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Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire


The Rise Of The Industry Continued
The 14th Century
1301 - 1350


The ruling monarchs of the period were:-

Edward II 1307 - 1327

Edward III 1327 - 1377






Beauchief Abbey

The Monks of Beauchief Abbey (near Sheffield) were gathering coal for their own use in the wastes of Alfreton and Morton shortly afterwards, and by 1300 they were given licence and full liberty of getting coals at Swanwick (Derbyshire).

Sir Thomas Chaworth, Lord of Alfreton made a grant of lands and rents to Beauchief Abbey.  They also had licence and full liberty of getting coals, drawing them and carrying the coals away, both for their own use and for use by their tenants, whether bond or free, whenever they wanted it, in their tenant’s lands and waste grounds lying amongst their lands.

Coal was worked at Stanley near Hardwick Hall by the Monks of Beauchief, or I would imagine more than likely under lease from them. These shallow workings at the basset edge in the Top Hard seam to the left hand side of the lane to Hardwick were exposed in 1954 by Opencast working.

Early Excavations

They derived a steady income by leasing their most productive mine to laymen till about 1495.

Pits were working at Smotherfly to the West of Pinxton (Derbyshire) in the early 1300s.  In South Derbyshire mining was taking place at Newhall and Stanton. These early excavations were most probably outcrop workings followed by bell pits or beehive pits.

Bell Pits

Above Images From Black Country Society

As the overburden became thicker shallow shafts were sunk down to the coal seam and the coal was extracted around the shaft bottom resembling the shape of a bell until the roof began to fall in and it became dangerous, as no supports were set to hold up the roof. When all the available coal from the first pit had been taken, a new shaft was sunk close by, and generally the excavated material from the new shaft was cast into the old shaft, and so on.

The shafts were around 3 to 5 feet (or 0.91m to 1.52m) in diameter and rarely exceeded 12 yards (11m) deep and were about 12 feet (3.75m) diameter at the base and were situated about 6 yards (5.5m) apart.

Bell pits mainly mined prior or during the Tudor period have been located at

Bell Pit Exposed

Barnes Farm Dronfield Woodhouse
Valley towards Kitchen Wood
Hill Top Road at Bull Close Farm
Brierley Wood and Loundes Wood Unstone area
Ramshaw Wood, Bull Close near Hill Top
Brook, Holmeley Lane area
Sutton Scarsdale near Heath, between Belper and Ripley
Morley Park
, between Belper and Denby
near Derby, between Brackenfield and Shirland
Newman Spinney
near Barlborough, to the west of Pentrich
near Eastwood and towards Langley Bridge
near Selston, in the Pinxton area
Ripley, Cossall and Kimberley

Bell Pit that has collapsed and fallen in
At Salterwood (Derbyshire) bell pits were found 16 feet (4.9m) x 10 feet (3m) at the top to 19 feet (5.8m) x 12 feet (3.65m) at the bottom and 20 feet (6m) deep. No doubt there are other bell pits as yet undiscovered.

Where bell pits have collapsed in modern times, a general rule of thumb for the distance of collapse from the centre of the shaft is where the angle θ from the solid distance down the shaft “d” to the extremity of the collapse at the surface is d divided by tangent angle θ.

Development From Outcropping To Deep Mining

The various stages of mining are shown in the sketch.
(1) Coal was won by digging at the outcrop.
(2) Bell pits were sunk.
(3) Deeper shafts were sunk using horse gins to raise the coal in baskets or boxes etc.
(4) Pits were sunk and steam Whymseys were used to lift coal up the shafts and also to pump water.
(5) Adits were driven to intersect the seam and allow natural drainage of water where possible and return ventilation was usually by a small air shaft. Another method was to follow the coal seam down from the basset edge.

New Coal Mines

Generally the coal mining areas were remote from any large town. The later mines were mostly very small and scattered.  Some of these coal pits were worked by only three or four men, whist others employed a dozen or so.  The miners were regarded as an inferior grade of labour and lived in the villages and surrounding countryside.  Their social standing was little known about, as workers in the other industries of the time were usually living in the towns and shared common activities and in particular a drink in a local hostelry.

It will be noticed that in the 20th Century when some of the large mining companies sank a mine remote from any major town, new villages were built to house the miners, with modern 3 or 4 bedrooms, a bathroom, indoor WC, coalhouse and garden. Prior to 1900 they were mainly Pit Rows. Some companies provided hot water and electricity from the colliery and also free coal (mainly to ensure that the miners' clothes were dry for the next shift.) Pit head baths were rare until after 1930. Probably none had experienced living in good conditions like this and were pleased to accept work at the new colliery and a chance to escape from poor housing and squalor they lived in. The working employee paid a weekly rent stopped out of their wages (and of course if sacked or did not attend work they were obliged to leave the house immediately and this applied to couples ‘living in sin’ those days and unfortunately widows of men who died or were killed at the pit, if they had no sons). All manner of activities, such as welfare halls with licensed bar, indoor games, dance hall, reading rooms, sports fields for bowls, tennis, cricket and football, and other games and inter-colliery competition was encouraged. Other things such as annual Galas and an annual trip by train or coach to the seaside were sometimes the highlight of the year. Some companies tolerated men keeping racing pigeons but did not allow whippet racing. They encouraged men to have allotments in order to grow and exhibit flowers and vegetables at horticultural shows. They set up butchers, bakers and clothes shops and general stores, grocery and green grocery shops, a Surgery for a resident Doctor and Nurse. There was generally a Midwife and Undertaker, a factory to employ the daughters and wives, for it was assumed that the sons would follow their father to work at the pit when leaving school. Some set on a Company Bobby to oversee the village and its occupants and keep law and order as laid down by the Manager of the mine who was lord and master over all. Possibly 2 or 3 churches were built to satisfy several religions, plus a public house, sometimes a cinema. Other activities such as Silver or Brass bands, Mothers’ Union, Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, St John’s Ambulance units and Nursing Cadets, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were set up and provided by the colliery company to keep the men and their families happy, so that there was no need to go out of the village – in other words, they were 'Open Prisons'.


 Mining of coal was also recorded in Nottinghamshire at Selston, Strelley and Cossall.  In 1306, a contract for mines or pits at Selston, was leased for 99 years or ‘as long as the coal shall last’, to Walter de Cantelupe, for 32 horse loads of coal a year.  It is also thought that coal extraction by local Monks operated a form of charter or barter of exchange for coal found on the Willoughby Estate.

Worked Coal and Ironstone

Sir William de Staunton worked coal and ironstone near to Staunton Harold where several seams outcropped. Coal mining at Coleorton, Measham, Oakthorpe and Newhall continued where the thick Main Coal seam outcropped at the surface.

Fatal Accident To A Woman

Fatal Accidents: continued to be recorded. Robert Dewy died whilst digging coal at Codnor in 1304 and at Hanley also in Derbyshire in 1313 a miner named Goddard of Kilburn was killed when the hemp rope broke whilst descending a ‘colepyt’. Emma Culhare daughter of William Culhare was killed while drawing water from the colepyt at Morley in 1313 (one of the earliest references to ‘le damp’ also known as choke damp) and of a woman working in a pit.

Artificer Disobeyed Royal Proclamation

In 1306 a Coal Merchant was executed on the orders of Edward I for using sea coal in furnaces.


Some gases were now known to exist and regarded as dangerous. They are listed below.
However fresh air is comprised of 79.04% Nitrogen (N2) (which includes 0.94% Argon and 0.01% other gases) and 20.93% Oxygen (O2) plus 0.03% Carbon dioxide (CO2).

The gas chokedamp referred to is also known as stythe, damp or blackdamp and is odourless and colourless and is mainly composed of carbon dioxide (CO2) (carbonic acid gas) and nitrogen (N2) and lies close to the floor as it is heavier than air and will extinguish a candle flame and asphyxiates men and animals due to the lack of oxygen (down to about 19%). It is non-inflammable and does not support combustion and has a slightly acidic taste. It is a product of respiration and results from the burning of carbonaceous material in oxygen. It is found in old workings or where the air current is stagnant or feeble. It is caused by the oxidation of the coal and timber and is given off from underground heatings (gob fires) and also from the use of explosives. When panting is noted the percentage of nitrogen is high such as 86% and 14% carbon dioxide. At a concentration of between 15% and 20% combined CO2 and N2, flame lamps are extinguished and at 50% to 55% violent panting and gasping occurs with bodily stress, and at 60% it is highly dangerous through lack of oxygen and unconsciousness occurs, with death following if left in that condition for many minutes.

Oxygen is a colourless gas and is odourless and tasteless. It is barely heavier than air but is the chief supporter of life and combustion and is the most chemically active substance known.

Nitrogen is also colourless, odourless and tasteless but is slightly lighter than air. It is non-inflammable and does not support life or combustion, but acts as a dilutent of the oxygen in the air.

It was also known that methane gas or firedamp, (carburetted hydrogen) again odourless and colourless, lighter than air, being almost half as heavy as air gathered in the roof of the coal heads and roadways and is released from the coal seam and sometimes can be heard as a hissing noise and is an inflammable gas.

A man called the ‘Penitent’ (a man convicted of a crime instead of going to jail) was sent into the workings to set fire or explode the methane gas (CH4) before work could begin. He was swathed in old sack cloth or such, soaked with water to hopefully prevent being burnt. He held a candle on the end of a pole and cautiously crept into the working area holding the pole as high as possible.

Various methods were tried such as above where the man could be badly burned or even killed if the gas exploded. Another system was to fasten lighted candles on wire or twine or such to each end of the working and by pulling gently on the wire to take the candle inwards into the working place and fire the gas. Again this was even more dangerous. Sometimes a hole would be dug in the floor so that the man could have some sort of protection whilst holding up the pole with the candle. It is now known that methane is also a tasteless, odourless and colourless gas. It has no poisonous properties but when it replaces oxygen in the air can cause physical effects.

Coal contains ‘locked in’ methane that is released when the coal is worked, escaping along the cleavage planes and sometimes at depth under extreme pressures up to 600psi will cause floor blowers that are dangerous to workmen as well as vast quantities of the gas in the general body of the airstream.

Methane gas the main constituent of firedamp burns with a pale blue flame and 3% of methane gas is shown on the lowered wick in a safety lamp. However it is non-poisonous but inflammable. Firedamp when mixed with air is explosive between 5% and 15%, the most violent being 9.4%

In marshy areas on the surface this same gas known as marsh gas when ignited by natural means and darts over the bog and flickers leading to its name...Will o the Wisp.

It was found in later years that after an explosion carbon monoxide (CO) or whitedamp was found in the general body of the airstream. It is generally caused by the burning of a substance containing carbon and if incomplete combustion occurs due to lack of oxygen this gas is produced.

It is a very dangerous gas as it will not support combustion or life. It is also given off from gob fires and gives little warning of its presence. It burns with a bright blue flame at around 12½% and is very highly poisonous. It is slightly lighter than air. The first symptom may be a headache and it is imperative to reach fresh air as soon as possible. One can exist in 0.2% for about one hour but if in 1% for a few minutes and giddiness occurs it is probably too late to prevent death. It is attracted by the haemoglobin in the blood stream (some 300 times that of the affinity for oxygen) and people found dead after inhaling this gas are found to have rosy cheeks. Canaries were found to fall off their perch before a man would notice anything unusual and thereby give adequate warning of the presence of the gas allowing the man to get to fresh air quickly. Another name is sweetdamp.

Afterdamp is a mixture of gases found in a mine, usually after an explosion of firedamp or coal dust. It contains carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), firedamp (CH4) and nitrogen (N2) in varying proportions. It is extremely dangerous because of the presence of carbon monoxide and the lack of oxygen.

Stinkdamp, a very rare gas, again extremely dangerous and is mainly hydrogen sulphide (H2S) (sulphuretted hydrogen) and is given off where gob fires occur in workings that are damp or wet. Acid pit water and pyrites may produce the gas, which is colourless but has a strong smell of rotten eggs and 0.1% if breathed for only a few seconds the sense of smell is lost and early symptoms are irritations in the nose and throat and inflammation of the eyes. Death occurs very quickly. The early days of mining no doubt accounted for many deaths from the action of the gases mentioned.