Cupit Green Pits

Ormonde Blackrake Ironstone

If you stand on Codnor Market place and look East towards Codnor Castle you can see the Ormonde fields golf course spread across the hillside together with fields of crops stretching North towards Golden Valley.

This whole area was the location of the Ormonde Ironstone collieries, not to be confused with Ormonde Pit at Loscoe, which wasn't sunk until 1906.

The mining writes were brought by the Butterley Company in 1824 after the death of the previous owner, The Marquis of Ormonde.

Its likely that small mining enterprises existed in this area long before the involvement of the Butterley company, but I would like to concentrate on the mines identified on the coal authority map No.16458, entitled “Plan of Ormonde Ironstone Blackrake”.
Blackrake being the name given to one of the Ironstone seams mined in this area.

Fig.1 The modern map above shows the location of fourteen pits at Codnor, as identified on the Coal Authority map No.16458 entitled
“Plan of Ormonde Ironstone Blackrake”.

There is very little evidence remaining of the pits because this entire area was opencast in the 1950s, however we are lucky enough to have two detailed sources of information from the 1800s. The first is J.M.Fellows report for the Childrens Employment commission, written in 1842 and the second is Joseph Millot Severn’s book “My Village”, which describes the area as it was in his childhood in the 1860s.

Childrens Employment commission

This document records fourteen pits on the Ormonde estate in 1842, all owned by the Butterley company but leased to individuals who were responsible for the day-to-day management of the men women and children that worked them. The report records the names of some of the pits, which are as follows;

Tissington Pit at 42 yards deep, George Davis Pit at 38 yards deep, John Wapplington’s Pit at 22 yards deep and William Ratcliffe’s Pit at 14 yards deep. It also describes the deplorable conditions that people had to work in as well as the employee’s attitude towards their health and social welfare.

These are the recorded statements from the report regarding the Codnor pits.

Some of the technical terms used in the report are explained at the bottom of this webpage.

(Butterley Company.)

No.217. George Staley, agent.
He has been 48 years servant to the Butterley Company. They have three pits for coal at work, ten pits for iron as well as one open one. When the coal pits are sunk and headed by the company he has always let the pit to two butties whom he considers the most deserving. They contract and find sufficient numbers of colliers and children to work the pit. He has now two butties who have begun and continued in the same field working if for 15 years. The holers are engaged by the stint, the hammerers, loaders and banksman all by the ton and children are engaged under these men by the day’s work. He does not consider the company have anything to do with the management of the children, no more than they have with the asses and ponies. He has one man who attends to the windways and considers he is sufficient. The ground agent is, or ought to be attentive to the ropes and other parts of the works. He never suffers, if he knows it, about four to come up or down at a time. They have no chains. They always have a Davy lamp in the counting house but they are never used. They have no bonnets. He has given no orders as to punishments, rewards or bad language. If any complaints are made by the children or parents his orders are to refer them to the magistrates. All the hands earning 8s. per week belong to the Butterley Club and if any accidents occur to others the company pays for medical aid. There is no school at present or reading rooms attached to the works. The iron pits are let in nearly the same way but the butties have to pay a certain proportion towards the expense of sinking the shafts. He is fully acquainted with all the works of a collier and miner and has worked in the former capacity from 14 years old and is of the opinion it would be better for the future health and welfare of a child for him not to work in a coal pit before he is 9 or 10 and that 12 hours including meals is enough. He is convinced the work is not nearly so hard for children as it was when he was a boy. Then they drew by the belt and had neither iron rails or asses.


No.218. Alexander Parker.
He is aged 62 and has worked in the pits since he was 6 years old. He assisted in cleaning the banks but did not collect the wages he had. After that he drove between and had 1s. per day. At Wollaton he worked from 7 to 9 with one hour allowed for dinner. He then went with the ass and wore the belt. He had 1s. 4d. a day. He went through the different occupations of a collier and now is a butty under the Butterley Company. He has worked as such for 30 years. He now works at No.7 hard coal pit, which is between 70 and 80 yards deep. The shaft is not laid in lime and there is no bonnet or Davy lamp. There is a flat rope and six or seven are taken up at a time. It is well winded from the wind shaft about 250 yards off. The wind soughs are made for the purpose and there is a man whose duty it is to attend to the windways. It is well winded and is not subject to wildfire but they are troubled with blackdamp, which hinders them at times. The banks are very dry under and over and they have three. One 80 yards the other two 60 yards each. The waggon road is 300 yards and the waggons are drawn by ponies and asses. He does not know how many children there are under 13 or 18 years of age but he thinks seven or eight or more under 13. The youngest is about eight and drives between. The seam is 1 yard 5 inches and the headroom the same. There is no Sunday work and the children are neither hired nor apprenticed. There are no children employed at night. They work from seven to eight with three quarters of an hour allowed for dinner. Three-quarter days are from six or seven to five and half days from six or seven to one or two. There are no rewards and very little punishment. He always checks them for swearing or bad language. There is no reading room or school but they belong to the Butterley Club. They have had no serious accidents within two years. He thinks the children ought to work at eight or nine and they always make the best colliers and 12 hours is quite enough. Colliers are very subject to accidents and the sulphur has a bad effect upon their lungs. Many are asthmatic and the work being so hard their “days are shortened”. They look older for their years than others. Colliers are very subject to rheumatism. He has had to drawn with the belt until he has been “as raw as beef,” but they cannot do without it. He has seen a belt they use in Staffordshire, which they call the “Bywards” that the arms go through something like those used by a barrow man. That is much better than those used in the county. It makes the work more even and does not gall so much.

(Signed) ALEX. >< PARKER (His mark)

No.7 pit is not guarded or laid in lime. The bricks at the top are very loose, notwithstanding there is an iron rim. Neither this nor the soft pit are guarded. The pit boy or unloader is John Latham. He is 12 years old and has worked for six years but never down the pit. He goes to the Methodist Sunday School at Codnor but he does not know how long he has been and is only in easy lessons. He cannot spell a word of two syllables. At the other pit William Jackson is 12 and has worked at the pit mouth for nearly six years. He goes to the Golden Valley Methodist Sunday School and is only in easy lessons and can scarcely spell. Both boys appear very healthy but not very sharp.

No.219. Samuel Lee, engineman.
The engine is eight horse power and works both the ironstone shafts Nos.1 and 2. No.1 is 70 yards deep and No.2 80 yards. The pits are winded from each other and a windway from an old shaft. He considers it well ventilated. They have no wild fire and very little blackdamp. It is a little wet but not much. The waggon way is about 14 yards in No.1 and the waggons are drawn by men. None are employed under 14 or 15 excepting the bank boy. In No.2 the waggon road is 30 yards and the waggons are drawn by a pony and a boy of 15 with a belt. The bank in No.1 is 80 yards and No.2 about the same. The headways are 3 feet 6 inches. The shafts are not laid in lime and there is no bonnet or Davy lamp. There is no chain but a flat rope. The hands are let down at 10 minutes past 6 to 20 minutes past 6. Three quarters of an hour allowed for dinner. They seldom or never work half or three-quarter days excepting owing to accidents.

No.220. George Walters.
He is 10 years old and works on the bank where he picks dirt from ironstone. He begins at six to half past six with three quarters of an hour allowed for dinner. He goes to the Codnor Methodist Sunday School and reads easy lessons. He can spell a little, dog cat and such words.
[Appears a sharp lad.]

No.221. Jurman Brown, engineman.
The engine is 20 horse power and works the shafts of No.7 hard, which is 80 yards deep and of another, soft, 100 yards deep. The pit is winded from a windgate and soughs for the purpose about 100 yards off, the hard from the soft by a communication partly by the banks and partly by means of soughs. They are not subject to wildfire but they have been frequently hindered by blackdamp. The banks are rather wet under. There is no waggon road and the corves draw each other down and up by chains on an inclined plane with the assistance of boys with belts, two or three under the age of 13. He does not know how many under 18. The youngest is seven. The hard pit is dry under and over and it is well winded. There are two banks of 100 yards each, the seam 3 feet 4 inches with the headroom the same. The waggons are drawn by ponies and asses. The boys that drive do not wear the belt. There are above 13 under 13 years of age and he does not know how many under 18.

The youngest is seven. They put from 4 to 10 cwt. on each corve. They have neither bonnet or Davy lamp and a flat rope and chain. In the soft pit they seldom let down more than six or seven at a time, in the hard sometimes 10 or 12. They are let down from six to eight with three quarters of an hour allowed for dinner. In the hard if they come up at half past seven they are paid for three quarters of a day. Half days are from six to two, often there are no meals. Last Whitsuntide year three men and a boy were killed at the hard pit by the rope breaking. It is the ground bailiff’s duty to look at the rope. He comes twice a day. Ten weeks since the bind and coals fell upon James Thorp, a holer and so crushed his body that he has not been able to work since.

No.222. William Sellers.
He is 22 years of age and has worked since he was eight years old and now works for the Butterley Company as a header. At present few boys are employed in his pit with none less tan 16. The coal is to be worked on the new plan. They will want nearly 100. It is the same plan that is used at the pits near Barnsley. Messrs. Oak’s are now partly working under this plan. When he first worked in a pit he drove between and had 9d. per day. At 11 or 12 he wore the belt, and has 1s. 4d.a day when he then waggons but he did not use the belt. The belt made him very sore. He has never seen a “byward” as described by Parker. When he first worked in a pit he has been so tired that he has slept as he walked. He thinks a child ought to be nine before he works in the pit but if they do not go in young they never make a collier. He thinks 12 hours a day not too much. They do not work so hard as they used to do. He has not been much to school, some little to Sunday school. He can read a little. He has never had an accident or experienced asthmatic symptoms.

(Signed) WILLIAM >< SELLERS (His mark)

No.223. George Taylor, engineman.
The engine is 20 horse power and the pit 90 yards deep with the seam 3 feet 6 inches and the headway the same. The waggon road is 80 yards. The waggons are drawn by boys of 16 or 17 years of age. There are two banks, one 80 yards and the other 32. The pit is winded from the engine and another shaft about 200 yards off. They have neither wildfire nor blackdamp nor have they had an accident. There are only two or three under 13. They go down at half past six to half past eight, three quarters of an hour are allowed for dinner. Half days are from half past six to two or three with no dinner hour.

No.224. William Kirkland.
He is 10 years old and pushes behind and sometimes draws by the belt. He has done so above half a year. He used to drive the gin horse. He begins work from seven to six with half an hour allowed for dinner. He goes to Codnor Methodist Sunday School and reads in the Testament.
[Cannot spell horse or house.]

No.225. John Jephson.
He is 13 years of age and he fills for 1s. 4d. per day. He goes to the Riddings Church Sunday School and is in easy lessons.
[Does not know his letters.]

No.226 John Peake.
He is nine years old and has worked in the iron pits two or three years. He is sure he was only six when he began. He used to drive the gin horse. He, for the last year has pushed behind the waggon and had 7d. per day and works the same hours as above. He goes to the Codnor Methodist Sunday School and reads in the Testament.
[Can spell well.]

No.227. John Wilkins.
He is nine years old and drives the gin horse and has 6d. per day. He goes to the Codnor Methodist Sunday School and has been for a year. He reads in the Testament.
[Spells words of one syllable.]

No.228. Reuben Davis.
He is aged nine and picks stones and has done so for a year. He has 6d. per day. He goes to Church Sunday School at Riddings. He has been there for only five weeks.

No.229. William Bacon.
He is eight years old and drives the gin horse. He never was at either church, school or chapel in his life.

No.230. Samuel Fletcher.
He is 13 years old and goes to Loscoe Baptist Sunday School. He reads in the testament and can write a little.
[He can neither spell his own name nor place of abode.]

No.231. John Burgin.
He is 13 years old and goes to the Codnor Park Church Sunday School. He reads in the Testament and writes a little.
[He can neither spell his own name nor place of abode.]

No.232. Frederick Burrows.
He is 13 years old and goes to Codnor Park Church Sunday School. He has been there half a year and is in easy lessons.
[Knows nothing.]

No.233. Richard Vicars.
Tissington’s Pit is 42 yards deep and is worked by the gin horse. The waggon road is 50 yards. The waggons are worked by boys who shove them. There are three under 13 years of age, one gin boy, one stone picker and one shoves the waggon. They work from six to six with one hour allowed for dinner. There is no wildfire and very little blackdamp. There have been no accidents.

No.234. Thomas Spencer.
He is the headsman at George Davis’s pit. It is 38 yards deep, drawn by one horse. There are three boys under 13, one drives the horse, one picks stones and the other draws the ass and wears the belt. He is 12 years old. The driver of the ass is nine years old. They work from six to seven or eight or nine with three quarters of an hour allowed for dinner. The pit is winded from an old shaft. There is no wildfire but much blackdamp. It is dry. Samuel Davis had his leg broken a few months ago owing to the bind falling.

No.235. John Waplington’s Pit.
He has no boy under 13 old besides the gin lad who is now at work. The pit is 22 yards deep and is drawn by one horse. At this pit Elizabeth England, 12 years old, picks stones. She used to run lace and now has 6d. per day. She works form half past six to six with one hour allowed for dinner and half an hour clocking. She likes the work better than lace. She can neither read nor write and had never been at school, church or chapel in her life and appears perfectly ignorant.

No.236. William Ratcliff’s Pit.
It is winded from two old shafts and is drawn by a gin horse. It is 14 yards deep and has four boys under 13.

No.237. Hannah Neale.
She has a son 14 years of age who works at Butterley Park who goes with the ass and wears the belt and another, 13 who does the same. Her house is a mile from the pit. They go down at six to eight. If they come home before eight they are paid only three-quarters of a day. They used, a few years since, often to work after 10. She also has a son 10 years old who works at the soft coal pit where he drives between. He works from six to eight but if they have not got their stint of coals they are not paid for the day. They come home so tired that they become stiff and can hardly get to bed. Their caps are wet through with sweat. Constantine, the one 10 years old, formerly worked in the same pit as his brothers but about half a years since his toe was cut off by the bind falling. Notwithstanding this the loader made him work until the end of the day although in the greatest pain. He was out of work more than four months owing to this accident. Isaac, aged 14, when he was nine years old, had his leg broken from the same cause and was 15 weeks unable to work.

They all three attend the Methodist Sunday School where they are taught reading and their father now and then teaches them a little writing.
(Signed) HAHHAH >< NEALE (His mark)

No.238. James Wright, headsman.
He did not begin work in the pit until he was 20 years of age. He has a brother who was a stocking maker, like himself until he was 18 and he is allowed to be as good a collier, in every respect, as in any field. The pit has scarcely begun, they are merely heading it. It is 179 yards deep. There is only one boy by day under 13 years old who hangs on the corves and two by night. They work 12 hours each set. No.2 is 160 yards deep. Only one under 13 clears the roads. Both these pits are winded from another pit by old banks.

Three of the larger pits were known as the Cupit Green Pits 1,2 and 3. Their name probably originates from Colepitt Green close, a portion of land mentioned in medieval extracts of sale of the Codnor Castle estate.

They were sunk by the Butterley company in 1825 to the Hard Coal seam and also mined the Blackrake Ironstone seam.

Cupit Green No.1 was also known as Tissingtons Pit. Mr Tissington lived on Alfreton Road just below Woolley’s farm.

Edward Kniveton was the Gaffer of Cupit Green No.3. He lived at No.10 Nottingham Road Codnor with his wife Thomazin and six children all with names starting with “E” Elizabeth, Emiley, Ellen, Eliza, Evlin, Edward. 
When Cupit Green No. 3 closed, Edward ran a Grocers shop in the front room of his house.

John Cator was the Gaffer at Cupit Green No.2. He lived in the next house to Edward Kniveton at No.12 Nottingham Road with his wife Mary and their six children Fanny, Agnes, Barbara, Annie E, Sarah and James.

A tramway was built by the Butterley company to transport Ironstone from the Cupit Green Pits to Codnor Park Ironworks. The pits closed in 1871.

The following paragraph is from Joseph Millott Severn's book "My Village" and he describes the working of the incline part of the Tramway when he was a boy.

Some of the later generations, seeing the long straight road, which was called the Incline, running up from No. 3 pit, and crossing over the road near the castle and down the other side, traces of which may still be seen, may wonder for what purpose it could have been constructed. 

It was a busy concern when I was a boy. At the top was an engine room, and around the big drums were strong wire ropes, which were attached to ordinary railway trucks, ganged with horses from Codnor Park ironworks to the bottom of the castle side of the incline, when they were drawn up by the engine and let down to the three pits, all of which were ironstone mines. Here the iron ore was loaded into trucks, having been sufficiently exposed on the pit hills for the soft bind to separate from the iron ore, which usually took a year or two. It was then taken to the furnaces for rendering into the first process of pig iron.

The Incline has been landscaped into Castle Drive, More information can be found on the Castle Drive page.

J.M.Severn also explains how a culvert for the brook was built across the bottom of Goose lane and No.1 pit hill levelled over the top of it. An open road was then laid over the levelled pit hill, forming a private drive up to Ormonde Fields House.

Fig.2 Many of the smaller pits on the Ormonde estate were worked using a "Horse Gin". Coal or Ironstone was filled into corves, which were then dragged by children to the bottom of the shaft. Here they were hooked to the rope and hauled to the surface using the horse Gin. This machine was also used for lowering miners down the pit and lifting them to the surface again. The only safety device was a drag arm connected to one end of the Gin, this prevented the drum from turning in reverse and dropping the miners back down the shaft.

The Derby Mercury 4th December 1861

Fatal Accident
On Saturday morning last, about nine o’clock, a very distressing accident occurred at the open hole, near Cupit Green, to a young man named Abraham Babb, aged 26 years. It appears the deceased was engaged in “holing” when it was observed the ground above had cracked and was falling. His companions escaped; but Babb in attempting to do so, fell down and thus was buried under a large mass of stones and earth killing him instantaneously. This event has caused a very painful sensation in the neighbourhood. The deceased was a married man.

The 1861 census shows that Abraham Babb was living on Wright Street with his wife Maria.

Explanation of some of the terms used in the Childrens Employment commission Report.

Set in Lime: Most pit shafts had a brick lining, however a good many were referred to as “not laid in Lime” meaning no mortar was used. The bricks would be laid dry and as a consequence were vulnerable to being dislodged by the cage when lowering men down the shaft or returning them to the surface. It was quiet common to hear of miners being killed by dislodged debris falling down the shaft. 

Buttie: Although many of the pits in the area were owned by the Butterley Company, it was common practice to leave the day-to-day running of the pit to a subcontractor or ‘Buttie” 

Bonnet:  This was a steel umbrella shaped hood fitted above the cage to protect miners from falling debris when travelling up and down the pit shaft.

Winded: Meaning the mine was well ventilated. It was good practice to have two shafts to aid ventilation. A fan or cupola was used to draw air through the mine. Also wind gates were used to direct the flow of air to ensure it reached the furthest extremities of the pit

Wildfire: (Fire damp) A build up of Methane gas was normally present especially in poorly ventilated mines. It could frequently explode, killing or severely burning many miners.

Blackdamp: An Asphyxiating gas made up of Carbon Dioxide with an excess of Nitrogen. The symptoms manifested in the form of hot sweaty flushes with a heavy feeling in the gut. Headaches would follow and unless the individual was brought to the surface they would loose consciousness.

Hanger On: The title given to an individual responsible for fastening the loads of coal to the rope or chain to be hauled up the shaft. Coal usually arrived at the shaft in sledges or small wagons. There was always the temptation to overload the waggons before hauling up the shaft often resulting in accidents caused by spilling debris or even worse a cable breaking and the entire load falling back down the shaft. 

Information for this page was obtained from the following sources.

The Heritage of Codnor & Loscoe, by Fred S Thorpe 1990 

The Coal Authority.200 Lichfield Lane,Mansfield,Nottinghamshire,NG18 4RG.

Childrens Employment commission Report. Reproduced courtesy of The Coal Mining History Resource Centre, Picks Publishing and Ian Winstanley.


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