Saturday, 17 September 2011

English Heritage Angel Awards - North leverton Windmill/Pleasley Colliery/Bestwood Colliery

Several local buildings are up for this award:  
Pleasley Colliery, Nottinghamshire, was immaculately-restored by local volunteers
When people in the Mansfield area got together in 1996, to rescue run-down Pleasley Colliery, which closed 1983, everyone agreed it was a good idea. They weren’t so sure, however, when they actually went to inspect the premises.

“What a mess!” recalls Robert Metcalfe, one of the Friends of Pleasley Pit. “Floor plates missing, engine parts missing, trees growing through parts of the engines, the remaining part of the roof on the verge of collapse, everything covered in rust and pigeon guano.”

Fast forward 15 years, and many thousands of hours of what Robert calls “unstinting, back-breaking efforts” by the Friends, and you have today’s immaculately-restored heritage site, in which engines and engine houses are back in rust-free, pigeon-free working order.

“The future of the buildings and structures is now assured”, says Robert. “A whole generation who will never know ‘how it used to be’ will at least to be able to marvel at these survivors of the great age of steam.”

North Leverton Windmill, Nottinghamshire, is still grinding corn after almost two centuries.

Whole industries have come and gone in the meantime, but since it was built in 1813, North Leverton Windmill, near Retford, has never stopped working.

“It is one of the few mills, if not the only one, in the country, that has never stopped milling and has never been restored”, says Julie Barlow, one of the many devoted Friends of North Leverton Windmill

That the sails still revolve is due to the huffing and puffing of several generations of volunteers, who had to step up their efforts to gale-force levels recently, when it was discovered that two of the sails were rotten, and the main structural beams had holes the size of fists.

Endless abortive application forms were filled in, until, with the help of grants from English Heritage and the Building Better Communities organization, plus numerous Friends fund-raising events, the target £100,000 was reached.

“The repairs haven’t been completed, but the doors remain open, and the windmill is still doing what it does best, grinding corn”, says Julie. “Come rain or shine, if the wind is blowing, the sails are turning every Saturday.”

The winding engine at Bestwood Colliery, Nottinghamshire, helped make it the most productive mine in the world

No one was able to save the British coal industry, but in this part of the Midlands, they did manage to prevent a historic piece of mining heritage from ending up on the scrapheap.

Enter, hissing, the steam-powered engine that for nearly a century (between the 1870’s and the 1960’s) powered the winding mechanism at the Bestwood Colliery, lowering colliers into the shaft (in a metal cage), and bringing mined coal up to the surface.

Today, Bestwood lies dormant, but it was once the most productive mine in the whole world, being the first to excavate one million tons of coal in a 12-month period. Key to its continued productivity was the reliability of its winding engine, and that tradition has been continued post-closure, thanks to the work of the Bestwood Winding Engine Volunteer Group, headed by stalwart Robert Gow, which took over the site more than 20 years ago.

Not only do Robert and his team keep the engine and the premises in full working order, but they open up the engine house to the public, free of charge, every Saturday from Easter to October.

Telegraph subscribers can vote at, and follow the links, or by post to PO Box 604, The Daily Telegraph Angel Awards, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0XE. Please remember to give your name, address, telephone and subscriber numbers. The deadline is midday October 17. One vote per subscriber.

English Heritage members can vote online at, or by post to English Heritage Angel Awards, Customer Services, PO Box 569, Swindon SN2 2YP.

The English Heritage Angel Awards ceremony is on Oct 31 at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1. Tickets are available exclusively for Telegraph subscribers and English Heritage members, at £5 each. Call 0870 333 1183 to book, Telegraph subscribers should quote their subscriber number.

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