Grimethorpe Colliery – Iconic Pit with a Famous Band
By Melvyn Jones
Those who have only heard of the place as a mining settlement could well believe the name Grimethorpe (or Grimey as it is known locally), is a Victorian invention like Dickens’ Coketown in Hard Times. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Grimethorpe was first recorded in the thirteen century as Grimestorp and was obviously an old name at that time, being derived from Grimr, an Old Norse personal name and torp, a Danish Viking place-name element meaning an outlying farm or hamlet, hence ‘Grim’s outlying farm or hamlet. In the Middle Ages it lay on the edge of Brierley deer park, with its moated manor house set within the park, the sire of which still survives and is marked as Hall Steads to the north-east of Grimethorpe.
In 1831 Joseph Hunter in his South Yorkshire described Grimethorpe as ‘a few dwellings near an ancient mill’. And nothing much had changed by the time of the sinking of Grimethorpe Colliery in 1894. The Six-inch Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1890 and published in 1894 shows that it was still a small hamlet clustered around Grimethorpe Green. The land on which the hamlet had grown up and the surrounding farmland on which development was about to take place were both part of the estate of F. J. S. Foljambe Esquire of Osberton Hall in Nottinghamshire.
“Two white circles painted on the ground”
There was a manor house, two farms (Manor Farm and Foldhead Farm) and a few cottages including the Mill Cottages. There was a small school (erected 1868), a primitive Methodist chapel (erected 1869), but no public house. The population was only 87 in 1891. Although there were nine mine workers living in Grimethorpe in 1891, most of those in employment worked in rural occupations such as farmer, farm foreman, farm servant, farm labourer, groom and woodman. But all this was soon to change dramatically.
At 1:30 pm, on Monday 8 October 1894, the directors of Mitchell Main Colliery Company held a ‘Turning of the First Sod’ ceremony for the new Grimethorpe Colliery. And what a ceremony! Many of the guests were conveyed from Cudworth railway station in saloon and First Class railway carriages along a specifically constructed branch line to the colliery site. The party of guests then listened to speeches while gathered around two white circles painted on the ground marking the places where the colliery’s two shafts were to be sunk. In the centre of each circle was a white post with a flag flying.
Mr Joseph Mitchell of Bolton Hall, the company’s managing director, said that the Barnsley Seam would be expected to be reached at 500 yards and that the new coalfield to be exploited extended to 3,000 acres. He said that he expected the new colliery to be capable of producing 2,500 tons of coal a day, three-quarters of a million tons a year. Another of the speakers, Mr C. J. Tyas, acknowledged that they were industrialising a rural area when he said that the company had taken the best part of the Badsworth hunt country and that the runs of some of those there had enjoyed for so long would soon be impossible.
After the turning of the first sod ceremony, guests enjoyed a hearty lunch, the menu consisting of roast sirloin of beef, braised beef, pigeon pie, ham and tongue, boiled and roast chicken, turkey, grouse and pheasant, accompanied by cheese, celery and salads, followed by a selection of desserts. All this was washed down with a selection of champagne, sherry, claret and hock. And to round off the occasion, cigars, cognac and Scotch whiskey were provided!
In 1896 the ownership of the colliery was transferred from the Mitchell Main Colliery Company to the Carlton Main Colliery Company. The seven-feet-thick Barnsley Seam, in great demand as a steam coal, was reached in 1897 at a depth of 560 yards in two shafts and production began in the same year. In 1925 the workings were deepened to the almost equally thick Parkgate Seam, an excellent coking coal, at 839 yards.
Meanwhile in 1915, Ferrymoor Colliery was sunk immediately to the west of Grimethorpe Colliery by Hodroyd Colliery Company to work the Shafton Seam at a depth of 56 yards. In 1919 Ferrymoor Colliery was also acquired by the Carlton Main Colliery Company. The prediction by the reporter of the Barnsley Chronicle at the turning of the first sod ceremony came true very quickly. In the 13 October edition of the newspaper, he stated that ‘Instances are common enough hereabouts of sleepy, out-of-the-way villages being suddenly transformed into busy centres of population through the sinking of a new mine. Such a change, there is every reason to believe, will shortly be experienced in the village of Grimethorpe’.
By 1911 the population had risen to 3,262 and by 1931 had reached 5,208. And in the early years of its growth, the population of the new colliery village were all migrants. They had come not only short distances from neighbouring mining and farming villages and from the industrial town of Barnsley, less than five miles to the west (itself a scene of major nineteenth century population growth with a population of 50,000 in 1911 an increase of 32,000 since 1861), but from far and wide.
In the 1911 census of population, some four years after the first coal had been raised at Grimethorpe Colliery, the original hamlet of Grimethorpe and the new mining village were still two separate entities, being described by the census enumerator as ‘The Hamlet of Grimethorpe together with all the new cottages at Grimethorpe Colliery’. So new was the mining village in 1901 that there three of the six streets of cottages were simply called ‘One Street, ‘Two Street’ and ‘Three Street’ (Figure 6.5).
One of the three streets that was properly named was Joseph Street, the central one of the five running immediately north from High Street. Living in Joseph Street in 1901 were migrants not only from all parts of Yorkshire, but also from all the neighbouring counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire and from the midland counties of Leicestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. There were also migrants in Grimethorpe in 1901 from Bedfordshire, Durham, Gloucestershire, Wales and Ireland and there was even a Cockney, who had been born in London’s East End at Bromley-By-Bow.
Not surprisingly, Grimethorpe grew out of all recognition in the three decades between the opening of the colliery in 1897 and the late 1920s. The settlement had expanded in all directions. By 1929 the two collieries, with their headgear, engine houses, mineral railways and sidings, reservoirs, sludge ponds, spoil heaps and brick works covered an area more than four times as the original hamlet.
Areas of brick housing to accommodate the migrant families to the area had developed, swamping the farm buildings and cottages of the original inhabitants. As early as 1904, as shown on the Ordnance Survey 25 inches to one mile map, a substantial mining village had been laid out between Grimethorpe Colliery and the original hamlet of Grimethorpe. Although none of the streets were names on the 1904 map, the compact mining village then consisted of what became High Street with Joseph Street, Chapel Street and King’s Street to the north and Carlton Street, Queen’s Street, and Cudworth View to the south.
Standing separate from the village in 1904, at the western end of High Street, stood the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, by 1929 engulfed by the expansion of the village in that direction. The other major buildings in the village by 1904 were the mainly red brick St Luke’s parish church which had been occupied by the Archbishop of York in March of that year, and Grimethorpe school at the eastern end of High Street, next to Foldhead Farm, which in 1904 had 375 pupils. This school was built in addition to the small school, which had been built in 1868 and which stood across the road from St Luke’s church. It had been demolished by the time the 1929 sheet was published.
By 1929 the area covered by housing in Grimethorpe was four times as big as it was in 1904. Most of the growth was to the north of the original mining village, with more terrace housing on the streets named after seaside resorts – Brighton, Cromer, Hastings, Margate – and in the semi-detached houses on Brierley Road, Willow Dene Road, Park Road and Clifton Road. Another large development of semi-detached housing on winding roads and with large private gardens had also been built next to Lady Wood, in contrast to the closely packed grid-iron layout of the earliest housing.
By the end of the 1920s Grimethorpe had all the attributes of a self-contained community. The High Street was full of shops including the 52nd branch of the Barnsley British Co-operative Society, grocers, greengrocers, butchers, drapers, hairdressers, a confection, a chemist’s shop, a dentist’s surgery, two fish and chip shops and two wireless dealers. It had churches (including a Roman Catholic church) and chapels, schools, a public house (the Grimethorpe Hotel), a colliery institute, a working men’s club, a British Legion club, a cinema, a recreation ground with a bandstand, a miners’ welfare recreation ground, a bowling green, a football ground, a cemetery, extensive allotment gardens and, of course, the world-famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band, founded in 1917.
‘South Yorkshire Mining Villages: A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities’ by Melvyn Jones is published by Pen & Sword Books, £14.99, ISBN: 9781473880771