Coalite, Bolsover


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.


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.


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.


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.

Coalite, Bolsover 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 ( (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.


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.

Wingerworth book – details about our new publication 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 »

Feet of Fines to be published

Our sister organisation – the Derbyshire Record Society (DRS) – is shortly to publish ‘Derbyshire Feet of Fines 1196-1325’. We preview this publication here.

This book completes the publication of the late Harold Garratt’s calendar of feet of fines recording the conveyance of estates in Derbyshire from their commencement in the reign of Richard I down to the end of Henry VIII’s reign. An earlier volume (XI, 1985) contained the fines for the county
executed between 1324 and 1547.

This second volume replaces and extends the unindexed calendar published in instalments in the Derbyshire Archaeological Journal between 1885 and 1895.

What are feet of fines?

Feet of fines are among the best known and most heavily used sources for medieval genealogy and the descent of landed estates. They provide a wealth of information, going back to a period from which few estate muniments survive. Above all, they are precisely dated from their commencement, which most private deeds are not before the end of the thirteenth century. With the appearance of this volume, Derbyshire finally joins the list of counties for which all the medieval fines are available in print in a reliable calendar in English, fully indexed by person, place and subject.

The book will immediately become (and remain) a standard work of reference for historians interested in medieval Derbyshire, and for genealogists tracing the origins of families in the county

Further information

The book will be published at the DRS AGM on 23 September 2023. Priced at £25 for members, it is available to non-members at £35 (plus postage). The DRS website will shortly have an on-line order form available, but you can also email their treasurer at

Feet of Fines to be published Read More »

Who was the architect of Chesterfield Market Place Station

Our county editor (Philip Riden) has been investigating a long-running mystery of who designed the now demolished Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast railway station at Chesterfield Market Place. In this blog we take a look at this work and reveal who we think was the architect.

The Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway

The Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway (LD&ECR) famously never reached either of its intended destinations and had an independent existence of barely ten years. It’s one of those oddities of railway history which has attracted antiquarian attention out of all proportion to its modest economic importance.

Nothing, however, seems to have been written about one aspect of its history: the identity of the architect of the stations on the line between its western terminus at Chesterfield ending at a junction with the Great North & Great Eastern Joint line near Lincoln.

Chesterfield’s Market Place railway station. Next door, to the left, is the Portland Hotel. The station building was a sad loss when it was demolished in the early 1970s. We now know that Cole Alfred Adams was probably the architect. (Collection P Cousins).

The station design

The station at Chesterfield, which stood on the south side of West Bars at the west end of the town’s large Market Place, was in a class of its own: an imposing three-storey building, with a front range facing the street and two wings flanking the platforms behind, executed in red brick with stone dressings and slate roofs. It was in a vaguely Dutch baroque style. The upper floors served as the company’s offices. Chesterfield station was opened in March 1897

Reported in detail – but no architect mentioned

The opening event was reported in detail in local newspapers. The LD & ECR has also been the covered in some detail in around six different volumes. But neither the newspaper reports in the books mention an architect. There’s also some copies of the Market Place Station plans in Chesterfield Local Studies Library – but no architect’s name is on them.

Not the Portland Hotel’s architect

The Portland Hotel was next door to the LD & ECR station. Opened in 1899 it was designed by the Sheffield architect James Ragg Wigfull (1864–1936), who did other work for Stones brewery, mainly in the city. It remains open today. Wigfull was not, however, the railway company’s architect.

The station’s designer discovered – Cole Alfred Adams

The best clue so far found as to who designed both Chesterfield station and the semi-standard design used for the other stations on the line comes from an incidental aspect of the building of the railway, in the National Archives at Kew.

Because of the late date of its construction, the LD & ECR was subject to the Act requiring railway companies which demolished working-class housing for their line to build a corresponding number of new dwellings.

In Chesterfield the company’s line curved away to the  east from the station at Chesterfield, through a heavily congested area of slum housing behind the buildings on Low Pavement on the south side of the Market Place. The architect for the rehousing scheme which the company had to execute was Cole Alfred Adams. He practised mainly in London and did not work (as far as is known) for any other railways.

Who was Cole Adams?

Adams was born at Sudbury in Suffolk, where he was baptised on 13 September 1844. He was the son of William Cole Adams, a wine and spirit merchant, who died young.

In 1851 Cole was noted in the census as one of six children in a household headed by his widowed mother, Eliza Jane Adams, aged 33. The household also included a governess and three servants.

Ten years later, aged 16, Cole was working as a clerk in London and lodging at 12 Clapham Road, Lambeth. By 1871 he had trained as an architect. The census of that year has him staying at Downton Lodge, the home of a retired Army officer and his family, in the Hampshire village of Hordle, near Lymington.

Cole Adams appears to have worked in Bournemouth for part of the 1870s, where he was in partnership with Henry Peter Horner. He then appears in a number of towns and latterly in London and is associated with a number of building designs. He married, aged 44, in 1889 and appears to have done quite well for himself, but died in February 1909, aged 64. At this time the family were living at 13 Glazbury Road in West Kensington.

It’s also likely that Adam’s designed the other, now mainly demolished, distinctive LD & ECR stations – including this lucky survivor at Edwinstowe. (Gerald Lovelock).

Adam’s work for The LD & ECR

Adam’s work for the LD&ECR fell into the last phase of his career, when he had an office in Victoria and a substantial home in West London.

In April 1896 the directors of the railway agreed to pay him professional fees of £578 in connection with their Chesterfield rehousing scheme. This was calculated as 5 per cent on the contract price, which was £11,560.

Although firm evidence has yet to be found (we’re still looking for more evidence), it seems almost certain that, if Adams undertook the rather mundane work of preparing drawings for working-class cottages for the LD & ECR, he must also have been commissioned to design the stations (and possibly other buildings) on the line.

It’s the 28 November 1965 and Chesterfield Market Hall is having the top from its clock tower removed. Our interest here, though, is the Chesterfield Market Place railway station frontage to the right – then in use as a paint and wallpaper warehouse. Sadly the building was demolished in 1973. (The late Chris Hollis – collection Philip Cousins).

How did Adams come to work for the LD & ECR?

How did a London architect with a practice which seems to have been mainly confined to the Home Counties come to be engaged by a small independent railway company in the East Midlands?

The answer appears to be a fairly distant family connection. The LD  &ECR’s solicitor in its early years was Dixon Henry Davies, originally from London. In 1891 he was living at a house named Longlands, on Slack Lane in Brampton. Davies was in practice in partnership with C.S. Busby.

Davies later married, at St John’s parish church in Clapham, Alice Constance Westmacott, the daughter of J.S. Westmacott. It was a connection through the Westmacott family that made Cole Adams and Alice Davies cousins. This in turn appears to have led Mrs Davies’s husband to suggest to the directors of the Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway that Adams should be engaged to design the stations on the new line.

Handsome buildings at a cost

The result of Adam’s engagement with the LED & ECR may have been a group of handsome buildings, especially the one at Chesterfield. However, the decision to build on the scale the company did may have been another (admittedly probably small) contribution to the financial problems which dogged the company from the start. These ultimately and led to its early demise as an independent concern.

Sadly, because of the demolition of Market Place station in Chesterfield in 1973 and the disappearance of most if not all the smaller stations, there is today little or nothing to see of Adams’s work for the company.

Work is still on-going on the Adams’ story, with a fuller account in preparation.

Attempts made to identify the architect of the Market Place railway station have been prompted by the awarding a of grant to Chesterfield and District Civic Society from the East Midlands Railway community fund. This is to fund a plaque to commemorate the Portland Hotel and the former adjacent railway station.

There’s more about the history of Chesterfield’s railway stations in our blog here.

Who was the architect of Chesterfield Market Place Station Read More »

Who wrote Ford’s ‘History of Chesterfield’?

In this blog we’ll take a look at Ford and his 1839 history of Chesterfield. Did he really write it and what became of him?

Ford’s history

Title page of Ford’s 1839 book.

Ford’s 1839 published ‘History of Chesterfield’ is a well-known book (at least amongst local historians).  Of some 504 pages, it is still a valid and quoted source of Chesterfield’s history. It also contains some now well-known illustrations of the town and its buildings. Indeed, until the 1974 and onward volumes of the Borough Council’s sponsored history of Chesterfield series, instigated by the late John Bestall, perhaps little of any great consequence on the town’s history had been published since Ford.

For convenience, and for the most part, we’ll still refer to the 1839 history as Ford’s in this blog.

Though we haven’t been able to positively identify Ford’s Irongate premises, we think that the most likely candidate is the four-storey building to the centre of this photograph – now without a shop window.

Figaro in Chesterfield

Before the 1839 History of Chesterfield book Thomas Ford was possibly best known as the printer and publisher of ‘Figaro in Chesterfield’, in the early 1830s. This was published from Ford’s then offices in New Square.

Figaro… was a mixture of newspaper and pamphlet, but spent most of its time in what could be scathing attacks on its enemies, of which there were seemingly many. It was described by Pendleton and Jacques in their ‘Old and new Chesterfield’ book (of 1903) as a ‘very scathing publication, trouncing friend as well as foe… If exercised now “Figaro” would have been chin high in writs for libel’.

The 1839 history

The 1839 History of Chesterfield that Ford published was nominally a revised second edition of the Rev George Hall’s history of 1823, which compromised just over 140 pages. Hall’s history was printed by Thomas Ford’s father – John Ford (d. 1830, aged 68).

On announcing the project, Thomas Ford, who had followed in father as a printer, but also a bookseller and stationer, by then based in Irongate, received favourable support. Ford had originally intended to republish Hall’s history in parts, with additional information, but went much further and included new illustrations. He started publishing the edition, in 21 parts, from March 1837 until early 1839. In the spring of the latter year, they were drawn together in a book described as ‘newly published’. A cloth and board edition of the complete history cost 20 shillings.

In May 1839 the plates were made separately available for framing. They were ascribed to the names C [Charles] and W [William] Radclyffe. They were son and father of an originally Birmingham based business.

Who wrote the history?

For some years it’s been believed that Ford didn’t actually write the history, though he may obviously have contributed to it. Ford is not named as the author on the book’s title page.

Illustrated on page 278 of Ford’s history is this ‘ancient seal’ found at Broad Oaks. Ford was able to include a plate of it following an appeal he made in the Derbyshire Courier newspaper back in February 1838.

It appears that historical material in this book was mostly (if not entirely) written by Robert Wallace, Unitarian minister, who had succeeded George Kendrick (1814-1815) and before Kendrick a Thomas Astley (1773 – 1813). This assertion first seems to appear in the Derbyshire Courier newspaper in 1877. A history of Elder Yard Unitarian Chapel, published in 1967, also claims Wallace wrote the majority of the book.

Like Ford, Wallace is not credited as author on the title-page either. Why this is so remains a mystery – perhaps both Ford and Wallace agreed that the source material gathering and authorship (possibly shared) were of a level that did not warrant one or either being acknowledged. We will probably never know.  But the book is now well-known as ‘Ford’s History of Chesterfield’. Ford would have known Wallace as he was presumably a worshipper at Elder Yard Unitarian Chapel.

That doesn’t mean to say that Ford was not interested in collecting material for the book or didn’t contribute. For example, he wrote a letter to the Derbyshire Courier in February 1838 inquiring about the potential loan to him of a copy of the Gentleman’s Magazine, describing a seal found near ‘the Broad Oak’ in about 1798. If one refers to the Ford history this seal is actually illustrated – albeit not from the Gentleman’s magazine. (The illustration is taken from a casting made at the time it was found ‘by the Rev Richard Astley, of Shrewsbury’. This is not the Astley who proceeded Robert Wallace as minister at the Elder Yard Chapel, but could be related).

Ford’s history gave us a useful collection of plates, including this of the Elder Yard Unitarian Church, where Ford would have presumably worshipped, guided by the minster there, the Rev Robert Wallace, who is regarded as the chief author and editor of the book.

Wallace had arrived in Chesterfield from Manchester College, York in September 1815. During his time as minister (until 1840) at the Elder Yard Chapel he made many improvements there.

Ford’s completed history was published in two editions. Pages were sized at 8 ½ by 5 ½ inches, with a larger edition sized at approximately 10 ½ by around 8 ½ inches – though the same printing blocks and plates were used in both editions. It’s not known how many of each edition were published, or the print-run of the parts.

Ford and his father were well-known in Chesterfield as stationers, printers and booksellers. As we have discussed, Thomas had published ‘Figaro in Chesterfield’, from his then office at New Square, during the early 1830s.

Thomas Ford sold the printing business, by then at Irongate in the Shambles, at auction, in early March 1841. By June 1841 C Gallimore is advertising his takeover of the former Ford business at the shop in Irongate. The Gallimore enterprise actually consisted of brothers, who were Quakers and also printers. Their father was a well-known auctioneer. Both Ford and the Gallimores also sold patent medicines. The Gallimores were selling up in Jun 1864. They were followed into the building by another Chesterfield printer – John Edward Roberts – who was there in August 1867.

Ford’s printing business was for sale in March 1841, as advertised in the Derbyshire Courier, 20 February 1841. Note the reference to the history of Chesterfield.

In 1872 an RJ Smithson (also a printer) is trading from Ford’s and Gallimores’ old shop. Later, in October 1881, the premises were described as ‘desolate’. In June 1886, it was advertised as to let, complete with five large rooms above the shop, ‘formerly occupied by Messrs Gallimore’.

Hard times

Thomas Ford was living in London by the 1851 census with his wife, daughter and two sons. His residence contained a total of 15 people. He died in London on the 28 November 1859, aged 58.  He had been pursuing his former business – in 1854 he is noted as publishing books and pamphlets from his premises in Gloucester Street, Queen Square.

We don’t know why he moved to London and exactly when – but further research may reveal this. He had apparently fallen on somewhat hard-times before his death. An unfitting end to someone who had contributed, at the least with Robert Wallace, and certainly printed, what is still regarded as an important source for the history of Chesterfield.

Ford left the district and later fell on hard times as witness this appeal, made just a few months before his death, in the Derbyshire Times of 24 September 1859.


We’ve used the following sources in this post:

  • Non-conformist and non-parochial registers – Elder Yard Chapel (TNA RG4/516).
  • Derbyshire Courier 21 January 1837, 4 March 1837, 17 February 1838, 16 February 1839, 16 March 1839, 25 May 1839, 20 February and 5 June 1841, 27 August 1853, 3 June 1854, 10 December 1859, 24 September 1859, 20 February 1841, 10 January 1874 and 13 January 1877, 15 September 1881, 22 June 1886.
  • Derbyshire Times, 18 June 1864, 17 and 28 September 1867, 21 December 1872.
  • Vallance and Robinson, The history of Elder Yard Chapel, Chesterfield (1967)
  • Pendleton and Jacques, Modern Chesterfield, 1903
  • Pendleton (‘Tatler’), Old and new Chesterfield (1882)
  • Ford History of Chesterfield (1839).
The Derbyshire Courier was prepared to speculate who had written ‘Ford’s’ history in its edition of 13 January 1877, following a query by one of its readers (above). But in 1881 John Pendleton in his ‘Old and new Chesterfield’ book was still referring to the history as Ford’s.

This account was edited on 15 May 2023 to include new information on the possible site of Ford’s Irongate shop. Our thanks to Janet Murphy for this information.

Who wrote Ford’s ‘History of Chesterfield’? Read More »

An early attempt at steel-making in Chesterfield?

Research at The National Archives in London by our county editor has revealed a possible attempt to make steel in Chesterfield in the period around 1600.  We’ll take a brief look at this potentially important discovery in this blog.

The Leakes and the Foljambes

Hidden away in what are called Star Chamber depositions (witness statements taken as part of legal proceedings) taken in 1608 is a reference to what seems to have been an experimental iron mill. The case centred on whether the mill was in Walton or Brampton. At this date Walton manor was held by the Foljambes, and Brampton held by the Leakes of Sutton.  The River Hipper formed the boundary between the two. The Foljambes and Leakes were the two leading gentry families in the Chesterfield area in the sixteenth century and it was not unknown for violence to occur where they disagreed!

The last head of the direct male line of the Foljambe family, Godfrey Foljambe, died in 1598, leaving a young widow, Isabel, who married Sir William Bowes of County Durham. There was already an ‘iron mill’ powered by the Hipper on the Foljambe estate, but Bowes claimed in the court case that he had spent £300 building another one.

An experiment in steel making

Witnesses in the Star Chamber case gave conflicting accounts of a dispute between servants of Sir William Bowes and Sir Francis Leake in September 1605, but both sides described the new works as a mill to make ‘steel and iron’. This is an unusual phrase for this date, added to which Bowes is said to have kept the works locked, suggesting that he was experimenting with a new process there. Attempts to make steel were just getting underway around the start of the seventeenth century, in the Sheffield area as elsewhere, and it is possible the Bowes was trying to make steel at the mill on the Hipper, using iron smelted at another iron mill higher up the river. The experiments probably came to an end when Bowes died in 1611, if not before.

This ground-breaking illustration, which appeared in Philip Robinson’s 1957 book ‘The Smiths of Chesterfield’, attempted to reconstruct the area around the Griffin Foundry in the period around 1788. The surviving Cannon Mill is to the right of centre, behind the smoking chimney. It was in this vicinity that much earlier attempts may have been made to produce steel.
The location

In his deposition Bowes stated that when he gained control of the Foljambe estate through his marriage to Isabel there were already six corn mills, one lead mill and one iron mill on the Hipper in Walton. The first of these figures refers to the number of mill stones, rather than separate buildings, but it is clear that the river was already being intensively exploited by industry in the late sixteenth century.

Bowes’s new works stood on a piece of ground called Upper Whitting Holme, which in the 1770s became the site of Ebenezer Smith’s Griffin Ironworks and Francis Thompson’s engine-building forge. The only surviving built from either enterprise is Cannon Mill, built by the Smiths apparently for boring cannon during the Napoleonic War, which ended in 1815. The date 1816 on a cast-iron plaque on the building commemorates its use during the war, not when it was built.

The mills on the river in the early seventeenth century are marked on a map of the Foljambe estate in Walton surveyed in 1622. This marks the mill built by Sir William Bowes downstream from the corn mill, iron mill and lead mill. The corn mill remained in use until modern times and the storage pond which supplied water to this and other mills survives as Walton Dam off Walton Road. One of the other mill sites was later taken over by Hewitt’s cotton mill, which also survives and is one of the very few late eighteenth-century fire-resistant textile mills still standing anywhere in England.

Research on the history of the Foljambe estate at Walton in the early seventeenth century, for which the main source are the voluminous records of litigation in Star Chamber and other courts, is continuing and it is possible that more will be discovered about what Sir William Bowes was trying to do at the iron mill on the Hipper.

An early attempt at steel-making in Chesterfield? Read More »

Stainsby school in the news – but what is its history?

The former Stainsby board school, November 2021.

The former board school at Stainsby is in the news at the moment as the National Trust seeks to sell the property. But what is its history? In this blog we’ll take a brief look.

Our Hardwick: a great house and its estate paperback, published in 2009 (out of print but available in local libraries), outlines the history of education in the Hardwick area.  In the 1860s the 7th Duke of Devonshire erected a new school and a house for the master at Stainsby on the site of the medieval manor house there. This replaced a building at the edge of Hardwick park, which became a private residence.

This wooden building in the school yard is current leased to a community organisation.

In 1893 a school board was formed for Ault Hucknall, Glapwell and Heath. This took over the duke’s schools at Heath, Stainsby and Rowthorne (along with a school at Doe Lea belonging to the Hallowes estate). All four were Church of England school and a Church school at Hardstoft continued on a voluntary basis.

In 1895 the school at Stainsby was pulled down and a new and larger building erected by the school board. Hardstoft school was rebuilt in 1894, Doe Lea four years later.

In 1903 county councils took over former board schools. What contribution had been made to local schools by the Hardwick estate fell away. The county council built some new schools in the area, following the development of colliery villages, such as Holmewood and later Bramley Vale. Most of the pupils at Stainsby came from the farming villages near Hardwick Hall.

Stainsby school closed following the opening of a new secondary school at Heath in 1960. This took older children from the former all-age school at Holmewood (perversely called ‘Heath School’, although few children from Heath attended), which became a primary school. The school at Stainsby became redundant and was closed. 

The school sits on the top of the medieval manor house’s site. The area is a scheduled ancient monument.

The building at Stainsby then became what we describe in our book as ‘an imaginative, if short-lived venture’ as a youth music and drama centre. The first warden was a former actor who lived in the headmaster’s house. The Stainsby Arts Centre served schools throughout north-east Derbyshire in the 1960s and early 1970s. From it grew the Stainsby Festival of folk music, which started in 1969 and has long outlived the arts centre.

Now the National Trust is, somewhat controversially, selling the former Stainsby school building by auction. The school board leased the land on which the school was built from the 8th duke of Devonshire. The freehold therefore passed to the National Trust with the rest of the Hardwick estate in 1958, after it was accepted by HM Treasury in lieu of death duties payable following the death of the 10th duke in 1950.

Ault Hucknall Parish Council and a consortium of community groups are trying to purchase the property, but may be outbid in the auction, which ends on 16 November 2021.

The Stainsby Festival used the old school site, but in 1974 a lessee of the school property did not want the festival. It then moved to nearby Brunt’s Farm. This programme from the 1976 event reveals that weekend tickets to the festival were then £3.00 each. Artists included Broadside, John Goodluck and Threefold. There were also workshops.
Visitors to the site will find of parts of it adorned with bunting, a banner and notices protesting at the National Trust’s decision to sell the property and urging potential bidders not to bid against the community‘s bid for the property.

Stainsby school in the news – but what is its history? Read More »

Bolsover Colliery

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


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 »

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 ( (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 »

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.


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

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.


Spital Leper Hospital, Chesterfield: a short history 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 »

Spital Mills History – part 1

In this blog we start reviewing the history of ‘Spital Mills’ – more recently known as the premises of Spital Tile – which started out as a steam-powered lace mill, probably in the 1840s. Today it’s a dance studio with most of the former mill building used for storage.

Spital Mills in its later guise as a tobacco manufactory – which we’ll be exploring in our next part in this series of blogs.

A large, brick-built, steam-powered mill on the right bank of the Rother near the northern end of Spital Lane was probably erected by Thomas Holmes and Francis Algernon Sidney Smith, who in 1849 were the owners and occupiers, trading in partnership as Holmes & Smith, machine builders and lace manufacturers. Holmes appears previously to have been in partnership with Thomas Johnson, in a firm named Johnson & Holmes, which made gingham in a workshop in Castle Yard, behind the Castle Inn at 41 Low Pavement. He was living at Spital Lodge in 1841 and ten years later at The Terrace on Saltergate, when he gave his occupation as gingham manufacturer. Gingham is lightweight plain-woven cotton cloth. The firm of Holmes & Smith continued into the 1850s, but on 1 January 1858 the partnership was dissolved and the business taken over by John Drabble (1834–1908) and William Edwin Dutton (1821–63), a master draper with a shop on Lordsmill Street.

By 1862 the works had evidently been divided between two firms, Drabble & Dutton, lace manufacturers, and Drabble, Dutton & Parker, gingham makers. The third partner was Richard Parker, a draper on Low Pavement. In 1860 Dutton was the defendant in an action brought by Richard Holland, a mechanic from Preston (Lancs.), who unsuccessfully claimed that he was owed money for obtaining, building and installing improved gingham looms of his own invention at Spital. Both partnerships would have come to an end  with Dutton’s death in his early forties in June 1863.

In 1864 John Drabble applied for a patent for improvements in the manufacture of bobbin net, made on bobbin net or twist lace machines. The lace-making  side was given up when the rising price of raw material made the business unprofitable and the machinery was removed to the factory of Messrs Jacoby of Nottingham. A few years later gingham making also came to an end and Spital Mills (as the premises were always known, although there was only one mill building) became a tobacco manufacturing works.

In 1861, when he still had the lace-making business at Spital, Drabble was living in Nottingham. He later occupied the mill behind Lordsmill Street, on Hipper Street, which had once been a twist factory, and made gingham there, although in 1871–81 he described himself as a cotton doubler. He was then living at Herne House (in Calow).

Drabble was a member of Chesterfield corporation between 1871 and 1879, and mayor in 1877. In the 1891 census, by which date he had moved to Stanley Street in Spital, Drabble was enumerated as a commission agent and merchant, and ten years later as a timber merchant. He died at Spital in 1908, leaving personal estate of only £58.28.

We’ll be covering the later history these premises in future blogs, looking in particular at its short history as a tobacco manufactory under George Mason.

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

The third and final part of our history of Spital Mills 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 1 Read More »