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British Industrial History

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Birley Collieries

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The Birley Collieries were a group of coal mines set in the Shirebrook Valley in south east Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. They were connected to the railway system by a branch line from the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway at Woodhouse East Junction, about 800 yards east of Woodhouse station.

The Birley collieries were owned by the Sheffield Coal Co who also owned nearby Brookhouse and North Staveley Collieries. These collieries stood either side of the M.S.& L.R. line less than a mile to the east of Woodhouse East Junction.

In 1866 the Sheffield Coal Co signed an agreement with the Earl Manvers to work below his lands in the Frecheville, Woodhouse and Hackenthorpe area, just outside the then Sheffield boundary.

Over the following ten years they sunk and developed Birley West Colliery on a site in the Shirebrook Valley between Woodhouse and Hackenthorpe.

A further 10 year plan followed in which more land was acquired and a new shaft sunk, however, it was not until spring 1887 that work commenced on this new sinking. The following year the part completed colliery gained the name Birley East Colliery. Although a small amount of coal was being cut from the new colliery, brought to the surface at Birley West, it was not until 1890 when a new winding engine was installed that it fully came on stream. Later expansion came with mining rights being obtained from the Duke of Norfolk to mine below Handsworth Common.

Birley West drew its last coal in 1908 and production then concentrated on the East pit.

1943 The last coal was drawn at Birley East on 15 October 1943 but the life of the pit was not quite at an end. In December 1943 Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour announced to the House of Commons at a ballot was to be held, from time to time, in which those men whose National Service Registration Certificates end with the chosen number would be transferred to the mines. This gave rise to the term Bevin Boy. Many colliers had the new trainees alongside the production unit but at Birley they were able to use the recently closed facilities. Accommodation was provided in Nissen huts on Beighton Road, the first occupants arriving in early 1944.

Following the end of World War II and the demobilisation of the Bevin Boys, came new trainees, this time men from our allies in Europe wanting to make their home in England, particularly a large contingent from Poland. Even after the last trainee moved on the end was not quite in site, a new borehole topped with a pumping house was constructed on the site to help solve the water table problems at Brookhouse. This operated until the closure of Brookhouse Colliery in 1986 when it was finally switched off - the end for Birley had arrived.

In 1851 the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway proposed to construct a series of short branch lines with the objective of increasing the railways coal carrying. Parliamentary permission for these lines was granted under the M.S.& L.R. (Coal Branches) Act, 1852 but only one of the lines was built, that from Woodhouse East Junction to Birley (West) Colliery.

The Birley Coal Branch was 2.75 miles in length and came into use in June 1855, having being built by Thomas Waring and Company for the sum of 9989.00. The line was single track and operated under "One engine in steam" principle. The line was worked by the M.S.& L.R. (later Great Central Railway and London & North Eastern Railway) until 1934 when the colliery company took over operations. It was at this time that the colliery changed from a production unit to a training centre.

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