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The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter II

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CHAPTER II. DERBYSHIRE AND NOTTINGHAMSHIRE COAL AND IRON

Introduction

South of Sheffield, extending to Derby, the district covers a thoroughly English industry, less dependent perhaps on foreign trade than any other coal and iron area in the kingdom. Of the 33,000,000 tons of coal annually raised in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, with the addition of the Leicestershire pits, which form for official purposes one field, not 5 per cent is sent abroad; while the pig and finished iron made in the works of the eight great companies and the smaller firms who control that industry are chiefly consumed at home.

The pig iron goes to Yorkshire, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Lancashire and the Eastern Counties, but there is, besides, a very large local consumption. The rolling- mills and foundries connected with the blast furnaces turn out great quantities of material, which are absorbed not only in the local collieries and other trades, but also in the Midlands, in London and in the south, where, however, they come into competition with the sea-borne products of Middlesbrough and the Tees.

Iron as well as lead has been worked in Derbyshire for centuries. The "mine ore" formerly used in the open furnaces was found locally in connection with the coal measures, being smelted with charcoal. In 1740 only two furnaces were making charcoal iron, with a joint yearly output of 500 tons. The country is still dotted with old surface workings whence the ore was derived. Much of it was carried on the backs of mules or ponies over bridle-paths, some of which still exist among the hills. The first coke-heated furnace was built by Francis Hurt in 1780, and other blast furnaces were erected near Chesterfield and at Wingerworth and Staveley in the following year. In 1855 there were thirty furnaces, with an annual output of 158,000 tons, out of 746 in Great Britain producing 4,400,000 tons. The number and capacity of blast furnaces in the Derbyshire district in 1855 were as follows:—

Name of Works No. of furnaces Weekly make per furnace. (Tons) Annual production of furnaces. (Tons)
Staveley 4 90 18,720
Codnor Park 3 110 17,160
Alfreton 3 90 14,040
Butterley Hall 3 100 15,600
Wingerworth 3 120 18,720
Staunton 3 120 18,720
Morley Park 2 70 7,280
Renishaw 2 110 11,440
Clay Cross 2 100 10,400
Adelphi 2 100 10,400
West Hallam 2 100 10,400
Newbold 1 100 5,200
Total 30   158,080

The great modern successors of the old Derbyshire ironmasters abandoned the local ores in the sixties, when Northamptonshire oolitic ironstone took their place. In 1875 Lincolnshire stone was introduced and used with great advantage as a fluxing agent, mixed with the more silicious Northamptonshire ore, of which it is now an important rival; for not only is it used in the Derbyshire furnaces, but large blast-furnace plants have been erected in the midst of the mines themselves, notably at Scunthorpe, thereby saving the heavy carriage rates on the ore.

The coal worked almost exclusively until recent years was that of the valuable "Top Hard" seam, known in Yorkshire as the "Barnsley Bed," great quantities of which are taken by railways and steam-users in the Midland and Eastern Counties. Becoming exhausted near the outcrop, it was mainly worked at depths ranging from 300 to 550 yards. In the later pits the sinkings are deeper, reaching from 500 to 940 yards from the surface. A considerable portion of the house coal consumed in London and the South of England comes from the High Hazel, Deep Soft, Tupton, Blackshale and Kilburne seams in the same district. It is now necessary to work these seams to maintain the output of the pits. The deeper seams have been developed by the New Hucknall Co at Bentinck Colliery and at Annesley, and by the Butterley Co at Summit Colliery. The Shipley Colliery was working in 1840. The Babbington Collieries belong to the family of the late Sir Charles Seely, Bart.

There are seventy collieries in the whole area, having outputs of not less than 1,000,000 tons, most of which are owned by the following firms:

The output of the first-named is 3,500,000 tons. Excluding the five collieries in the Leen Valley established since 1862 (when coal at the depth to which they were sunk was regarded as a highly speculative investment), and excluding also the collieries in South Derbyshire and those of the eleven great firms above referred to, there are fourteen or fifteen undertakings in North Derbyshire, some owning several pits, whose output is dependent on the open market. Coke-oven and bye-product plants are ten in number, with a total of 850 ovens. They are supplied with coal washeries of various types, such as Luhrig, Baum, Humbolt, Coppee and Rheolaveur, as well as Greaves, Blackett, Burnet and Shepherd varieties.

Besides these, new shafts have been recently sunk by the Bolsover Co. to the "Top Hard" seam at Clipstone and Thoresby, by the Butterley Co. at 0llerton, by the New Hucknall Co. at Welbeck, by the Newstead Colliery Co (jointly owned by the Sheepbridge Coal and Iron Co and the Staveley Coal and Iron Co) at Blidworth, and by Barber, Walker and Co at Harworth. The Firbeck Main Colliery near Worksop has been sunk by the Staveley and Sheepbridge Companies. A new sinking has been commenced at Bilsthorpe by the Stanton Iron Works Co. These are all in Nottinghamshire, and, when fully worked, will produce upwards of 7,000,000 tons a year, employing some 20,000 men. These developments will involve the building of new villages (some of which have already been laid out) for housing probably 70,000 people. This coalfield lies to the east of the older Derbyshire collieries. Many of the newer pits are connected with one another by electric power lines miles in length, so as to economise in both capital and running costs. Electricity is, in fact, largely taking the place of steam.

The collieries of Derbyshire had a total output in 1904 of 15,000,000 tons, which rose in 1918 to 18,000,000 tons, but fell in 1921 to 9,500,000. In 1924 it rose to nearly 17,000,000 tons, and 68,000 men were employed. The older collieries, having been worked for many years, do not afford the same opportunities for development as the newer ones in Nottinghamshire, of which the output is 14,190,000 tons and which employ 57,000 men. Some new sinkings have, however, been made during the last twenty years. The Butterley Co. has sunk the Ormond pit, the Staveley Co. those of Dowell ("Do Well") and Ramcroft, whilst J. and G. Wells have sunk the West Thorpe pit and another has been opened by the Manners Co. The Sheepbridge Co, too, has sunk a new pit at Glapwell. This coalfield is served by a network of railways, giving ample facilities for the disposal of the output.

The Leicestershire field is a detached area of forty square miles between Burton-on-Trent and Leicester, with a group of twelve highly profitable collieries working at moderate depths, and producing 3,151,000 tons of steam, house and manufacturing coals, with low rates of carriage to London and the Birmingham district. The largest of these are the Desford, the Ibstock, the South Leicestershire and the Whitwick Collieries, none of which, however, produces as much as 500,000 tons.

The iron-making firms, all of which except the Renishaw and Denby Companies are large colliery owners, date back for a considerable period.

Barber, Walker and Co

The firm of Barber, Walker and Co, one of the oldest in the Midlands, owning also collieries in Yorkshire, has until quite recently been carrying on under a lease granted to its predecessors by Colonel Hutchinson, of Oliver Cromwell's army. The Staveley Iron Works were founded early in the eighteenth century, and were in active operation when Brindley's Chesterfield and Trent Canal was made in 1777. In 1786 three blast furnaces were lighted, owned by Ward and Lowe. In 1850 these were acquired by the late Charles Barrow, and subsequently floated as a public company by a group of Manchester capitalists, with Charles Markham as Managing Director and Henry Davis Pochin as Chairman. The property has developed into a large and very prosperous concern, having now four modern and five old open-top blast furnaces. The boilers are fired by blast-furnace gas. By the enterprise of the late Charles Paxton Markham, who succeeded his father as Managing Director, the Devonshire Chemical Works were constructed on a most extensive scale to utilise on the spot in chemical processes the "waste" products — that is to say, the gas of the coke ovens, of which there are 225 fully supplying the furnaces. The present Chairman is Sir William Bird, who fills the same position in the Dalmellington Co in Lanarkshire. Among the Directors are Messrs. William Humble, David Turner, R. Whitehead, Percy Fawcett, and S. Berresford. The Company owns seven collieries in Derbyshire, with an output of 2,500,000 tons, and employs 7,000 men. It controls the Doncaster Collieries Association, with an output of 5,000,000 tons, and has other coal property in South Yorkshire.

James Oakes and Co

At the time of the Crimean War the firm of James Oakes and Co undertook the manufacture of round shot and cast-iron guns. The works of the Butterley and the Renishaw Companies, established in 1792 by Outram (the inventor of the hollow tram-rail originally called the "Outram Rail"), the Jessops and the Wrights, remain in these families still.

The Codnor Park Works of the Butterley Co. with two blast furnaces were erected in 1811. This Company now owns several furnaces with a large consumption of coke.

Clay Cross Co

The Clay Cross Co was established in 1837 by George Stephenson, of railway fame (who then lived at Chesterfield), Sir Morton Peto and Sir Joshua Walmsley. It is now the property of the Jackson family, who have given distinguished representatives to the service of commerce and the State, including Sir Henry Mather Jackson, Bart., the Chancery Judge, and his son, Mr. William B. M. Jackson, the Managing Director of the Sheepbridge group of iron works and collieries, and joint Managing Director of the Yorkshire Amalgamated Collieries.

Sheepbridge Coal and Iron Co

The Sheepbridge Coal and Iron Co, of which the writer of these pages is Chairman, and which, in addition to its Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire collieries, has large coal investments in South Yorkshire pits as well as in ironstone mines in Northamptonshire and Rutland, is the owner of the Sheepbridge Ironworks, comprising blast furnaces, foundries and a forge. These works, established in 1856 by Messrs. Fowler and Hankey, were purchased in 1864 and afterwards floated as a limited company by the same group of capitalists who acquired the Staveley property. Henry Davis Pochin was Chairman. The other Directors to-day are Mr. W. H. McConnel, the Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Norman, Bart., Mr. William B. M. Jackson and Lt.-Col. H. K. Stephenson, D.S.O. Its Langwith and Glapwell Collieries employ 4,200 men, and raise about 1,200,000 tons yearly.

The Grassmoor Collieries are the property of the Barnes family.

Stanton Iron Works Co

The Stanton Iron Works Co, of which Mr. C. R. Crompton is Chairman and Mr. W. Benton Jones is among the Directors, owns seventeen blast furnaces, with a consumption of 337,000 tons of coke per annum. Formerly belonging to an old private firm, it was acquired about the year 1862 for a bad debt by the bank of Messrs. Crompton and Evans, and was subsequently turned into a public company, which has since enjoyed a prosperous career.

Bolsover Colliery Co

The Bolsover Colliery Co, of which Mr. C. A. Cochrane is Chairman, and amongst the Directors of which are Mr. J. P. Houfton and Sir E. T. le Marchant, is a highly profitable concern. It was founded in 1890 by Emerson Bainbridge and Tylden Wright. It owns five collieries, with an output of 3,500,000 tons.

The Bestwood Coal and Iron Co, over the Nottinghamshire border, is of more recent origin. Among the Nottinghamshire colliery firms is that of the Digby Colliery at Lenton, sunk by Thomas Bayley in 1864. The Speedwell, New London and Gedling pits were sunk later, and afterwards the Manners Colliery was acquired. The united output is 1,200,000 tons, with a very low capital of 4275,000. The firm employs 4,900 men. The Managing Director is Lt.-Col. Sir Dennis Readett-Bayley, K.B.E., who organised, on the basis of a levy of £1 per 1,000 tons of output, a fund, to which the coal-owners and the miners of the United Kingdom contributed each one half, for supplying motor ambulances on the British front in France. This fund soon amounted to nearly £1,000,000. In addition to the money raised in the mining industry, contributions came from the textile and brewing trades, from the National Union of Railwaymen and from the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, amounting to £200,000. This was at a time when no provision had been made by the War Office for such a service. Needless to say, it was of inestimable value to our wounded men. Many of these ambulances are now distributed among our hospitals. The Chairman of the Committee dealing with this fund was the late Sir Charles Seely, Bart., M.P., and among the members were the Rt. Hon. Lord Nunburnholme, the Rt. Hon. Thomas Ashton, the Rt. Hon. J. H. Thomas, M.P., Sir Adam Nimmo, Mr. Robert Smillie, Mr. W. C. Robinson, Mr. Herbert Smith, O.B.E., Sir Charles Nall-Cain, Bart., Mr. C. C. Leach, Mr. Maurice Deacon, Mr. Saxton Noble and the writer of these pages, all either employers of labour or employed.

The progress of pig-iron production in Derbyshire is as follows:

  • 1796, 9,656 tons;
  • 1806, 10,300 tons;
  • 1823, 14,000 tons;
  • 1840, 31,000 tons;
  • 1880, 366,790 tons, with forty furnaces in blast;
  • 1890, 650,000 tons;
  • 1900, 770,000 tons;
  • 1904, 610,000 tons.

The works of the companies referred to consist in the main of blast furnaces, roiling-mills, pipe and other foundries, together with wagon shops and other departments connected with the upkeep of their collieries and works. Their chief products are forge and foundry pig iron, merchant bars, much of the highest quality, and common castings, whilst several of them are well known to civil engineers as among the largest makers of cast-iron pipes for water and gas mains, iron "tubbing" for colliery shafts, and the iron shields and tubbing which line the underground tube railways of London. Large profits have been made in past years, probably never to repeat themselves, by the supply of gas and water pipes to corporations and companies abroad. In more than one instance the ironmaster financed, at great profit to himself, the undertaking which gave him its orders.

Whilst most of the collieries belonging to these companies and all the more recently sunk pits in the district are thoroughly well equipped and worked on the most approved modern systems, it cannot be said that all the Derbyshire ironworks have adopted the newest appliances. Originally designed, before the advent of railways, to meet a small local demand, and at a time when labour was cheap, they are so situated that it would be difficult to-day, without wholesale reconstruction, to bring all of them into line with the splendid installations of Middlesbrough and of the United States. But it is contended by some of those responsible for the management of the Derbyshire firms that the class of iron made in their furnaces would gain nothing in quality or cheapness by the use of the lofty and elaborate furnaces of the north, and that the smaller furnaces of the district are, after all, the best adapted to the trade they serve. During the last twenty years, however, the blast-furnace gases have been generally utilised for raising steam and for driving gas engines. There is little doubt that in average years, money is made on these lines in Derbyshire so far as pig iron is concerned

There can be no question as to the financial resources of all these firms. Large sums would at any time be at their command on the part of the investing public in Sheffield or Manchester if they thought fit to extend their business or to erect new plant. Their Directors are men thoroughly conversant with the trade in which they are engaged, they are largely interested in the capital of their respective companies, and understand what they are about. And as showing that they are alive to modern ideas when applicable to these works, it may be noted that the Staveley, Stanton and Clay Cross Companies have adopted modern systems of automatic charging for their blast furnaces and that the Sheepbridge Co. is equipped with two complete high and automatically charged furnaces with appliances on the latest American model. At Staveley, Clay Cross and Sheepbridge gas engines are now in use, driven by the blast-furnace gases, generating at a very low cost electricity, the motive power used at all departments of the works, and in the case of Staveley providing a bulk supply for local authorities. At the Devonshire Works at Staveley, the gas from the coke ovens is utilised in the same way, and the largest internal-combustion engine in this country, made by a Belgian firm, is driven by gas from the furnaces and coke ovens.

The pipe foundries which form an important trade in connection with some of the Derbyshire metallurgical industries are probably second to none in the kingdom, and turn out work of high quality at a low cost. But it is a question whether the trade has not been overdone, as these companies have been in the habit of cutting prices among themselves, besides being exposed to keen competition from Middlesbrough, Scotland and the Birmingham districts, and, so far as business on the south coast is concerned, even from France. The output of bar iron does not find the ready market it did in former days, when the well-known iron-bridge makers and engineering firms of the Midlands, such as Andrew Handyside and Co of Derby, were large consumers of angle iron in the bridge and roof-work for which they are famous. The ironwork of St. Pancras Station, Vauxhall Bridge, the roofs of the West India and other docks, the bridge at Leith Harbour, and the lock gates on the Caledonian Canal are instances of Derbyshire material. But to-day such structures would be made of steel. For constructional purposes of all kinds iron has given way to steel; and though the forges of Derbyshire may not actually represent a dying industry, their productive capacity is not likely to be extended in the present generation. Puddlers are not easy to get, as fewer men are disposed to undertake that labour. But there is no doubt that the consumption of Derbyshire pig iron during the past twenty years has considerably increased. The trade in heavy castings also has grown during the present century. The foundries are equipped with the newest mechanical and labour-saving appliances.

During the last twenty years large sums have been paid by these companies to their shareholders in dividends, which have been honestly earned by capable management after making not only ample but generous provision for extensions and depreciation. Their share capital has not been materially increased for many years, and as several new collieries have been sunk and equipped by some of them, and large sums of money have been spent on plant and machinery for the iron works of all, it is obvious that the revenue earned in good years has provided the ways and means for these extensions and for increased employment, in addition to the handsome dividends paid. The results of the trade show that when that equipment is maintained at a high level without inflating the capital engaged in the business, profits, in spite of outside competition, can be earned easily and good wages can be paid. There is no reason to doubt that those firms who do not publish their accounts are quite as favourably situated in regard to finance as those who do. Their capital must be fully represented by assets, and it is well known in Derbyshire that their average profits are large.

Lead mining has been an active industry in Derbyshire. Its customs are peculiar, and date back to Roman times. On them were founded the rules observed in the Australian and Klondike goldfields. In the Peak area around the Mattocks, in what are known as the Soke and Wapentake, there are to-day 4,000 disused lead mines. The trade is governed by a special local Act of Parliament, passed in 1852, consolidating ancient customary regulations, which gives any miner a right to dig and delve in any one's land, free of charge by the landowner. The law is administered by an official called the Barmaster, who represents the King, as Duke of Lancaster, as his Majesty receives a tithe of every dish of ore raised in the King's Field.

The men engaged in the iron trade belong to an old, sturdy race. They are the descendants of the Derbyshire iron-workers of the days gone by, with a leaven of men of South Staffordshire descent, and they carry on the trade according to traditional methods. The local stock is also mixed to some extent with men trained on the north-east coast, supplemented by labourers from Northamptonshire. They consist chiefly of foundry-men, are skilled artisans, and as a body are a very respectable set of men. The blast-furnacemen, of course, are fewer in number, but are of much the same type. Puddlers and mill-furnacemen are a diminishing number, and the younger of them are gradually leaving this class of work to go into other branches of the trade, or, as is oftener the case, are going into collieries, where they can get more regular work. On the whole the prevailing opinion in this district is that the iron-workers as a body are a better class of man than the average collier. Many of them are really very good men indeed, and their wives and families compare favourably with the working classes in any district or in any occupation. Trade disputes are not frequent. Large numbers of iron-workers belong to no union at all. This is particularly the case in the local engine-building works, such as the Broad Oaks Works at Chesterfield. This concern, well known for its colliery winding engines, has recently been acquired by the Staveley Co. The Boilermakers' Union, to which the furnace-men who are unionists belong, is a powerful society with plenty of money, but the men do not encourage frivolous strikes. The colliers, of whom in 1925 68,326 were employed in Derbyshire and 57,425 in Nottinghamshire, above and below ground, are a fairly good class of men. Owing to the growth of the coal output during the last forty years, they are by no means in every case trained to the mine from boyhood, but have been recruited from other trades. The old lacemen and stockingers from Nottingham furnished a strong contingent - men who practised their own trade at home till the great hosiery and lace factories absorbed the homestead industry and diverted it into the hands of women and girls. Other men have immigrated from Leicestershire and Staffordshire collieries.

The Derbyshire miners as a whole may be said to be thrifty. They are careful of their personal appearance and that of their families. Their homes are often models of neatness. They believe in sick and benefit clubs, and many belong to several of these. Perhaps 15 per cent of the men own their own houses, but as every colliery owner when he sinks his pit in a rural parish builds his own workmen's cottages, there is less room for building societies than in some other districts. Great numbers of new houses of a very good modern type have been built (as in the case of the Sheepbridge Co.) in connection with the new pits. The houses being built by the colliery companies are similar to those on the Yorkshire coalfield. They are far superior to those in the old mining villages of Lanarkshire, Durham and South Wales. In most cases they are lighted by electricity generated at the colliery, fitted with baths, water drainage, sometimes with constant hot-water supply, and other improvements, whilst the companies have provided recreation grounds, and sites for churches, chapels, cinema houses and the like.

There is not as much poaching of game nowadays as when the older mineral leases were granted, leases which contained covenants on the part of the lessees to discharge any man convicted of the offence. Such forms of sport as rabbit coursing attract some miners, whilst gardening is a favourite occupation with others. Many who can obtain allotments become excellent gardeners, raising vegetables and flowers which go to local shows. Others form brass bands in the villages where they reside, and cricket and football are very popular. Education is not neglected, and there are instances of pit-boys working for public examinations and taking University degrees. On the other hand, there is too much gambling among both men and women. A large portion of their wages is wasted over horse-racing and football matches. Many miners' wives regularly bet their sixpences and shillings on all the chief races. There is, however, less drunkenness than in some other parts of England. Many take their families for trips to the seaside. Probably 25 per cent attend some place of worship, and most of these are Dissenters.

Much has been done by the colliery owners to provide clubs and institutes, frequently managed by committees of the men themselves. These afford comfortable quarters where they can play billiards, read the papers, acquire intellectual improvement, and obtain good and cheap refreshment, and where meetings of their benefit and of their trade union lodges can be held without those present being obliged to drink for the good of some public-house. Co-operative societies interest the miners, and their savings are freely deposited with these institutions, which pay them interest as well as quarterly dividends on the amount of their purchases. As most of the collieries are situated in country places, the men have every chance of living a healthy and well-ordered life, under the best conditions as to housing, wages and regular employment. This all tells in favour of the colliery owner, who can, as a rule, depend on his men, and is able to trade without fear of capricious local strikes.

There are several blast-furnace plants in the adjoining county of Northampton, making foundry forge and basic pig iron. Lloyd's Ironstone Co belongs to the great Scottish steel firm of Stewarts and Lloyds, with the Kettering Iron and Coal Co. The Islip Iron and Coal Co and the Wellingborough Iron Co work on local ores. Between them they own up-to-date furnaces, of which usually only eleven are actually in blast. There are two other iron-making firms in the county. The Northamptonshire ores are extensively used by the Derbyshire iron-making firms, most of whom own mines of their own. The ore finds its way also) to Middlesbrough and the north-cast coast, and to the Monmouthshire and South Wales furnaces.

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