As Athersley Recreation make the seven – mile trip through Royston, zoom past the entrance to Rabbit Ings Country Park and race along the B6428 through Ryhill to the Yorkshire NuBuilds Stadium, the Bootiful Game – as part of its HEM-ATH 360 degree feature on Saturday’s Toolstation NCEL Premier Division clash between Hemsworth Miners Welfare and the Penguins – wanted to know a little more about the village of Fitzwilliam in West Yorkshire, ‘Wells’ home and the venue for Saturday’s game, writes Colin Muncie for HEM-ATH 360.
Fitzwilliam sits in the civil parish of Hemsworth in the Metropolitan Borough of Wakefield (hence the WF post code). Built as a pit village, the town has its own railway station, although the stop fell victim to Dr Beeching’s station closure plans identified in the mid-sixties, which affected over 2000 stations and 6000 miles of track. However, the station re-opened in 1982 and remains part of an electrified link between Leeds, Wakefield and Sheffield.
The town originally offered a place to live for the mining community associated with Fitzwilliam-Hemsworth Colliery, named after the owner, Earl Fitzwilliam, although the mine was established from 1876 by J.R .Fosdick.
Fitzwilliam – and nearby Kinsley – is famous for the important role it has played in the history of industrial relations in the mining industry down the years. A major dispute just after the turn of the nineteenth century saw the Fitzwilliam family remove all the miners from their rented homes – the ‘Kinsley Evictions’, which saw policemen from Pontefract march into the village and forcibly remove possessions from the properties. The dispute lasted for almost three years, until 1908.
The nationalised Colliery at Hemsworth closed in1969, but Kinsley Drift Mine reopened on the same site in 1977 – a drift mine is usually excavated above ground level but into a hillside – and the village played a part in the bitter, year-long Miners’ strike between 1984-5, where a riot – the reason for which remains unclear, but may relate to ‘exuberant’ policing – led to nine Yorkshire Miners (‘The Fitzwilliam Nine’) being arrested and convictedfor disorder.
Fitzwilliam features in the author David Peace’s famous novel ‘1974’, part of his gritty and brilliantly-written crime series, ‘The Red Riding Quartet’, subsequently released as a film series starring Sean Bean. Peace hails from Yorkshire, and is also well-known for his football biographies, ‘The Damned United’, about Brian Clough’s short spell with Leeds United, and ‘Red or Dead’, about Bill Shankly. Fitzwilliam was described in the book as ‘a hard town for hard men’.Recommended – but not easy-reading.
Kinsley closed in 1986, and Nostell Colliery a year later, creating mass unemployment in the village, with many occupants moving out to look for work. In the early 2000’s, some of the town’s empty and dilapidated properties were torn down, and because of the massive level of local deprivation, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust supported funding to rebuild the village. As a result, an improved local economy reduced unemployment in Hemsworth to just 3% by the early 2000’s, with the village largely restored.
Fitzwilliam is the birthplace of Yorkshire cricketer Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Football brothers Cyril (Spurs) and Peter (Wolves) Knowles, and the sixteenth century Archbishop of York, Robert Holgate, imprisoned – by Mary 1stof England – for being a married Clergyman.
Burnley-based alternative rock band Chumbawumba titled one of their many songs about the UK Miners’ Strike after the village, and the economic decline which followed the dispute. “It won’t be the same in Fitzwilliam again,” the lyrics tell us.
After Hemsworth Miners Colliery FC wound up in 1980, Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC was founded the following year and began life in the Doncaster and District Senior League. They were promoted to the Northern Counties League Premier League as Division One Champions in 2015-6.