Crazy for Clipstone

This article was originally published in The National Association of Mining History Organisations (NAMHO) newsletter No. 70, December 2014, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Sir Neil Cossons, who wrote the article on behalf of Clipstone Colliery Regeneration Group, and of Roy Meldrum, who took the photographs. Thanks also to NAMHO.

Clipstone headstocks _1

Clipstone Colliery (March 2010)

The future of the great headstocks at Clipstone has been an open wound in the mining heritage world for years. If Clipstone is to be saved then tough action is needed now – focussed and forthright. Listed Grade II in April 2000, before closure of the colliery in 2003, the site has the tallest pair of headstocks in England and, at the time of their construction, in Europe. They are the most visible surviving evidence of the post-war and post-nationalisation pit modernisation programme, representing the state-of-the-art technology that lay at the heart of the coal industry in the 1950s. An application to de-List the headstocks was not taken forward in light of an application to demolish, filed with the local authority – Newark and Sherwood District Council – in 2003 but has still not been determined. The Council has remained reticent in the face of repeated requests by English Heritage that the application should be decided. Meanwhile the owners, Welbeck Estates and the Coal Authority, fail to meet promises to negotiate with potential preservation interests, national and local.


Clipstone Colliery, east of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, dates from the early twentieth century when a new excavation was begun by the Bolsover Colliery Company to exploit the Top Hard coal seam. The company was originally established in 1889 by Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge (1845-1911), mining engineer and, later, well known philanthropist and Liberal politician, in order to extract coal from land owned by the Duke of Portland in Creswell and Bolsover. It was very profitable and by the turn of the century featured in the Financial Times top thirty share index. In 1912 the company leased 800 hectares around Vicar Pond at Clipstone where test boreholes located the 2m thick Top Hard coal seam at a depth of 585m.

The sinking of the shaft was interrupted by the First World War but construction work on the surface buildings continued. Sinking resumed in 1919 and by 1922, two 6.4m diameter shafts were complete. The new colliery was operational by 1922, and went on to become one of the most productive in Britain, delivering four thousand tonnes of coal per day by the 1940s. Mining of the Top Hard seam began in 1927 but by the end of World War II the seam was almost exhausted and plans were made for extracting coal from much deeper levels. In the post-war period, the colliery underwent further development to access the Low Main Seam, a deeper seam of coal located almost 240m below the Top Hard.

Clipstone village was built in 1926 by the Bolsover Colliery Company on the former site of Clipstone Army Camp. The company followed Emerson Bainbridge’s benevolent philosophy as evidenced by the construction of model villages like Clipstone that were designed to cater for residential and recreational needs of the workforce. Other Nottinghamshire pits founded by the group included Rufford (1911 – 1993) and Thoresby (1925 – date). The formation of the National Coal Board (NCB) in 1947-48 heralded a period of mechanisation and modernisation in order to fulfil the UK’s increasing demand for coal. At this time the Bolsover Company was the third largest in Britain and its Clipstone shafts were among the deepest in the country.

In common with many pits sunk during the 1920s, Clipstone’s steam-winding gear was upgraded in the 1950s. In order to exploit the rich new reserves of coal the ‘Koepe’ friction-winding system was adopted. Invented in Germany in 1877 by Frederick Koepe, these winders were installed throughout the German and Dutch coalfields from the late nineteenth century onwards. There were a small number in England, but the Koepe system was not widely used until the post-war re-investment in and re-structuring of the mining industry after 1945. After nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947, the advantages of Koepe winders became more apparent. Government funding for colliery expansion meant that sites such as Clipstone could invest in improved systems and increase production by working deeper seams more effectively. Clipstone became a state-of-the-art colliery, employing over thirteen hundred men at its peak, and produced almost a million tonnes of coal in 1986.


The Koepe friction hoist system uses a single loop of wire and a powered pulley rather than the more-common winding-drum. Friction hoists are mounted on the ground above the mine shaft or at the top of the headframe. Tail ropes and counterweights are used but are not fixed to the wheel, instead passing around it. The tailropes and weights offset the need for the motor to overcome the weight of the conveyance and hoisting rope, thereby reducing the required horsepower of the hoisting motor by up to 30 per cent. Friction hoists, unlike drum hoists, can and normally do use multiple ropes giving them a larger payload capacity. Friction hoists are also less expensive than drum hoists.

The first British Koepe installation was at Bestwood Colliery, also in Nottinghamshire, but the system proved unsatisfactory and was later removed. Koepe winders were tried with mixed success in several other pits during the 1930s but with the modernisation of Clipstone Colliery in the 1950s the system was perfected. Two headstocks, linked by a central powerhouse were completed in 1953 to the designs of architects Young and Purves of Manchester. The headstocks were constructed by Head Wrightson Colliery Engineering of Thornaby-on-Tees and Sheffield, whilst the winding engines were manufactured by Markham and Company in Chesterfield.

Clipstone winding engine

Clipstone No2 Shaft Koepe winder (March 2010)

The headstocks when built were the tallest structures of their type in England, and remain today as a highly visible presence in the former mining landscape. Each is comprised of a latticework steel tower which rises from the side of the central powerhouse building. The upper part of each of the headstocks incorporates twin headgear sheaves – 7.3 metres in diameter – mounted in an ‘under and over’ arrangement to support the continuous winding rope. The brick buildings below and between the headstocks are functionally-detailed Modernist designs, the stepped powerhouse with extensive areas of glazing to its upper level. The complex was designed to operate two shafts, the No. 1 Service Shaft to the north for colliery workers and the lowering of materials, and No.2 Winding Shaft to the south, designed to raise the coal skips. The two outer heapstead or pit bank buildings enclosed the shaft heads and the surface car circuits which were linked to underground coal and dirt conveyors. When the site was first listed in April 2000, the colliery was still operational, and the component structures – buildings and headstocks – were structurally complete. Since that time they have suffered vandalism and some deterioration.

Clipstone headstocks _2

Clipstone No1 Shaft Headstocks (March 2010)

The building was designed to house large items of machinery and the electrical equipment needed to power them. The front section of the powerhouse contains two Koepe winding engines, each powered by two direct-coupled electric motors linked to motor generator sets to convert the public AC supply to DC. Adjacent to each winder is a control cabin from which the winding in both shafts could be monitored. The generator sets and switch gear are located on two levels in the rear section of the powerhouse. On each side of the power house are pit bank buildings located above the shafts, into which the winding ropes extend via the headstocks. The shafts are now sealed, but much of the associated equipment including the rails on which the colliery cars ran, and the turntables which allowed them to be manoeuvred, remain in-situ. Both parts of the powerhouse are equipped with travelling cranes and running beams carried on lattice metal piers that facilitated the installation and maintenance of the winders and generators.

Although Clipstone never made a loss, the pit was mothballed in 1993, but temporarily reprieved in 1994 by RJB Mining (latterly UK Coal) who operated the colliery profitably for a further nine years, during which it produced nearly four million tonnes of coal. In later years miners struggled to overcome adverse geological conditions and the colliery experienced a decline in the quality of its coal. The pit finally closed in 2003.

On 19 April 2000, whilst the colliery was still operational, Clipstone headstocks and winding house were Listed Grade II by the Secretary of State on the advice of English Heritage under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 giving timely and clear recognition of ‘special architectural or historic interest’ and the desirability of preservation.

Nottinghamshire’s existing preserved headstocks at Brinsley (not in their original location) and Bestwood, and neighbouring Pleasley in Derbyshire pre-date Clipstone and represent a much earlier form of industrialization, characterised by horse and steam power. By contrast, Clipstone presents the best surviving example of post-war, twentieth century coal mining technology.

Clipstone colliery provided employment for miners who had migrated from exhausted coalfields in Scotland and the North East of England. Coal output from the so-called Dukeries coalfield (which included Clipstone) fuelled not only power stations and homes but made a significant contribution to the local economy and the nation as a whole. However, these achievements were eclipsed by the political and union conflict of the 1984 strike and the history of coal production in the post-war era remains largely untold. Today, Clipstone’s headstocks and attendant winding house stand as a memorial to the men who toiled and in some cases gave their lives in the pursuit of coal production.

Following pit closure and after consultation with the Coal Authority, most of the surface structures at Clipstone, including the pithead baths and coal hoppers, were cleared. The former pit tips (supported in part by funding from RJB Mining) returned to nature and form the basis of Vicar Water Country Park, a popular destination for cyclists, anglers and walkers.

In April 2014 Thoresby; Nottinghamshire’s last remaining colliery, together with Kellingley in South Yorkshire, were scheduled for closure. With the end of deep mining in Britain, the preservation and celebration of our industrial heritage and mining culture through sites like Clipstone becomes even more important for future generations.


Efforts by Clipstone Colliery Regeneration Group to save the Grade II listed headstocks, whilst sympathetic to industrial heritage and historic preservation are very much focussed on community engagement and the creation of new opportunities. One idea involves adapting the twin headstocks as a zip-line launch-station and visitor observation platform, offering spectacular views across Sherwood Forest. [Former mineworkers from Clipstone claim that on a clear day the view extends as far as Lincoln Cathedral]. The magnificent winding-house could be developed as a multi-use extreme sports and leisure facility, with indoor climbing wall, skate park, heritage centre and training suite. The surrounding site could accommodate both affordable housing and business units for start-up enterprises.

In 2013, Nottingham-based architects Maber Associates Ltd produced initial design concepts for the Clipstone Colliery Regeneration Group in order to help visualise the restored site and stimulate debate about the future of Clipstone Colliery headstocks amongst key stakeholders including Local Government, landowners and the wider community. Like many former mining areas, Clipstone suffers from structural unemployment. Establishing the area as a World-Class Sport and Leisure Hub would complement established tourist destinations such as, Center Parcs Holiday Village, Forest Holidays’ Log Cabins, Sustrans and Byways cycle trails, Amen Corner Karting, Rufford Country Park and others.

Through regeneration of the site, the group plan to address the social, economic and recreational needs of the local community, stimulating growth through tourism and leisure, whilst reinforcing cultural identity and civic pride. Indeed, a report commissioned by jointly by English Heritage and Newark and Sherwood District Council has concluded that there are no obvious commercially viable alternative uses for the site and, with the benefit of financial support for heritage, the Listed structures may yet hold the key for inward investment in Clipstone’s future These ambitions can only be achieved through public support, political will and the continued efforts of volunteer organisations and advocates. But time is running out.

The application for consent to demolish the building and headstocks made in 2003 to Newark and Sherwood District Council has yet to be determined, but it is hard to conceive that a convincing case for demolition could be sustained within the National Planning Policy Framework. The request to English Heritage for de-listing the building and headstocks, has not been taken forward because the application to demolish remains under consideration by the Local Planning Authority. The List description was, however, revised in 2012 to reflect the unquestionable significance of these structures.

The application for consent to demolish the building and headstocks made in 2003 to Newark and Sherwood District Council has yet to be determined, but it is hard to conceive that a convincing case for demolition could be sustained within the National Planning Policy Framework The request to English Heritage for de-listing the building and headstocks, has not been taken forward because the application to demolish remains under consideration by the Local Planning Authority. The List description was, however, revised in 2012 to reflect the unquestionable significance of these structures.

Selected sources

Comprehensive resource covering the history of Mining in Nottinghamshire. Leicestershire and Derbyshire.

A History of Coal Mining in 10 Objects – a digital humanities project produced in 2013 by Dr David Amos and Paul Fillingham, supported by Dr Sarah Badcock, and the University of Nottingham Centre for Advanced Studies. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. An illustrated eBook is available from the website.

The Clipstone Colliery Regeneration Group

The CCRG are in the process of submitting a HLF Young Roots application in conjunction with Garibaldi College and YMCA.

A video was prepared entirely by young entrepreneurs who have recently left college and very much in line with our philosophy of supporting young people into apprenticeships and business. The video was entered in a Short Film Competition recently run by locality: communities ambitious for change.

There is an e-petition to save Clipstone Colliery headstocks, which can be found at:
Save Clipstone

There is also a Facebook page at:

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