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Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire



Fletcher and  Bullivant

Sam Fletcher and John Bullivant purchased 220 acres of land in 1771 between the western edges of Swadlincote. Sam Fletcher sank a pit. His Agent at Swadlincote was Thomas Dumelo who transported a gin of Fletcher’s valued £14 14s 0d (£14.70p) from Heanor to Swadlincote in 1772.

Fletcher also had interests in collieries at Kirkby (Portland Fields?) in Nottinghamshire and South Normanton, Brookhill, Pinxton, Butterley, Horseley Woodhouse and Owlgeaves in Derbyshire. He was obviously a wealthy man.

Other owners of pits in the area were William Burslem, Joseph Wilkes and William Nadin.

Ironstone Adit

Near Wingerworth Hall the Dogtooth ironstone adit was driven to the foot of the coal in 1772 (owner…?).

Steam Engine To Pump Water

One of the first uses of a steam engine to pump water from a mine in Nottinghamshire was at Trowell Field pit.

Chesterfield Canal

Brindley was appointed the Surveyor General @ £150 and in 1771 the year before his death he began constructing the Chesterfield /Gainsborough Canal.  When Brindley died (in 1772), John Varley his assistant on £100 p.a. carried on the work.  The canal excavation had begun at opposite ends of a tunnel at Norwood and Kiveton Park with about 300 navvies working on the project.  However another engineer, Brindley’s brother-in-law Hugh Henshall was appointed at £130 p.a. later increased to £250 p.a. 

In 1774 the first load of coal was conveyed by barge. This form of transport would create the development of many pits, and communal gang lines would be built down to the coaling wharves at the side of the canals.

1774–1783: American War of Independence

Coal mining increased dramatically as more military equipment and munitions were required for the army. The furnaces were extremely busy producing iron at the foundries.

Molyneux’s Sough or New Inn Level

Sir John Molyneuxs sough or drain from near Blackwell and Huthwaite through the upper River Meden Valley and on to Hardwick Park at approximately 5 miles long, known as the New Inn Level was completed in 1754. There were around 60 shafts sunk along the route.  It was begun in 1666 and at least two other coal owners shared the cost.  Coal pits were shown at Fackley and off Hopkins Lane at Hucknall Huthwaite on a map dated 1774. Other soughs working at this time (mentioned by John Farey in his book of 1811) included one at Hollingwood Common, ENE of Brimington, from the Chesterfield Canal in the 10th grit, the 9th and 8th coals and great lengths of working in each, as small boats were used in it to transport the coal   Another sough at Kimberley was from the River Erewash West of Awsworth, 3¼ miles long to near Strelley and Bilborough and was driven in the coal measures.

A further sough was at Tibshelf South, South, West of the town, from the brook, 1¼ miles long through various coal measures with 10 shafts.  The Blackwell sough, South and East of the town, was a 2½ miles long drain from Blackwell Pastures to the Newton colliery East of the village and driven in the years around 1745. Two other pits named nearby were Blackwell New and Littlemoor. A further sough or level was at Swanwick CommonDamstead pit was sunk later.  There was a sough at Thatch-marsh from near Gasling Toll bar some ½ mile long through shale, first grit and first coal shale, to bring out the coal.  Also at Woodhall Moor from Norwood, 1½ miles long in coal measures and at Woodhouse near Totley, in the 8th grit, and 9th coal shale.  Most of the soughs, if not all, were undertaken by private owners or lessees of the pits that were connected.

Swadlincote Estate

Hugo Meynell of Bradley sold the Swadlincote Estate (South Derbyshire) to Sam and George Hodgkinson for around £31,000. They sold it on in lots, part to Sam Fletcher, coal owner of Heanor, and John Bullivant of Langley, and Swadlincote colliery was developed. Another part was sold to the Gresley family in 1773.

Chapman's Plan

John Chapman produced a plan of Nottinghamshire and district in 1774. Three pits were shown to be working at Fackley Lane End, Teversall. A toll bar stood at the crossroads. Four pits were shown working at nearby Tibshelf in Derbyshire. A pit was shown to the West of Brookhill Hall and one North of Pinxton. Several pits in Blackwell Parish on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border to the West of Huthwaite. Three pits were shown working at Cinderhill, with three others at nearby Bilborough. Again a toll bar was shown at the major crossroads. Three pits were shown at Wollaton and again surrounded by three toll bars. Obviously there was money to be made from the transport of coal, supposedly for the upkeep of the roads. A plan of the tollbar at Fackley is shown below.

Tollgate at Fackley (Teversall)

Tollbar At Fackley

Tomlinson's Plan

Tomlinson produced a coloured map of Nottinghamshire in 1774 and pits were noted on Silverhill Farm land. Coincidently there was a Tomlinsons’s Level driven from that area towards Molyneux in that year. 

Springwood Old Shaft

Springwood or Wood colliery (Dodsley) in the upper Meden Valley (Nottinghamshire) was sunk in 1774.

Later in the early 1960s the farmer at Springwood Farm in the upper Meden Valley told me he used to throw all his rubbish into the ‘hole’ and remarked ‘that it just kept disappearing’!  In the 1970s it was filled with stone and capped by the National Coal Board.  At several of the old shafts nearby water could be heard running.  At others only the splash of a stone thrown down denoted that the mines were flooded. As Surveyors we used to measure the level of the water by putting a piece of wood onto the end of a piece of string and lowering it slowly down the shaft until the string went limp.  We would do this several times to make sure that it was correct, each time noting that the mark made on the string was the same. The string was then wound out of the shaft and measured and particular note was made to make sure that the piece of wood, usually a cap lid was wet underside. The readings were recorded and compared with previous readings. From the measurements taken it was found that the shafts were connected underground. All these shafts were uncovered and filled with graded limestone and capped with concrete.

Other Old Shafts

Other old shafts whose positions were unsure of were searched for by the North Nottinghamshire Area Drilling team using a Cobra drilling machine over a safety grid in the 1970s. These shafts were likewise dealt with. Similarly old shafts in Derbyshire and Leicestershire were filled also. The photograph shows an old shaft almost full of water.

Value Of the Pound

The £ equivalent buying power in 2010 had now fallen from £85 in 1750 down to £65 by 1775.

James Watt Improved Engine

James Watt improved the Newcomen engine by adding a separate condenser thereby improving its efficiency. In 1774 he had moved to Birmingham and formed a partnership with Matthew Boulton.

Griffin Foundry

John Smith founded the Griffin foundry at Brampton (North Derbyshire) in 1775. Pits would be sunk nearby to satisfy the need.

Fatal Accidents Included

  • 1775: Bilborough, Samuel Taylor killed in a coal pit, buried 4/11/1775
  • 1776: Bilborough, Thomas Lowe killed in a coal pit 9/5/1776.

South Derbyshire / Leicestershire

From 1775-1777 there were 28 pits in South Derbyshire / Leicestershire.
15 pits at Coleorton, 5 at Swannington,
5 near Newbold and 3 at Lount. All were using steam engines.

Deep Foundation or Swadlincote colliery (John Bullivant) (South Derbyshire) had an Engine pit, Bye pit and Fire engine.


  • Rutland (later known as No4 pit) was sunk to 80 yards (73m) deep in 1776 at Ilkeston
  • Coopercote Engine pit and sough (James Fletcher)
  • Bokay sough was continued to drain Ripley old Hard coal. More shafts were sunk at Sudbrook with drifts driven by Moses Tagg between the mines each only having 1 shaft, no doubt to create an air circuit around the workings.


James Kirke of Tibshelf, (Derbyshire) had worked for one year in a colliery at Bilborough in 1776. 

Trams on Cast Iron Rails

Around 1776, John Curr of Sheffield, Manager for the Duke of Norfolk’s collieries, substituted trams running on cast-iron angle rails instead of boys having to drag coals on sledges, however it was some time before the idea was used in our local mines due to the expense. He also invented the flat rope used for winding and used small wooden tubs to raise the coal instead of corves.

Erewash Canal And Other Canals

The Erewash Canal was begun in 1777 and was 11 miles long from Langley Bridge to Sawley on the River Trent. It was constructed as an outlet for the coal from the Erewash Valley mines and completed in 1779.  The Chesterfield Canal again to the River Trent, ran from Chesterfield to near Gainsborough at 45 miles long, took 7 years to construct by the navigators (navvies) and was completed in 1777. The Trent and Mersey Canal opened in that year and the Soar Canal opened in 1778.  These opened up ‘export markets’ for the coal mines.  Previously only small amounts of coal by mule train or packhorse or waggon and oxen / cart horses could be sold locally.  Canal building continued and the New Erewash Canal Co and the Loughborough Navigation Co were founded.

An ill-fated attempt was made to make a canal from Swannington to Leicester.


Coal was mined at Coleorton, Hugglescote, Ravenstone, Swannington and Whitwick in Leicestershire, but the coal owners realised that they could not compete with some of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire mines where coal was able to be sent by barge on the newly created canals at a cheaper rate. 

In 1777 John Roper and William Fenton re-opened Swannington colliery. The Manager was John Braithwaite. They dewatered the pit that had been allowed to flood in 1761 and production recommenced the following year.

Measham New colliery was opened by Joseph, John and Thomas Wilkes in 1778.

Professor Nef estimated that the output from the Leicestershire pits was only about 50,000 tons for the year.

Gin Driver

John Wilson, 7-year-old gin driver at Swanwick, was paid 4d (1½p) a day. He later graduated to underground work and was paid 1s (5p) a day by 1781. Hewers wages had only risen to 1s 8d (9d) a day by this time. Horse gins had been used for hauling coal up shafts for around 100 years. Around this time rails made of wood gradually gave way to rails made of iron….tram plates.

Gin and Fire Engine

The first Barlow pit had a gin and a fire engine was bought in 1777 for £275 16s 6d (£275.87½p), quite a considerable sum at the time in comparison to other equipment used at a mine as the total cost for opening the mine was £545 3s 6d (£545.17½ p) which included shaft sinking and opening as well as the installation of the engine.

Swanwick Lease

The Duke of Rutland took a lease on the mine at Swanwick in 1780 to run for 29½ years from January 1782.  It will be noticed that generally mines closed when the leases ran out, and these were normally Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) or rarely Christmas (25th December) the old quarter days, as mentioned previously.

Derbyshire Land Tax Records

The earliest Derbyshire Land Tax records mention coal pits only at Shipley and Stanton, but it is well known that mining was taking place elsewhere in the county as well. There were pits at Tibshelf and near Brookhill Hall at Pinxton as shown on an old plan of that year.

Prior’s Plan

Priors plan or map of South Derbyshire, surveyed 1775 - 1777 shows 7 pits and one ‘fire engine’ at Measham. The fire engine would refer to a winding engine worked by steam power. There were a further 2 fire engines and 30 more pits shown on the plan making a total of 37 pits in the district (see P Burdett below).

Burdett’s Plan

Peter P Burdetts Map of North Derbyshire surveyed from around 1762 - 1767 published in 1779 shows coal pits to the south of Newton Wood (owner…?) and to the east of Newton and also pits at Pinxton near Brook Hill Hall (Rev’d D’Ewes Coke).  Also in the Dronfield district pits at Woodhouse and Barlow and Dunston near Whittington. At Oakthorp(e) near Measham, including a fire engine, but it is known that there were fire engines at several other pits including the Fletcher’s collieries at Pinxton by this date (not shown).

Coal pits are marked at Hall Field near Swadlincote. Donkil pits and Pestle pits to the west of Coton. Coal pits are shown to the north of Fernilee, and at Gosling to the west of Buxton. However it is a known fact that in certain areas particularly North Derbyshire many mines known to be working at the time are not shown on Burdett’s map so it is unwise to assume that the map is correct in its descriptions for all areas.

It is thought that he started the survey in the spring of 1762 because the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce offered to give a prize not exceeding £100, as a Gratuity to any Person or Persons, who shall make an accurate Survey of any County upon the scale of one inch to 1 mile..... It would appear that the triangulation method of observation by theodolite with baselines measured by a Surveyor’s chain was the basis of the map.

The start point was determined by astronomical observations, the latitude probably by taking the altitudes of the sun. The longitude obtained by a complicated system of the determination of the meridian transit of the sun or a planet coupled with the simultaneous estimation of local time by an accurate watch or chronometer. The first edition was published and advertised in the Derby Mercury of 24th April 1767 and carried the notice of its publication and stated that on This Day is Published, (On a Scale of One Inch to a Mile, A MAP OF DERBYSHIRE, from an actual Survey by PP BURDETT. Engraved by Mr Kitchin, Engraver to his Royal Highness the Duke of York. Dedicated to the Right Honourable The President, Vice-Presidents, and the rest of the Members of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, etc. Containing the exact Situation of every Place remarkable or curious in the said County, as Towns, Villages, Churches, Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Seats, extraordinary Mountains; the Origin and Course of Rivers, Bridges, Ferries, Towns, Fords, Mills, all Main and Cross Roads, with their Measure by the Perambulator; together with whatever else can contribute to make the Work both useful and ornamental. A few best Impressions on exceeding fine paper will be pasted on Cloth, at One Guinea and a Half.

Many features such as woods and commons in some areas are in a sketchy form yet in other areas are shown in their entirety. The map in some respects remains a mystery why so many features were in great detail in one area yet missed completely in another. The later publication was in 1791.