A potted history of The Crags

The hills are alive…!

A Crag is the common name for a rocky outcrop, and although the Ordnance Survey map of 1841 named the area between Denaby and Conisbrough the North Cliff Hills, locals know it simply as The Crags.

The Crags form a geographical link between the two communities – ancient Conisbrough and the township of Denaby which developed around the turn of the 19th-20th century, largely as a result of coal mining.

In 1927, Conisbrough Urban District Council formally laid footpaths across the Crags between the two settlements.

In ancient times The Crags overlooked the marshland surrounding the River Don, in the valley below.

Coal was dug by local people from medieval times and at least one small colliery operated in the 1760s.

The 18th century canalisation of the River Don, to create the what is now the River Don Navigation, led to more mining in the area by providing cheap, convenient transport. At the same time, the growth of industry and steam-powered railways created a new market for coal.

In 1868 the Denaby Main Colliery opened working the Barnsley Main seam. The settlement which grew up around the pit was called Denaby Main, after the mining company.

The colliery produced millions of tonnes of coal for power stations and the Sheffield steelworks in its life, before its eventual closure in 1968. The nearby Cadeby colliery, which opened shortly after Denaby Main by the same company, was shut down in 1986.

Although the pits provided the economic lifeblood of the area, they were not happy places and the famous Muck Bag Strike of 1902-3 was just one of several conflicts between local miners and colliery owners.

It revolved around the the level of payment for removal of waste from the pit. Miners and their families were evicted from colliery-owned houses over the winter.

Dependent on local support, were forced to camp out on the Crags during the bitter winter.

In those days, the magnificent views to be had from The Crags were limited by the pall of coal fire smoke. But in the hot summer of 1976, the weather forced the dirt and smoke in the air to lift…  and the locals saw distant views from the Crags for the first time!

With the demise of the pit, distant views are no longer a distant memory!

Before the Second World War, The Crags began to resemble The Somme – as a massive complex of trenches was devised to house the local population from impending air raids.

The old newspaper clipping on the right outlines this.

The system shows remarkable insight – given the later folly of ‘Peace in our time’ – as does the lack of tolerance of the youth nuisance element!

Mexborough and Swinton Times

September 30, 1938

Warning to Children Not to Interfere With Defensive Works In Progress at Conisborough

A comprehensive scheme of trenches to accommodate large numbers of people caught in air raids while away from their homes is now under full swing at Conisborough and Denaby. The work is being directed by Mr. H. Thirlwall, Surveyor to Conisborough Urban District Council, and his staff, and on Wednesday nearly 100 men were engaged in digging operations.

The scheme provides for trenches at the following sites: Behind the Mining Offices of the. Amalgamated Denaby Collieries, Ltd., to accommodate 400 people; recreation ground behind Cliff View, Denaby, 320; Northcliff Hills, by the children’s playground, 160,. to accommodate children and pedestrians descending and ascending Conisborough Crags; Elm Green Lane, 160 (with a possibility of a second trench’ with similar accommodation); rear of Park Road, Coniborough, 60; and also two smaller trenches in Station Road near the Station Road Schools and near Conisborough Middle School, the possibility of the latter trench depending upon the nature of the ground.

The workmen engaged on the schemes are drawn from the Council staff and from men sent from the Labour Exchange.

Boarded and Strutted.

Mr. Thirlwall told the “Times” on Wednesday that the trenches would be 4ft. wide at the top and 3ft. wide at the bottom with recesses 15ft. long. The trenches would be boarded and strutted throughout, and would be covered with Joists which, in turn, would be covered with galvanised iron sheeting, the whole being covered with earth to a depth of two feet. The trenches would also include a communication trench, latrine accommodation and gas curtains. The question of electric lighting was also being considered.

Mr. Thirlwall stated that children were warned not to interfere with the trenches, and that if they were found doing so drastic action would be taken. The distribution of gas masks in the urban area began on Wednesday afternoon, when special constables and air raid wardens were instructed by a touring loud-speaker van to report to the local police stations immediately to begin the work.

The gas masks for Denaby arrived yesterday and special constables, air raid wardens and other volunteers had a busy day distributing them.

With acknowledgement to: Conisbrough and Denaby local history society