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Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire

The Collieries

1315 - 1500

At Denby Great Numbers of Oak Trees Were Cut Down

At Denby great numbers of oak trees were cut down so as to mine coal, a non-to pleasing event for the local populace.

Examples of Old Shallow Workings

Coal was still being mined at Smotherfly, near Alfreton in 1315. The Monks of Beauchief Abbey were now licensed to get coal.

Examples of old shallow workings as shown and pit shafts were revealed over fairly large areas in the last years of the 20th and early 21st Century when opencast operations were carried out.

Sometimes a few wooden supports would have been set in these small pits to hold up the roof, usually in the form of hewn tree trunks, but invariably the only support would have been irregular shaped pillars of coal left.  These would almost always be robbed to extract as much coal as possible from one area, even to the point of failure, notably seen to the right above whereas in the photo to the left much larger pillars were left. 

Le Vytestobbe

In 1316 a company of colliers were leasing a mine for 9 men to work a pre-existing mine at Cossall in Nottinghamshire, paying the owner Richard de Willoughby 12d (5p) (£16.75 equivalent in 2011) per week for each pickaxe.  They were excused payment when unable to work through floods or gas.  It was known then of the dangers of methane and carbon dioxide gases. The field was called le Vytestobbe about 6 miles from the city of Nottingham.  At this time a sowe or sough (suff) was being driven at Cossall. Examples of such are shown later.


Henry Blodles purchased property in Worthington in 1321 which included a coal mine. There was a coal mine at working at Swannington (South Derbyshire).

Women Workers

Women were rarely employed underground in this region, although in Scotland and Yorkshire it was normal to do so, mainly in the West Riding. Women were also employed on the pit banks in Lancashire. If there were no sons in the family, it is possible that in the early days of mining, the wife or daughter, as mentioned above could have been part of the working team assisting the husband as set on by the colliery owner, in order to achieve ‘a living wage’ for the family.

Fatal Accident

At Wingerworth (Derbyshire), Maud Webster was gathering coal in 1322 ‘when a great mass of earth fell on her’.  This is the second recorded accident to a woman in this area.


There was a coal pit mentioned at Tibshelf (Derbyshire) in an assize in 1330.

English Parliament

In 1332 the English Parliament was divided into two houses, the Lords and the Commoners.

Network Of Roads

Goughs map of around 1335 shows that there was a network of roads across Britain linking the main towns and monasteries.


The Monks of Beauchief Abbey were still mining the coal at Smotherfly, Alfreton, in Derbyshire around 1335.

It is thought that ‘Blacksmiths’ and others used coal as a fuel from this period on.

Sir William de Staunton worked coal and ironstone at Staunton Harold where several seams outcrop at the surface.

Isabella de Hastings granted certain tithes of coal to the Convent of Breedon in South Derbyshire and worked small diggings at Worthington in 1340 and is recorded in the Garendon Inspeximus, in which the following entry occurs

‘The gift, grant and confirmation, which Ralph Baron of Claxton and Lora his wife made to the same Abbot and Monks of the whole wood at Worthington with the whole soil to the same adjacent, with the common of pasture, coal mines (minera carboneum) and all other appurtenances’. This probably refers to the outcrop of coal workings of Worthington Rough.

The Black Death

The Black Death was a bubonic plague pandemic, which reached England in 1348, and killed perhaps half the population, dying down in 1349. In 1350, this great pestilence and mortality of men moved to the kingdom of Scotland, and raged for many years before and after in various parts of the world.


The population of Derbyshire in 1350 was now around 38,000 having risen from around 12,000 in 1086 but it fell to approximately 32,000 by 1377 following the Black DeathDerbyshire was classed as one of the poorest counties of England and only had half the wealth of Nottinghamshire, although it was rich in minerals.


Lead Mining

Lead mining begun by the Romans was continued by the Anglo-Saxons then carried on into the Middle Ages.  A lead mine at Ashford normally commanding a rent of £20 per year was only worth 20s (£1) in 1352 due to the lack of labour.  From 1360 to 1420 many lead mines were worked out, and it was not until around 1460 that a revival started at Wirksworth.  Between 1460 and 1530 around 3,800 loads of lead ore was produced equating to 380 fothers of lead per year. Local coal was used to smelt the lead. Iron ore was mined at Bolsover around 1365


‘Jags’ of packhorses and mules took lead, stone, lime etc from the source to local market. Later similar packs of ponies, mules or donkeys conveyed coal. (Galloway Ponies preferred)

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1376 Was The ‘Good Parliament’


Richard II reigned from 1377-1399 and in 1379 imposed 2d tax for every chaldron (53 cwts) of coal sold.

The House of Commons began to regularly elect a Speaker to present their petitions and convey them to the King and the Lords.

Leases To Mine Coal

In 1377 a lease to mine coal was granted to John Prymme for 20 years at a rent of 10 marks, the currency of the period, to search for coal near Belper. The Carthusian Monks at Beauvale mined coal at Newthorpe and Kimberley as well as at Selston.

Note: One mark was equal to 13s and therefore the equivalent in today's money would be approximately £2,900.

1377 Was The ‘Bad Parliament’

This was the year of the ‘Bad Parliament’ when a Poll Tax was introduced, 4d (app 1⅔ p) a head on the whole population aged 12 to 60 years. It was not popular at all and I imagine it was practically impossible to collect it from everyone.

In the late 20th Century a similar Poll Tax would be introduced by a Conservative Government and that too failed because of the complications.


Galloway recorded that ‘sea coal’ in the Forest of Macclesfield was committed to the charge of a ‘Forester’ appointed in 1382.

Morebrech and Wodebrech

There were mines at Morebrech and Wodebrech in the fields of Trowell in 1390.  Sir John Dabriggecourt leases to Robert Bay of Cossall, William Garnam and Nicholas Batell of Trowell three parts of a coalmine in the fields of Trowell situated at Morebrech and Wodebrech.¬†

Terms: To be held by Robert, William and Nicholas for 29 complete years following the date of the deed rendering every week for a 'pyke' of hard coal 2/6d and for a 'pyke' weekly of coal-dust ('culm') 12d; the lessees shall pay the whole ferm if they work three days and half the ferm if they work only two days and a half; distraint clause if the ferm is not paid in whole or in part within specified time; John and his heirs will allow the lessees and their heirs and assigns 'watergates' and 'heddriftes' during the term of the lease for which they will pay annually to John and his heirs or assigns 18 'rokes' and the latter will allow the lessees 4 weeks namely Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and All Saints without the ferm being paid.

On a lease, water gates and heddryftes are mentioned as well as ‘damp’. A ‘charcoal’ pit was working at Tibshelf in 1395. This was probably the one referred to in the account of Richard Wodehouse, bailiff therefrom the morrow Michaelmas in 17 Richard II until the same feast of Michaelmas the following year wayleave. Chiminage.  The same (i.e. Richard Wodehouse) answers for 4d (2p) received from William de Cruche (Crich) for wayleave and carriage of two millstones this year.  And for 2s 6d (12½p) received from the maltster (brewer) for each brewing this year 1d (app ½p) for one gallon of ale.  Sum, 2s 10d (14p).  Issues of the manor:  For 6s 8d (33p) received of one coal pit thus leased to John Brodhod, Robert Rayner and William Mowling.  Sum, 6s 8d (33p). 

Perquisite Great Court

For 18s 6d (92½p) received from 2 great Courts and one small Court held during the time of the account, sum 18s 6d (92½p).  Sum total received 28s (£1.40). £1 in today’s money was equivalent to approx £325.


These amounts of money today seem unrealistic and trivial; These are only shown as a simple conversion to new money today but do not account for any inflation etc. however in those days such a sum to the majority of the population would seem a lot and it would be possible to purchase goods and food in quantity. The groat worth 4d (1⅔p) was first minted and was a common form of coinage.

City Coal Dealers Fined

The Nottingham Borough Court records of 1395 show that ‘frequent presentments were made of common forestallers and gatherers of coal’ and no less than 19 city coal dealers were fined.

Henry IV
The 15th Century

Henry V
  • Henry IV was crowned King in 1399 and reigned until 1413
  • Henry V 1413-1422
  • Henry VI 1422-1461
  • Edward IV 1461-1483
  • Edward V 1483
  • Richard III 1483-1485
  • Henry VII 1485-1509

Henry VI

Edward IV

Edward V

King Richard III

Henry VII

Shaft Construction

In the south shaft coal mining was taking place in Oakthorpe village area in 1412 when mining had progressed beyond the stage of outcrop working and would obviously be more expensive, and a new skill, that of sinking. In the 20th Century timber lined shafts attributed to the 15th Century were found during opencast excavations.

The timber was placed around the shaft not unlike the way a cooper makes barrels and was called tubbing – hence the name. It was to hold back the strata and make the shaft safe for the passage of men and materials and of course coal output. Where the strata issued water or in quicksand sheep fleeces were wedged between the boards to try to stop the ingress into the shaft because getting rid of water from a shaft was not easy for the only way was to raise it buckets or barrels etc. Another name was cribbing. This term would be used in later years when wooden or metal rings were placed around the shaft to enable brickwork to be built up from a solid base. These ‘lifts’ continued down to the bottom of the shaft.

Value Of A Mine

At Codnor a mine was valued at 33s 4d (£1.66⅔) on the death of the owner John, Lord de Grey in 1430. (£1 in today’s money (2011) would be approx £500, therefore the mine would be valued at about £850.)

In 1433, Richard Milner and company was granted a mine of coals at Morley Park at the rate of £7 6s 8d (£7.33) a year, (the equivalent of £3,665 in 2011).


By 1448 there was considerable mining being carried out now at Belper, Birdensor and Duckmanton, Hanley, Morley Park and Stanton.  Mining was also being carried out at Wollaton where the seam became deeper and new methods were employed.


King Henry VI constituted the county of Nottinghamshire in its own right in 1449. Mining was being carried out at Kimberley, Strelley and Wollaton.


The miners were now bothered more by the stythe, as they worked deeper or further from the shaft or adit and ‘beating out of the gas’ using furze or hazel twigs became a regular occurrence. There was mention in 1451 of a watercourse ‘le sough’ from a mine of ‘sea coal’ belonging to the Abbot in Duckmanton (North Derbyshire).

Walter Arnalde

Walter Arnalde granted his coals at Selston in 1457 to Beauvale Priory for 99 years, along with rights to take timber for puncheons and proppes. The lessees had the power to sink pits and construct underground drains (soughs). The Monks at Lenton Priory took a 7 year lease from the Carthusian Monks at Beauvale on a mine at Newfield.

Mining Continued

Mining continued at Coleorton, Donington, Oakthorpe, Staunton Harold and Worthington (Leicestershire/South Derbyshire).

In the north of Derbyshire there was mining of coal at Alfreton (Swanwick), Belper, Chesterfield, Cossall, Denby, Duffield, Eckington, Morley and Ripley.

John Southbury was mining ironstone at Morley Park around 1480.


The Willoughbys moved their country seat from the south to Wollaton in Nottingham in 1460 and it maybe that around that time that the colliery was redeveloped and coal began to be transported from the Wollaton mines in the Old Park by boats on the River Trent to various towns or landings where the coal could be purchased.


More soughs were being made. A sough was a small tunnel driven in the seam or just below it, which started at a watercourse and rose up gently following the coal seam contour. It allowed coal to be mined to the rise side towards the outcrop or basset edge. As the water percolating in from the surface ran into the sough and away, it left the miners in relatively drier conditions than if the sough had not existed.  Dip workings were unable to be worked at this time, as they would be flooded.  Later, certain types of pumps such as churn, common chain or rag pumps would be invented which would allow the working of dip workings, before the introduction of horse gins, steam or electric pumps. All of the known soughs in the two counties of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire had many shafts sunk along their routes as a method of getting the material out and also for some ‘fresh air’ ventilation for the miners driving the tunnels.

Shallow Mines

There was a colliery at Oakthorpe (South Derbyshire) in 1477. It is thought that these were shallow workings along the outcrop of the Main coal, Little and Little Woodfield seams.

In the will of Sir Henry Willoughby 1489 it ordered the executors to keep going yearly coal pits beside the level pit in the lordship of Wollaton (Nottinghamshire) during nonage of my son and heir. In 1493 Willoughby had 5 coal pits working at Wollaton.

There is a mention of coal mining at Coleorton in 1498 when two collyers Robert Pocock and Thomas Pocock were charged in court with chopping down trees unlawfully.

There were coal mines at Brokystow (Broxtowe) and Coshalle (Cossall) in 1497-1498 and in 1499 coal within the Crown Manor of Chesterfield was leased by Thomas Lecke, Bailiff for the Crown, to four tenants, paying 1d (app ½p) a day for 67 days.

Transported By Horse And Cart

Near Ashby-de-la-Zouch there was a mine at Lounge. Coal was transported by horse and cart to Wigston Magna to the south of Leicester. This was unusual because of the state of the so called ‘roads’ at that time.

Previously to this small mines would have only produced sufficient coal for local use when the coal would have been transported by simple horse and cart with a couple of tons or even still by jags of about 20 donkeys with each donkey carrying about 2 cwt (hundred weight...20 to 1 ton).

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Pit Terminology - Glossary