In the early years of the 19th century the Butterley Company leased land in Kirkby Parish from the Duke of Portland and began sinking two shafts for a coal mine. This enterprise was given the name Portland Colliery No. 1 and was the forerunner in our district of the modern deep mines of the Nottinghamshire Coalfield that we can all recall.

PHOTO Portland Collieries 1818 – 1921-001 PHOTO

The Portland Collieries grew into four different collieries with seven shafts serving these collieries situated between the local villages of Pinxton, Selston, Annesley Woodhouse, Kirkby Woodhouse and Old Kirkby.

The shafts of Portland No. 1 Pit were sunk around 1818 and were situated about half a mile from Park Lane (road between Old Kirkby and Selston). Two shafts were sunk at this Colliery and numbered No. 1 and No. 3 shaft, No. 3 shaft had a large Cornish Beam Pumping Engine and the Engine House was dated 1821. The pumping shaft like the other was about 8ft. in diameter and it was 273 yards deep to the Top Hard Coal Seam. Portland No. 1 Colliery was given the name “Old Isaiah” being named after the manager Isaiah Rigley.

PHOTO Portland Collieries 1818 – 1921-002 PHOTO

The Company went on shaft sinking until they built up a quite unusual multi shaft mine complex. Portland No. 2 was a one shaft mine sunk at the same time as No. 1 and No. 3 shafts. It was situated to the East of No. 1 pit but on the opposite side of Park Lane. It was given a name by the miners “Jerry Pit” after a man named Jeremiah who managed the Portland No. 1 and No. 2 pits started production in 1821. By the year 1824 fifty thousand tons of coal per year were being produced. Work on the local Pinxton to Mansfield Railway had begun by an Act of Parliament being passed in 1817. By April 1819 the railway was ready for use and it was officially opened on Easter Tuesday 1819. This railway was a boon to the Portland No. 1 and No. 2 pits for it ran quite close to both of them. Wagons on this railway were drawn by bullocks or horses which pulled them from the Cromford Canal at Pinxton to the Summit of the track at Kirkby where there they gravitated to Mansfield by their own weight. The price of coal became cheaper at Mansfield and a special contract was obtained by Portland Collieries to supply the new gas works at Mansfield which opened around 1823.

Bleakhall Wharf Yard was built in 1827 by the Butterley Company to haul coal from the “Jerry Pit” Portland No. 2 to the top of the incline plane in what is now Kirkby Woodhouse. During these early years a tragic accident happened on this incline plane when a local school girl had collected milk from the farm at the bottom of the incline plane and made the fatal mistake of jumping onto a moving tub for a ride uphill. It would appear that her shawl had got caught up in the wheel and she was dragged under the tram and crushed to death.

More shaft sinking took place in the 1840’s by the Butterley Company. Portland Colliery No. 4 whose shafts were numbered No. 4 and No. 5 were the closest sunk to Bleakhall Hamlet (now Kirkby Woodhouse). They were located just over the Cuttail Brook that runs into the River Erewash. No. 4 shaft was worked by a large direct driven beam engine with one tub on the top deck of the shaft cage and a water barrel on its bottom deck. The barrel was used to bring mine water out of the pit instead of using a pump. The shafts at Portland No. 4 pit were sunk to the Top Hard Seam at a depth of 331 yards.

Two shafts for Portland Colliery No. 6 were sunk about the same time as Portland No. 4 and they were approximately 1 mile West of them. These last two shafts were numbered No. 6 and No. 7. This completed the 7 shaft Portland Colliery Complex.

The surface workings of the four Collieries No. 1, No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 were all connected by a small single track railway or were close to haulage planes. Their system of tramways included one from the Portland pits to the canal and ironworks at Codnor Park. Stationary steam engines, placed at strategic points along the system where gradients were steep, turned a drum which pulled small wagons through the medium of a rope. During the 1870’s the Butterley Company developed a small steam shunting locomotive. Unlike main-line engines, this engine had a vertical boiler and a pair of ventrical engines connected to the road wheels by gearing.

As the underground workings developed the four Portland Colliery pits were interconnected underground. In the 1880’s there must have been a special drive to achieve this connection as Nos. 1, 2 and 4 collieries were connected by the 17th January 1880.

Relating to the above during the 2nd World War local collieries were interconnected underground so that if a pit’s winding facilities were damaged by enemy bombing any men trapped underground would be able to escape through another collieries shafts. Annesley, Newstead and Blidworth collieries were interconnected for this purpose.

In the early years men working at the Portland Collieries had to provide their own candles for illumination underground. The poor light from these was the cause of many eye problems where many men had to come out and work on the surface. By the turn of the century (1900) lighting dynamos were installed at the Portland Collieries and electric cables fixed through the shafts so that pit bottoms and underground roadways at their junctions with others were well lit.

There has always been fatalities in coal mining and the Portland Colliery Complex was no different. In 1844 the Portland Pits employed 29 boys under 13 years of age, the youngest being 7 and 27 boys under 18. One reported accident states “Joseph Abbott, a boy, was killed and the pony also by a pothole falling.” June 13th 1871 was a bad day at the Portland Pits, one unfortunate mineworker named James Fletcher was killed that day at the No. 1 Colliery. As if that wasn’t bad enough another poor man named William Flint was so badly burnt at No. 4 Colliery that he died soon afterwards.

Portland No. 1 Colliery sunk 1818 closed 1916 – the shafts were filled up in April 1954 and surface installation demolished in 1966.
Portland No. 2 Colliery sunk 1818 closed 1916 – and abandoned in 1921.
Portland No. 4 Colliery sunk 1840 – and abandoned in 1921. The shafts were destroyed by opencast mining in 1991/92.
Portland No. 6 Colliery sunk 1840 – shafts closed 1916.

The headquarters of the Portland Collieries were the Butterley Company Offices, known as Portland Fields, they stood in the vicinity of the old Portland No. 1 Pit (Old Isaiah.) After the country’s coal mines were nationalised in 1947 the offices were used by No. 4 Area of the National Coal Board for sub-area offices.
Bentinck, Langton and Brookhill Collieries all worked this area after the closure of the Portland Collieries.

Bob Collier
Committee Member

The above are from extracts taken from “Annesley Through the Ages” by Denis Pearson.
Denis was an ex Newstead and Annesley Colliery Mechanical Engineer.

Ed. The Association would like to make this history of Nottinghamshire Collieries a regular feature. We would ask members to send in their history of their own collieries for future journals. This could include photos and or historical documents. Please help us build up a history of all Notts Pits.