Some 110 years ago a party of about 120 noted dignitaries assembled in a 10 acre field at Pickburn, on the Brodsworth estate, five miles north of Doncaster.
They met to celebrate the first step in a colliery undertaking which was destined to provide work for over three thousand men, to provide Britain with many million tons of highest grade coal and to begin the creation of a model colliery village.
Brodsworth colliery marked an important stage in the extension of mining activity from the western exposed coal field to the concealed coal field of the east.
Thus, sinking and equipping the new colliery was considered, at the time, to be highly risky and costly. The venture was jointly undertaken by the Hickleton Main Colliery Co. and the Staveley Coal & Iron Co. operating under the title of the Brodsworth Main Colliery Company which was registered on September 15 1905 with a capital of £300,000.
The new company had secured a lease from Charles Thellusson of Brodsworth Hall, covering an area of around 8,000 acres and lying beneath this was the much coveted Barnsley Seam of coal. Eminent engineer and industrialist Arthur Markham (later Sir Arthur Markham), was the new company’s first chairman. He was noted for major mining developments in Yorkshire and South Wales.
The task of turning the first colliery sod in the Pickburn field was given to Thellusson and his wife who were equipped with a silver mounted barrow and a silver spade, suitably inscribed. Apart from a shower of rain the ceremony passed off quite pleasantly. Thellusson is reported to have ‘filled a barrowful of earth in the centre of the proposed shaft, wheeled it some distance away and tipped it into the open field, returning with the barrow to the centre of the space marked out for the shaft’ and was heartily cheered by spectators.
Speaking later at a luncheon in a marquee close to the sod cutting site, Arthur Markham said ‘they had set themselves an almost impossible task, as they were about to develop an estate, mine coal at an enormous depth of 900 yards and they proposed to lay down a plant capable of producing 5,000 to 6,000 tons of coal per day. That had not been contemplated, even in South Africa or America’.
The Brodswoth Main Colliery Company proposed to establish a model village in the area which was to be on aesthetic lines never before seen in many colliery villages.
By March 1906, foundations were being laid for various colliery buildings and a connection was made between the pit and the Hull & Barnsley Railway at Pickburn. Preparations were made to construct a similar connection with the Great Northern Railway at Bentley. The Barnsley Bed was reached - surprisingly at a depth of 595 yards - on Monday, October 21st 1907. The event - as may have been expected - created a celebration and was marked at the colliery by the hoisting of the White Ensign.
Thellusson was one of the first to inspect the newly exposed seam though a serious accident marred the excellent job done by the mining engineers and sinkers. Earlier, on June 30 1907, Martin O’Hara was killed and Harry Smith seriously injured when a hoppit of bricks ‘broke away’ in No. 2 shaft.
Arthur Markham commented that the Brodsworth sinking fully proved the existence of many million tons of coal in the Doncaster area. ‘The working of this coal should convert Doncaster into a great and prosperous industrial centre - a prosperity which should continue for many years to come,’ he said.
During November 1907 landowner Thellusson provided a dinner for all engaged in the sinking. A marquee was erected close to Adwick-le-Street railway station.
The floor was boarded throughout, a special gangway was laid from the marquee to the station, and electric lighting was installed from the colliery supply. ‘Soup, all manner of substantial cold meats with fowl, sweets etc,’ were reportedly provided, together with ample liquid refreshment and church warden pipes, tobacco and cigars.
For the building of the adjacent model colliery village, on unspoiled parkland, Arthur Markham employed architect P. Houfton of Chesterfield. The central feature of the latter’s designs was the park, a spacious green studded with mature trees, around which the houses were grouped.
To avoid a monotonous uniformity the houses were of different designs and later properties were set out round a long crescent, interspersed with broad avenues leaving open grass ‘squares.’
Not only did the colliery directors desire to house the workers in good housing, they also appreciated the need for sound recreation facilities. On December 19 1908 the Mansion at Woodlands was transformed and opened as the village club with reading room, refreshment and games rooms.
In subsequent years the colliery certainly fulfilled the greatest hopes and expectations of those assembled for the ceremony of cutting the first sod. Jubilee celebrations, fifty years later, noted vast quantities of coal, more than 47 million tons, had been raised up the shafts.
At this time it was predicted that Brodsworth was destined for an even greater future. There was still enough coal at the pit to last more than 100 years at the rate of 40,000 tons per week, or 2,000,000 tons per year.
Sadly, this prediction was not to be as, on September 7 1990, Brodsworth colliery closed. By October 1992 the site was cleared and later formed the Brodsworth Community Woodland.