There was a general collapse of the coal market caused by the Civil War (1645-1660). The Parliamentarians under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell confiscated all coal pits owned by Cavaliers who were loyal to the Crown. Unfortunately again this act caused great hardship to the ordinary colliers who suddenly had no work.
In the late 1640s and early 1650s a small pit at Heanor was struggling to make a profit due to sales being unpredictable. It was stated that 1,500 loads of coal had been sold.
A cluster of bell pits around Denby had an average depth around 20 feet (6m) with shaft diameters around 6 feet (1.8m) and area extracted around 13 feet (4m). The surface was riddled with dozens of these pits over many years.
Parliamentary Parties originated, and the Whigs and the Tories were recognised. As with Kings and Queens in the past, Parliament would now have an influence over the coal industry in the future.
Philip Kinder wrote in 1663 that ‘No one cuntrie in the world hath more plenty of hard coale and none so good….the hard coale wheresoever it comes is cald the Darby-shire Coale, London and elsewhere’. In some processes it was found to use ‘coke’ which was more satisfactory than coal.
There was great expense to be found at a mine, for example sinking the shafts, fixing up a winding gear of sorts such as a whim gin or cog and rung gin with horses. Freeing a mine from water was effected by an Egyptian wheel at the time which comprised of a cog and rung system with an endless strap which went down the shaft to the sump. Leather buckets called dippers were fastened to the strap at intervals and as the buckets passed under a return wheel in the sump collected some water and was raised to the surface up the shaft and discharged onto an inclined board and into a wooden trough and thence discharged into a nearby stream or watercourse.
It is known that dogs were lowered into some pits to see if the air was suitable for men to enter the mine when it had been stood, because if the dog survived so would the men, however I have never found any reference to whether this system was ever used locally, but there is reference to a Dog pit near Ilkeston (Derbys).
Candles were preferred as they gave the best light. These were sometimes shielded with reflective material such as glazing to create a better light and also to prevent the flame being extinguished in a strong airstream. Where workings were thought to contain gas (methane), it was sometimes set alight before dangerous levels were reached and was known as ‘Wildfire’.
As previously mentioned, around this time horse gins began to gradually take over the winding of coal up shafts at the ‘larger’ mines whereas hand wound windlasses continued as before at the small shallow pits. Cog and rung winding (made out of wood) was a popular system to around 1690. Several horses would be needed to operate a fair-sized mine for raising coal and would have cost between £5 and £12 each.
In 1693 at Smaley (Smalley) there was a vein of coal about six feet (1.83m) thick. It was 20 fathoms deep (120 feet or 40 yards or 36.5m) into which a mine was sunk in 1690. It was accessed by a series of wooden ladders of 12 staves each and the coal was drawn up the shaft by horses and windlass and sold at the pithead for 6s 6d (32½p) a load. This pit was at the head of a sough. Sam Richardson owned the pit. He was able to sell his coal at 3d a hundred.
John Lowe spent upwards of £1,000 driving and perfecting a sough to keep his ‘delf’ dry, finished in the following year. That year he delivered coals at 3½d a hundred. At Denby, coal was sold for 5s 6d (27½p) a load or 3s 2d (15¾p) a ton.
Two men fell down a shaft at Stretton in 1694, which had been sunk in 1690 and both were killed. They fell off their pickaxes, which were stuck in the hemp winding rope. When children were introduced into the pits later, they would sit on the legs of an adult in this manner, this being the only way into the mine. It would be many many years before cages would be introduced into shafts.
In 1703 a sough was driven named Robeyfields or Loscoe sough, it was constructed by John Fletcher. He also constructed a sough at Langley to drain the Top Hard coal to the Bailey Brook and another at Owlgroves (Shipley) to the River Erewash.
The first Whymsey pit in Ripley Liberty was sunk in 1704 to the Ripley Old Hard coal. A level was driven to drain the Hard coal (sough?) – later referred to as Bokay sough (a very ancient tunnel to drain Ripley Old Hard coal, the mouth being near to Padley Hall). Until 2016 water still issued from the area of the former sough showing water was still draing from these ancient workings under Ripley. It has sadly been destroyed by preparation for the building of houses.
By 1723 the Langley Old pit had closed and the timber had been withdrawn. Other pits at Langley were the Old Bob, the New Bob, Brookbottom, Sough pit, and George Bircumshaw’s and Kerry’s in the ‘Field’ at Langley Common.
At Smalley a sough was driven from Kidsley Park to Park Brook near Smalley Green. There was an Engine pit (Richardson’s) near the Coach Road to Shipley, a Crank pit and Clep pit.
Around 1725, packhorses carried 2 sacks each of around one bushel of coal in each from the pits to the buyers.
On 18th April 1726 there was a 99 year lease by Thos Robey to John Fletcher in Robey’s land at Denby …‘to sink pits’.
The Mundy family was involved in coal mining around Heanor area in 1734.
The Loscoe sough was surveyed by Philip Hutchinson in January 1739 but it was not yet at work.
Coal hewers in the area were now earning between 1s 6d (7½p) and 1s 10d (9p) a day. There were still only around 30 mines in Derbyshire.
The plan of the coal seams or veins of coal to the NW of Nottingham by Philip Hutchinson shows soughs made by John Fletcher & Sons and pits at Swanwick, wrought or worked by (owner Madam Morewood), Pentridge (Haslam), Ripley (E Fletcher), Denby (Wm Drury Lowe), Loscoe sough at Hayna (Heanor); Langley sough; Marehay, Selston (unwrought, Sir Wolston Dixy and Sir Robert Sutton and some part wrought by Cook), Pinxton Field; Wansley (W Fenton – Duke of Newcastle & Sir ‘Wollastone’ Dixy or Dixie), Brinsley (Messrs Barber & Walker); Kimberley sough (Lord Stamford); Smal(l)ey (T Allen); Shipley, Ilkeston (in the Lordship, divers collieries) (Potter & Bourn), Duke of Rutland; Nuthal(l) (Holden); Wollaton (Lord Middleton); Cossall (Barber & Walker); West Hallam (Mrs Sutton), (Sir Windsor Hunlock) and Bilborrow (Bilborough) (Thomas Barber & Walker).
It was noted that the vein of coal at Swanwick ran north through Scarsdale to Yorkshire. Tramways ran from Kimberley, Bilborough and Wollaton pits to Nottingham. Three of the soughs made to ‘unwater’ the coal seams emptied into the River Erewash which is the natural boundary for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire