Reclaimed by nature – Rothwell Colliery

One of many positive aspects of living in the LS26 area is the amount of parks and open spaces we are lucky enough to enjoy.

If you are a runner, dog walker or just someone who enjoys a good walk we are spoilt for choice with numerous canal side walks, the splendour of Springhead Park and the wonderful nature reserve at St Aidans managed by the RSPB.

One hidden gem is the Rothwell Country Park, an area that was once quite the opposite of the green, tranquil area it is today.

For our first feature on the area we have chosen the Country Park not just for its natural beauty that is maintained and managed by the ‘Friends of Rothwell Country Park’ but for its interesting and industrial past.

The story though begins back in the middle ages when the local area was a vast wooded area and used as a hunting and training ground for preparations for any future battles or wars. This gave birth to the legendary tale of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III who killed the last wild boar in the district around the turn of the 14th century.

Around 1530 Henry VIII declared the area should no longer be used for hunting and it became an area for cattle to graze. This in turn led to the vast wooded area being felled to make way for farmers and their livestock.

Around the 17th century coal mining was becoming more prominent and with a growing population and the steady growth of industrialisation the demand for coal had very quickly quadrupled.

Coal mining in the area began with primitive roots with the use of ‘bell’ or ‘bee hive mines’.These were dangerous and only had a short life before the seams resources were exhausted.

In 1867 coal mining reached a new status when the first mine shaft was sunk besides the North Midland Railway.

Coal mining was now a huge business and with a vast network of shafts mining was able to continue for over another 100 years.

In 1947 Nationalisation took control of the mines and new technology was introduced to the site.
An underground locomotive system was introduced to increase speed and productivity as well as a washery plant and surface conveyor.

The colliery closed in 1983 with the loss of around 650 jobs and the historic association between Rothwell and the Coal Mining Industry came to an end.

The site then lay unused for over a decade until a partnership between Leeds City Council and Groundwork in 1995, with the help of lottery funding, the European Community and Forestry Commission, plus contractors and local residents and community groups, began the transformation from colliery to country park.

With the introduction of walkways, marshland, scrub, meadowland, ponds, streams and the planting of various variety of trees and shrubs the once industrial hive of activity became an area reclaimed by nature.

Over time the area has become a rich habitat for wildlife and a peaceful place for dog walking, bird-watching or simply enjoying the fresh air and birdsong.

As part of the transformation a sculpture by Andrew McKeown was unveiled. The sculpture named ‘Breaking the Mould’ takes the form of a giant seed, which has emerged, from an industrial mould. The sculpture represents new life and growth emerging from industrial decline. The six piece cast stone and iron sculpture was installed as a ‘Marker’ and is one of twenty one ‘Changing Places’ regeneration sites across England and Wales. The sculpture celebrates and marks the £60 million Changing Places programme which transformed 1,000 hectares of post-industrial derelict land into parks and open spaces.

To this day the once industrial past is now hard to see but a few markers still remain if you have a spare morning or afternoon to explore the area.

The site of the stockyard is the easiest to spot with the railway lines still seated in the concrete floor. Also, just past the ‘Breaking the Mould’ sculpture the area which housed the mines emergency gear platform is still visible in the form of an arched road with curb.

With a collection of carved stone sculptures, a giant sun dial and plenty more hidden items the Country Park is well worth a visit.

For more about the park, or information about volunteering please visit the friends of Rothwell Country Park website: http://friendsofrcp.co.uk.

Colliery images courtesy of Shane Lambert.