The Seldom Seen Engine House is indeed seldom seen, because it lies in dense woodland off a private road along the Moss Brook valley west of the village of Eckington, Derbyshire.
Though it’s only a few yards from the road, leaf-cover makes it practically invisible except in winter. Indeed, for most of the year it would be hard to find but for the sign provided by Derbyshire County Council Countryside Service.
The name is apt, because though the site is surrounded by villages – Eckington, Mosborough, Renishaw, Marsh Lane – it’s out of the way and frequented only by walkers. Even to local people the place has been out of sight if not out of mind for more than a century.
It forms the sole remaining vestige of Plumbley Colliery, which operated from before 1875 until shortly before the start of the First World War, connected to the Midland Railway at Renishaw by the private “Penny Engine” railway.
The brick-built engine house is an imposing structure and sufficiently significant to be designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It stands something like forty or fifty feet high, its interior empty and inaccessible.
It’s thought to have served as both a winding-engine and a pump, but there doesn’t seem to be any record of the now-vanished machinery.
Plumbley Colliery suffered repeated mining accidents, some of them fatal, but one particular tragedy stands out.
On March 16th 1895 three Eckington children, Esther Riley (9), her brother Percy Riley (8) and their friend Rebecca Godson (8 or 9), were skating on the frozen engine pond when the three-inch-thick ice broke.
Their screams brought the engineman, Alfred Williamson, aged 23, who jumped into the pond, knowing that the water was at least six feet deep, in an attempt to save the children’s lives.
Two youths, Rowland Taylor (14) and Edward Redfern (16), had heard the screams and attempted to assist Alfred Williamson with the rope he’d tied to himself and left on the bank, but he went under.
He and the three children he tried to rescue all drowned.
Taylor and Redfern ran to Eckington Police Station to summon police officers who, accompanied by the local doctor, Dr West Jones, and various colliery managers, with great difficulty and the practical assistance of two young miners, Arthur Fairley and James Silvers, eventually retrieved the bodies.
These four unfortunate young people had no memorial until 2020, when the Natural Eckington organisation raised funds for headstones in Eckington Churchyard, and yet there’s nothing to show the site of their demise and to commemorate the heroism of those who attempted to rescue them and at great risk retrieved their bodies.