Pit tips, sometimes termed ‘dirt hills’ or ‘dot hills’ (locally in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire) are today, typically designated as nature conservation areas. These features give the impression that Nottinghamshire is naturally hilly. The landscaped tip at Teversal is so tall that it stands as the highest point in the county and is popular with cyclists and walkers. However, only a few years ago, the local landscape was characterised by sprawling grey mountains made from pit ‘slurry’. Tipping methods in the past involved dumping waste from pit-tubs onto a single location which created conical tips.
As production increased due to mechanisation, tubs were superseded by aerial ropeways. Aerial ropeways were gradually phased out following the Aberfan disaster (1966) in which 116 children and 16 adults were killed in a coal heap landslide. Modern tipping methods involve giant ‘Euclid’ vehicles that scrape and distribute vast amounts of pit waste across a wide area offering better management and levelling of spoil heaps. Waste disposal poses an environmental problem for today’s working collieries, particularly in instances where the dirt to coal ratio (‘the vend’) is high.
The Newstead Colliery site processed waste from nearby Linby throughout the late-80s. The site, also the location of a vast marshalling yard for the Grand Central Railway is now returning to nature.
Adventure Playgrounds of the Past
In spite of the dangers of disappearing down bottomless pits, drowning or being burned to death in underground caverns of fiery quicksand, the pit tips represented an irresistible playground to local boys. Whenever we scaled the barbed-wire fence to play war-games in the forbidden zone, someone would inevitably lose their footing and go home ‘caked’ head-to-foot in grey slurry.
An inspired game conceived by my youngest brother and two of his school friends involved racing abandoned bicycles down the steep incline of the pit tips. My brother’s friends were ‘hefty’ lads who dwarfed the spindly bicycle frames and used big boots to brake their descent. Trundling noisily on bare wheel-rims, the bicycles careered down craggy slopes, kicking-up so much dust that visibility was reduced to inches. Pot holes were a constant threat because they could propel the rider head-first over the handlebars.
Hunting with dogs and air-rifles was another activity, sometimes practiced at night, assisted by battery belts and cap lamps. It was unwise to be on the tip after dark as you ran the risk of becoming a target. In 1982, a local arms race saw the introduction of more powerful weapons. Shotguns guaranteed more rabbit-stew but were so loud they couldn’t be fired close to the village. This issue was eventually resolved by attaching silencers made from stacks of metal washers. A lunar crater at base-camp provided a convenient rifle-range. It had a selection of targets, including; traffic cones, bottles, tin cans and camp-stove cylinders. Oil drums made the most noise but detergent bottles filled with red poster-paint were a popular choice, creating a blood-and-guts display worthy of any horror video.
TV vacuum-tubes were a cherished target as they could be floated on the grey lagoons. A steady aim would reward any capable marksman with an implosion that looked like the opening credits to Gerry Anderson’s TV puppet-show ‘Stingray’.