Brinsley Headstocks

Brinsley Headstocks, Nottinghamshire (2017)

The Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire coalfield, like other British coalfields, has a mining heritage of which its inhabitants are justifiably proud.  The prosperity and power of the United Kingdom was, in the age of steam, almost entirely fuelled by the labour of the country’s coal-miners.

A mile away from the Nottinghamshire market town of Eastwood, the Brinsley Headstocks have long been a landmark from the days when the green fields of the Erewash valley yielded black wealth from below to power the Industrial Revolution.

The Headstocks deserve the overused adjective “iconic” because they’re distinctive and unique. 

To industrial archaeologists they’re precious as the only surviving example of tandem headstocks, by which two adjacent mine-shafts could be wound by one winding engine. 

To readers of English literature they’re treasured because the site is featured in the early fiction of the local writer D H Lawrence (1885-1930) in his short story ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’ (1911) and his novel Sons and Lovers (1913).

Lawrence certainly knew Brinsley Colliery, because his father Arthur worked there, and his grandfather Bert before him.  The colliery was still operational, though no longer drawing coal, when the 1960 film of Sons and Lovers was made, and the headstocks, painted an uncharacteristic shade of pale blue to show up in monochrome, are part of the movie’s background.

The colliery began as shallow workings in the early nineteenth century, and the deep second shaft was sunk in 1872.  The original headstocks were badly damaged in an explosion in 1883, and were either repaired or replaced by a pair from the nearby Willey Wood colliery which had closed in the late 1870s.

After it ceased producing coal in 1934 Brinsley Colliery was retained for ventilation and to provide underground access to neighbouring collieries at Moorgreen and Pye Hill, so when it was finally closed and sealed off in 1970 it presented an important example of untouched nineteenth-century mining practice, which the industrial archaeologist Alan Griffin detailed in ‘Brinsley Colliery:  a conflict of evidence’, Industrial Archaeology, vol 9, no 1 (February 1972), pp 28-47/100.

The above-ground buildings were demolished and the headstocks transported to the then new Coal Museum at Lound Hall near Retford.  When that museum closed in 1989 the Brinsley Headstocks were returned to their original location as the centrepiece of a wildlife reserve and picnic site that is maintained by the volunteer Friends of Brinsley Headstocks.

Problems have arisen because inspections by the local authority, Broxtowe Borough Council, revealed a serious physical danger to the visiting public.  The site was fenced off initially;  in September 2023 the winding wheels were removed to reduce the load on the timberwork, and in December the entire structure was dismantled and some of the timber chopped up.

This caused uproar in the local community, and the Friends were left uninformed of what had been done and why:  ‘Disgust’ in Nottinghamshire village as historic mining feature removed without consultation – Nottinghamshire Live (;  ‘It makes me want to cry’: anger over Brinsley Headstocks demolition | Nottinghamshire | The Guardian.

There is no need for this.  Keeping the local community in the dark is bound to generate more heat than light:  “Nobody’s informed us what was happening…This village isn’t Brinsley any more.”

In an age where communication has never been easier, yet the scope for misunderstanding through haste is abundant, it should be a priority to manage with care the relationship between local communities and the elected representatives who serve them.

I have no personal connection with Brinsley, but in my native Sheffield I continue to come across situations where amenities are threatened and the people who care about them feel they aren’t heard:  History repeats itself | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times.  In some parts of the city you need only say “trees” to provoke a reaction.

Broxtowe Borough Council has proposed three strategies to restore the Headstocks site, two of which don’t seem at all satisfactory:  News (  Before the councillors decide how to proceed, they need to ensure that their constituents feel that they’re being listened to.

When you need to get out of a hole, or a mine shaft, the first thing to do is stop digging.

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