Tour the Industrial Heritage Sites of North West Leicestershire and South Derbyshire
Coal Mining Trail
The sites and buildings that you can see today in the local area will give you an insight into the huge importance that the mining industry had to the community over a period of nearly a thousand years. The local coalfield comprised two parts; collieries within the South Derbyshire part to the west, one of the smallest in the Midlands, extended from Swadlincote southwards into Leicestershire; the Leicestershire part from Staunton Harold south-easterly to Desford comprised about 15 seams.
There are walking tours which describe historic features of the easterly section. See the 'The Mining Heritage Trail' and the 'Swannington Village Trail' both of which follow public footpaths. Follow the tour to find what can be seen today.
The Coal Mining trail can be started at any of the villages or towns. Here, we've started in Whitwick, a large village close to Coalville.
Whitwick Colliery was opened in 1824 starting a massive expansion of this industry across North West Leicestershire. Though coal mining on this scale became a major concern for the village for one hundred and sixty one years, it is still considered by many to be a colliery village due to the massive physical impact of the industry on the character of the village. After the colliery finally closed in the mid 1980s it was converted to a retail park with a supermarket situated above the old shafts.
A winding wheel can still be seen at the foot of Leicester Road erected as a monument to Whitwick's mining and quarrying past following the closure of the colliery (photograph above). The remaining quarry undertook the job of installing the wheel at The City of Dan on behalf of Whitwick Historical Group.
There was a mining disaster on 19th August 1898 in Whitwick No 5 Pit, which resulted in the deaths of thirty five men. Some of the bodies were never recovered and remain entombed under Forest Road, Coalville. A memorial tablet to those killed can be found in Christchurch, the parish church for Coalville and the hearse used following the disaster can be seen in the museum at Snibston.
There is also a memorial window for 1914 in the parish church of St John the Baptist, Whitwick, to all men who were killed in the mining and quarrying industries. This is the east window of the north aisle showing the Crucifixion of Christ with a donation of £50 given by the Duchy of Lancaster, patrons of the church since Tudor times. The church has many other fine Victorian stained glass windows.
Whitwick Historical Group has a large collection of photographs, maps and artifacts relating to the industrial heritage of the village and is housed in the former Whitwick Railway Station in the centre of the village.
Next, move on just a couple of miles to the town centre of Coalville located on A511 in North West Leicestershire.
Snibston, adjacent to Coalville town centre, is built on the site of Snibston No 2 Colliery which was just one of a number of coal mines that were sunk by George Stephenson's Colliery Company in and around Coalville. The former colliery is of national importance and is one of just five complete or substantially complete collieries that have been preserved for future generations. At Snibston you can see medieval mining tools and later mining technologies, take a guided tour with an ex-miner and explore some of the colliery buildings including the lamp room, medical centre and winding house. The old pit winding gear can still be seen as you approach Snibston.
Coalville Heritage Society produces books about the heritage of the town and district and its large photo archive holds many mining photos and also details of Coalville's many famous personalities and industries. These include wagon building, brick and terracotta manufacture, mosaic tile production, narrow elastic web weaving, loom manufacture, quarry plant manufacture, brick machinery plant design and manufacture, needlemaking, toy manufacture and granite quarrying. Many of these enterprises were world leaders in their day.
Explore the town's fascinating past by following the Society's 'Coalville Town Trail' booklet, available from Snibston or the Society's website.
Coalville is also famous for other industries such as needlemaking, basketmaking, toy manufacture and granite quarrying.
Next, you must travel to the village of Swannington just a mile away from Coalville. Travel through the village towards Coleorton but pull over and park your car when you see the brown and white tourism signs on the left hand side of the road for Hough Windmill.
The Swannington Heritage Trail through the village of Swannington provides an opportunity to explore a number of industrial heritage sites including coal mining. Since the 13th century coal near to the surface has been worked at Swannington and as technology improved deeper coal was extracted. The development of the Newcomen pumping engine in the 18th century enabled the first deep mines to be sunk on Swannington Common.
The development of the Leicester and Swannington Railway encouraged continuing development of an important enterprise based on six deep mines until the late 19th century. An engine house and headstocks built on the site of the former Calcutta Colliery to contain a massive pumping engine which eventually drained the whole of the coalfield can still be seen, along with surface features of workings left in medieaval times and the remains of two large engine houses of Califat Colliery.
If you follow the trail you will also see other reminders concerning the transport of coal from the pits by pack horse, by turnpike roads, by horse drawn tramways and finally the early railways.
Swannington Heritage Trust has restored the site of Swannington incline plane which was part of Robert Stephenson's Leicester and Swannington Railway, built to move the coal away from the area, and has provided a permitted footpath for walkers to explore the site. The remains of tramroads and the Coleorton Railway can still be seen. The Trust is also refurbishing Grade II listed Hough Windmill which ceased working at the end of the 19th century.
The visitor centre contains interpretive displays of mining and transport heritage along with details of the Trust's many award winning achievements.
The next village to visit is Coleorton, less than a mile away from Swannington. Park your car in The George public house and walk along the public right of way to the next view point.
Coleorton is another area with mining heritage and there is still much to see linked to this industry. The area of land around The George in Coleorton contains numerous examples of early coal mining including Bell Pits and later deep mines. The lines of Jessops Tramroad can be seen in the earthworks behind the inn which linked Boultbee's eigteenth century mine with the Charnwood Forest Canal. Visit Snibston to see some of the earliest mining tools revealed in archaeological excavations at Coleorton open-cast mine between 1985 and 1993.
Coleorton Wood in the old part of Coleorton village is a six hectare area of woodland that has been planted on the site of the former ‘Bug and Wink' Colliery.
Next you should travel to the the market town of Ashby de la Zouch and then on to Swadlincote for your next stop on our Coal Mining tour.
In 1795 Sir Nigel Gresley opened a small mine linked to pottery kilns and workshops in the grounds of Gresley Hall, his ancestral home, in an unsuccessful attempt to make porcelain. Eventually Gresley Old Hall would become the main social club for miners and their families, and is still open today. A collection of tools, books, photographs and multi-media showing the mining heritage of this area is held by the South Derbyshire Mining Preservation Group at Gresley Old Hall.
The former colliery spoil heaps and clay holes in Swadlincote have now been restored to provide a pleasant landscape of trees and grass around the outskirts of the town.
Other principal industries in Swadlincote were brick-making and the manufacture of clay products, including pottery and was once considered to be the sewage pipe making capital of the world!
Hover over each photograph for more industrial heritage trails