LIKE many people of my ‘younger’ generation I was ignorant to the history of my town and how the people before me lived their lives.
However, I have been brought up knowing that South Derbyshire has a rich and colourful background in the mining industry - and it is all available in visual format thanks to South Derbyshire Mining Preservation Group.
I walked into a cosy room in Gresley Old Hall expecting a few men sat around a table poised over various maps regaling stories of times gone by.
What I was actually met by were about 20 men and another 10 women dishing out cups of tea, surrounded by pick axes, shovels, lamps, photographs, having a chat with Councillor Mick Bale, chairman of South Derbyshire District Council, and his wife June.
Councillor Bale, a farmer by trade, was fascinated to learn about the life of a miner in the days when you left school at 14 and were ‘either down the pits or in the pipeworks’.
As the group spoke, it seems that a miner’s job was more a way of life than what they depicted as a job.
Member, Jim Harrison, told me: “I started in the mines at Gresley in 1944 aged 14 straight from school which is what everyone did. I moved to Cadley in 1968 as they were shutting Gresley so all workers were split between Cadley, Donisthorpe and Measham.
“I have broken both legs and have little blue scars on my fingers due to dust getting into the cuts.”
Councillor Bale said mining was so horrific when you hear about the loss of life, but was told: ‘we relied on each other. We covered each other’s back and looked after each other. If your mate was a bit behind you helped him.”
As miners get older, their ‘community spirit’ doesn’t die with the mines. “We always see each other in the street and have a natter - once a miner always a miner.”
Throughout the 19th Century, a number of collieries were established. Though there were many smaller collieries, the main ones were Granville Colliery sunk in 1823, followed by Church Gresley (1829), Stanton (1854), Bretby (1855), Gresley Wood (1856), Cadley Hill (1861), Netherseal (1872), Coton Park and Linton Colliery (1875).
Upon the nationalisation of the coal industry, on January 1, 1947, with the formation of the National Coal Board (NCB), there were 11 collieries on the South Derbyshire Coalfield, eight of them in Derbyshire and three in Leicestershire – Measham, Donisthorpe and Rawdon (now home to Conkers Discovery Centre). Some 6,600 men were employed and production averaged 2.7 million tons per annum. Output peaked in 1964/65 at 3.7 million tons.
Production declined from the late 1960s by which time Swadlincote suffered a shortage of stable building land and had become scarred by colliery spoil heaps, clay holes and other features of industrial dereliction.
By 1982 there were only four remaining collieries on the coalfield of which only one, Cadley Hill, was in South Derbyshire. However, it was still a significant employer with 3,500 men at work and averaged production of two million tons of coal each year. With its last day of production on Friday, March 25, 1988 the closure of Cadley Hill Colliery marked the end of deep coal mining within South Derbyshire.
With such a major history in the area, it was easy for the preservation group to get their hands on an abundance of items – from shovels and pick axes, down to 2,000 photographers donated to them by the official photographer of the coal board.
The items have been carefully stored in Gresley Old Hall but are now swamping two rooms and are not easily accessible to the public - so Conkers has stepped in.
Keith Moore, treasurer for the group, said: “I raised it as an idea last summer.”
Since then the group has managed to secure a bit of funding to transfer much of its collection to a special room at Conkers .
“Conkers’ figures show it has 250,000 people through the door every year, plus school visitors,” says Keith, suggesting that the group’s treasured collection will now be displayed for the masses to enjoy.
I can see the members have carefully planned out the room.
“It will be a room off the shop, and we will have an audio visual unit where we will be interviewed and this will be on a continuous loop for people to see, and we will have pictures on the wall.
“The room will be self sufficient but members can be there when we have school groups and other organisations visit and we can put on any DVDs they require.”
The only thing holding the transfer up now is the lack of display cabinets.
Despite the group having secured a range of grants to make the move to Conkers possible, they are still seeking funding for display cabinets.
“Because the room is self sufficient and cannot be manned all the items need to be in a cabinet. They need to be illuminated and child proof.
If the funding comes off, a new mining museum will be created on the very site of a former colliery – this time, for everyone to easily enjoy.
Anyone who would like further information can contact Mr Moore on 01530 412116 or emailing email@example.com