Kiveton & Wales Heritage

Kiveton & Wales Heritage

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Mining Questions and Answers

Do you have any questions about what is was like to work in the pits of Kiveton and Wales? Let us know and we'll put your question on our site!

What is coal?

Coal is a hard black substance that burns very well. Millions of years ago, plant and animal matter was deposited on the ground. Over time, this was buried and compressed by heat and earth movements. As a result, it was transformed into coal. This took thousands of years. Coal is a fossil fuel made up mainly, but not only, of carbon and hydrogen. Lots of different grades can be found, depending on how far the coal has matured. Different types of coal are suitable for different things.

Where is coal found?

Coal is mainly found in layers underground, sometimes a few inches thick but often much thicker: these are called seams (imagine the layer of jam in a sponge-cake). The Barnsley Seam at Kiveton was around 4-5ft thick and lies 401 yards deep, but other seams were deeper and shallower, thicker and thinner. Coal is found all over the world, with world coal reserves estimated at 909 billion tonnes.

Why did people need coal?

Coal is a good source of energy when it is burnt and the industrial revolution created a big demand as it gathered pace in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thousands of mills and factories were built. They burnt coal to create steam and power engines. Steam was also used in transport, notably ships and the railways, and of course coal was used to heat homes – every house would have had at least one coal fire. Coal is not used for many of these things anymore, particularly not in Britain, but coal is still very important. It has an important role in many industrial processes and coal-burning power stations generate a great deal of our electricity. Many people believe that we still need coal and our pits should never have been closed.

Has coal always been mined here?

Mining began here hundreds of years ago and we have records from the 1600s about coal being taken from surface outcrops in the area of Kiveton Park and Wales. Even though we have no evidence for it, it seems likely that coal would have been mined much earlier too, as elsewhere in Britain coal has been discovered in Bronze Age funeral pyres. There is much evidence of coal being used in Roman Britain and increasingly through the medieval period.

The beginning of a deep mine, such as those at Kiveton Park and Waleswood, was called the sinking of its shafts. Deep mining began in the 1800s across Britain and happened in the 1850s in Waleswood and in 1866-67 in Kiveton Park. The records of both the sinkings are available to the public, in Sheffield Archives for Kiveton Park (see the links on our Archive Page). It took eighteen months for Kiveton Pit to be sunk: the sinkers hit the Barnsley Seam, the one they were really interested in, in December 1867.

What was here before the pits?

Wales was an established village hundreds of years before Waleswood pit was sunk, but there was little in Kiveton except a few agricultural cottages and, of course, the remains of Kiveton Hall, which had been demolished in 1811-12. Census returns provide us with excellent evidence about what life was like in this area before the mining industry took hold. You can download the census returns for 1841 and 1851. (Our thanks to Graham for transcribing these for us so accurately.) As happened in lots of other places, the sinking of pits meant massive social transformation. People flocked to Kiveton from all over Britain, particularly Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. You can see exactly where they came from by looking at the census returns for 1871, four years after the pit was sunk. Each census return recorded where the people living in each house had been born.

Is that building with the clock a coalmine?

Kind of! That building used to be the Colliery Offices. From the 1870s through until the middle of the 1990s, when the pit shut, this was where the managers and office workers were based.The building has also been used as a school. It is well worth paying a visit and trying to imagine what it used to be like; think about Victorian owners stood in the great bay window facing the pit or the family who used to live in the back part of the offices.

The clock itself is very interesting. It used to be the main way people in Kiveton could tell the time; we've heard from lots of people about how their parents or grandparents used to lean out of their houses to see what the time was down at the pit. The clock still shines out across Kiveton at night.

Watch a documentary about the pit clock.

I know about Kiveton Pit, but what about Waleswood Colliery and what was West Kiveton?

Waleswood Colliery was sunk before Kiveton Pit and was where the industrial estates are now, on the left as you climb into Waleswood from the north (the A57). Waleswood Colliery shut in the late 1940s and you can read more about the circumstances in which it closed in the strike section and the booklet written by Jenny Whysall. West Kiveton was linked to Kiveton Park Colliery, but for several decades had its own headgear. It was positioned just over a mile south west of Kiveton Park and was joined to the main pit by a branch line.

Did everyone in Kiveton Park and Wales work in the pits?

No, not at all. These areas were mining communities, in that a majority of local men worked at the pit and what happened at the pit had a direct impact on the way in which the community developed. However, we should be very careful not to overlook other industries which were important to this area. Quarrying, notably down by Kiveton Park Station and Dog Kennel Bridge, has been taking place for centuries, and it was there that the stone for the Houses of Parliament came from in the 1840s.

Agriculture was the main employer before the sinking of the deep pits and many men have continued to work on the farms since, including miners at harvest time. There is a long tradition of people from Kiveton Park and Wales working in Sheffield, and commuting either by bus or by train.

Did children work in the pits?

In the early years of deep mining, children were used as trappers: they sat in the pitch black while miners, often their father and mother, dug coal and lifted it into tubs. The child would open and close the door when necessary. Many became blind due to hours without seeing anything, not even a glimmer of light.

There was a public outcry about women and children working in the pits. Many felt that it shouldn't be allowed and a campaign was led by Anthony Ashley-Cooper (Lord Ashley, who later became Earl Shaftesbury). A law was passed in 1842 which made it illegal for women and children to work in pits. Remember though, that up until the twentieth century, boys as young as thirteen were still going underground, often starting work as pony drivers.

How did people get in the pit? Did they jump?

No, they didn't jump! The shaft at Kiveton was over 600 yards deep and the main seam was at 401 yards. Tragically, there are several cases of men falling down these shafts, at Kiveton and elsewhere. In the very old days, miners used to get down the pit in something like a bucket. To check the West Kiveton shaft, after the headgear had been brought down, miners had to sit in one of these while a train moved up and down the branch line, which pulled them up and down the shaft!

However, for most of the time the pits were open, miners went up and down the shaft in cages, which some miners called chairs. This was scary for some, as it hurtled very fast to the bottom of the pit. There are reports of some men coming straight back out of the pit after going down in the cage for the first time and never going back!

When we spoke to George Green, who used to work at Waleswood, he told us how his ancestors had been involved in a serious accident when the cage had hit the bottom of the shaft, shattering men's legs; they had to be taken to Sheffield Infirmary. When men weren't being moved up and down, cages were used to bring tubs of coal to the surface.

In the 1970s, Kiveton Pit became a drift mine. Large tunnels were created which went all the way from the surface to the workings underground. Now men could get small trains, called paddies, and coal could be brought out on huge conveyor belts. Men were specially trained to drive these paddies, including Michael Beaman, who you can listen to in the oral history section. He recounts one time when two lads went for a sleep and came very close to getting their legs chopped off by the paddy.

Who owned the pits?

This is quite a complicated question. When the pits were first sunk in the 19th century, they were owned by private companies. These companies often owned several pits and pits sometimes passed from one owner to another. However, not everybody was happy with this situation and many thought these powerful men shouldn't own the pits. After the First World War, they were even called ‘the stupidest men in England' by people who thought they were only interested in money.

The Labour Party began to campaign that the coal industry should be owned by the people, by the government running it. This became part of what the Labour Party was all about just after the First World War and stayed in the party's constitution until the 1990s. There was little the Labour Party could do about this between the wars because they only formed a government twice, both times with little power and only for a short time.

Things changed in 1945. After the Second World War, the Labour Party under Clement Attlee won a resounding victory against the Conservatives led by Winston Churchill. In the following years the government nationalised a number of important industries, including the coal industry on 1 January 1947. Waleswood Colliery was closed soon after but Kiveton Pit stayed open, nationalised, until it was closed in the 1990s when the Conservative Government effectively shut down Britain's coal industry.

Did everybody who worked at the pit work underground?

No. There were lots of jobs at the pits which weren't underground. The screens and later the coal preparation plant were where the coal was sorted and cleaned. There used to be steam engines to keep going, as you can hear about here. Winders were responsible for working the cage.

Checkweighmen did a vital job and many others worked the railway sidings. There were pony riders on the surface too, moving things around pit top to be taken underground. Lots of men were employed doing general labouring duties on the pit top. Stores men, clerks, office staff, managers were just a few of the many other jobs to be done on the surface.

In 1966, the year England won the World Cup, there were just over 1,000 men working at Kiveton: 416 on the coalface, 405 others underground and 233 on the surface.

What did people wear down the pit?

It might be hot or cold, wet or dry. Much would depend on which part of the pit you were working in and what you were doing.

Arthur Fitton, a tail-end ripper in the Hazel, wore nothing but shorts when he worked at the pit. Others wore nothing, particularly in the old days. We've been told that this was the case in Waleswood, where many men wore nothing, perhaps just a loincloth to protect their dignity. Leonard Gibson remembers how his training pit was so hot all trainees worked in just underpants.

In cold areas of Kiveton pit, particularly where air was being drawn in, men had to stuff newspaper into their overalls to keep warm. In the winter icicles speared down the shafts and some roadways became more like wind tunnels.

Where did miners go to the toilet?

This is a bit of a delicate question, as several local women found when they asked Harry Richardson during a visit to the pit in 1978! Basically, if you needed to go to the toilet, you found a quiet spot and you did what you needed to. In the old days, in the days of conveyors, men would often do their business on a shovel and tip it on a conveyor. It would taken be taken up to the surface but with all the other muck those working on the screens wouldn't have noticed!

Was it easy to get clean after working in the pit?

No, miners came out of the pit covered in muck and coal dust. Before the 1930s, miners had to go home and use a tin bath. The bath would be shared with the children, the smallest last, hence the phrase, ‘Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!'

From the 1930s, pithead baths were built at collieries across Britain. This was considered a great advance in miners' welfare and made a real difference to their everyday lives. Kiveton miners used to boast that they got home clean and groomed, while Sheffield steelworkers sat grubby and sweaty, packed into trams.

Many Kiveton miners still have the marks of working at the pit. One former miner has tried everything to get coal dust marks out of his skin; he left the pit eleven years ago. Another veteran's collars still get dirty from coal sweating through his skin.

Many of those who were injured in the pit, even only slightly, have vivid blue scars for the rest of their lives. This was sometimes called being ‘mapped'.

Was it dangerous working at the pit?

There were many dangers at the pit, both underground and on the surface. Many of these are well-known, such as dangerous gases, explosions and roof-falls, all of which claimed many victims at Kiveton and Wales. The images here show Michael Siddall, a miner at Kiveton who lost his life in 1876, and the newspaper report of his death. There are few former face-workers who weren't buried at some point during their time in the pits but, thankfully, most of them were able to get themselves out.

Other dangers aren't as well known, such as the dangers of the haulage system, of illegal man-riding or free-running tubs. The pit was filled with dangers, which is why men always looked out for each other. They also learnt to work and make their way around the pit carefully and could tell if something was wrong, this was known as ‘Pit Sense'.

Once a week, men had to walk the means of egress (emergency escape) to make sure the roadways and drifts were clear: Cyril Coxon used to do this every week, walking to Harrycroft Pit where the Kiveton miners would have escaped from. A winder was taken to Harrycroft especially, but Cyril had to be raised in a bucket because there was no cage.

There were dangers on the surface too, such as on the spoil tips, where one of the last men to die at Kiveton unfortunately lost his life. As well as fatalities, hundreds of other injuries each year included broken limbs and chopped-off fingers. Certain jobs led to particular injuries. For example, if, like Ernest Wilks, your job was to put tubs onto haulage ropes you risked getting your fingers caught in the chains. This photo shows Eddie Ashton, who lost his finger in an accident at the pit.

What animals were down the pit?

There were a surprising number of animals down the pit, although some of our younger volunteers have been a little overexcited when they speculated about dragons and snakes being down there!

There were lots of rats and mice at the pits, although these didn't mix: in the Barnsley Seam there were rats whilst the mice could be found in the High Hazel Seam. These were often seen as being a good thing for miners, as they were said to leave a district if there was going to be a major fall. When the Hazel Rise was created (a steep roadway between the Hazel and Barnsley), two men who worked on it, Jack Bennett and Enon Alsop, would bang on piping with hammers to get rats out.

Other animals found down the pit included pit ponies, about which you can read more elsewhere on this site, and canaries, which were used to detect gases in the pit in case of emergency. Canaries were kept in cages at the back of the pit offices for many years, on the right as you leave the back door. When down the pit, miners would know about the presence of certain gases depending on how the canaries reacted or if they passed out.

What was the Miner's Strike?

The Miner's Strike took place in 1984-5. It was not the first strike in the industry. Far from it, there had been major disputes back in the 19th century, and several strikes in the 1970s were particularly sharp. However, the strike of 1984-5 has gone down in history and remains very fresh in the minds of local men and women, whether they were directly involved or not. The Strike had a very deep impact on this area, which you can read about in a special section of the site.

Why don't they mine coal here anymore?

This is a difficult question. Many people, including those who worked at the pit and became very knowledgeable about these things in the years before it was shut, believed the pit could have carried on working. Kiveton Pit was turning out a huge amount of coal at competitive rates, even with its older equipment and workforce, but, like many other pits, it was shut regardless in the 1990s.

Some think that the government had another agenda, that the pits were shut not because they weren't worthwhile but because the Conservative government wanted them closed. There was anger and disappointment when pit closures were announced. Many from Kiveton went to London to protest in the early 1990s, you can listen to the sounds of one of the marches here, recorded by Edwin Tomlinson.

However, these protests had little effect, except to show the anger of Britain's coalfield communities. The pits were shut, their shafts filled, millions of pounds of equipment and billions of pounds of coal buried forever. Imagine those dark workings, now flooded, stretching for miles under your feet, where tens of thousands of local men used to work to support themselves and their families.

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