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The Selby Complex

Incorporating Wistow, Stillingfleet, Riccall, North Selby and Gascoigne Wood Collieries


Selby, North Yorkshire


Background - By Dave Douglass

The last coalfield to be developed it offered hope of exploiting massive reserves in a modern well planned mining system with the most up to date techniques and machinery. The plans were approved by 1976 the largest deep mine coal project ever undertaken in the world. The site covered in excess of 110 square miles and were on stream in time to be battle scenes in the 84/85 strike. In involved the sinking of 10 shafts and driving 124 miles of underground roadways at a cost of £1-3 billion. Accessing the seams were far from easy and our old enemy water plagued the developments, new consolidation methods had to be devised.

At full production around 1993-94 the complex was producing 12 million tonnes of coal a year. By 2001 it had produced 110 million tonnes but by the year 2000 production was down to 4.4 million tonnes per year, UK Coal had taken over the nationalised complex believing coal was jam in cake not geology, they had no intention of working faults and disturbances and simply walked away from them. Many had predicted this would be the case. Reserves were abandoned without a fight. Whitemoor and North Selby 'merged' with Stillingfleet and Riccall, and only proven fault free areas were then worked.
Selby though a shiny youngster was old staffed just in time to join the great strike in one such battle at Gascoigne Wood, some of the pickets, clearly brought up on a strategy learned from the Westerns on telly deployed their skills in freeing up all the cattle from the fields and herding them in a stampede toward the cops with their riot shields. Whooping and yelling behind a hundred or so snorting beats in a great cloud of dust it looked like a scene from Bonaza. We were convinced that the mess laying on the road afterwards didn't all come from the cattle, as the cops either scattered for cover, of else likewise bred on a diet of TV westerns tried to turn the cattle round to charge the pickets. Throughout the 84/85 strike we had complained of press lies not simply bias. Gasgoine Wood was to provide one of the most famous and blatant examples. Friday 17 Aug. 1984 both ITV and BBC 1 News at 5.40 covered the pickets at Gasgoine Wood who had arrived to stop a solitary miner going to work. When the convoy of police vehicles were seen coming down the pit lane the men assumed it to be the scab coming in. They surged forward and feeling in buoyant and confident mood swept the police right off the road and consequently blocked it. The atmosphere had been jovial, the pickets confident of their personal strength against the equally numbered police, as the pickets non-violently but relentlessly pushed forward they were singing. A sergeant after trying to hold back the swell but finally inched off the road conceded good naturedly "I think that's one to you !". Next the police drew back a few paces, a moment passed, then they drew truncheons and charged, swinging and smashing into the packed ranks of pickets. At this moment the pickets fell back into a ploughed field, and having nothing else to hand volleyed the police with lumps of clay and earth. The sky for a few minutes was black with flying mud. Both channels cut and reversed the film to show the clods of earth being thrown and THEN the baton charge, at the same time the pundits announcing:- "Police were forced to draw batons to protect themselves against stone throwing pickets!"

However we digress
Many predicted mining at the complex would be a "smash and grab raid". Raping coal from the ground without consideration to conservation of resources and exploitation of the full reserves, it would prove to be a get rich quick scheme, mining the easiest most accessible profitable seams and abandoning millions of tonnes of untapped mineral. It seems scarcely credible that two of the pits in the complex are already designated abandoned, despite layers of untapped resources. North Selby the most northern of the complex from start to finish of its life had little more than 12 years production despite having access to an ocean of coal. The brightest predictions were for the complex to work only another nine years, we are currently hoping to survive to Xmas 2002 the only term which springs to mind is wilful waste. The coalfield was controversial from the onset. Sunk in rural Tory land-owning Selby the local gentry and their cap doffing workers feared the invasion of horny handed miners with their wild ways and politics. In order to pacify the gentrify the complex was designed so that no headgear would be exposed. They would be squat low gears surrounded by red brick. Dark satanic mills with whirling wheels over pit heads would not be the image for Selby. Instead the PR conscious NCB would construct towers and red brick walls around the winding gear, to make the enterprise look like a vision of glass and technology, on the surface, to the outsider of course. Below ground the pit was still the pit. Stringent restrictions for mining reserves were imposed which allowed mining only in the Barnsley seam. Even here the extent of working is greatly limited, The IMC Ltd Colliery Review tells us "An application to work reserves to the east of the river Derwent aroused significant local opposition". It had originally been planned to transfer men to the newly built estates near to the collieries. In truth despite subsidies, few made the transfer. The apparent hostility of locals and lack of pit community forced most to stay in their own villages and commute every day, sometimes lengthy distances.

There are five operating mines including the Gascoigne Wood drift which receives all the mineral from the other five sites. A further restriction in the area is due to the rural fear of the dreaded slag heap, spoil disposal is a major difficulty in the environmentally and politically sensitive area. Though we are told on site facilities are likely never to be exhausted as the end of the whole complex is already incredibly in sight at the time of first writing this peace we were pessimistically told nine years life at best , despite massive untapped reserves particularly at Riccall and Stillingfleet !

This has now been dramatically downgraded and we are fearful the whole complex could be closed by Xmas this year (2002), the most outrageous rape and waste of resources in the history of this already wasteful industry. This despite a recent £40 million investment by the government, we understand this was distributed to shareholders rather than invested in new development as expected. Coupled to this of course is the 'rigged' world market for coal, as Mr John Grogan MP for Selby said in his lengthy House Of Commons speech on 16 April :- "if UK Coal received the same value for its coal as the previous owners British Coal, it would receive more than £40 per tonne, which would be about half the cost of mining 1 tonne of coal in Germany. However UK coal process are now less than £30 per tonne. As a result the Selby complex lost more than £35 million last year bringing the losses in the past three years to £93 million." Grogan however earned the contempt of much of the industry by requesting "closure aid" rather than aid to stay open, but perhaps that judgement was too harsh. He was trying to stop a stampede of craftsmen and heading crews diving over the side in order to claim redundancy rates which were due to be withdrawn after July 2002. Such panic would have brought forward the closures and left the communities abandoned and unsupported. For his part he argued 'closure aid' would soften the blow and give a controlled closure programme.

The Five mines are Wistow, Stillingfleet, Riccall, North Selby and Gascoigne Wood. We are told the take is also affected by faulting. The majority of the extract goes to power stations with some sales to manufactured fuel and domestic.



The remaining Selby Collieries





Ricall Colliery is located a couple of miles to the north of Selby and just east of the A19 York road.

I hope to add more information at a later date, along with photographs of which I have been promised copies, of the sinking of Riccall's shafts.


Riccall headgear.

North Selby
The most northerly of the collieries in the complex, North Selby colliery is just a ten minute drive along the A19 from Selby town.


North Selby headgear


Another view of the North Selby Colliery


The Selby Coalfield Banner




Stillingfleet colliery is situated a couple of miles south of North Selby Colliery but is linked physically as well as by name, as described on the sign outside the colliery gate.





The Stillingfleet banner shows it's design was obviously influenced by events in 1984-85 strike!







Situated between Stillingfleet and Gascoigne Wood, Wistow colliery can be found just a mile outside the village of Cawood.


Wistow, looking very unlike a colliery.


The Wistow Banner



Gascoigne Wood

Gascoigne Wood is the only colliery in the complex to have the tell-tale slag heap, as well as a mountain of coal piled high on the left of the approach road to the colliery site.

The actual colliery is a huge sprawling complex made up of an assortment of box shaped buildings, all of which are a drab grey colour.


The first impression one gets from viewing the site is the massive size of the structures covering the two drift tunnels.


The Gascoigne Wood Banner



More information and photographs will appear on this page when available.

Ayle - Betws - Blenkinsopp - Clipstone - Daw Mill - Ellington - Gleision - Harworth - Hatfield Main - Hay Royds
Hill Top - Kellingley - Longannet - Monument - Maltby -Phoenix and Hopewell - Prince of Wales - Rossington
The Free Miners - The Selby Complex - Thoresby -Thorne - Tower - Welbeck - The Nottingham Coalfield
Mining 2000 Conclusions