Retro: Maltby pit’s incident-packed 105 years

Maltby Colliery miners 17 December1963 leaving the  cage
Maltby Colliery miners 17 December1963 leaving the cage
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Rotherham’s Maltby Colliery closed in 2013, ending an 105-year era that was packed with diverse incidents: disasters, picket line clashes and coal tonnage achievements, and that’s just to mention a few.

The colliery transformed the once sleepy rural farming community beyond recognition and hopefully it will not be long before the area regenerates and writes a new chapter in its eventful history.

Maltby pit sinkers

Maltby pit sinkers

The colliery was in the concealed part of the South Yorkshire coalfield and the sinking of the pit by the Maltby Main Colliery Co, a subsidiary of the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Co, began in 1908.

The intention was to mine 9,000 acres of the Barnsley Seam which was initially reached from no 2 shaft at a depth of 820 yards on June 17, 1910. No 1 shaft reached the Barnsley Seam on January 21, 1911. The fastest rate of sinking was 18 yards a week.

At a shareholders’ meeting in July 1911, Maurice Deacon, chairman and managing director of the Maltby Main Colliery Co, reported that the erection of plant was proceeding satisfactorily. The winding part of the plant was laid out for raising 5,000 to 6,000 tons per day.

Growing in size and importance, the colliery attracted labour not only from local areas but from as far away as Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire and Ireland and a closely-knit mining community was quickly forged.

Sadly, in the early hours of Monday morning August 20, 1911 the colliery witnessed a terrible explosion. Three miners lost their lives and a number of men who went to their aid and rescue had narrow escapes.

During the early years at Maltby there were between 300 and 400 men winning coal by hand and filling it into tubs. Large quantities of industrial gas and coke coals, as well as the world-famous ‘London Brights’ were extracted.

The opening of the colliery did not add materially to the population of the old village, the reason being a new village was laid out. Situated between the old village and the pithead, the site was laid out on ‘model village’ lines, a central space being reserved for a village green or recreation ground.

Another disaster occurred at Maltby Colliery on July 28, 1923. A gob fire – spontaneous combustion of waste behind the coalface – had been discovered in the Low East District and during sealing-off operations there was a large explosion where 28 men lost their lives.

Two years later, the first pithead baths were constructed at the colliery. During 1927 it passed into the control of the Denaby & Cadeby Collieries Ltd and in 1935 became more closely embodied in the Amalgamated Denaby Collieries Ltd.

This was a powerful and enlightened concern which had under its control Denaby, Cadeby, Dinnington and Rossington collieries. Maltby Colliery along with many others passed to the NCB in 1947 and throughout the following years a £3m reconstruction programme both on the surface and underground was undertaken.

The most modern types of electric winders, one of which was capable of lifting 480 tons of coal per hour, were in operation and a new and highly efficient coal preparation plant was built.

From the early 1960s, there were seven operating faces and one training face, and of these, six were power-loaded, Huwood slicer machines being used.

Some idea of the progress made could be deduced from the fact that, with a labour force of 2,088 in 1948, 682,702 tons of coal were produced. In 1960, with the labour force reduced to 2,011, the output was increased to 820,612 tons.

A new 230ft winding tower, enabling Maltby Colliery to become South Yorkshire’s first pit to produce 2m tons of coal per year, was erected in the early 1980s.

The tower was part of a £130m project to tap around 50 million tons of coal in the Parkgate and Thorncliffe seams.

At this time, it was proclaimed that Maltby had sufficient reserves in the Swallow Wood and Haigh Moor seams to last beyond the year 2000, ensuring the jobs of 2,000 local men well into the 21st century.

Maltby witnessed a number of ugly incidents during the 1984/85 miners’ strike. Police and pickets clashed early on September 21, 1984, when six contractors, many of whom were members of the NUM, and who had not worked for the previous six-and-a-half months, crossed the miners’ picket lines. They were attempting to continue work on a new shaft being constructed.

Police said there were 6,000 in the picket lines but reporters who were able to walk through the pickets said there were 2,000. It was alleged there were around 1,000 officers in a cordon or on standby.

At the beginning of February 1989, Maltby miners set records tumbling when they produced their fastest million tons, breaking a 16-year-old record.

The colliery hit the jackpot on February 6 when the millionth tonne surfaced a full six weeks faster than the previous record, set in 1973, and the men set up a new pit weekly output record during the previous week of 34,000 tonnes. It was only the second time the pit had produced a million tonnes.

Colliery manager Keith Marshall said: “Teamwork has played a big part.”

In the colliery’s centenary celebrations of 2008, many Maltby miners remembered the dead of the 1923 disaster, parading through the town and laying wreaths at the disaster memorial at Grange Lane, Maltby, on June 1.

Maltby Colliery was acquired by RJB Mining in 1994 but was sold to Hargreaves Services in 2007. During 2012 the company announced that Maltby was considered unviable on safety, geological and financial grounds.

Closure followed early in 2013 and the surface buildings – including the 230ft winding tower – were flattened in 2014.

Whatever happened, some readers may ask, to the 1980s prediction of jobs for 2,000 miners well into the 21st century?