Coalville In The Early Days

An old resident reminisces.

The following reminiscences are taken from an article that appeared in the Coalville Times of Friday 24th January 1913. It makes interesting reading. The wording, punctuation & spelling are exactly as they appear in the article.

“There are still surviving in Coalville, members of the few old families whose recollections either from actual experience or what has been told them by friends who have gone before, carry us back into the early days of the nineteenth century when thins in the Coalville district were very different from what they are to-day, there being in fact no such place as Coalville at that time,
One of the oldest Coalville families are the Uptons so William of that ilk informed the writer in a little chat we had the other day.

William Upton was born in 1847 and was one of six sons who first saw the light in a small cottage of the London Road, near the butchers shop at present occupied by Mr. W. F.Moore. The father of the family was also named William and he had been living in the district for some years. He was a resident here at the time of the sinking of the Whitwick pits and was one of the first to be employed there. As soon as coal was discovered, great rejoicing took place and ale and other refreshments were freely given at the Engine Inn kept by James Shaw, and now know as the Leicester Hotel. For a time Mr. Upton went to work at the Glascote Colliery, near Tamworth, but labour was scarce then in the Coalville district, and the company offered to fetch him and his sons back to Whitwick, and he returned after a few months. This was the first time that young William, our informant, had had a ride in a train, and he tells us that the carriages were all open then. They lived in Mammoth Street for some years, but Mr. Upton gave the assurance that it was a much more respectable street then than it is to-day.

When Mr. Upton, senr, returned to Whitwick, he went down the pit as a loader and the miners then used to work twelve hours a day and only used to see daylight once a week—on Sunday. And it was not so long before that, that the men would descend the mine in the early morning and be working below till 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening. Boys were then employed in the pit at the age of 9 to 10 years and the younger William Upton started to work on the bank at the age of ten, afterwards going down the pit as a pony driver. He recalls several accidents from cause which would not be tolerated in these more enlightened days. A case in point. At this time it was not deemed necessary to fence round the pit shafts and there was one instance of a boy who had just been brought up one shaft walking into another on his way home and, of course, being killed. In these early days, the colliers were paid 2s 6d a ton for getting the coal at the Snibstone (sic) pit and 2s 7d per ton at Whitwick, and out of this stallmen had to purchase their own timber.

Mr. Upton recalls one of the earliest strikes which was to shorten the hours and in other ways improve the working conditions. A novel idea of the strikers was to draw a wagon load of coal from Whitwick to Leicester where the coal was sold for bread. But it had a wonderful effect, and the men got their hours reduced.

The old Baptist School was one of the earliest day schools in Coalville, and the first teacher was Mr. W. Bott, of Hugglescote, he being followed by Mr. Porter. The Whitwick Colliery Co. used to find the coal for the school, and the children of parents who worked at the colliery, were allowed their education free. Others had to pay. It seems that in the earlier days they managed the Sunday School treats getter then they do now. Instead of the sects holding their treats separately, they used to all amalgamate and Mr. Upton recalls when they ran a joint trip to Matlock. The first colliery excursion was from the Whitwick pit, when Mr. Harrison was the manager. The colliery headstocks and wheels were painted on canvas and fixed on the front of the engine.

The first interment which took place in Coalville Cemetery, says Mr. Upton was that of Mr. R. Gamble, and another fact which we are assured, is not generally known, is that a good deal of the stone with which the Coalville Church is built was got from a field close to the top of the Swannington Incline.
The first brass ban in the district was started in the sixties (1860s) at the Whitwick Colliery and was soon followed by a rival band started at the Snibstone pit. Mr Vaughan provided the instruments and also for years paid for an instructor. Mr. George Locker was the first bandmaster there. The first policeman at Coalville was named Bailey and he lived on the Ashby Road. He was followed by Mr. Fardell. Things were very quiet in the locality at this time. With the wind favourable, it is asserted, the blowing of a Derby “bull” could be heard at Coalville. The first “buzzer” ever blown in the district was at the Nailstone Wood Colliery.

A more modern event, but one which stands out prominently in the history of the place, was the attempt by Mr. F. Whetstone to close the Broom Leys footpath. Mr. Upton, Mr. T. Hardy and a few other old residents took a prominent part in frustrating this, there being a public subscription to meet the cost of their defence in the legal proceedings which ensued.

In the early days referred to, there was no such place as Coalville—it was known as Long Lane. It received the name of Coalville when the railway station opened, and for a time, passengers had to go to the Railway Hotel (Mr. Sheffield’s) to get their tickets. There were only two big houses on the London Rd., those now occupied by the Rev. F. Pickbourne and Mr. J.W. Stableford, besides the Engine Inn previously referred to, and coming along Hotel Street, only the mill and mill-house, occupied by Mr. Webster, and later by Mr. Franks. Where the Labour Exchange is now there used to be an old saw-pit open to the Road. There were little house against the pump. Marshall’s Row was also there, and the Blue Bell Inn, and the Fountain. Bowling used to be a popular game in front of the Fountain. A Mr. Taylor kept a butcher’s shop where Mr. Fryer now lives and there were two old private houses where the late post office was. The Red House, know as the Cradle and Coffin, was then kept by a Mr. Burton. There were very few houses in Belvoir Road, and from Vaughan St. corner to Mr. J. Atkins butcher’s shop were lane gardens belonging to the poor people. When the owners of the land at the back wanted to sell for building there was considerable trouble but ultimately a compromise was effected by land being given for gardens on another site.”

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