Alec Jackson’s coal industry photographs

On this page you will find a selection of some of the late Alec Jackson’s photographs of the coal industry in and around Chesterfield and north eastern Derbyshire.

Alec left these photographs to the society, of which he was member and keen supporter for many years. We are currently scanning and cataloguing them – but they will ultimately end up as a deposit in the Derbyshire Record Office. Please note that CADLHS retains copyright of the images on this page. They may be reproduced elsewhere, but not for commercial gain. Reproduction must include the source of the image (i.e. a link to this website). Further details are contained in our social media and website policy.

Alec Jackson

Alec was a life-long Chesterfield resident. Having attended secondary school at Tapton House, he went on to be a fully qualified National Coal Board (NCB) trained electrician, who spent some time at Glapwell Colliery. He later moved to the NCB’s Avenue Coal Carbonisation Plant site at Wingerworth from where he retired as District Manager of National Fuel Distributors Ltd. Many former staff of the National Coal Board may remember him particularly for his work in organising concessionary coal deliveries.

Alec was keenly interested in local history, local mining in particular. He contributed to our own publications – including a joint (with David Jenkins) local history paper (number 20) on the history of Whitecotes Colliery at Boythorpe. Alec had worked at Wagon Repairs Ltd from 1944-5. This no doubt spurred his second local history paper (number 37) on the history of the works and carried his reminiscences of the time he spent there. Alec also undertook work in identifying local newspaper articles before the advent of the British Newspaper Archive. He died in August 2020, aged 91.

(Our thanks to CADLHS members Meave and Peter Hawkins for this information on Alec Jackson, supplemented by his obituary which originally appeared in the Derbyshire Times).

The Avenue Coal Carbonisation Plant, Wingerworth

It’s perhaps not surprising that the Avenue Plant, opened by the NCB as a coal carbonisation plant in 1958, features in Alec’s photographs, alongside local collieries. The plant closed in 1992. We won’t detail its history here but there is a very brief summary in our article on the plant

(For ease of reference the first four images below are a duplicate of those on our main gallery page).

A familiar site to many over the years was the Avenue site in full production. It made coke from coal and recovered by-products during the process, including gas and chemicals – some highly toxic. This view is taken from the Mill Lane area, perhaps in the 1980s/early 1990s. Before a long clearance and decontamination programme, it was once described as the most polluted site in Europe. It is now the site of housing and open space. (AJ3).
How many times will this sign have been passed over the years. This was on Derby Road, pointing towards the Avenue plant. Many employees, visitors and haulage contractors would have turned off Derby Road, heading down the longish approach road to the plant over the years. Now its all housing or open space. The sign survived for some years after the plant was closed, but was photographed in 1999. (AJ1)
A view of the plant from Grassmoor, taken in September 1998 after production had ceased. It shows just how dominant the facility was in this part of the Chesterfield area. (AJ2)
Blending bunkers (no date). (AJ12)
There’s no date for this but Alec has written on the back ‘Far left – salt house, booster house, gas holder, tar plant; bottom – E circuit cooling tower, effluent plant’. (AJ11).
Alec has written on the back of this photograph ‘Last oven pushed approx. 1 pm, Wednesday Sept 16th 1992’. So this is probably the last official load of coal carbonised at the plant. But thanks to Brian Smith, who posted to Facebook we’re able to add the following: ‘This was officially the last oven pushed for the photographers and visitors but unofficially there were two more a few hours later when everyone had left. They had been kept in reserve in case this one didn’t work and I watched them being pushed and there was no one there with a camera to witness it.’ (AJ20).
The link that the plant had with the Midland railway line is shown in this third image, from 1998, after the plant had closed. Coal was shipped in from local mines via this link and the adjacent Avenue Sidings – all are now gone. (AJ9).
 The top of the coke ovens at night. There’s no date, but it shows the ‘Larry Car’ which travelled on rails and charged the top of the ovens with coal from the bunker you can see in the photograph below. (AJ21).
The same area showing what might be the final consignments of coal being carbonised on Wednesday September 16th 1992. The tall bunker towards the end of this image contained coal which was fed into the travelling ‘Larry Car’ which then charged the ovens, in-turn baking the coal. The end product was coke, with other by-products extracted. Amongst these was gas. At one time this was piped to the former Dema glass works (once British Thompson Houston – now the site of Tesco and Chesterfield FC) and Staveley Works. (AJ13).
Alec described this as the ‘coal wharf’. However, thanks to Andrew Harper in a Facebook comment, we are able to add that this wharf was probably the coke wharf not coal – where the coke was dropped onto before it went to the screens. It’s 1998 and this is some six years after the plant had closed in 1992. Many residents will remember the site once being described as the most polluted in Europe. After an extensive clean-up it’s now being developed as a mixture of housing and open space. (AJ39).
The centre of the whole operation was, of course, the carbonisation of coal into coke. This and the next photograph, though undated, show the coke product being pushed out of the ovens where it has been baked from coal. During this process chemicals, (some quite toxic) and coal gas were also extracted – being refined for onward sale. (AJ17)
A familiar site was the amount of light created at night when the coke was pushed from the oven and the ever-present flaming off of excess gases from a tall chimney (was it green?), not to mention the smell of coal products. (AJ18)
This shows the rail mounted ram-car that pushed the coke product out from the other side to that shown in our last two photographs. Another view taken whilst the works were in production. (AJ34)

Page last updated 24 November 2023.