A New Century: From Peace to War

The 1901 census for Kiveton Park provides a real insight into the character of the village. To take one example, the Blackwell family, whose sons Walter and Arthur fought in the First World War, lived in the New Rows, surrounded by a fascinating array of inhabitants.

The Blackwell family lived at 181 New Rows in Kiveton. Mrs. Blackwell is shown here. The railway and pit were the chief employers, as they had been since the boom period for the village began thirty years before. The father and oldest brother John, ten years Walter’s elder, worked repairing railway wagons at the pit. Other brothers worked together on the screens, sifting through tonnes of coal as it came up from the depths. Eight children lived in the Blackwell home. It must have been cramped to say the least, but the family somehow found space for lodgers, including Thomas Hughes, an Irishman who cut hay for the pit ponies.

The pit top where these men worked was transformed in these years. The power house was built in 1908, its robust squat shape a defining feature of Kiveton Pit until closure.

As the imperial arms race and pace of conquest hastened, so the demand for coal increased and the Kiveton Park Colliery expanded to meet the challenge. Production ceased only rarely. When a man died down the pit it was customary to stand to, at least for a shift. When King Edward died in 1910 the pit also stood to. Waleswood was adapting equally quickly. An innovative compressed air system was brought in to replace pit ponies in 1905.

In 1901, next to the Blackwells lived the Redferns, a miner from Derbyshire who worked at Kiveton, his wife and eight children. Close by were Jane Dunn, a widower from Worcestershire whose children included Edward Dunn, a local preacher, and Harry Dunn, a pit pony driver. The Jackson family men worked on the surface of the pit, father Joseph was a platelayer and son George a banksman. The Powis family were only a few houses away. Father Samuel was a miner from Wolverhampton but his descendents are well known for being the village undertakers, as they have for decades.

Such were just a handful of the many families in the New Rows in 1901. Like hundreds of miners before and after him, Walter Blackwell took an active part in village sports; on the two photos shown here you can see him in both the cricket and football teams.

Another photo is of Clarence Elliot, with a trophy presented to the Kiveton Wednesday team of which he was captain in 1913.

Neither Walter, Clarence nor those around them on these photos could have known that within months the biggest war the world had ever seen would be raging, and that both of them, and several of the boys around them, would die as a result.

The children in the schools of Kiveton Park and Wales would have been taught that the mighty British Empire was shaded pink on maps and spanned the globe. They would have been taught to respect the King, of the importance of God and country. We even have cheeky letters written by the children of the ‘Kiveton Park Colliery School’ to Buckingham Palace to practise their handwriting.

However, other European countries had empires too and there was much competition as each fought to increase their power. In 1914, a complex system of alliances was triggered by the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarejevo. The mighty nations of Europe were plunged into war and in towns and villages from the Western Isles of Scotland to the Eastern reaches of Tsarist Russia, a massive mobilisation of men, horses, machinery and supplies was begun. Kiveton Park and Wales were no different. Posters appeared, Lord Kitchener appealed: ‘Your Country Needs You!’ and dozens of men were plied with generous tots of rum by a recruiting sergeant in the St. John’s Rooms. They were forcefully encouraged to ‘do their duty’. Union jacks were waved from the pavements as the Kiveton and Wales Lads marched off to war, many miners from the pits amongst them. A large number were never to return.

Despite the scene on this photograph taken by Joey Bass and handed down through several families, the mobilisation of the Kiveton and Wales Lads was not met with complete jubilation. According to a local legend, the band’s drummer put his foot through his drum and vowed to never play while the lads were away (although another account suggests the drum was simply hit too hard). Lance Wilks (Senior) tried to stop his brother-in-law George Louder signing up while in the St. John’s Rooms, without success. George was killed. You can read about the experiences of the Kiveton and Wales Lads in the First World War section of this website.

Through the following years, the civilian population of Kiveton was kept largely uninformed of what things were like for the young men who had left to fight. Positive reports were given in the press, propaganda stressed how necessary the war was and how evil the German aggressors were. Propaganda postcards were distributed in Kiveton Park and Wales to gain support for the war.

Not withstanding the appearance of a Zeppelin over the village, which several of our older witnesses can remember, the impact of the First World War was mainly through the deaths of the lads who went to fight. It wasn’t until the Second World War that conflict came to Kiveton itself. Those deaths were a heavy price for such small villages to pay, as the memorials at Kiveton Park and Wales Square show.

The war ended in 1918 and there seems to have been great relief, from what evidence we have. School bells were rung to spread the news and within a few months men started to return from the front. Many were injured, some badly. Walter Blackwell was in no state to work underground and was given a new job looking after the miners’ cycles, but even this proved too much. He died in 1926. Other men returned to work at the pit. They seldom spoke of their experiences at the front, but a few did, and a number of stories have been passed down through the generations.