Coal Miners, Glass Workers & Potters

A profile of the Denaby area from 1801 - 1871

Extracts from J.E. MacFarlane's MA. Book


The author's mother Johannah Constantine was born at the nearby town of Mexbrough & his grandparents George & Elizabeth Constantine (nee Walton) were born at Denaby. The author thought it would be appropriate to include information about there birthplace and the surrounding area. To find the area go to & search for the area you want or go to


 Click on image to enlarge. Hover over photo's for a description


If we examined the surnames of children on a school register in any Yorkshire coalmining community, or the names of workmen on the pay-roll of a Yorkshire colliery, the chances are that names originating from Ireland, Scotland and Wales would be at least as well-represented as any home-grown Yorkshire names - assuming that we could identify the latter.  The point can be well made that Yorkshire coalminers are 'Yorkshire' because they work in Yorkshire pits, but the majority of these mining people are migrants - or the descendants of migrants - who came to Yorkshire in search of employment.

The booklet on 'Coalminers, Glass Workers and Potters' contains a detailed analysis of the pattern of migration and employment structures in three South Yorkshire communities before and after the sinking of a new colliery at Denaby Main.  The records of two population census returns, in 1861 and 1871 are the major source material for this analysis.  Because of the one hundred years of restriction on public access to census material this exercise could not yet be undertaken for any other mining community within the boundaries of Doncaster Metropolitan District.

Coal outcrops to the surface to the west of Yorkshire and dips deeper as the seams stretch out towards Doncaster and the eastward extremity of present workings.  Early coal workings were at the outcrop where pits with shallow shafts or drifts could operate and coal was cheaper to get.  In the second
half of the nineteenth century growing demand for coal combined with improvements in mining technology provided the commercial incentive and the technical means for winning coal at deeper levels, though the risk factor remained greater than it was in the well-proven mining areas around Sheffield and Barnsley. Top

When shaft-sinking operations began at Denaby Main Colliery in 1865 the nearest pits were at Kilnhurst, four miles to the south-west, and at Wombwell near Barnsley.  Denaby Main Colliery was the furthest east in the whole of Yorkshire and it remained at the eastward extremity of the Yorkshire coalfield
for thirty years, until the same colliery company developed Cadeby Main Colliery between 1889 and 1895.  It was to be more than forty years before the development of the
Doncaster coalfield, in the early part of the twentieth century.

Warmsworth St Denaby Main.Warmsworth St were the authors Grandparents lived

Denaby 'village of the Dones' and ancient seat of the 'Vavasors of Dennaby', had known small-scale coalmining for at least four or five centuries before the sinking of Denaby Main Colliery but the early 'Colpytes' (1487) and an eighteenth century Denaby Colliery, owned by Aaron Walker of Rotherham, worked the poor quality coal seams near the surface. In 1863, the modern coal masters of Denaby Main were intent upon winning the rich prize of the high quality Barnsley Bed of coal. This high 'risk venture capital enterprise 'occupied rather more than four years, as a great deal of water had to be encountered,
and more than sixty yards of tubbing had to be placed in the shaft'. This process 'involved a very large outlay and took about twelve months to accomplish'. The Barnsley seam was finally reached at a depth of 448 yards in September '1867.

Denaby Main CollieryDenaby Main Colliery, were the authors Great GF & Grandfather worked

his new pit at Denaby Main was the deepest and most modern colliery in the Yorkshire coalfield and the development of large-scale coalmining brought a rapid influx of population to the area. A totally new mining village of colliery houses was built by the Denaby Main Colliery Company, initially very close to the new pit and some distance from the old rural village of Denaby. Significant changes were brought about in the occupational structures of the Conisbrough and Mexborough areas. Coalminers and 'green labour' from all parts of the country migrated to the district in search of work at Denaby and (a little later) at Manvers Main. New industries developed; older ones expanded, and Mexborough took on the role of market town.

The area was well served for further industrial development. In addition to the long-established Don Navigation Company the railway line between Doncaster and Swinton had been opened for traffic on 10th November 1849, the Tinsley to Rotherham and Rotherham to Mexborough sections were brought into operation in 1863 and 18?1. Originally the main South Yorkshire route from Doncaster had carried on through Conisbrough and Mexborough to Wath, Wombwell and Aldham Junction to Ardsley and Barnsley. Top

Cadeby Main CollieryDenaby also had a short lived pottery, established in t864 and owned by Wilkinson and Wardle - 'the latter being a thoroughly practical potter previously with the well-known firm of Alcocks and Co., Burslem, Staffordshire'. The most easterly of the South Yorkshire potteries, the firm closed down in l870.

Denaby in 1861

At the time of the 1861 census Denaby (now known as Old Denaby) had a total population of 203 persons 102 males and 101 females.  Though most of the residents had been born with. a twenty-mile radius of the village less than half the population were actually born in Denaby and fifty-eight of these were children.  Agriculture was the dominant source of employment, the railway provided two jobs, as cleaner and gate keeper, and the solitary coalminer (one George Frost) was 'away working at a coal mine' on the date of the census and only an error by the enumerate (later corrected) led to his inclusion in the Denaby information.

The majority of the thirty-seven houses within the enumeration district were unnamed and merely listed as 'Cottage House, Denaby Village'.  Of those houses named there were three implied references to local industry: 'Denaby Engine', a farm house connected with eighteenth century coalmining; 'Denaby
Quarry House' and 'Denaby Gait', (sic) a railway gate house situated inside the level crossing of the Mexborough-Doncaster section of the South Yorkshire Railway.  The above refers to the period prior to the sinking of the Denaby Main Colliery.


The images below are:

Top LH Cadeby Colliery disaster 1912

Top RH Kilner Brothers Power House in ruins

Bottom RH George V & Queen Mary visit Conisbrough Castle to open a Fountain in 1912

Rossington St School Denaby Main built in 1893 by the Colliery company

Cadeby Colliery Disaster 9th July 1912

Kilner Brothers glass Works Power House in Ruins

Visit of Georged V & Queen Mary 1912, day before Cadeby Colliery Disaster

Rossinton St School Denaby Built in 1893 by the Colliery Company

Conisbrough in l861

At the time of the l86t census the population of Conisbrough was 1,655 with 857 males and 798 females.  In the previous decade the township had a much smaller increase in population than Mexborough and proportionally less growth than Denaby.  Conisbrough had been the largest of the three towns up to 1851 but in the ten years 1851 to 1861 the population of Conisbrough increased by less than one hundred whilst that of Mexborough expanded by ten-times that figure.  Conisbrough had little new industrial development to attract migrant labour and agriculture still dominated.  There were three-times as many agricultural labourers as there were workers employed in sickle manufacturing the next largest industry.  Wood-working, brick-making, sanitary tube manufacture and railways also provided small pockets of non-agricultural employment.

Map of Conisbrough

The evidence of the 1861 census suggests that the ancient 'Ivanhoe' settlement of Conisbrough, ('The Kings Stronghold'), was not an industrial township in the sense in which neighboring Mexborough was developing.  It appears to have been rather more of a residential township, a pleasant place to live or retire to, and 'in service' occupations are relatively strong.  Conisbrough, with only two-thirds the population of Mexborough, had more domestic servants, more house-keepers and more dressmakers; female occupations which presuppose a relatively prosperous living standard on the part of the employers.  The only coalminer living in Conisbrough was twenty-one years old John Pine, but there is no indication of his place of work.


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