Drifts and the Calm Before the Storm: The 1970s and Early 1980s

If the changes of the 1960s to the colliery were significant then the transformations of the 1970s were immense. Right at the start of the decade, the two seams that had been worked at Kiveton since the nineteenth century, the Barnsley and the Hazel, stopped production. Attention turned to the Clowne Seam, almost half the depth of the Hazel, which remained in production until closure in the 1990s.

Despite closure of its oldest seams and teething problems with others, Kiveton Park Colliery was made an economically-viable pit, turning out, as it had done since it was first sunk, very high grade industrial coal, just as in demand in the early 1980s as it had been during the Industrial Revolution, but now a high proportion was being taken to power stations for the national grid.

Production methods were further modernised and new equipment installed: a short account of the pit written in the early 1970s wrote proudly how all three coal faces in the Clowne seam were ‘equipped with Gullick five-leg or Dobson four-leg powered supports’ – a far cry from the days of only wood supports.

A significant amount of money was spent on modernising the pit in the 1970s. Most notably, Kiveton became a drift mine - the first in South Yorkshire. Coal and men could be brought straight out of the pit with no need for the cages. For decades the pit had been handicapped by the limitations of bring coal out in tubs. The drift was driven for almost a mile from the pit yard down to the Clowne Seam. It was finished in late 1977 and called the ‘Jubilee Drift’.

The booklet and photographs produced to mark this day are an indication of the pride the drift provoked, not to mention the marketing efforts of the Coal Board. As part of these efforts, the pit was opened to the public for the first time for a ‘family open day,’ which, unsurprisingly, was visited by thousands of local people keen to see the pit at which their men folk and ancestors had worked, in some cases for more than a hundred years. Eddie Ashton remembers the public knocking on the doors of the pit offices from the crack of dawn.

The opening of the drift led to a certain degree of certainty in the future of the pit, for as local newspapers reported and Sir Derek Ezra, Coal Board Chairman, declared, this was a show of faith in the future of Kiveton Park Colliery. An account written just after suggested, ‘A £2-million reconstruction has brought a new pit from old and the Colliery now takes its place in the last quarter of the 20th century as South Yorkshire Area’s first full-scale drift mine.’

At that time, it was reported that there were 780 men employed at Kiveton, of which 265 were on the face, 306 others below ground and only 209 on the surface. The labour intensive days of coal production were very much over. Fewer men could produce more coal in a shorter time.

There was industrial tension in Britain in the 1970s and Kiveton Park Colliery was no exception. In popular memory, the strikes of the 1970s are sometimes forgotten, but they were distinct to the 1984-5 strike in many respects and historically important. Several men we’ve spoken to remarked that the strikes of the early 1970s were just as bitter as that in 1984-5. The union was powerful and influential around the colliery, exercising an influence on the running of the pit, on behalf of the men, that was unprecedented. Of course, the balance of power between men and management was on the verge of shifting very much in the opposite direction, where it remained until closure.