Oils well that ends well…

October 7th, 2016

The First World War changed lives and aspects of society forever.  One largely unknown outcome was Britain’s first mainland oil well surprisingly situated in Derbyshire.

It was in 1915 when the Government, prompted by the war effort decided to look into the possibility of extracting oil in this country. Britain (and importantly the Royal Navy)needed oil and the threat of attacks by enemy submarines threatened any oil imports. A survey was taken of oil resources across the country and three sites were thought to have potential: the Lothians of Scotland, the potteries of North Staffordshire and the North Derbyshire coalfield. Derbyshire was picked for further exploration – oil seepages had already been recorded in some collieries.

The land was owned by the Chatsworth estate and so negotiations took place to obtain a lease for the rights to drill on the land.  Trial boreholes were drilled by  American oil teams who were especially bought over to the UK because of their expertise.

On 27th May 1919, at 3070 feet underground the first oil was struck at Hardstoft just outside Tibshelf. Although the oil find was a little late for the war effort the well produced 2500 tons of oil between 1919 and 1927.  Two further wells were sunk and the site continued to produce oil until they ceased full production in 1945.  They may have been too late for the First World War but they certainly had helped in the Second.

You can find out more about this important but largely forgotten part of Derbyshire’s history at a talk given as part of the Derwent Valley Mills Discovery Days festival.  You can hear ‘Derbyshire’s Oil Wells of WW1 – Britain’s First Oilfield’ on Tuesday 25th October 7 – 9pm at the Gothic Warehouse, Cromford, DE4 3RQ.  The talk is free but pre-booking is advised on 01629 536831. There’s more information on the many other events taking place as part of the Discovery Days festival on the Derwent Valley Mills website.

The Local Studies collections at Derbyshire Record Office and Chesterfield Library both
have further information on the Tibshelf Oilfield including the concise history by Ivan Brentnall ‘Britain’s First Mainland Oilwell at Tibshelf/Hardstoft’.