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Archive Reference / Library Class No.NCB/A
TitlePre-Vesting Colliery Companies superseded by the National Coal Board
RepositoryDerbyshire Record Office
Archive CreatorNational Coal Board
Administrative HistoryCoal mining had taken place in Derbyshire since at least the 13th century. Coal in the Middle Ages was generally little used for fuel, with timber being much more widely available instead. Deforestation and the consequent rise in the price of timber led to coal being more in demand from Tudor times onwards, and the onset of the Industrial Revolution greatly increased that demand. By the start of the 19th centuries great and leading local landowners were trying to exploit the minerals under their estates. Some elected to do so directly by establishing the collieries and having then run by their own estate managers. In Derbyshire, this happened with both the Drury-Lowe family of Denby and the Miller Mundy family of Shipley, who operated extensive collieries in the 19th century. Other landowners chose to lease the minerals out and make their money through royalties, generally making agreements with entrepreneurs and private stock companies.

The improvements in transport communications, first in the form of the canals, and then of the railways, opened up new markets throughout the country. Derbyshire, as a land-locked county, benefitted in particular from these improvements, as its collieries had mostly only served its own local markets and industries. It became, for example, able to compete with other areas to supply the London market. The development of the iron industry also contributed to the growth of Derbyshire's collieries, and for a number of Derbyshire companies, the manufacture of iron went hand in hand with the extraction of coal. The Butterley Company, for example, operated ironworks which needed coal to power them and this was provided by their own pits. As the number of ironworks increased, so did the number of collieries, which now needed to drive deeper and deeper as coal reserves nearer the surface began to be used up. Other Derbyshire companies which operated in similar circumstances were the Staveley Coal and Iron Company and the Sheepbridge Coal and Iron Company.

The size of colliery companies varied greatly. Some were enormous operating several collieries at once, such as Butterley, while others ran only a single colliery. For example, the South Normanton Colliery Company and Grassmoor Colliery Company did not expand beyond its immediate area, although they often sank severals shafts on the same colliery site to reach different seams of coal. The company J and G Wells operated several collieries, but all located within the local Eckington area. The Bolsover Colliery Company is an example of a colliery company which grew from its original base in Bolsover to expand first locally to Creswell and then more ambitiously into Nottinghamshire, with its collieries at Mansfield, Clipstone, Rufford and Thoresby. It should be noted that it also worked in reverse, with Nottinghamshire colliery companies operating collieries in Derbyshire, such as the Babbington Coal Company, which operated the Tibshelf and Birchwood collieries.

All the colliery companies mentioned above were working in the North Derbyshire coalfield area, but it should not be forgotten that there were also a number of colliery companies which worked the Leicestershire and South Derbyshire coalfield, with several collieries in and around Swadlincote. The companies which operated in the South Derbyshire area were Granville Colliery Company, Hall's Collieries Limited, Measham Collieries Limited and Moira Collieries Limited.

During the first half of the 20th century colliery companies became increasingly subject to regulation from central government. At the end of World War I the nationalisation of the coal industry was seriously considered. Colliery companies were increasingly encouraged to co-operate and even to merge in attempts to improve the efficiency of the coal industry. In 1930 a quota system for the amount of annual tonnage each company could produce was introduced to control output, which was called the Midland (Amalgamated) District (Coal Mines) Scheme. The outbreak of World War II meant that coal production was focused on helping the country's war effort. With the end of the war and the election of a Labour government, the move towards nationalisation of the coal industry became inevitable. The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act was passed in 1946, receiving the royal assent on 12 July 1946. Colliery companies continued to exist for a while after the vesting date of 1 January 1947. Some companies concentrated on developing other pre-existing parts of their business and diversifying, such as the Butterley and Staveley companies. Other companies which had only owned and managed collieries stopped operating but remained in existence until full compensation was provided to owners for the transfer of their assets to the National Coal Board, after which they generally went into voluntary liquidation.
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