Fig 1: Ormonde Colliery, last colliery in the Erewash region of Derbyshire. Photo Credit – Bob Bradley collection.
Prologue: When Ormonde Shuts.
Fifty-years ago, on 25th September 1970, Ormonde Colliery at Loscoe, near Heanor, Derbyshire closed after sixty-two years of production. The closure ended deep coal mining in that part of Derbyshire after several centuries, early small scale coal mining had taken place at nearby Cossall from 1316. It was one of several collieries which belonged to the influential Butterley Company (1790 – 2009), who had vested interests in both coal, iron and construction.
In NCB days the colliery was at the forefront of several technical innovations, including trials for a Remotely Operated Longwall Face (ROLF), a 1960’s attempt at automation of the coalface. In its latter years many of the Ormonde workforce became ‘industrial gypsies’, travelling from pit to pit in a short time, as coal mining in the Ilkeston-Heanor-Ripley corridor rapidly contracted from the last 1950’s. As the Heanor Historical Society website says, if ever the phrase ‘the end of an era’ was justified, this was such an occasion.
In popular memory, the colliery is remembered in the poetry of Owen Watson, Heanor’s coal mining poet laureate and later in the ‘Tales and Rhymes from the Mines’ initiative at Nottingham Trent University in 2018.
Fig 2: 1919 Ormonde Colliery price list for piece work. MuBu Miner collection.
Butterley Company Days
Other older Butterley Company collieries nearby at Old Loscoe Colliery (closed 1933) and Bailey Brook Colliery (closed 1938) were already operating by the time Ormonde Colliery was sunk in 1906-1908. Ormonde was a result of the Butterley Company increasing the scale of and modernising its existing coal mining operations. However, this would be the last major colliery development in the Heanor area. In the 1890’s the company was developeing its large colliery at Kirkby Summit and later it would develop Ollerton Colliery in the expanding Dukeries Coalfield of north Nottinghamshire.
Fig 3. Butterley Company collieries in 1935. Source – 1935 Colliery Year Book and Coal Trades Directory.
The twin shafts at Ormonde were sunk through the old Loscoe Colliery workings to the Kilburn seam and during its sixty-two years of production in addition to the Kilburn, it worked the Piper, Low Main, Mickley and Blackshale (Silkstone) seams. In 1942 the Bailey Brook steel headgear was transferred and re-erected at Ormonde to replace the old wooden headgear at No.2 shaft. The high quality Kilburn seam coal was worked out at Ormonde by 1945 and just prior to this production had commenced from the Blackshale (Silkstone) seam.
Fig 4: NCB East Midlands No. 5 Area collieries in 1952. Source – Safety – NCB East Midlands No.5 Area, 1952.
NCB Days at Ormonde
At vesting day on 1st January 1947, Ormonde became one of eighteen collieries in the National Coal Board’s (NCB) East Midlands Division No. 5 Area. The No.5 Area was a mixture of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire collieries with the HQ being at Eastwood Hall. Pit Head Baths were opened in 1954 and in 1960 nearby New Langley colliery closed and technically merged with Ormonde. A new Coal Preparation Plant (CPP) was installed in 1966. In the reorganisation of April 1967, the colliery was placed in the NCB North Derbyshire Area, being geographically isolated from the remainder of the area’s collieries which were situated further north, to the east and north-east of Chesterfield. Record production of 955,009 tons was achieved in the 1967/68 financial year. The No. 5 Area contracted rapidly from the late 1950’s and by 1968 Ormonde was the only Derbyshire colliery remaining in the Erewash Valley.
Fig 4: NCB Chairman, Lord Robens, inspecting the ROLF installation at Ormonde Colliery in 1963. Photo Credit – Coal Authority.
Remotely Operated Longwall Face (ROLF)
Ormonde was at the forefront of several innovative mining methods including the introduction of Meco Moore cutter loaders in 1947, 70 HP trepanners in 1952/53 and the first full coalface of four-legged hydraulic supports (chocks) by Wigan based Gullick Dobson. However, in terms of coal mining technology, the colliery is remembered for the Remotely Operated Longwall Face (ROLF) which was pioneered there in 1963/64. ROLF was also tested at Newstead Colliery in the NCB East Midlands No.4 Area.
ROLF was an attempt at establishing automation on the coal face with automatic advance of the Armoured Face Conveyor (AFC) and the Dowty three leg hydraulic supports. A plough attached to the coal cutting machine had a necleonic sensor to assist the horizon control of the shearer. However, roof conditions needed to be more or less perfect for ROLF to work and this was far from the case at most collieries. At Ormonde, it was trialled on P1’s coalface in the Piper seam (3ft 8 inches seam thickness, 184 yards length), from February 1963 to February 1964, with varying results.
Fig 6: 3D plan of the ROLF installation on P1’s coalface at Ormonde Colliery. Source – MuBu Miner collection.
The prototype P1’s coalface produced 154,057 tons of coal at an Output per Manshift (OMS) of 302.6 cwt (hundredweight), which was four times the national average OMS for coalfaces. One of the main problems experienced with the ROLF face was continual damage to the eight core cable for controlling the shearer because of damage to the cable handler. Other problems were leaks on the hydraulic equipment, odd electrical faults and some stalling of the AFC when cutting out at the tail gate end of the coal face. However, in spite of the difficulties experienced in the trial, it was considered a success in proving the principle of a remotely operated coalface.
The National Archives, Coal 50/139, contains documentation and some photos of the ROLF installation at Ormonde Colliery.
Fig 7: One of the last production shifts at Ormonde Colliery in late September 1970. Photo Credit – MuBu Miner collection.
Ormonde Colliery – End of an Era
“This is a very sad day, it represents the end of the era of mining in this district” proclaimed Mr Robert Dunn, Director of the NCB North Derbyshire Area, when proposing a toast to mark the closure of Ormonde Colliery in late September 1970. Many of the miners at Ormonde over recent years had become ‘industrial gypsies’ and had moved from pit to pit in a short time as deep coal mining in the region rapidly contracted from the late 1950’s onwards. Some transferred to collieries at the nearby NCB South Nottinghamshire Area whist others moved to collieries in the NCB North Derbyshire Area. The author worked with many former Ormonde miners at Annesley Colliery in the mid 1970’s and early 1980’s. For all former Ormonde miners, it meant a daily commute of anything from a twenty to fifty mile round trip.
In 1963 viable coal reserves were estimated at twelve years but this proved overoptimistic. Since 1960 the inferior and unproductive Blackshale (Silkstone) seam had been worked under Shipley and Langley and a last ditch attempt in 1968 at mining the Roof Soft coal was to no avail. Rundown to closure in terms of production and manpower were typical for a planned colliery closure which was brought forward;
Year Tonnage Manpower
1968/69 904, 264 tons 1,181
1969/70 676 774 tons 1,114
1970/71 233, 678 tons 507
Added to these problems was the issue of mine-water pumping costs. With Ormonde being the last colliery in the district, several pumping outstations had to be maintained to protect the underground workings at Ormonde. This added considerably to the running costs of the colliery. Following closure, pumping finished at four local former colliery sites at Denby Hall, Ripley, Western and Salterwood and a major mine-water pumping station was established at the former Woodside Colliery at Shipley, which still operates in the early twenty-first century.
Fig 8: Ripley and Heanor News, 2nd October 1970.
Requiem for Ormonde
Owen Watson (1912 –1980) can be said to have been the coal mining poet laureate for Heanor. He was a regular contributor to the Ripley and Heanor News and his coal mining poems were published in the 1975 publication ‘Strong I’th’ Arm: The Rhymes of a Marlpool Miner’. Two poems about Ormonde Colliery featured in the book; ‘Wheer are t’ gooin when Ormonde shuts?’ and ‘Weep ye Not’. They capture the trials and tribulations which Erewash Valley miners felt at the time as coalmining ended in the region and they were forced to travel further other pits or find alternative work out of the coal industry. This pattern would be established for the remainder of the British coalmining industry for the next forty-five years, especially from the early 1980’s, until closure of the final three deep coal mines in Britain in 2015.
Wheer are t'gooin when Ormonde Shuts.
‘Wheer are t’ gooin when Ormonde Shuts’ was put to music by Bill Kerry III as part of the ‘Songs and Rhymes from the Mines’ initiative at Nottingham Trent University in 2018, overseen by Natalie Braber and the author. The track can be heard on-line on Bandcamp at https://songsrhymesfromthemines.bandcamp.com/track/where-you-goin-when-ormonde-shuts
Owen Watsons ‘When Ormonde Shuts’ featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary called ‘The Tongue and Talk of the People: The Dialect Poets’ in 2018. As a result of the resurgence of interest in his work he has been added to John Goodridge’s database of working class poets. Both Ormonde poems will also feature in the forthcoming ‘An East Midlands Coal Mining Anthology’, edited by Natalie Braber and the author, due for publication in 2021 by Five Leaves Books from Nottingham
Fig 9: Strong I’nt’ Arm – The Rhymes of a Marlpool Miner by Owen Watson.
Weep Ye Not
And it came to pass that the pit of Ormonde was no more,
And its people were scattered o’er the earth,
Some there were who vanished into blue yonder,
And were seen and heard no more in the land.
Weep ye not for those taken into bondage by the Lords
of Stafford and Leicester, for their places are centrally heated.
May their caravans prosper and their new lands flow
with milk and honey.
And legion were they whom, having brought pressure
brought to bear on them by their wives and concubines,
travelled afar to the land of the Notts, that lie of the far banks
of the mighty river Erewash.
Many are they who continue to dwell in the land of their fathers,
The elders of the councils, the sick, the maimed and the crafty,
And they murmur to themselves, saying:
“Let us become the medicants of the dominion,
For our steam is all spent!”
And the halls of the Dole Office become their place,
Loud has been the gnashing of teeth in the councils of Ormonde,
And the time of profitability was long past.
But their ire has availed them not.
The Lords of Bolsover staying adamant in their judgement
that there was no treasure left in the earth,
As Moses cried unto the Israelites, so I cry for you,
Weep ye not for those times that are past, for in my mind
It is an evil thing that a man should waste his youth
In darkness for so small a reward!
Owen V Watson (1975)
Braber, N and Amos, D. Ed, Songs and Rhymes from the Mines: An East Midlands View, Nottingham, 2018.
Butterley Colliery Company Ltd, Ormonde Colliery Price List, July 1919.
British Broadcasting Corporation, The Tongue and Talk of the People: The Dialect Poets – The Nottinghamshire Coalfield, BBC Radio 4, Broadcast 18th May 2018.
Corbin, E.G. Ed, Guide to the Coalfields – 1970, Colliery Guardian, London, 1969.
Eastwood and Kimberley Advertiser, Closing Down of Ormonde Colliery, 25th September 1970.
Heanor and District Local History Society, A History of Mining in the Heanor Area, Heanor, 1993.
NCB East Midlands Division No. 5 Area, R.O.L.F. 2 Ormonde Colliery, September 1964.
NCB East Midlands Division No. 5 Area, Safety, 1952.
Ripley and Heanor News, The Last of a Proud Pit, 2nd October 1970.
The Colliery Year Book and Coal Trades Directory, 1935.
Walker, J. http://jameswalker.co.uk/blog
Watson, O. V. Strong I’nt’ Arm: The Rhymes of a Marlpool Miner, Heanor, 1975.
Heritage Resources Officer
2nd October 2020.