In past centuries, the Parish of Whitwell has contained many small quarries, which have provided stone for building, road making and lime burning. A glance at the 1855 Ordnance Survey map shows that a few of these were still in existence.
One of these early quarries, a dolomite quarry, was worked at Steetley; it might have remained a small quarry except for two important factors. First, the Industrial Revolution, which brought into being a new steel-making process requiring a heat-resisting furnace for which dolomite proved the most suitable material. Second, the steel-making centre of Sheffield was only a few miles away. So, in 1885, a new company called Steetley was formed and, from a modest beginning, a vast industrial organisation has developed, which forms the subject of much of this chapter.
Probably the first quarry in Whitwell would be the one dug into the side of the High Hill; stone was reputed to have been taken from here for building the Parish Church.
The next mention of quarries is in 'Dukery Records'-
'Robert de Menill, sometime Lord of Whitewell in the County of Derby, gave to the Church of Welbek a Quarry in his land, wherever it could be found most convenient, to build the Church of St James, and other offices, and free ingress and egress for those that carried necessaries for the building.'
Walter de Goushill, Knight, granted a Quarry through the whole more (moor) between the Town of Whitewell and Belgh, and other - where in the said Common Pastures of the Parish of Whitewell, wherever it could be found, and free leave to discover, dig, work, carry etc. as the Charter of the said Robert de Menill, his ancestor, mentioned without contradiction.'
After Welbeck Abbey had been completed, there was no other major construction work at this period. Stone would be taken for local farm buildings and for road mending, from the many small quarries which were opened up. Typical of these was the small quarry opposite the Arrow Farm; two other quarries producing stone before 1840 were on Linthill Lane (now A619) and at Gypsy Hill.
The old quarry on Southfield Lane may have been in use before 1840, but it came into prominence at the time when notable works at Welbeck were begun. Although the underground tunnels are arched in brickwork, a vast quantity of stone was used for the tunnel entrances and other buildings. Lime would also be supplied for making mortar - one estimate suggests that 500 tons of lime would be required for the main tunnel alone; an indication of the size of undertakings in those days.
The 1841 Census Return for Whitwell records 38 stone masons and 6 mason's labourers, far more than the parish would require - many would be employed at Welbeck.
A few small quarries were opened for just one particular task. Hodthorpe had a quarry during its early development on the site of Ivy Cottage and Pear Tree Cottage (the building removed from the Square) -this stone was used in the making of King Street.
A quarry was dug on Belph Common in the 1920's, to provide stone for the by-pass below Hodthorpe WMC to the County boundary, opened on 10th October, 1927.
There is still evidence of a quarry in the orchard of Springfield Farm, Belph most probably dug to provide stone for the farm buildings.
Another fairly large quarry for the period was over Drabble's Hill towards Creswell, known as Morris' Quarry, which produced a reddish type of sandstone (many of the quarries were distinctive in the stone they produced). Stone from here was used to make the l9th century 'Jot's Road', so called because the man responsible for maintenance for many years was Mr Jot Yates of Whitwell - the reddish coloured surface prompted the locals to call this road 'Red Lane'.
Quite a large sandstone quarry was opened by the side of the railway, near to Reynold's Cottages: many parishioners will remember household rubbish being tipped there until about 1940.
While these many small quarries had been opened and closed, the medieval quarry at Steetley had continued to prosper. Stone had been used for the Chapel, built during the reign of Henry II, and was used in many of the ducal houses of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire, as well as the new Parliament buildings at Westminster.
Following the purchase by Mr. Isaac Sharples on 1st January, 1885, the quarry traded as The Steetley Lime and Building Stone Company supplying hard-burnt lime.
Three years after the company was established, it succeeded in building a continuous shaft kiln to produce Doloma. The furnace was a vertical shaft, lined with tarred, burnt dolomite. Stone and coke were fed into the top of this air-blown furnace and Doloma emerged at the bottom.
The demand for Doloma expanded rapidly, influencing Steetley to look for sources of raw material in other parts of the country. By the outbreak of the First World War, the combined production of Doloma was 50,000 tons per year.
The wartime links established between Steetley and the steel industry were further strengthened after the war and the company searched for high quality dolomite deposits near to the steel-making centres of the North, Midlands and South Wales.
Growth and acquisition continued and by 1930, there were four companies making up Steetley. These were merged to form a new company, The Steetley Lime and Basic Company Limited (which was changed again in 1944 to The Steetley Company Limited and in 1982 to Steetley plc).
As Steetley prospered, funds were made available for research and in 1936 the first research laboratory was built at Steetley Works. One of the first projects was to study the release of magnesia from dolomitic lime to reduce the dependence on imported magnesia. In 1937 a pilot plant was built and in l938 a full production plant was on stream, just in time to aid the war effort, the product being marketed as Britmag.
The experimental work in producing stabilised dolomite was also successful and this eventually led to the opening of the Refractory Brick Company of England, making Dolofer bricks.
Steetley eventually expanded its activities beyond dolomite and magnesia-based refractories into silica, taking over the Oughtibridge Silica Firebrick Company in 1947. Dolomite activities were extended outside the UK and in 1952 Steetley acquired the Canada Crushed and Cut Stone Company, which had dolomite deposits in the Niagara Fails area.
As customer needs became more sophisticated and more complex, the company recognised the need for development of improved technology and products. In 1959, new research laboratories were opened and the Steetley Organisation Research Department was established in Worksop.
Further diversification took Steetley into the ready-mixed concrete business in 1964 and into the techniques of sand and gravel extraction, which were in direct contrast to hardrock quarrying.
Improved technology in steel making, especially the 'basic oxygen process' led to a requirement for high purity calcium lime. Thus, in 1968, the company acquired a limestone quarry at Dowlow, Derbyshire.
Steetley's next major move was into chemicals in 1970; this also expanded the operations overseas in Australia, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia and eventually in the USA.
A decline in the steel industry adversely affected parts of the Steetley operation, as did the energy crisis of the 1970's, while the world recession of the 1980's led to a series of plant closures around the world.
However, while the small quarries, mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, had closed, Steetley's history has been one of expansion and adaptation to change. Now the company is organised into six main operating divisions covering construction materials, facing bricks and clay tiles, minerals, refractories, chemicals and distribution, engineering and properties. Each area of activity is the responsibility of a subsidiary company.
Steetley owes much of its success to the skills and talents of its workforce; among these, employees from the parish of Whitwell can be numbered.