Figure 1: Moorgreen Colliery, near Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in the early 1980’s. Photo Credit: MuBu Miner collection.
Whats Gray’ner than Gray’n? – Moorgray’n:
Moorgreen Colliery closure 35 years on.
“What’s Grayn’ er than Grayn – Moorgray’n!” was the local dialect saying which translated means “What’s Greener than Green – Moorgreen!” Thirty-five years ago, on 19th July 1985, Moorgreen Colliery, the last Eastwood pit, closed after one-hundred and twenty years. Along with the nearby Pye Hill Complex which was to close a few weeks later, it brought deep coalmining on the old exposed coalfield of the Nottinghamshire /Derbyshire border to an end.
Eastwood: Those Coal town Days.
The exposed coalfield or outcrop as it is known locally, had been mined for centuries with the earliest records of coalmining at nearby Cossall, dating from 1316. Eastwood was synonymous with coal mining and the town had many historical associations with the coal-industry. The Sun Inn playing a significant role in the formation of the Midland Railway Company, the Barber Walker Company was one of the most influential in the Nottinghamshire Coalfield, Eastwood Hall became HQ for the newly formed National Coal Board (NCB) East Midlands Division No. 5 Area in 1947 and in later years the British Coal Corporation (BCC) made Eastwood Hall its operations HQ from 1986 until 1994, all these made an indelible mark on the town. Also there was the ever present memory of controversial author, DH Lawrence, the town’s most famous son!
The population of the ‘town’ increased considerably in the second half of the nineteenth-century, virtually doubling from 2,540 in 1871 to 4,815 in 1901. Moore (1995) noted that the growth in the mining population was accompanied by a growth in its housing stock from 339 in 1851, to 532 in 1871 and 974 in 1901. Many of these were pit-houses built by the Barber Walker and Co Ltd and Moore suggested that the economic predominance was so complete that it would be perfectly in order to call Eastwood a ‘company town’.
Some of the pit houses built then survive in the town today (Fig. 2). This was the industrial setting that was immortalised by DH Lawrence’s in ‘Sons and Lovers’, published in 1913 and made into a film in 1960. In the novel Moorgreen Colliery was called Minton Colliery and Eastwood was known as Bestwood. Later Lawrence would be critical of the Eastwood pit houses, suggesting that with some more thought they could have been built like the hill towns of Italy.
Figure 2: Former Pit Houses on Princes Street, Eastwood – July 2020. Photo by MuBuMiner.
Barber Walker and Co. Ltd.
Barber Walker and Co Ltd came into being in 1787, prior to this both families had a vested interest in coalmining in the Erewash Valley with other business partners. The Barber family resided at Lamb Close House whilst the Walkers lived at Eastwood Hall. A ‘coach road’ connected the two families which still exists today.
The advent of the industrial revolution in the 19th century and the need for more coal to fuel it saw the coal industry around Eastwood expand significantly. Moorgreen Colliery was one of several significant sinkings by the Company locally in the mid-19th century which would lay the foundations of the coal-industry for the next century or so. High Park, then a state of the art colliery, was sunk in 1860, followed by Moorgreen in 1865, Watnall in 1871, a new sinking at Brinsley in 1872 and finally Selston Colliery (Underwood) in 1875. In the 1890’s manpower at the five collieries totalled 2,750, broken down as follows; Selston (Underwood) 450, Brinsley 300, Moorgreen 800, High Park 700 and Watnall 500.
Later in the 20th century, Barber Walker Co. would expand its operations into the South Yorkshire coalfield at Bentley and Harworth collieries. Interestingly, at the time of the run up to nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947, two more Barber Walker collieries were planned on the South Yorkshire / North Nottinghamshire border which never came to fruition.
Figure 3: Barber Walker & Co Ltd – The Colliery Year Book & Coal Trades Directory 1935.
250 Years in Coal
When the remains of the Barber Walker Company was wound up in 1954, it was left to the chief colliery surveyor, G.C.H. Whitelock, to write the company’s history. ‘250 Years in Coal: The History of the Barber Walker and Co Ltd’ was published as a limited edition in 1956. A copy of this rare book in the early 21st century will set you back in the region of £400!
Figure 4: 250 Years in Coal: The History of the Barber Walker and Co Ltd by G.C.H. Whitelock.
Moorgreen Colliery – NCB days
Along with Selston and Pye Hill collieries, which became the Pye Hill Complex, Moorgreen was the last operating colliery in the former NCB East Midlands Division No.5 Area. At ‘Vesting Day’, No.5 Area had eighteen operating collieries, but following the closure programme in the late 1950’s and 1960’s only the Pye Hill Complex and Moorgreen remained on the old exposed coalfield.
There was a strong ‘Derbyshire influence’ at the pit as miners end up working there as the No.5 Area contracted. In the 1960’s many transferred from pit to pit in a short time and became known as ‘Industrial Gypsies’. The dialect was ‘thee’s and thou’s’ as DH Lawrence had noted earlier in the century. Locally they were referred to as being from ‘over the brook’ i.e. Derbyshire.
Figure 5: NCB East Midlands No. 5 Area Collieries 1952. Photo Credit – NCB Safety No. 5 Area 1952
Maximum manpower of 1,719 was in 1953 with record production of 1,058,420 tons of coal being achieved in 1963. Locally collieries at High Park and Lodge closed and merged with Moorgreen as part of rationalisation in the coal industry in the 1950’s. The surface drift constructed in 1943 by Barber Walker was equipped with a 42 inch cable belt in 1956 with a capacity of 550 to 600 tons per hour. By 1975 drifts between various coal seams meant that the Blackshale seam coal could travel to the surface by conveyors. Following the abandonment of the Second Waterloo seam in 1976, all production for the final nine years was from the Blackshale seam.
Figure 6: Moorgreen Records Breakers 1964. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner collection
In 1949 Moorgreen Workshops opened adjacent to the colliery and near the site of the old wagon works, which was part of the Barber Walker colliery railway, a standard gauge pit line which linked up its collieries. Underground machinery was refurbished and maintained at the workshops. It closed in 1989, later becoming Caunton Engineering
Figure 7: Moorgreen Workshops under construction 1949 – Photo Credit – Coal Authority
NCB South Nottinghamshire Area
At the NCB reorganisation in April 1967, Moorgreen Colliery became part of the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area, the No.5 Area having been wound up the previous year. It was one of seventeen collieries that made up the Area with the HQ being based at Bestwood. By 1980 the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area was down to twelve operating collieries and in 1990 just four South Nottinghamshire collieries remained as part of the British Coal Corporation’s Nottinghamshire Group. Margaret Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition, made an underground visit to the colliery in 1976. She was accompanied by Jim Lester, Conservative MP for Broxtowe and Colliery Manager, David Weir.
Figure 8: Margaret Thatcher with Jim Lester MP at Moorgreen Colliery in 1976. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner collection
NCB Moorgreen Training Centre
As part of the 1967 NCB reorganisation, Moorgreen Training Centre was established as the main centre for recruits and trainees to the coalmining industry in the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area. From the late 1960’s until the early 1980’s all lads in the region had some connection with Eastwood via the Training Centre. Buses from all parts of West and South Nottinghamshire engulfed the training centre Monday to Friday, training being supplied by Instructors, some of which had been invalided out of the pit through injury. One had an artificial arm, and it was not unknown for many a disobedient youth being on the receiving end of it with a quick clout!
Figure 9: Opportunities in Modern Mining – NCB training leaflet 1975
The Training Centre had an underground gallery which supplied basic mining training and workshops for lads on NCB Craftsmen Apprenticeships. Many a tale was told by the instructors of ‘pit life past’ along with the ‘facts of life’ which was a real source of embarrassment to some young trainees. Day Release courses for apprentices were to local Further Education colleges which had mining departments; these were at West Notts College, Mansfield, South East Derbyshire College, Heanor and Arnold and Carlton College near Nottingham. NCB Apprenticeships lasted for a duration of four years.
Figure 10: Authors NCB Apprenticeship Certificate – MuBu Miner collection.
Closure of Moorgreen Colliery
The closure of Moorgreen Colliery due to exhaustion of viable reserves was agreed between the local NCB and the Nottinghamshire Area of the NUM in 1983. A gradual rundown of the workforce started with older miners over 50 taking advantage of enhanced redundancy payments and miners under 50 transferring to other collieries in the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area. Particular emphasis was made on transfers to Calverton, Gedling and Cotgrave, to the east of the old exposed coalfield, which were then deemed to be long-life pits.
Figure 11: Moorgreen Colliery 1984 – Photo Credit – K Bestwick collection.
Moorgreen & the 1984-85 Miners Strike
As the start of the 1984/85 Miners Strike in early March 1984, Yorkshire Flying Pickets arriving at Moorgreen were greeted with the message “You’re too late mate, its closing anyway!” A seemingly forgotten fact nowadays when discussing the ‘pros and cons’ of the 1984-85 Miners Strike, is that the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area had two collieries running down to closure as the strike broke, one being Moorgreen! Out of the four million tons capacity to be taken out nationally, half a million was to take account of these closures! In the ensuing thirty-six years since the strike, many accounts can be found that Nottinghamshire was unaffected by the proposed cuts to production and manpower by the NCB for the 1984-85 financial year, this was not so!
The Last Day
Final production was on 19th July 1985 and on the that day, the ‘Pit Klaxon’, normally only sounded at times of a pit disaster, was blown for the final time as the last men from K77’s coalface arrived at the surface. 140 men out of the final production workforce of 350 were kept on for salvage work. The author worked with many former Moorgreen men who transferred to Annesley Colliery
Figure 12: Final Day at Moorgreen Colliey. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner collection
Closure Booklet & a Moorgreen Colliery / DH Lawrence Commemorative Plate!
In the 1980’s the NCB South Nottinghamshire Area produced a series of booklets as pit closures took place. These were distributed to the workforce as a momento. A booklet for Moorgreen was produced in 1985 which gave a potted history of the pit along with a few images. By the early 1990’s these booklets were no longer produced and for local collieries closing after this date none were produced.
Figure 13: NCB Moorgreen Colliery booklet 1985 – MuBuMiner collection.
1985 – End of an Era and Centenary celebrations for a birthday!
With great irony, as Moorgreen Colliery finished production in 1985 and brought to an end Eastwood’s long and proud association with coal mining, it coincided with the centenary birth of DH Lawrence (1885-1930). A special Centenary Festival organised by the DH Lawrence Society took place at Eastwood during September 1985 and to link the two events a special commemorative plate was produced, one of which still adorns the authors study.
Figure 14: Moorgreen Colliery / DH Lawrence Commemorative Plate 1985
Post Pit: Coalface to Dual Race!
Following salvage operations and filling of the shafts, the Moorgreen Colliery site was converted to mixed use for light industry as Moorgreen Industrial Park and Colliers Wood, a nature park and pond with pleasant walks. Caunton Engineering took over the former Moorgreen Workshops following its closure in 1989 and significantly expanded its operations in the twenty-first century.
Commemorative half headstocks wheels to remember the parks industrial past were installed as part of a picnic site on Colliers Wood in 2019. Every October a joint cycling and jogging event takes place, I wonder how many participants know about the other industrial life which once existed there underground! Things have changed quite a bit in the subsequent thirty-five years since the pit closed, some changes for the better, others not – Coal Face to Dual Race’!
Figure 15: Colliers Wood Mining Memorial and Picnic Area 2019. Photo – MuBuMiner.
Heritage Resources Officer
Bradley R, Notes of A History of Coalmining around Eastwood, unpublished.
Griffin AR & Griffin CP, A Social and Economic History of Eastwood and the Nottinghamshire Mining Country, in A DH Lawrence Handbook, Ed Sager , K, MUP, 1982, p.127-163.
Griffin.C.P. An Industrial Revolution in the East Midlands Coalfields between c.1850 and c1880? The Case of the High Park ‘Superpit’, Nottinghamshire, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, Vol.94, p.75-82, 1990.
Lawrence, D.H., Nottinghamshire and the Mining Countryside, (1929).
Moore, R, Community and Conflict in Eastwood: A Study from the Nottinghamshire Coalfield before 1914, Occasional Paper No.7, Dept. of Education, University of Nottingham, 1995.
NCB, Opportunities in Modern Mining: NCB Mining and Apprenticeship Schemes, April 1975.
NCB East Midlands No. 5 Area, Safety – NCB No. 5 Area, October 1952.
NCB South Nottinghamshire Area, Moorgreen Colliery 1865 – 1985, 1985.
The Colliery Year Book and Coal Trades Directory 1935.
Whitelock, G.C.H., 250 Years in Coal: The History of the Barber Walker Co and Ltd, 1956.