – Derbyshire VCH Trust (google.com) (opens in a new window).

Dr David Edwards (left) with series and county editor Philip Riden, in the Church Centre, Wingerworth following the successful launch of our latest VCH ‘spin-off’ book on the parish. There are some more pictures of the launch even in our post here.

Wingerworth

Until modern changes Wingerworth was a township and chapelry forming the southernmost part of the ancient parish of Chesterfield, extending from the River Rother in the east to the edge of East Moors at Stone Edge in the west, and from Birdholme Brook in the north to Tricket Brook in the south. It was a thinly populated area, in which most of the land belonged to either the Hunloke family of Wingerworth Hall or the succession of families which owned Stubbing Court in the west of the township.

Although mainly a farming community, Wingerworth also has a long history of small-scale ironsmelting, coalmining and stone quarrying. In 1920 the Hunloke estate was broken up by sale. The Hall (pictured on the book’s cover) was demolished a few years later and some new housing was built.

After the Second World War Wingerworth saw very extensive residential development, which transformed both the landscape and the community. In addition, in the 1950s one of Europe’s largest coke-making plants was built alongside the railway at the eastern edge of the parish, which closed at the turn of the century and the site cleared and remediated.

Sample pages from the book

The book presents the story of Wingerworth in VCH standard chapter headings.
Two examples of the just over 40-odd plates and maps in the book.
Extract from a map of the parish boundary.
Extract from a map of the parish boundary.
The first page of an introduction to the parish. All sources are thoroughly referenced at the foot of each page.
A sample page – looking at coal mining in Wingerworth.
Part of the very comprehensive index – this page relates to Wingerworth itself.

Of the other two ‘spin-off’ books we have published our book on Hasland is out of print, but ‘Chesterfield Streets and Houses’ remains available. Please see our publications page for further details.

This post was last edited on 2 March 2024 when it was updated following the book’s launch.

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Spital Leper Hospital, Chesterfield: a short history

The leper hospital, dedicated to St Leonard, from which the modern suburb takes its name, is first mentioned in 1195. Historically it was just outside the old borough of Chesterfield, in the large parish of Hasland.

After the Dissolution, the site and buildings were granted to George 6th earl of Shrewsbury, the lord of the manor of Chesterfield between 1560 and 1590, and its lands were merged into the manorial estate.

An extract from our Hasland book, showing the approximate site of the Leper hospital dedicated to St Leonard, which was first mentioned in 1195.

Where was the hospital?

William Senior’s survey of 1633 marks a large farmstead named Spittle, with a house on one side of a quadrangular range of buildings, on the north side of the main road from Chesterfield to Bolsover at the foot of Hady Hill, opposite the end of Spital Lane. This tenement is assumed to stand on the site of the hospital, although it is possible that the hospital was moved early in its life.

A deed probably dating from the end of the reign of Henry III (1216–72) conveys 2½ acres of land and a ‘holme’ (probably meaning an island) at Reynolf’s bridge, where the old hospital formerly was. The tenement known as Spittle in fact stood very close to Spital Bridge, on the main road leading east out of Chesterfield, which seems likely to be the bridge referred to in the deed. If so, what exactly the reference to the ‘old hospital’ means, or how far it moved, is unclear.

Few other properties at what became the settlement known as Spital are denoted on William Senior’s survey of Chesterfield (1633). Apart from the Spittle and the house opposite, the only other settlement marked by Senior in this area was a tenement named ‘Bell’s House’, at the top of Hady Hill.

Around 1850 the sister of local businessmen and worthy TP Wood sketched a 17th century built stone house near the junction of Hady Hill and Spital Lane. It was supposed, almost certainly incorrectly, to occupy the site of the medieval leper hospital. Instead, it probably showed a house near the hospital site known as Spitalfield. This house stood within the area acquired in 1857 for the building of Spital Cemetery and was demolished to make way for the lodge. The inference made by Wood may be responsible for Ordnance Survey maps denoting the site of the leper hospital in this area – whereas it was more likely to have been on the opposite side of Hady Hill, although Spitalfield house and the land on which it stood may have been part of the former hospital estate.

The leper hospital priest found buried in the garden of 16 Hady Hill was reinterred near to the entrance gatehouse at Spital Cemetery in 2001.

A priest’s burial

Adding to the available leper hospital site evidence was the discovery of a skeleton in the grounds of number 16 Hady Hill in 2000. It was thought that the person buried may well have been a priest at the hospital. He was buried in a ‘composite stone coffin’ with a paten and a chalice.

During excavations, evidence was found of a wall, thought likely to have been part of the southern wall of a chapel. Consequently, was thought that the priest, aged about 50, may have been buried inside a chapel to the hospital.

The priest was buried some time between the late 12th and the early 13th century. The bones were subsequently reinterred in Spital Cemetery – the site is marked by a simple head-stone, situated near to the gatehouse, illustrated in this blog.

Rumours

There have been stories of timbers reclaimed from the hospital and used elsewhere. This was presumably enhanced by TP Wood recording in his Alamac for 1903 a tradition that oak beams from the Spittle farmstead had been removed and incorporated into a barn at Dobbin Clough Farm.

Now and again the perhaps age-old rumours of secret tunnels from the hospital (and indeed from elsewhere) to the parish church reoccur. The phenomenon of secret passageways is not confined to Chesterfield. These can be dismissed as rubbish – despite extensive building and more recently properly undertaken archaeological excavations – no evidence for these tunnels has been found.

A sketch of around 1850 by TP Wood’s sister Eliza of a 17th-century stone-built house which stood near the junction of Hady Hill and Spital Lane. It has been wrongly said to occupy the site of the medieval leper hospital, probably leading to the Ordnance Survey mis-identifying the hospital as being on the south side of the bottom of Hady Hill. In fact it is probably the property known as Spitalfield.  This image was published in TP Wood’s Almanac for 1903.
By the time of this 1898 25-inch to 1 mile Ordnance Survey map the site of ‘St Leonard’s hospital’ had been, wrongly, identified as being on the south side of Hady Hill. (Derbyshire sheet XXV.6, published: 1898. Courtesy https://maps.nls.uk/).

A more detailed history?

Front cover the excavation report published following discovery of a priest’s skeleton and remains of the leper hospital chapel in the garden of number 16 Hady Hill. A copy will be available for reference in Chesterfield Local Studies Library.  The skeleton was subsequently reinterred in Spital Cemetery. The report was published before an analysis of the skeleton determined that the most likely burial date was between the late 12th and the early 13th centuries.

For a fully referenced and detailed history we would refer you to the account in our History of Hasland book, but briefly the leper hospital was originally endowed by King John, when he was count of Mortain between 1189 and 1199 (during the reign of his brother, King Richard I), with the dues from the markets and fairs of the borough. In 1195 this was replaced by a rent charge of £6 on the manor of Chesterfield. In the first year of his reign John granted protection to the lepers of Chesterfield; in 1206 the income due to the hospital from the manor was £6 10s.; and in 1207 the king confirmed to the ‘Blessed Leonard and to the infirm of Chesterfield’ the rent charge granted a decade earlier.

Other early references include 1225 when the Crown gave 5 marks for the infirm of Chesterfield. In the same year a Gilbert was named as chaplain of the infirmary at Chesterfield. Three years later the king granted two oaks from the royal forest at Carburt on (Nottinghamshire) for the repair of the chapel at the hospital, and in 1230 assigned 6 acres of pasture in Peak Forest to St Leonard’s.

The hospital was one of a number of houses in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire which in 1246 received a gift of pigs from the stock at Nottingham castle. A grant of protection of 1276 to ‘the hospital of St Nicholas’ appears to be a simple error; there was no other hospital in Chesterfield and the house at Spital is consistently said to be dedicated to St Leonard. In 1291 its annual value was given as £6 13s. 4d. The appointment of the hospital’s master was vested in the lord of the manor. Thereafter there are a string of references to the hospital, all alluded to in our Hasland book. Including an ownership dispute in 1531 between George Talbot, 4th earl of Shrewsbury as part of an exchange of estates between Shrewsbury and the countess Salisbury. This dispute was still in progress in 1535.

After it was dissolved the hospital and its lands passed to the Crown. The estate was sold in 1588 and was later absorbed into the manorial estate.

As has been alluded to above, details on when the hospital buildings were actually demolished are not available.

Sources for this blog

‘History of Hasland …’ Derbyshire VCH/Merton (2022) – which is fully referenced.

Annsofie Witkin ‘Excavation and analysis of a skeleton from Hady Hill, Chesterfield, November 2000’, ARCUS/Chesterfield Museum (2000).

Monument record MDR5343 – St Leonard’s Hospital (site of), Chesterfield [0n-line].

Our Hasland book is now out-of-print, but you will find copies in Chesterfield Local Studies Library.

We edited this blog on 14 January 2024, to remove confusing references to possible burial of the priest in the 14th or 15th centuries – which were contained in the original Witkin (2000) report cited above.

ENDS

Spital Leper Hospital, Chesterfield: a short history Read More »

Wingerworth book on its way

This book, the third produced by the Derbyshire Victoria County History Trust in a series of interim studies of Chesterfield and its adjoining communities, is by far the most detailed account of Wingerworth yet published. The author – David Edwards – has been a resident of the parish since the 1960s and has long taken a keen scholarly interest in its history.

The front cover of our Wingerwoth book features a plate of the long demolished Hall.

Until modern changes Wingerworth was a township and chapelry forming the southernmost part of the ancient parish of Chesterfield, extending from the River Rother in the east to the edge of East Moors at Stone Edge in the west, and from Birdholme Brook in the north to Tricket Brook in the south. It was a thinly populated area, in which most of the land belonged to either the Hunloke family of Wingerworth Hall or the succession of families which owned Stubbing Court in the west of the township.

Although mainly a farming community, Wingerworth also has a long history of small-scale ironsmelting, coalmining and stone quarrying. In 1920 the Hunloke estate was broken up by sale. The Hall (pictured on the book’s cover) was demolished a few years later and some new housing was built.

After the Second World War Wingerworth saw very extensive residential development, which transformed both the landscape and the community. In addition, in the 1950s one of Europe’s largest coke-making plants was built alongside the railway at the eastern edge of the parish, which closed at the turn of the century and the site cleared and remediated.

The book should appeal to both local residents and anyone with a serious interest in Derbyshire history. We have included a few extracts in this blog. The chapters follow standard VCH format – landownership, economic history, social history, religious history and local government – painting an authorative picture of Wingerworth through the ages.

Of just over 200 pages, in A4 hard-backed format, it is fully indexed, with copious references and over 40 illustrations and maps. It is expected to retail at £20. There will be a launch event – details to follow.

An extract from the book’s chapter on ‘Social history’, which includes a look at the history of education in the parish.
All our spin-off books are fully indexed as this short extract from the forthcoming Wingerworth book shows.
This is a extract from the index which specifically deals with Wingerworth subjects.

Of the other two ‘spin-off’ books we have published our book on Hasland is out of print, but Chesterfield Streets and Houses remains available. Please see our publications page for further details.

Wingerworth book on its way Read More »

Christmas and new year seasonal greetings

We can’t bring you snow in this year’s Christmas photograph, but we thought we would at least bring you a Christmas bus, even although it’s a little bit un-VCH!

Our 2023 Christmas offering is this photograph of a seasonally decorated Chesterfield bus taken sometime during the November 1981 to January 1982 period. (Collection P Cousins).

Our picture tells a story

The bus is pictured at the top of Ashgate Road, heading into the town. This Chesterfield Borough Council Transport Department Leyland Panther (fleet number 89), was first registered in early 1968.  Seating 49 passengers, like most ‘modern’ buses in the Chesterfield fleet, they featured dual doors – one for entry and a separate one for exit.

Behind the bus, to the left, is the Friends Meeting House. This replaced their Saltergate building which had opened in 1697. The latter was demolished in the early 1970s and is now covered by the Saltergate multi-storey car park – there’s a plaque marking its site – a sad loss.

Specially decorated Christmas buses used to be a feature of the Chesterfield concern and other operators across the country. They haven’t disappeared either. Chances are that if you live in the Chesterfield vicinity you may see Stagecoach’s Christmas bus.

Finally, a quick example of inflation. At the beginning of the 1980s, on the route pictured, a ride from Chesterfield town centre to Walton Top Road would cost 14 pence!

Chesterfield Transport

Chesterfield’s municipal transport undertaking grew out of the council’s purchase of a horse-drawn tram line in 1897. The line was first established in 1882 by a private company, but the company had to be reconstituted a few years afterwards. Electric trams were operated from December 1904, with an extension opened a month later. Motorbuses first ran in 1914, but the trams went in 1927 being replaced by electrically powered trolley buses, but they only lasted until March 1938.

In those days having a well run and equipped municipal transport undertaking, with its own distinctive livery and perhaps even a unique interior upholstery seat pattern, was seen as an important contributor to municipal pride.

The ability of a council to run services meant that it could pursue a deliberate policy of providing stimulus to industry, commerce and leisure, through its network of bus services – including special services to local industrial concerns coordinated with shift patterns. This was a policy adopted by many councils up and down the country regardless of their political control. But it did mean that rate-payers would have to directly subsidise any losses and local councils could be quite protective of their operating territory. For example, it could be difficult for private operators to drop off and pick-up passengers in town centres.

Like most other council owned bus operators, the Chesterfield undertaking saw changes in the 1980s. This was as a result of the relaxation (privatisation) in the bus transport industry. In 1986 an ‘arms length company’ from the council was formed, with an employee buy-out following in 1990. The new company, however, over-reached itself and met with lots of competition. It was taken over by Stagecoach plc in 1995, reportedly only days away from collapse.

So, one might say that at least one major player in Chesterfield’s public transport network went from private enterprise, through to municipal enterprise and back again into the private sector. This is echoed by the fate of the area’s other major operator – East Midland Motor Services, though its period of public ownership was latterly with the National Bus Company. It too is now owned by Stagecoach plc.

Our plans for 2024

We are excited about 2024, as this should see the publication of our next VCH spin-off series – on Wingerworth. We will be bringing you news about this in the coming months and preview some of its content. The book is primarily written by local historian David Edwards – a familiar figure in Wingerworth and district. More about this important new book in 2024.

Our best wishes

We hope that you have enjoyed our posts during 2023. We will be returning in the new year with some more.

Wherever you are this season we hope you have a lovely time and wish you all the best for 2024.

Christmas and new year seasonal greetings Read More »

Spital Mills History – part 3

This is the final part of our history of Spital Mills, Hasland. It covers the period after tobacco manufacturing ceased at the mill, bringing the story right up-to-date.

Today the old mill premises are mainly used as a storage facility. the original building is to the bottom of this photograph, taken in October 2023, looking down the mill yard from Spital Lane.
An advertisement in the Derbyshire Times 26 February 1937 for sale of liquidated stock at Spital Mills

After Mason’s tobacco manufacturing business closed in the early years of the 20th century, Spital Mills were taken over by A.D. Gray, who with a partner, established a cabinet making business there, trading as A.D. Gray & Lewis Ltd. In 1916 the company bought the freehold of the works.

Although the company was said in 1935 to be thriving, it went into voluntary liquidation early in 1937, when 40 bedroom suites were sold by auction. Later that year there was a two-day catalogue sale of the premises, the whole of the woodworking machinery, a gas engine, two electric motors, a large number of tools, 27,000 ft of oak and other plain timber and 40,000 ft of walnut, mahogany, oak, sycamore and other veneers.

Spital Mills were acquired in 1937 by the Woodseats Joinery Company, which in 1949 was purchased by Frederick Wale. He had, in 1912, served an apprenticeship at Gray & Lewis.

In the 1950s the business moved away from joinery to the manufacture and sale of tiled fireplaces and was renamed the Spital Tile Surround Company. The name was shortened to Spital Tile Co. Ltd when the business began to supply ceramic wall tiles.

Frederick Wale died in 1964, when the company passed to his son Ian. In his hands, the business diversified into the supply of plumbing and heating materials, ironmongery and tools to the trade, while still selling tiles.

The frontage to Spital Lane in October 2023. The large extension to the left dates from 1981 and was latterly used as a bathroom and kitchen showroom. It is currently used as the premises of a dance studio.

In 1981 the company built a 5,500 sq. ft showroom on Spital Lane, in front of the mill, to promote the retail sale of bathrooms, kitchens and other products. The sale of gas fires and fireplaces was resumed in the 1990s, when Ian Wale was joined as directors by his daughters Victoria and Elizabeth.

A 1981 advertisement for Spital Distributors. (Taken from a Derbyshire Times special supplement on Chesterfield).

The business closed in 2019. The former mill building was taken over by a storage company and the show room became a gym and dance centre. Both continue to this day.

Between 1954 and 1963 part of Spital Mills were occupied by the Midland Light Pattern Co., which moved to Chesterfield from Annesley Woodhouse (Notts.) in the former year, and from Spital Mills to a new factory at Calow in the latter year.

The mill erected by Holmes & Smith back in the 1840s, today survives substantially unaltered. The main building is of brick, of three-storeys beneath a hipped slate roof. An extension at first-floor level over part of the yard provided additional rooms, which in the 1930s were used as offices. There were other outbuildings adjoining and originally a boiler house with tall chimney and engine-house at one end of the mill, which had been demolished by 1937.

The mill stood within easy reach of the Midland Railway goods yard and later that of the Great Central Railway, but was never rail connected.

Our other parts of the story of Spital Mills can be found as below:

This text is a slightly edited version of that appearing in our ‘History of Hasland …’ book, which is now of print, but you can find copies in Chesterfield Local Studies Library. All sources are fully referenced in our book.

On 13 January 2024 we amended the original post to include a 1981 advertisement for Spital Distributors.

Spital Mills History – part 3 Read More »

Spital Mills History – part 2

This is part two of our history of ‘Spital Mills’ – more recently known as the premises of Spital Tile. This time we look at the mill as a centre of tobacco manufacturing.

Spital Mill as pictured in the c. 1899 ‘An illustrated guide to Chesterfield’. By this this it is occupied by Mason’s tobacco factory.

In the early 19th century George Mason, born at Cutthorpe (in Brampton) in about 1794, was a tobacco manufacturer in Chesterfield, with premises at 45–47 and 49–51 Low Pavement (either side of Wheeldon Lane). Here he had a works powered by a horse-gin, making cigars and twist tobacco. He was employing six men in 1851.

Mason died in 1854, leaving personal estate of £4,000, when the business, henceforth known as George Mason & Son, passed to his second son Edwin, born about 1829. He was living with his wife and family in Mason’s Yard, behind Low Pavement, in 1861, when he had 15 men, ten girls and two boys working for him.

A few years later, as the business grew rapidly, Mason moved to the former lace mill on Spital Lane – our Spital Mills and bought Spital House as a residence. By 1871 he had 116 employees at the tobacco works.

Edwin Mason died in 1887, leaving personal estate of £44,030. He was the sole owner of George Mason & Son, which was described as one of the largest tobacco manufacturers in England. He concentrated on business rather than engaging in public affairs, and was ‘retiring and unambitious’. In the 1880s the company was said to employ more young women than any other concern in the town.

One of a short series of half-page advertisements in the Derbyshire Courier – this one from the edition of 28 June 1887.

Edwin’s two sons, Oscar Edwin and Charles Leonard, succeeded to the business just as tastes were changing and the demand for twist tobacco was falling. They tried to move into cigarette making, advertising repeatedly over two years in 1892–4 for ‘up to 40 respectable young girls’ to learn the ‘clean and light work’ involved. They also, immediately after their father’s death, rather extravagantly took a half page advertisement in the Derbyshire Courier for several weeks to promote the company. Their final undoing was the creation of a tobacco combine by the larger British firms, in an attempt to meet American competition. Masons were not included and found their old markets closed to them.

Advertisement in the Derbyshire Times, 6 February 1892.

Another reason for the decline of what was clearly a very successful company in their father’s day appears to be loss of interest on the part of his sons. Oscar initially lived at Spital House but, after the estate was sold to the Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway in the early 1890s, moved to Dunston Hall  (in Newbold), where in 1901 he was employing a governess and eight servants, several more than his father ever had.

Oscar remained at Dunston Hall until he died, aged only 45, in 1903, when he left a modest £1,283. An obituary made no reference to his business career, but described him as an enthusiastic sportsman.

Oscar died after returning home early from a race meeting at Doncaster; he and his family were then staying at Bridlington (Yorks.). Many years later it was said that he had  ‘always been largely interested in racing and sport’. His widow Mary Ann died at Frimley (Surrey) in 1936.

The business came to an end soon after Oscar died. In 1901 both he and his brother Charles, who was then living with his family, a governess and three servants in a house in The Crescent, Scarborough (Yorks.), gave their occupation as tobacco manufacturer, but Charles was a ‘late tobacco manufacturer’ in 1911, when the family were living in rooms in Cheltenham (Gloucs.) with no servants.

Charles later lived at various places on the South Coast and died at Portsmouth (Hants.) in 1935, leaving personal estate of just £20.24.

This brings to a close the tobacco manufacturing story of Spital Mills – but there is more to come in our next post.

The full entry for the tobacco factory from the c. 1899 book ‘An illustrated guide to Chesterfield’.

Part one of our history of Spital Mills can be found here.

The next and final part of our history can be found here.

This text is a slightly edited version of that appearing in our ‘History of Hasland …’ book, which is now of print, but you can find copies in Chesterfield Local Studies Library. All sources are fully referenced in our book.

Spital Mills History – part 2 Read More »