Blackwell village is part of the ancient parish of Blackwell, situated in the upper Erewash valley, that includes the villages of Hilcote, Newton and Westhouses.
Coal mining on a small scale had been carried on since medieval times with references to disputes between interested parties dating back to the 16th century.
The population of the parish was 467 in 1851. By 1891 it had grown to 3104 and by 1921 there were over 5000 people living here. This sudden influx was mainly due to the sinking of deep coal shafts in Blackwell and Hilcote between 1870 and 1890. Rows of houses were built for the workers and the Blackwell Colliery Company also built a school at Primrose Hill in 1873, supplementing the earlier endowed school. It had to be enlarged several times before a new school was built in the 1890’s.
Around 1900, a coke oven and a coke by product plant were built next to the colliery producing tar, coke and various chemicals. ‘The fumes and smoke from the plant were horrendous, destroying hedgerows, grass and crops in the vicinity. It was impossible to have doors open or windows open when the wind blew the fumes in the direction of the houses.’ The plants were closed down in around 1960.
In the churchyard of St Werburgh’s Church sits the remains of an Anglo Saxon cross. The church itself was built in 1827-28 and rebuilt except for the tower in 1878-79. It probably stands on the site of some pre Christian enclosure. Old Newton Hall, now a farmhouse, was built around 1690 and occupied by the Richardson family for many years who frequently acted as bailiffs for Lord Sheffield’s Blackwell estates. Jedediah Strutt of Belper fame, is said to have worked on his stocking frame at the hall.
Work at coal mines was extremely dangerous in the early days. Lighting was by candles only, until the invention of the Davy lamp. An explosion occurred in the Low Main seam on 11th Nov 1895 killing 7 men. The coal mines have gone and the area is predominantly residential.
The present population of the parish is around 4500. One former miner from Blackwell colliery was a Percy Topliss who had been called to the forces during WW1. He turned up at the colliery wearing a Captains uniform and inspected a parade of Territorial’s, but after he had left it was discovered that he had been involved in a mutiny, and was shot whilst being pursued by the police. Blackwell, as at Wirksworth had an old custom of Clipping the Church. It took place on the Sunday nearest 21st June which is the birthday of St Werburgh. Parishioners ’embraced’ the parish church by parading around it, the intention being to mark out the bounds of the church and bring in the flock.