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Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire


The 17th Century


Between 1650 and 1675 the £ equivalent in 2010 rose from £75 to about £85.

Blast Furnaces

There were 5 blast furnaces and forges operational near Chesterfield in 1650.    Coke began to be used for drying malt.  For generations straw had been used by Derbyshire maltsters to dry their malt.  The coke was produced from a special grade of hard coal mined near Derby.  It was said that the new process improved the taste.  It was not until the late 18th Century that coke would be used to smelt iron.

Duffield Frith

A survey made by order of Parliament in 1650 of the late deforested area of Forest or Chase named Duffield Frith revealed that the income from the mines, delfes or pitts of coal now in use or hereafter to be a digged … with the liberty of … erecting of cottages for the habitation of colliers with free passage for horses, carts and carriages passing to and from the said coal delfes amounted to the substantial sum of £30.

Not Worked Since The Civil War

In the year 1652 some pits in South Derbyshire, at Oakthorpe and Swadlincote according to the Parliamentary Commissioners had not worked since 1640, due to the Civil war. Cromwell desolved the 'Rump' or remnant of the 'Long Parliament' in April 1653. Sir Robert Shirley an ardent Royalist mobilised his colliers on several occasions and hid muskets and pistols in a pit at Staunton for use against Cromwell’s forces if necessary. He was arrested and died in the Tower of London aged 27.

There was a coalmine at Stanton around this period and a mine working ironstone at Eckington (North Derbyshire) (noted in the Scarsdale surveys).

George Unlocke was Manager at the Measham pits owned by the Earl of Huntingdon.

A delph in Moor Dale on Swannington Moor yielded a profit of £16 16s 2d (£16.81) for the hospital. Another pit on the moor worked by Edward Palmer yielded only £1 profit.

Henry Hastings, Baron of Loughborough on 3rd Aug 1665 bequeathed to his executors coal mines at Oakthorpe for 99 years to pay off his debts. These passed down to his nephew Theophilus Hastings 9th Earl of Huntingdon. Miners at Oakthorpe earned about £12 per annum.

In 1662 Nether Coal Pitte and Upper Coal Pitte were noted in the Hornfield area (Leicestershire).


At a coal pit at Strelley (Nottinghamshire) in 1654, there was dispute over legal matters and men armed with staves and swords drove the other party’s workmen out of the pit.  Mining continued at nearby Cossall and Trowell.

Bell Pits

A cluster of Bell pits around Denby average depth around 20 feet (6m) with shaft diameters around 6 feet (1.8m) and area extracted around 13 feet (4m). The surface was riddled with dozens of these pits over many years.

Fatal Accidents

Again from the Parish records of St Catherine’s Church, Teversal (Nottinghamshire) for that year 1654, a miner named Thomas Spill was killed in a coal pit in the Parish and he too was buried in the Churchyard. He would have worked at one of the pits around Wild Hill, Fackley Lane End or the Meden valley. A plan made later shows around 15 shafts in that area, some that would have been working at the time.

Price Of Coal

In 1655 coal from South Nottinghamshire was being sold for 5s (25p) a load or about 2s 9d (13¾p) a ton and the pits around that district as well as some in South East Derbyshire were able to supply. There was a plan to improve the trade because the mines of North Derbyshire were too distant and landlocked to be able to trade too far away as the only means of transport was by horse and cart.

Stretton Survey

The Stretton Survey of 1655-1666 stated that the rent from the coal pits upon the Common at Stretton in the possession of Thomas Wragg amounted to £10.

Twentyman Pit

The Reverend John Twentyman, Vicar of Tibshelf opened Twentyman pit at Tibshelf (Derbyshire) in 1656-1657, and he was able to sell all the coal as it was mined, for he had no coal stood at the banke in 1658 due to Mr Heslehurst’s pitts at Carter Lane not being in work. In other words he had no competition. It is thought that the position of the mine is the one shown on a plan along the lane opposite Tibshelf Parish Church.

Lime Burners

It was known that lime was being burned at Dove Holes (Derbyshire), the coal used coming from a local source.
There was a survey of mines and delfs of the Priory in Alfreton by the commissioners and this was sent to the Surveyor General on 31st May 1659.

Corrosion Caused By Burning Coal

Smoke in Nottingham and Derby and other major cities like Manchester and London had a ‘sooty crust or furr’ upon everything and was corroding the iron bars of the various buildings etc. The smoke hung everywhere and clung to clothes, tapestries and flowers and the smell was at times overpowering. There must have been smog like we had later in 1950s at certain times of the year.

Restoration Period

Charles II was on the throne in 1660-1685, following the demise of the Commonwealth under Cromwell. This was known as the Restoration Period. However there were many pits that had been unworked in that period. Measham was the largest colliery in the district employing about 120 men and boys.  Many small pits employing only a few men and boys were scattered about. About this time it is thought that the Shropshire longwall system of mining was introduced vastly increasing production rates. Practically all pits elsewhere were working coal on the bord and pillar system. Pits were under the control of charter masters such as Cater, Derrick, Finch, Middleton, Smallie and Wildman who were some of the well known ones. Derrick and Finch operated one and Middleton and Smallie another. Cater’s pit was opened and closed inside the year as did Wildman’s. ‘Strangers’ as they were called were travelling miners from other counties such as Shropshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire.

Boring For Coal Began

Boring by wimble to search for coal began in 1662.  Prior to this the only way to search for coal was by sinking a shaft and would continue for some time and sometimes the venturers were greatly disappointed to find that the coal was deeper or thinner or of poorer quality than anticipated or even missing and obviously costing much money and even making some bankrupt. Oakthorpe colliery (South Derbyshire or Leicestershire) was sold by
Lord Loughborough to William Bale for £800.

The secrets of the specialist searchers of coal were usually passed on in families as above and for another example the Bailey and Burton families were well known in the Coleorton, Swannington and Staunton areas.

Great Problems With Drainage

However Bale had great problems with drainage and having spent hundreds of £s (£415) over about 5 years trying to solve the water problem he eventually sold it to Lord Hastings and Sir Edward Kirk of Middlesex for £840. The cost of sinking a shaft around this period varied between £20 and £50 according to the depth.

£500 Worth Of Coal

Dame Martha Rodes sold £500 worth of coal mined from her pits at Barlborough (North Derbyshire).

Parliamentary Parties Originated

Parliamentary Parties originated, and the Whigs and the Tories were recognised. As with Kings and Queens in the past, Parliament would now have an influence over the coal industry in the future.  Prime Ministers would be created from 1721.

The New Inn Level

A sough was commenced in 1666, the year of the Great Fire of London, (the Great Plague happening the year before in 1665), to be driven between Huthwaite and Hardwick Park where the water was emptied into the stream. It was known as the New Inn Level, referring to the close proximity of the now long forgotten mouth of the sough near to the ‘New Inn’, or as it is now known, the ‘Hardwick Inn’. The photograph shows an old sough exposed.  Around 20 shafts were sunk along its route, as on all soughs shafts were sunk as a means of getting the material out to drive the sough and also to ventilate it when the air became too foul to work, or get rid of the build up of water. Water percolating into the workings from the surface was able to flow down into the sough behind the miners leaving them in relative ‘dryness’ in working coal to the rise side. Similarly another sough, the old Blackwell level was commenced at the same time to drain water in that area.

Strelley Output

The pits at Strelley owned by Edge produced 1,320 loads of coal of which 1,163 loads were sold in the seven weeks prior to the 3rd October 1656 making a clear profit of £581 15s 9d (£581.79p).

Derbyshire Coal

The population of Derbyshire had now increased to around 70,000, many attracted by the new industries.

Philip Kinder wrote in 1663 that ‘No one cuntrie in the world hath more plenty of hard coale and none so good….the hard coale wheresoever it comes is cald the Darby-shire Coale, London and elsewhere’.  In some processes it was found to use ‘coke’ which was more satisfactory than coal.

A delph at Moor Dale (South Derbyshire) yielded the hospital £16 16s 2d (£16.81p). Another pit worked by Edward Palmer only made £1.

Thomas Henshaw leased a mine at Oakthorpe (South Derbyshire) in 1670 for 21 years at £2 per annum. Miners were earning between 5s (25p) and 6s (30p) per week.

Leicestershire Field

John Wilkins was a far seeking man and entrepreneur in the Leicestershire field and worked coal at Coleorton (South Derbyshire) where he employed many miners, up to 300 working on two shifts. He bought the lease of Coleorton from Beaumont and the output was around 24 loads of coal daily.  However it appeared that Beaumont sabotaged the sough in order to drain Silver Hill (South Derbyshire) which drowned out Coleorton so it had to be closed.

By 1671 Edward Bailey who had been granted a 10 year lease to work coal under Swannington Moor in 1667 was selling coal to Leicester.

On Swannington Moor Joseph Jones worked pits Roes Bradleys and Litherlands Bradleys in Two Little Closes to the good quality Nether Coale 4’ 6” (0.75m) thick at £40 per annum. He renewed the lease for a further 3 years but serious flooding closed the pits in 1677.

Coke Family

In 1672 the Coke family began mining the Top Hard (Rifle or Rifler bed) around Pinxton (Derbyshire) and had established a firm, the forerunner of the Pinxton Company by 1676

According to Frank Smith in his book ‘The Complete History of Pinxton’, he told me in discussion (at the John King museum) that when Coke began a new pit, he sank the shaft and prepared the headings, when Mr Machin, Coke’s Agent, fixed a price and offered it to their own Butties who generally accepted it. The Butties then let it to the holers by the stint, and the hammerers, loaders and banksmen by the ton.

Working A Mine

There was great expense to be found at a mine, for example sinking the shafts, fixing up a winding gear of sorts such as a whim gin or cog and rung gin with horses. Freeing a mine from water was effected by an Egyptian wheel at the time which comprised of a cog and rung system with an endless strap which went down the shaft to the sump.  Leather buckets called dippers were fastened to the strap at intervals and as the buckets passed under a return wheel in the sump collected some water and was raised to the surface up the shaft and discharged onto an inclined board and into a wooden trough and thence discharged into a nearby stream or watercourse.

Bord and pillar work was practised in South Derbyshire but this system was fraught with danger as firedamp would tend to collect in the blind end of working or abandoned stalls. This gas would be fired as explained in another part of the document. At the time it was probably not realised that gas can migrate from old works or goaf in times of low pressure thereby creating a dangerous atmosphere.

Should there have been any explosions when firing the gas and men were killed it was known that to enter the area was deadly due to afterdamp, and these workings were left off for some time until it was found that the gas had dispersed then it was possible to fetch out dead bodies.

Sales Of Coal

Output from Oakthorpe colliery between 1667 and 1673 was 6,288 loads. Sales averaged 6,090 loads so output from 5 pits was exceeding sales. The pits were run by charter masters namely Bingham, Bache, Wildman, Bradburie and Burns.

Children Priced By The Day

Children were priced by the day and controlled solely by the Butty. There was no regulation as to punishment, no notice at the office or other places excepting the warning notice as to combinations! (i.e. unions). In other words the Butty was ‘King’, children poorly treated and unions were banned.

Appeal Against Tax

The Reverend John Twentyman, Vicar of Tibshelf appealed against the assessment of 40 marks tax for his coal working, the Twentyman pit.  In his letter to the commissioners he stated that his pitts had been unwrought since 28th June 1673 and he had sold 300 (loads or tons)? during the year. The Delfe on the Common belonging to the Hospital (St Thomas’s) and also a coalmine on the Waste were not assessed. He claimed that taxes on the Blackwell coalmine that was producing 3 times as much and also pits at Pinxston and Normanton and with the Delfe on the Common were selling at quarter rates.  He claimed that his pit banke had only been bared 3 times, 1658, 1665 in 16 years when the Blackwell Delfe being in a fault and 1672, i.e. he had no immediate stock of coal readily available for sale at the pithead during those years. This Blackwell pit was in the region of three times the size of the Tibshelf pit.

Firing The Gas

 At Wingerworth in 1675, there were four methane gas explosions at a mine in as many weeks, on every occasion men being hurt. It became increasingly clearer that the ‘damp’ increased in the mines in cloudy and damp weather, especially during the flowering of ‘pease’. Marsh gas, Firedamp or Methane (CH4), a light carburetted hydrogen gas when mixed with proportions of air forms an explosive mixture which when exploding it turns ten times the quantity of air into choke damp  and smothers. It can migrate more from the goaf or from coal extraction in periods of low pressure.

Penitent or Firemen

The practice of ‘firing the gas’ (CH4) continued and was done by ‘picked men’, before the workmen entered the mine. They were called Penitents, or Firemen, a term which originated in Mostyn, North Wales in 1677, following an explosion there in December 1676.

A man wrapped in wet rags and a hood crawled into the area where gas was suspected, with a lighted candle on a long pole he raised it into the roof and hopefully set fire to the gas without it exploding.  He was referred to as the 'penitent', because his dress resembled that of certain religious orders, Very often the fireman or Penitent was killed during the operation of igniting the gas.

It is not known at what period the practice began in Derbyshire, Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire. 

Dead Dog Pit

It is known that dogs were lowered into some pits to see if the air was suitable for men to enter the mine when it had been stood, because if the dog survived so would the men, however I have never found any reference to whether this system was ever used locally, but there is reference to a Dead Dog Pit near Ilkeston (Derbyshire).

Rutland Colliery No.4 was near the Ilkeston swimming baths complex, and was also known as "Dead Dog Pit", I believe. It was also the one that put pay to the Ilkeston Spar Baths by disturbing the ground waters. No.4 reached the Deep Soft Coal at 183 feet. It was connected by railway or tram road travelling up Manners Avenue past the later Mines Rescue cottages. No.4 was shown active in 1887, but had disappeared by 1901, and was replaced by the Manor football ground some time prior to 1921. Some of the old spoil heaps, pit top, demolished buildings, and rough woodland that developed on the site was a playground to myself and some of the children from the Mines Rescue Station right up until the swimming baths was built in the early 1970s.
Joe Henshaw