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Spencer, George, Manager of Mapperley Colliery, Remembered

Changing the Headgear at Mapperley Colliery, Derbyshire
Manufacturing the Headgear

Following the Annual inspection of the Headgear at Mapperley Colliery during March 1901, slight signs of decay were found in the timbers. Although they were still perfectly safe to use, it was decided that they should be replaced. The original headgear had been fitted in 1872 and was nearly 30 years old.

George Spencer (Agent and General Manager) of the Company recommended to the Directors that the headgear should be replaced within the next two years. This was agreed, and he was asked to proceed in getting a replacement immediately.

The headgear was constructed of Pitchpine and it was essential that only the best quality timber available should be used in their manufacture. Colliery headgear had to withstand the rigors of the demands required during the working day and be reliable for the safe transport of the miners up and down the pit shaft.

George consulted Joseph Woolley of Allestree, Derbyshire. Timber Merchant and manufacturer of Carts, Waggons and equipment required for Agriculture, Railway and Coal Mining contracts.

The Mapperley contract awarded to Woolley’s was to supply the timber, carry out all the necessary joinery operations required (e.g. sawing of timber and joint preparation), within their workshops. Supply all sundries, metal work, strengthening plates, bolts, dowels etc. Transport the finished components to the Mapperley Colliery site, and re-erect the headgears to a state of completion. (At a location specified by the Colliery Company).

The colliery would then have the responsibility of dismantling, and placing the said headgear, over the pit shaft as and when required.

Woolley’s commenced the work immediately and by July 1901 they placed the following advert in the Derby Daily Telegraph


WANTED 12 Joiners, for erecting headgear at
Mapperley Colliery. ---- Apply on Job
To Jos. Woolley & Co.’s --- Foreman.

Fitting the Headgear

George Spencer presented a paper on the fitting of the Headgears at Mapperley Colliery to the Midland Counties Institution of Engineers (*2) full report below:





Mr. George Spencer (Mapperley Colliery).

The new headgear, at Mapperley colliery, constructed of Pitchpine, was erected during the previous year in a field about 300 feet from the pit top, where it awaited a favourable opportunity to be placed in position, without impeding the work of coal turning. Such an opportunity did not occur until the present year, owing to regular trade and other circumstances.

Advantage was therefore taken of the August Bank Holiday, which is observed by the miners, and takes place at a time of year when the days are long. It was originally intended to erect the headgear temporarily, so as to ensure the proper fitting of the parts, and to take it to pieces for re-erection close to the pit–top, and in a line parallel to the old one, which it was intended to replace, so that the operation of moving it into its permanent position would be comparatively a simple one. Consequently, no regard was paid to building it in the line which it was found that it would afterwards have to traverse, if moved as a whole. Considering, however, that the headgear was completed in every detail, and that the expense of taking it to pieces and of re-erecting it would be considerable, it was decided to adopt the bolder plan of moving it as it was, and in this decision we were further encouraged by learning that the operations at Pleasley colliery had been entirely successful.

It was found, before moving the headgear towards the pit-top, that it was necessary to turn it round through an angle of 90 degrees. A temporary underframe, consisting of strong longitudinal and transverse timbers, having been secured by bolts to the base of the upright and back legs, for the purpose of moving it on rollers, a strong wooden pack to take part of the weight was placed under the centre of gravity of the structure, as determined from the model, which happened to be under the middle transverse timber of the underframe. On this centre, the headgear was rotated by means of a hand-winch, until the front faced the line of traverse; and planks smeared with tub-grease were laid down, upon which the front and back timbers of the underframe would slide. The experiment was then tried of moving the structure forward on a double line of planks, 3 inches thick, by means of rollers, steel tubular pit-props, 5 inches in diameter, being employed. The planks proved capable of bearing the weight, and were used throughout in preference to baulks, which had been especially ordered for the purpose. A week or two prior to the stoppage, the headgear was moved to the pit-top in the manner described (the road, in places, being ballasted  and packed up owing to its unevenness) and finished by making a turn, nearly at right angles, to bring it into a position  parallel to the old headgear. Two hand-winches, attached to two sets of pulley-blocks, were employed in traversing the headgear, and the time occupied was between 4 and 5 hours. A derrick-pole was then erected between the old and new head-gears, in a position convenient both for raising the new pulleys to the new headgear and for lowering the old pulleys to the ground. The new pulleys were placed upon their pedestals, temporarily secured; and additional transverse timbers were fixed on the underside of the frame, so as to enable the headgear to be rolled sideways over the pit-top, when the time arrived for this work to be done.

On Friday, August 1st, 1902, the pit ceased work at the usual time; and at 5 p.m.; when all the men had been drawn out, the work of taking down the wire-conductors and lowering the old pulleys was commenced. By 9 p.m. both winding-ropes had been drawn over the pulleys, the cage-props had been removed, a scaffold had been fixed over the pit, and one of pulleys had been lowered to the ground. It may here be mentioned that work was only continued during daylight, and with the same staff of men throughout.

On Saturday morning, work was resumed at 4:30 p. m., and by 10:30 a.m. all arrangements were in readiness for pulling over the old headgear. By means of an old winding-rope attached to the top of the headgear, two locomotives were connected to it, and at a given signal both pulled together. The front and back legs had previously been sawn through, so as to ensure the structure falling in the required direction; and, in 10 seconds from the time of giving the signal, it fell to the ground across the railway exactly as desired. The rest of the day was spent in removing the debris, and in building the foundations (blue bricks set in cement) for the new headgear. By 6 p.m. the new headgear was traversed to its approximate position over the pit, and work ceased for the day.

Work was commenced at 6 a.m. on Sunday, and continued until 8 p.m. The headgear was set in its exact position by plumbing from the bed of the pulley-wheels to marks made on the scaffold. During this day all the conductors had been re-fixed to the new headgear, and one winding-rope had been taken over the pulley, thus making it possible to use the pit for lowering or raising men, if required.

On Monday, operations recommenced at 6 a.m. and during the day the work was completed, and the tackle and timbers used in moving the structure removed; and at 8:30 p.m. all appliances were made ready for coal-turning on the following day.

The headgear at Mapperley colliery is not as large as that at Pleasley, being 41 feet high to the sills, and the weight moved would not exceed 45 tons, including the temporary underframe.

But judging from the facility with which the headgear was removed, he (Mr. Spencer) would not hesitate to move one of any dimensions or weight, it being simply a question of the proper application of the haulage-tackle.

Roger Wood December 2016.

Double Click for Names - Single Click to Return

Names Left to Right

J W Dilks, W Pridmore, Ben Seal, Arthur Clarke, J Weston, Hugh Blakey, Ian Martin, Sam Watson, E West, Arkroyd, Charles Dan, Tommy Weston, Charles Cresswell, George Spencer (manager)

On completion of fitting the new headgear. George asked all the men who had worked on the project to have a group photograph taken. This was taken by William Walter Winter (1842 – 1924) of Derby.

These photographs show the old headgear being demolished ready for the new headgear being positioned

** Notes and References:

1). The advert for employing Joiners required for erecting the Mapperley Headgear appeared in the Derby Daily Telegraph (Same Advert) :-

Monday 08 July 1901, page 1.
Tuesday 09 July 1901, page 1.
Wednesday 10 July 1901, page 1.
Thursday 11 July 1901, page 1.
Friday 12 July 1901, page 1.
Saturday 13 July 1901, page 1.

2). Erecting the Mapperley Colliery Headgear paper (George Spencer). Published (The Institution of Mining Engineers Transactions Volume XXIV 1902-1903. Pages 255 – 258.

3).  Erecting the Pleasley Colliery Headgear paper (G. A. Longden). Published (The Institution of Mining Engineers Transactions Volume XXIII 1901-1902. Page 348.

4).  Engineering Feat at Mapperley Colliery, Near Derby. Belper News Friday 08 August 1902. Page 8.

5).  George Emersley Coke (1853 – 1911).

6). William Walter Winter (1842 -1924). Photographer, The Alexander Studio, Midland Road, Derby.

7). Joseph Woolley (1824 – 1904). This was the last contract that Joseph Woolley supervised. He had to retire due to ill health. He died in July 1904 and having no son and heir the business was sold. His obituary reads "He was considered one of the best judges of English timber in the business". This was the end of an era for colliery Wooden Headgear and carts and waggons. Motor Transport and steel headstocks had become the norm.
Sale of the Allestree business : Derby Daily Telegraph Tuesday 15 July 1902. Page 1.

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