Figure 1: Pye Hill Colliery Sunset, August 1985. Photo Credit – SLHP Archive.
Salistune Sunset: The End of Coal Mining in a Nottinghamshire Parish.
Closure of Pye Hill Complex thirty-five years on.
Deep coalmining in the parish of Selston, Nottinghamshire, came to an end thirty-five years ago on 9th August 1985 when production finished at the Pye Hill complex. The name Selston was derived from the Old Saxon word, Salistune, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Selston parish is situated eleven miles north-west of the city of Nottingham, in the Ashfield region and bordering the county of Derbyshire.
The Pye Hill complex was the last deep coal mining on the old exposed coalfield on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire borders. Locally it is referred to as the ‘outcrop’ and the earliest records of coal mining there date from the early fourteenth century at Cossall near Ilkeston. The Carthusian Order of monks at nearby Beauvale Priory had a vested interest in coal mining until the dissolution of the Monasteries. The whole area around Underwood and Jacksdale is littered with old coal workings.
Figure 2: 1739 updated map (1805) showing vested coal interests on the exposed coalfield on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border. Photo Credit – A R Griffin.
In 1968 the Pye Hill complex was a merger of Selston Colliery, Underwood, and nearby Pye Hill colliery at Jacksdale, with the Underwood end being for production purposes i.e. access to the coalfaces and developments and Pye Hill for the surface drift, coal preparation plant and dispatching of the coal by rail to the Trent Valley power stations.
Figure 3: Pye Hill No.1 Colliery formerly Selston (Underwood) Colliery. Photo Credit – SLHP Archive.
Selston Colliery – Underwood (1875-1985)
Selston (Underwood) was originally an 1875 upgrading of an older shaft by the Barber Walker Co as a coal winding shaft to the Deep Soft seam with a new winding engine being installed in 1880. It merged with nearby Brinsley Colliery, with the Selston shaft being the downcast and Brinsley’s twin shafts the upcast. In the novel ‘Sons and Lovers’ by DH Lawrence, Selston was called Selby Colliery. Arthur Lawrence, father of the controversial Eastwood author, was employed as a Butty (Contractor) at Brinsley Colliery.
NCB Days at Selston (Underwood).
The colliery operated as a separate unit as part of the Barber Walker Co until nationalisation in 1947 when it became part of the National Coal Board East Midlands Division No. 5 Area. In the reorganisation of 1967 it went into the newly formed NCB South Nottinghamshire Area and in the early 1970’s was renamed Pye Hill No.1 Colliery as part of the Pye Hill complex, becoming the administrative base for the Complex. Miners and materials travelled the Underwood shaft with coal being diverted underground to surface at Pye Hill Colliery.
Figure 4: Pye Hill No. 2 Colliery, Jacksdale, during the last week of production in early August 1985. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner
Pye Hill Colliery (1874 – 1985).
Pye Hill Colliery was an 1874 sinking by James Oakes Ltd of Riddings, right on the Derbyshire / Nottinghamshire border, in an area littered with old coal workings. Technically, it was a development of three individual older pits sunk by different mining companies. Originally called ‘New Silkstone’, it was renamed Pye Hill Colliery in 1894. The nearby coal mining community of Jacksdale grew around the colliery, the older coal mining community of Westwood was nearby. In 1892 James Oakes developed New Selston Colliery which linked up underground with Pye Hill colliery. New Selston Colliery was known locally as ‘The Bull Pit’ after the Bull and Butcher public house situated next to it. New Selston Colliery closed in 1956 when it was merged with Pye Hill Colliery.
NCB Days at Pye Hill
Like Selston (Underwood) Colliery, Pye Hill went into the NCB East Midlands Division No. 5 Area at nationalisation. Within a few years, the separate collieries of Pye Hill, New Selston and Selston (Underwood) along with nearby Moorgreen at Eastwood, began to be streamlined both in terms of mining and coal surfacing arrangements. In 1967 a 789 metre surface drift was completed at Pye Hill as part of the arrangements for the Pye Hill Complex (Fig 5). In the late 1960’s the remaining reserves in the Blackshale seam were redistributed between the Pye Hill complex and Moorgreen. Pye Hill colliery was renamed Pye Hill No.2 and became responsible for the Surface Drift, Coal Preparation Plant and dispatching of coal by rail and lorry.
Figure 5: Construction of Surface Drift at Pye Hill Colliery 1966/67. Photo Credit – Coal Authority
The Pye Hill Complex was regarded as being one of the most productive and efficient collieries in the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area. In the 1970’s it led the way with many new mining innovations including chainless haulage on the coal face by use of a tooth rack instead of a haulage chain. A mini face only 45 metres long with only one access gate was pioneered in 1983.
Figure 6: Coming off the cage at Pye Hill No.1 on the final day of production on 9th August 1985. Photo Credit – SLHP Archive.
End of an Era
Closure of the Pye Hill Complex.
Coal production finished on 9th August 1985 with the last coal being produced from the Blackshale seam. Originally called the Silkstone seam, it had been mined continuously at Pye Hill since 1894. The Piper seam was worked from 1979 until June 1985.
Closure had been agreed between the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area and the Nottinghamshire Area of the NUM in 1983 and from that time a steady rundown of the manpower occurred with men over 50 taking advantage of the enhanced redundancy terms under the Redundant Mineworkers Pension Scheme (RMPS) and younger miners under 50 transferring to other Nottinghamshire collieries.
Figure 7: Sussex police on picket duty at Pye Hill Colliery on 28th March 1984. Photo Credit – SLHP Archive.
Pye Hill Colliery and the 1984-85 Miners Strike
A great irony during the 1984-85 Miners Strike was that the name of Pye Hill No.1 NUM Branch, at a colliery which was due to close, instigated the legal action which resulted in the strike being declared unofficial in the Nottinghamshire Area of the NUM. Colin Clarke, NUM Branch Delegate at Pye Hill No. 1 Branch, initiated the legal action and was later involved in setting up the Notts and National Working Miners Committees with John Liptrott. In the Nottingham NUM Area Strike Ballot on 15th / 16th March 1984, the combined Pye Hill Branches voted 648 (82%) to 139 (18%) against striking.
End of Deep Coal Mining on the Outcrop
It was the ‘End of an Era’ being the last deep coal mining on the ‘outcrop’, the original western part of the Nottinghamshire coalfield where deep coal mining had taken place since medieval times. Like at nearby Moorgreen, there was a strong ‘Derbyshire influence’ with the dialect and make-up of the workforce. The Pye Hill Complex was the last deep coal mining in the former NCB East Midlands No.5 Area, originally made up of twenty-one collieries at ‘Vesting Day’, eleven in Derbyshire and ten in Nottinghamshire. Following the closure of Ormonde Colliery in 1970, the last Derbyshire colliery in the region, only Moorgreen and the Pye Hill Complex remained.
Figure 8: Pye Hill Colliery commemorative plate 1985. Photo Credit – SLHP Archive.
A Commemorative Plate, a Closure Booklet, and a Dedication Service
From the post 1984-85 strike period through to the early 1990’s, commemorative pit plates were popular, particularly as collieries rapidly closed throughout British coalfields. One was produced for the Pye Hill complex following its closure (Fig. 8)
Figure 9: Pye Hill Colliery closure booklet 1985. Part of MuBu Miner collection.
Also to commemorate the closure of the Pye Hill complex, a special commemorative booklet was produced by the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area giving a potted history of the joint collieries and coal mining in the region. Copies were distributed to the workforce as a memento.
A ‘dedication service’ to mark the end of deep coal mining in the parish of Selston was held at St Michaels and Angels Church, Underwood, on 28th September 1985. Special guests were Albert Wheeler, newly appointed Director of the merged NCB Nottinghamshire Area, Jim Hewitson (Industrial Relations Officer – NCB Nottinghamshire Area) and the Rt. Rev R. Darby (Bishop of Southwell).
Figure 10: Smotherfly Opencast coalmine in 1996. Photo Credit – SLHP Archive.
Although deep coal mining ended on the old exposed coalfield, opencast mining known locally as ‘outcropping’ continued in the Erewash Valley on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border. The Pye Hill colliery site, along with the adjacent sites of the closed Oakes Pipe Yard and Kempston’s Acid Works, were outcropped in the 1990’s leaving no traces of the former industrial sites. The opencast site was called Smotherfly and worked from 1993 to 1998. (Fig. 10).
Pye Hill Mining Memorials
Three mining memorials represent Pye Hill Colliery in the world of coal mining heritage, one at Underwood, one at Jacksdale and surprisingly one at Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire.
Figure 11: Underwood Mining Memorial in April 2020. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner.
Underwood Mining Memorial.
The Underwood memorial (Fig. 11) is situated in the church yard of St Michaels and All Angels Church and was unveiled at the dedication service held there on 28th September 1985.
Figure 12: Pye Hill Mining Memorial, Jacksdale, early August 2020. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner
Pye Hill Colliery Memorial
The coalmining heritage of the Pye Hill area is represented by a replica half headstock wheel situated in the former coal mining village of Jacksdale, near to the site of the war memorial whose soldier was reinstated in a special community event in 2009.
Figure 13: The preserved Pye Hill clock at Stoke on Trent. Photo Credit – SLHP Archive.
The Pye Hill Clock
The Pye Hill clock was made by John Smiths and Sons of Derby and was sited on top of the Central Workshops (later the Colliery Stores building) at Pye Hill Colliery from 1902 to closure in 1985. At the time of closure it was in a sad state of repair but had an amazing journey which eventually saw it restored and working again, but not locally!
Initially the clock went to the Lound Hall Mining Museum near Retford, Nottinghamshire, and the planned National Coal Mining Museum for England. When this closed in 1989 it was transferred to the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum in Staffordshire. However, the move to Chatterley Whitfield was to be short lived as the museum ran into financial difficulties in 1993 and the clock along with other mining artefacts were auctioned in April 1994 to accrue funds to pay off debts which the museum had incurred.
Luckily, John Key, a Stoke on Trent business-man, brought the clock and set about getting it installed as a monument to coal miners past and present. In 1995 it was re-sited on a new brick plinth just off the Whieldon Road Industrial Site at Stoke on Trent with an official unveiling ceremony taking place on 12th December 1995.
Figure 14: Last operational coal face at the Pye Hill Complex – early August 1985. Photo Credit – SLHP Archive.
Pye Hill – Coal Ghosts
In Orphean chambers underground,
No picks and shovels now resound,
Twisted girders, memorial shrines
Cenotaphs of Draconian Times
The Miners, swarthy, loyal men,
Now walk the field, remembering when,
The work was hard and friendship good,
But coal demanded flesh and blood.
From ‘Death of a Pit’
By Maurice Holmes – Pye Hill Colliery.
Heritage Resources Officer
Griffin, A, R, The Nottinghamshire Coalfield 1881-1981: A Century of Progress, (1981).
Insall, P, Changing Times: A History of the Pye Hill Clock, (1996).
NCB South Nottinghamshire Area, Pye Hill Colliery 1874 to 1985, (1985).
Selstonia Living History Project Archive (SLHP), Various notes and documents on the history of coal mining in Selston Parish.
Wain, David, Unpublished notes, documents and oral testimony on the history of Pye Hill Colliery.
Whitelock, G.C.H. 250 Years in Coal: A History of the Barber Walker Co and Ltd, (1956).
Workers Education Association, Selston Branch, Some Aspects of Selston’s Mining, (1988).
Workers Education Association, Selston Branch, Selston: A History and Date Book, (1993).