Newspapers - 1900s - King Coal, Page 1
THE CROWNING — and eventual dethroning — of coal as king of the Erewash Valley wrought the biggest change for Ilkeston and Heanor in the past century.
Coal was the foundation of their industrial growth and the area owes much to the black diamond — and to the men who toiled, especially before mechanisation of pits, below ground.
It shaped the character of the two towns — and produced its own characters.
When the Evening Telegraph was appearing for the first time, the countryside around Ilkeston, Heanor and Eastwood was dotted with small collieries.
Then came the change to large pits producing thousands of tons of coal a year.
Finally there came the demise of the industry as coal reserves were exhausted. Now only one colliery remains in an area which at its peak produced more than six million tons a year.
But people still recall the days of miners squatting on their haunches in their mufflers and cloth caps waiting to go to work, or of black faced men returning home to swill the grime of coal dust off in tin baths on hearths before pithead baths were provided.
Initially — and ironically — some miners didn't take to the new bathing facilities and still preferred the old tin bath at home.
One retired local man told me recently that he knew miners in the old days who refused to wash their backs, because they feared it would weaken them.
Today's older women still have their memories, too, of the area's mining past — of trying to make ends meet because of poor pay; of their men in the 1920's and 30's able only to have three days at work and then having three days off on the dole; and of the anxious waiting when husbands and sons hadn't arrived home long after they should have done.
The coal industry in the area really began to boom in the latter half of the 19th century when shafts were sunk to the "shallow" deep soft and deep hard seams.
As these seams were exhausted, deeper coal measures were found and in the early 1900's shafts were extended and new ones sunk to reach this new wealth.
In the early part of this century there were great changes. The number of pits began to dwindle, mechanisation arrived and the markets for coal altered. Ships were converted to oil, factories to electricity and the largest market for coal became the power stations.
On nationalisation in 1947, there were 21 pits in the Eastwood, Heanor and Ilkeston area. Big investment took place and the area became one of the most productive in the region. Its peak was in 1953 when 13,400 men at 16 pits produced 6.4 million tons.
In the late SO's and during the 60's several pits closed — there was no more coal to get at or it was not economical to mine that which was left.
The highlight of the old Number Five Area's history was the performance of Ormonde Colliery at Loscoe in the 1960's.This pit, sunk by the Butterley Company in 1908, was one of two in the country to pioneer remotely operated coalface machinery and mining engineers from all over the world visited it.
Ormonde broke production records throughout the 1960's and pioneered much new machinery until its closure in 1970. It was the last pit to close. In 1979 only one remained — Moorgreen at Newthorpe, where 1,164 men worked.
While mining was the main industry of the area, there were others which also played a large part in its growth and prosperity. Lace making and hosiery featured prominently, and, at Ilkeston, ironmaking.
A century ago hand frame knitting was quite a cottage industry in Heanor, "There was lace making in the Derby Road area and stocking making at Commonside," says Heanor's "Mr History," 75-year-old Phillip Eggleshaw, whose family have been in Heanor for at least 400 years.
Kelly's Directory of 1876 says of Ilkeston: "Hosiery and lace manufacture are extensively carried on," and makes a similar remark about Heanor.
But these industries have also diminished over the years.
In 1939, a writer in Ilkeston's official town guide commented: "In these modern times when ladies show their stockings the production of hosiery has become an accepted art."
Playing a major role in that art was the firm of A. Booth and Sons, which folded in the 1960's. In 1939 they were producing 160,000 pairs of pure silk stockings a week and employing 860 people.
The town guide stated that some women at Booth's could earn as much as £3 10s. a week and men operators from £5 to as much as £9 15s.
At Ilkeston, the Stanton Ironworks Company was to become a major employer.
The Romans knew there was iron in the area and there is evidence that they smelted local ores. But it was towards the close of the 18th century that the area — or Stanton-by-Dale to be precise — became known for its iron.
Two years before the birth of the Telegraph, the Stanton Ironworks Company became a limited company. They were to become pioneers in making spun iron pipes, the biggest producer of foundry pig iron in Britain and the largest cast iron pipe making business in the world.
In 1939 Stanton and its associated works employed 14,000 people and had its own quarries and mines. In 1979 the Stanton and Staveley Group had about 6,700 on their books.
Stanton played an important role during the 1939-45 war — 873,500 5001b bombs were produced at the Ilkeston works for the RAF. And later castings for part of the famous Mulberry harbour, used in the Normandy D-Day landings, were made there.
Now all the plant associated with ironmaking has gone, closed under a British Steel Corporation rationalisation programme.
However, there have been important new developments at the works and currently a £16 million super plant for making large diameter spun iron pipes is being built.
Undoubtedly a major change in the area has been the way in which its people earn their daily bread Light and semi light industry had taken the place of heavy industry and produced a great diversity of work.
New industrial estates, such as that at Heanor Gate and the one at Gallows Inn, Ilkeston, have been developed.