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Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2007
From Pit to Palace - The Story of the Twin Oaks Hotel
For centuries coal was to Derbyshire what wool was to Lancashire – an integral part of the county’s industrial and domestic life.
`The local landscape is scattered with relics'
The local landscape is scattered with relics, from the small, privately owned pit shaft to the nationally-owned colliery.
Alongside this heritage are the memories from a bygone age, of close-knit communities, extended families, and the fun of being a lad living next door to `a big family of lasses’.
Twin Oaks was one such community, formerly named Ramcroft and comprising six cottages which housed the families of miners, and two `villas’ for the pit under-managers. The mine itself was known as Ramcroft Colliery.
`From small acorns do big Oak trees grow'
From small acorns do big oak trees grow and Ramcroft was no exception. From an original lease of 1882 between William Arkwright and the Directors of the Staveley Company, we learn that five thousand acres of coal reserves were leased for a period of sixty-three years.
The Staveley Company opened Markham Number One colliery in 1885, and Markham Number two in 1886 as well as numerous other pits and a succession of colliery housing projects followed in order to secure workers for the mines. Colliery houses at Duckmanton, Hartington, Arkwright, Warsop Vale, Barrow Hill, Staveley, Speedwell and Poolsbrook were built, and many still stand today.
Later, under the skilful guidance of Charles Paxton Markham, owner and founder of the Staveley Company, the coal reserves at Ramcroft Colliery were exploited to support the war effort in 1914.
Shafts of 152 yards depth were sunk to the Top Hard seam and coal extracted with increasing momentum, which led to the development of railway sidings and branch lines from the newly opened Markham Colliery a mile away to the north-east.
Dave Bartram, the son of a Ramcroft miner, lived in one of the cottages throughout his teenage years and remembers it as, “A nice place to grow up, despite, or maybe because of having to walk everywhere, as the nearest bus-stop and shop were in Doe Lea, about a mile away”.
Nevertheless the memories of six-foot snowdrifts covering the coal-bunker in the back yard, and the pulling up of cabbages from his dad’s allotment down Pit Lane, fall neatly into the historic tapestry which surrounded the old Ramcroft Colliery. So too do the remains of the ancient Norman church of Old Heath, (originally known as Lunt or Lound); Hardwick Hall, the family home of `Bess of Hardwick’; Sutton Scarsdale Hall, and the Norman Keep and medieval battlements of Bolsover Castle, all visible and within walking distance of Ramcroft.
Today the 900 year-old ruins of the original Norman church, with it’s primitively carved and chevroned masonry can be accessed by a ten minute walk from the Twin Oaks motel through a tunnel which passes beneath the M1 motorway.
The fortunes of Ramcroft Colliery fluctuated, and as the inter-war depression struck in the mid nineteen twenties, the mine was put into mothballs under the maintenance and supervision of just three men – only to be kick-started again for another `war effort’ in 1939, under the direction of the Hardwick Colliery Company.
Once more the area bustled with industrial activity and further shafts were sunk as the five hundred colliers employed here supplied about a quarter of a million tons from the Top Hards, High Hazels, and the First and second Waterloo seams. Modernisation and experimentation did not go amiss either, with hydraulic pit-props used for the first time, and integration into the newly formed National Coal Board in 1947.
Marie Taylor, (nee Partlow) remembers living at Ramcroft with her family following the re-opening of the pit, and fondly recalls that as a child it was her sole responsibility, once a month, to shovel the ton of coal allotted to her dad as part of his wages, into the coal-house before he got home from work! The Partlows lived at number five Ramcroft Cottages, but later moved to number eight as it had the extra benefit of a bathroom. They’d previously had an outside lavatory at the bottom of the yard, and a tin bath which hung on the wall out back, but dad, being a deputy, had the luxury of using the showers at the pit-head. Ordinary miners however, had to take their muck home with them, and into the tin bath.
Hot water was obtained from the boiler above the fire in the kitchen.
The ton of coal had to fuel all six fireplaces; kitchen, living-room, front room and three bedrooms. There was also a fire under the copper in the kitchen, which at Christmas doubled as a boiler for the ham.
Outside was one large yard which served all six cottages.
There was no need of fences.
Marie recalls a dairy standing where the motorway now runs, and that rats from here once escorted her on her way to school, up the lane towards Heath. The path down the side of the field was known as `Piggy Lane’, where the children used to walk to feed the pigs which were housed in a series of stys. These constitute the only visible remains of the original settlement of Ramcroft, or Lunt – which Tom Bates suggests in his writing on Heath village, was robbed of it’s original inhabitants by the Black Death a few hundred years earlier.
Ramcroft and Ramcroft Colliery were one and the same, a mutually dependent and supportive neighbourhood, and today, Twin Oaks is an important reminder of a once thriving community based entirely on the extraction of coal.
Ramcroft Colliery finally closed in 1966 and there followed a period of opencast mining, which ended with the surrounding land being returned to it’s original agricultural function, and included the removal of all the physical evidence of deep-mine coal extraction.
Today however, even without it’s pit, Ramcroft still supports a successful and thriving business community, with it’s original structures of six miner’s cottages and two villas mainly intact, if changed somewhat in appearance!
Now, the Bartrams’, the Spitalhouse family, the Sheldons’, Hallams’, Peets, Brunts and the Adams’ – all former tenants of the cottages - today pay tribute to the sensitive transformation of their former dwellings into a refurbished and restructured modern motel.
Tony Lee, father of present proprietor Robert E Lee, purchased the cottages in the early 1980’s in a poor state of repair and decided to restore, rather than demolish them. He imagined the row of old miner’s cottages being transformed into a family business, and today the increasingly popular family-run motel, bar and restaurant, stand as testimony to a man of vision who found an affinity with the place – and turned the ruinous former pit hamlet of Ramcroft - into todays successful Twin Oaks Motel.