Mining in this area has gone back hundreds of years, but it was in the nineteenth century that deep pits were sunk and the area was transformed by thousands of people flocking here to work in and around them.
The first references to mining in this area go back to the early 16th century. For several hundred years, local men, women and children worked coal out of the ground, from bell pits, drifts or just the outcrops where seams of coal came to the surface. As the industrial revolution took hold, demand for coal to fuel the engines of factories, mills, ships, trains and warm Britain’s homes increased rapidly. Across the country, deep pits were sunk to mine coal from deep underground.
Some years before, the railways had been routed through this corner of South Yorkshire, including the small agricultural hamlet of Kiveton Park, next to where the grand ‘Kiveton Hall’ had once stood, on land owned by the Duke of Leeds. The railways were crucial to the location of Waleswood and Kiveton Pits; both within a stone’s throw of the railway.
These new pits were sunk in the 1850s at Waleswood and in the 1860s at Kiveton Park. They transformed the area beyond recognition. The Kiveton Park Coal Company was formed in 1864 by a group of 14 men with an estimated capital of £200,000. On 6th June 1866 the sinking no.1 and no.2 shafts began to the Barnsley seam level which was reached at 401 yards on 6th December 1867 - the original day-to-day record of that sinking is available to read at Sheffield Archives. The Barnsley seam was chosen because it was the best coal for steam engines, and the siting at Kiveton was for the convience of being on railway route to Grimsby and Hull. The sinking records for Waleswood Colliery are tucked away in an archive in Northumberland.
We know a little about the first weeks and months of the new pit at Kiveton. Many sinkers came from Church Gresley, in southern Derbyshire. The operation was overseen by Chief Engineer Thomas Carrington, on behalf of the owners of the coal company. This picture is reportedly of his wife – it’s certainly an imposing portrait!
The sinkers must have known they were doing a dangerous job. There was an horrendous disaster at Barnsley Oaks in December 1866, news of which spread quickly through the coalfield and across the country.
We can only imagine what life was like in these small agricultural hamlets with their established communities and families when outsiders arrived to sink the pits. Paul Hanks’ research into Edwardian Kiveton suggests there was certainly distrust of the miners in this new industry, a distrust which lasted many years. It’s even been suggested, tongue in cheek, that residents of neighbouring villages still haven’t recovered from the arrival of hundreds of labouring men so close to their long-established villages.
Within weeks of the Barnsley Seam being reached, in December 1867, word started to spread about the new pit. Men arrived from across Britain. They stayed at first in a ‘coal camp’, under canvas and timber close to the shaft itself. Children were even born in this camp, including twins whose baptism is recorded in the parish records of Wales Church.
Life in the village was transformed over the next twenty years. Aspects of pit-village life that survived for over a century began to emerge. New housing was built. First the Stone Rows near Hard Lane, begun in 1867. They were later followed by Park Terrace (‘The Old Rows’); Albert, Victoria and Railway Terraces (‘The Little Rows’); then Carrington and Dawson Terraces (‘The New Rows’). Similar was taking place at Wales Bar, with North and South Terraces, and the famous ‘Pigeon Row’. There was no piped sanitation until 1908.
Churches and chapels were established, although the first congregations were very makeshift. As early as 1868, Methodist services were taken at ‘Field House’, which still stands on Hard Lane on the road towards Harthill. An impressive chapel was built in 1873 and then extended in 1886 – the photo below is a foundation stone from the chapel.
It’s testament to the strong links between Kiveton Colliery and the Methodist Church that a room at the pit offices was given over for services. The company then provided the land on which the chapel was built. This link was to last well into the twentieth century. Sports clubs were created and were soon focuses of village life. Carnival and fetes grew in size. Within quite a short amount of time, many of the symbols and institutions associated with pit communities were established.
In 1884 no.1 shaft was sunk to the Thorncliffe seam at 670 yards. This coal was extracted for coking purposes and Coke ovens were built on the site where the Pithead Baths later stood. However, due to a 5ft band of dirt in the middle of the seam it proved un-economic and was closed after 7 years.
The pits themselves were transformed in the last decades of the nineteenth century. They were gradually turning into the recognisable pits of the twentieth century. These two pictures show both Kiveton Park and Waleswood Collieries, in approximately the 1890s. Look at their similar but distinctive wooden headgears.
They were also joined by another pit: West Kiveton. This was part of Kiveton Park Colliery, its shafts were Kiveton No. 3 and No. 4 (sunk 1874/75) but West Kiveton had its own headgear and surface buildings, used for men and coal. Until 1928, Killamarsh men entered the Barnsley seams from the West Kiveton shafts. All workings in this areas were abandoned in 1930. The main pit at Kiveton was also deepened, down to the Silkstone Seam at 669 metres deep. As Michael Sampson points out, this was the equivalent of four Blackpool Towers! The deeper seams proved unworkable as they were riddled by dirt layers – the Barnsley remained ‘The Deep’ seam of Kiveton Park. The picture here is Edna Fenton with a lamp we know was used by her grandfather at Kiveton in the 1890s.
The 1890s saw a number of severe strikes in the coal industry, as trade unionism in Britain soared. That of 1893 was recorded as being particularly bitter, lasting for around four months and bringing considerable hardship to the area. The strike of 1893 was to find echoes throughout the twentieth century, when local pits and the communities around them were repeatedly gripped by strikes and disputes.