A brief history of Whitwick pit
April 19th, 1898 saw the single worst incident in the history of the Leicestershire coalfield. A ‘Gob' fire in No. 5 pit cost the lives of 35 men, and left 28 widows and 94 fatherless children, all under the age of thirteen, to fend for themselves. Not all the miners' bodies were found immediately, but a funeral was held for some of the dead which took place on April 24th. Such was the outpouring of grief that the streets were lined with almost 20,000 mourners who had come from neighbouring counties to pay their respects.
By 1969/1970, coal production levels at Whitwick pit were at their peak, and the colliery employed a total of 820 men.
The last shift at Whitwick pit came to conclusion at lunchtime on 3rd July, 1986. At that time the pit manager was Neville Rady, whose father and grandfather had worked there before him. According to British Coal records, half the workforce took voluntary redundancy and the remainder were redeployed to other pits, mainly Ellistown and Bagworth, but also in pits in South Derbyshire and Warwickshire.
In the months following the closure, salvage teams dismantled the pitheads and filled in the shafts. The local community marked the passing of an era with a special service at the Whitwick Methodist church on 27th July, 1986, and plans for a memorial, which would see a pit winding wheel erected in memory of all the miners who had served in the mines and, indeed, all who had died in the mines, was conceived. The site for the memorial was to be the "The City of Dan".
The pit wheel
When the Whitwick Colliery closed in 1986 it had been producing coal for 166 years.
Upon the closure of Whitwick Colliery, members of the Whitwick Historical Group thought that there should be a permanent and appropriate memorial to local miners.
Albert Robinson, who was Chairman of the group at the time, was aware that there was a new winding wheel held in reserve at the colliery. Albert and colleagues approached the Coal Board to secure their consent to allow the wheel to be erected in a prominent position in Whitwick as a memorial to all the miners who had served in the mines and, indeed, all who had died in the mines. The A.R.C. Company who owned Whitwick Quarry collected and stored the winding wheel until a site had been agreed upon. In view of the quarry's involvement, it was decided that men who had served at the quarry would also be commemorated alongside the miners.
The preferred site was 'The City of Dan' now devoid of houses and presenting a prominent position in Whitwick. Construction proceeded and a granite column was erected to secure the wheel in position. On the 20th October, 1990 a dedication service was held. Frank Smith (Nickname Flyer) a retired Whitwick Colliery miner and Union Official unveiled the two brass plaques, one on either side of the winding wheel support bearings.
The Whitwick Colliery CompanyIn the 1800s and up to 1947 the pit had a tally system for the men to work underground. The first private checks were brass and had a number stamped on them. Each miner was given a number when he started work at the pit which would identify him until he left or retired.
Whitwick pit ponies
- In 1842 the mines act prohibited women from hauling coal in the pits so the pit ponies took over the work.
- In 1949 the miners are pleased that a bill has been placed before Parliament to regulate the hours and conditions of pit ponies but the miners wondered what the mines would be like if ever the ponies were withdrawn.
- Around 1920 there was around 73,000 ponies working underground and in 1969 they were down to 1,500.
- The end of the ponies in Leicestershire was in 1968 and the last pony, named Sandy, was brought up from Snibston Colliery by Wilf Hall and Joe Whittaker and retired to Barratt Mill in Moira.