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Pleasley Colliery in 1970 with the upcast shaft to the left and the downcast shaft to the right. The centre building and two chimneys form the colliery winding engine complex.  Picture Source: Coal Authority

Stage 3

Coal-mining Headstocks

The headstocks at a colliery were perhaps the most iconic and familiar aspect of coalmining for many people. At one time, they were a common site in coalmining communities throughout the East Midlands. In the post coal era, many form mining memorials, mainly as half headstock wheels cemented in concrete blocks. Along with other industrial structures such as blast furnaces, railway coaling towers and chimneys of all descriptions, they were sometimes referred to as the ‘cathedrals of industry’. In some coalfields they were called heapsteads.

Outlay of a colliery showing shaft access to the workings and flow of colliery ventilation.

A colliery had two headstocks, one being over the downcast shaft and the other the upcast shaft. This was by law following the inquiry into the 1862 Hartley Colliery disaster in Northumberland, in which 204 men and boys were killed.

Fresh air for ventilating the colliery underground workings goes down the downcast shaft, travels through a maze of colliery workings (roadways and gates) and goes back up the covered in upcast shaft with the assistance of a fan situated in a fan drift.  In times past, a colliery’s ventilation system was by furnace ventilation, a fire in a dumb drift off the upcast shaft, these later being replaced by mechanical fans, some called Waddle Fans.

A Horse Gin is a colliery winding device dating from the 18th and early 19th century. This one is pictured at Nottingham Industrial Museum at Wollaton Hall but was subsequently taken to the Lancashire Mining Museum at Astle Park. Picture Source: David Amos.

Headstocks have a long history in coalmining, ranging from the primitive headgear at old shonky pits, horse or whim gins, wooden tandem headstocks and eventually modern tower headstocks such as those at Cotgrave and Asfordby collieries.

Tower style headstocks at the new Asfordby Mine in the 1990’s. Picture Source: David Amos collection.

From the early 20th century, most colliery headstocks were constructed of steel lattice-work. Some, like the one’s at Pleasley, were later encased in pre-stressed concrete.

Pleasley Colliery in the 1930’s. Picture Source: Pleasley Pit archive.

Headstocks were constructed above the shaft mouth and their purpose was to carry the pulley wheels (headstock wheels) over which passed the winding ropes (steel ropes from the colliery winding engine, connecting to the cages (lifts).

Shafts connected the colliery surface with the underground workings, which initially started radiating out from the pit bottom area. In later years they would be several miles away from the shafts. They enabled men and equipment to be transported underground, vital services such as ventilation, water and electricity to be brought underground and run of mine coal (mineral) to be brought out. The latter could be by means of tubs, then mine-cars and at some collieries skips.

Shafts varied in depths at different collieries depending on the coal seams they were sunk to. The ones at Pleasley were 14.5 feet in diameter and were sunk between 1873 and 1877 to the Top Hard coal seam at a depth of 500 yards. Pleasley No.1 shaft was called the Nightingale shaft after William Edward Nightingale, father of Florence Nightingale, the Victorian nursing pioneer. In 1872, he leased land to the Stanton Iron Company on which the shafts were sunk and the colliery was developed.

Spare Pleasley Pit headstock wheel, 1976. Picture Source: Chad newspaper collection

Colliery headstocks and colliery winding engine houses can be found at several locations within the East Midlands; at Clipstone, Bestwood, and Snibston.