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Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire


The 16th Century



Henry VIII probably one of the best remembered Kings of England reigned from 1509-1547.

At the commencement of the reign Henry VIII in 1509, coal mines were being worked at Coleorton.

Profits From Wollaton Amounted To £200 Plus From 1498-1503

Profits from Wollaton amounted to £200 plus from 1498-1503. New soughs were being driven at Wollaton in 1509 to allow further mining to be exploited. 


In 1502 a list of possessions of the Abbey of St Mary de Pratis in Leicester contains an entry relating to a coal mine in existence at Oakthorpe.


Tibshelf was in the possession of Sir William Pierrepoint in 1513 and by 1552 the Tibshelf estate was given as a source of revenue to the newly formed St Thomass Hospital – called the Savoy formerly, ‘and all the coal pits in Tibshelf’.  There was mining of coal at and around Tibshelf in 1539, probably a cluster of pits in Derbyshire towards Huthwaite, referred to as the Blackwell pits, and some were very close to the border with Nottinghamshire. 

Dirti Huckenall

A reference was made to Dirti Huckenall (Hucthwet) in 1519. It has always been thought that the name was due to the dirty atmosphere around caused by the amount of mining carried on.  There was some mining in the nearby neighbouring Blackwell parish, and it is not thought that mining was being done in Huthwaite at the time but the coal was most probably transported through the hamlet to local markets at Sutton and Mansfield.

However it is possible, as quite a few pit shafts have been located or shown on old plans close to the boundary of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in the Huthwaite area and there are 18 known shafts situated off Common Road in Huthwaite itself (date unknown) and one adit but none have been located.


Monks of Beauvale Priory

By 1535 the Monks of Beauvale Priory were receiving £20 per annum (£10,000 equivalent in 2011) from the profits of ‘sea coals’, an expression used for all coal at the time, and adopted from the North East of England, where coal was gathered on the beach. Outcrops of coal seams under the sea were exposed by the undercurrents and washed ashore on each high tide. 

'Sea Coals'

Another explanation for the term ‘sea coals’ being that all coal for London was mined in the Newcastle district of England and transported by sea in boats, called colliers, as mentioned before.


There were at least 5 mines at work in Swannington by 1520 and at Coleorton 2 pits were closed due to underground fires. It is probable that spontaneous combustion occurred due to the Stinking coal seam has a high pyrites content and being close to the Main coal seam. Mining was also being carried on at Measham and Oakthorpe (Leicestershire).


More mines were sunk at Wollaton and several pits were working throughout the 1400s and 1500s.  These pits were quite small indeed and a reference to one in 1526 showed that 11 men were employed and that piece work was in operation, as hewers’ wages varied from 2s 0d (10p) to 6s 5d (32p), (£48 to £160 equivalent in 2011). (Note: there were 240d (pennies) to £1 (pound) and 12d (pennies) to one shilling (5p) and 20s (shillings) to £1). About 9,000 tons was produced.

Further mines were sunk at Wolaton (Wollaton) around 1520, and profit had now increased to around £350 per year (£175,000 equivalent in 2011).

Henry Seized All Monastic Lands

Prior to the reign of Henry VIII the coal had generally been held by the Church, but the dissolution or disendowment of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541 enabled the Kings treasury to be replenished by the sale of the monastic lands and over the next few hundred years the wealth of the minerals passed into private hands and as is seen in the three counties, divided into thousands of separate holdings.  However the owners of the land realised the value of the underlying minerals, and when they sold the surface lands they generally made sure that they retained the ownership of the coal. Of course these varied and there were exceptions but generally they included a right to win, work and carry away the mineral and withdraw support from the surface.  Usually the surface owner leased the working rights to a colliery company.

Rents, Royalties And Wayleaves

The mining company would pay the owner of the coal rents, royalties and wayleaves for the right to extract the coal. It could mean that the colliery ‘take’ was under several different ownerships. The Carthusian Monks from Beauvale were still involved with mining and making a profit from mines at Selston and Kimberley up until this time.

Bess of Hardwick

Bess of Hardwick or properly Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (1518-1608) was the daughter of John Hardwick of Derbyshire and married 4 times, becoming very rich and was famous for her building projects, especially two, Chatsworth House (the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire whose name is Cavendish, descended from her second marriage) and Hardwick Hall, said to be more glass than wall because of the number and large sized windows. The old Hall was destroyed by fire but still stands as a ruin.

Bess of Hardwicks small pits lay alongside the road some 380 to 520 yards (348 to 475m) due west from the road junction near the present Hardwick Inn on Deep Lane (some ancient workings proved by the Biggin opencast site in the late 1950s), or at nearby Stainsby Mill farm.  Sufficient coal would be mined for use at the Hall

At the time of building the new Hall, quantities of coal around 600 tons a year were being used for use by the masons and for melting the lead for the windows.

The entrance from the lane leading between the lakes to Hardwick Hall is referred to as the ‘Gin gate’.

Also large amounts of coal were required for Chatsworth also coming from the nearby pits there owned by the Cavendishes. This was later referred to as the Baslow cole as it outcropped in that area.


Pit On Fire

There was a pit on fire at Coleorton around this period, probably referring to a gob fire.

Early Deaths.....Coroner’s Inquests

Geoffrey Drewry,  9 Jan 1532, Adam Langley, County coroner. Jurors: John Danno, Richard Lacy, Thomas Wright, John Cooke, John Shipley, William Higden, Nicholas Barlow, Robert Waynman, John Westeron, Ralph Grenesmyth, Henry Pett, William Potter.

On 6 Jan 1532 Geoffrey Drewry intending to get coal at Strelley, was descending into a coal pit by means of a rope attached to a wheel when the rope broke and he fell to the bottom of the pit, whereby his limbs were crushed and he immediately died by misadventure. His first finder was Peter Langton, a man of good reputation and standing.

Robert Hopper of Eastwood, laborar,  2 Sept 1532. County coroner Edward Cawode. Jurors: Peter Langton, William Thomson, Nicholas Bailey, all of Strelley; William Thomson, Thomas Wryght, William Leyvys, all of Bilborough; William Janne, Richard Hartshorn, Thrustone Robert, all of Newthorpe and William Porter, William Weston, Ralph Schay, all of Kimberley.

On 25 Aug 1532 Robert Hopper was in a coal pit at Strelley when a stone fell from the upper part of the pit upon his head, giving him a wound on the left side of the head 2 inches long, 1 inch wide and 3 inches deep, of which he immediately died. His first finders were John Banno and Hugh Ynglande, both of Strelley, honest men of good standing and reputation.

William Tailiour 7 Jan 1541. Wollaton, Richard Odingzelies, County coroner. Jurors: Richard Toll, Gilbert Shaa, William Turner, Thomas Randall, all of Wollaton; William Mason, Thomas Wales, Richard Horsley, John Symson, all of Lenton; Thomas Willymote, Hugh Wright, Hugh Addenboro, William Addenboro, Robert Hudson, all of Beeston.

About 8pm on 22 Dec 1540, William Tailiour went to a colepyt at Wollaton to dig coal, and when he came to it, the night being dark, he slipped and fell by misadventure into the bottom of the pit, where he broke his neck and so immediately died. Hugh Raven and Gilbert Shaa, men of good standing and reputation, were his first finder after his death.


Around 1534, the Abbot leased the Coots (later Cotes Park) and a mine at Swanwick for a period of 63 years to Thomas Boswell.  Due to the dissolution of Beauchief Abbey in 1535 all the estates went to the Crown, the receiver being William Bowles.  The Canons surrendered 5 rich acres of pasture in a parcel of land called the Hays, (named the Delves on the Enclosure survey of 1818, (No 1422), 4 acres 3 roods 24 perches (11.6 hectares).

In 1540 the Lord of the Manor of Alfreton owned land and mines at Smotherfly, Alfreton (Derbyshire).  However Henry VIII confiscated them and sold them off by auction. The King was recovering money this way to fill the coffers of the Royal Treasury as many thousands of £s had been spent on Wars and the fledgling Royal Navy.

Henry Parker was granted a lease of a mine at Swanwick for £4 per annum in 1537 and at Wollaton, the cost of sinking pits in 1537-1538 was (£50 16s 2¼d) (£50.81).  By 1542-1543 the cost of sinking further pits at Wollaton had risen to £75 14s 6d (£75.72½) and in the year 1544-1545 had further increased to £81 12s 8d (£81.63⅓) and by 1546-1547 to £90 13s 0d (£90.65). 

In 1538 Leland stated that the Charnwood Forest ‘hadde plentye of woode’, although far less than in previous times. This single factor probably gave rise to the vast increase in coal mining operations throughout the country.

True Measure Of Coal

Henry VIII brought in an Act in 1543 to control the true measure of coal offered for sale and at the same time accused the coal miners of mixing poor coal with good.  Note that in the 20th Century this was the ‘done thing’.

Henry VIII sold Gresley Priory and lands to Henry Criche.

Coal Trade Increase

During this Century coal trade increased and pits that previously were worked by 2 or 3 men for part of the year now had 10 to 12 men working all through the year.

Carters Fell Asleep

A carter taking coal through the village of Skegby in 1545 fell asleep and fell under the wheels of the cart and was killed. Another did the same thing in 1548.


The Curzons of Kedleston Hall owned an ironworks in 1547 at Wingerworth, leased to the Hunlokes.

Willoughbys And Beaumonts

The Willoughbys of Wollaton Hall spent several thousand pounds driving a sough through land owned by the King, which was over one mile long by 1552.  This land was previously owned by the Monks at Lenton Priory and Henry Willoughby had to seek permission from the King to do so. Water was a problem and was removed to some extent using buckets or barrels, obviously a very slow process, and crude methods of pumping such as rag pumps were used. Nicholas Beaumont leased from the Duchy of Lancaster and others lands at Newbold Moor where he could drive a sough also. He opened some mines soon afterwards as well as continuing to run his existing ones.

Cog and Rung Gins Introduced For Winding

The price of coal at Wollaton was 2s (shillings) (10p) a rook or about 1s 6d (7½p) a ton in 1548, however this had reduced to 1s 6d (7½p) a rook or 1s 1½d (5½p) a ton by the following year (the equivalent spending power of about £11 in 2011).

Cog and gin methods were introduced for hauling or winding coal up a shaft.


It was noted that packhorses carrying panniers of coal from the Swannington Coalfield to Leicester passed through the village of Desford.



Edward VI King of England reigned from 1547 - 1553, Queen Mary I, 1553-1558, when she was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth I, 1558-1603.


Wollaton And Other Mines

In 1550 the miners at Wollaton (Nottinghamshire) were paid 4d (1½ p) or one groat a day. (About £3 equivalent buying power in 2010).

Mines were being sunk at Bolsover, Eckington, Sutton Scarsdale, Chesterfield, and to the south at Heanor and Ripley.

At Newhall in South Derbyshire there was an established mining community. Some old shafts were being filled in near Thringstone after first taking out the timber. A new shaft was sunk and lined with timber also a sough pit sunk.

A coal mine was opened at Newbold in 1554 (South Derbyshire) by Nicholas Beaumont of Coleorton Hall. The family had been mining coal on their estate for some time but now was the time to branch out to newer areas and exploit the readily available coal seams. He began to drive a sough to drain his proposed mines across the Newbold Moor after obtaining a licence from the Duchy of Lancaster.

In 1555 there were sinkings at Holowes at Bilbrow Closes (Bilborough) (Strelley) (£455,000 equivalent in 2010). For the 6 years ending Christmas 1561, £2,681-13s-6d (£2,681.68) profit was made at Wullerton Park (Wollaton) and £112-10s-0½d (£112.50) at Bilboroughe Hollowes (Bilborough). (This was approximately equivalent to £19,000 in 2010).

Population of Derbyshire

The population of Derbyshire was now around 50,000, a 50% increase since 1377.

Forest Timber Scarce

Timber began to become scarce for use as fuel and also because many trees had been felled in the construction of the ships for the navy created by Henry VIII and this gave the mining of coal an incentive and the industry began to grow rapidly from around this time.

Bell Pits

Bell pits were worked in North West Leicestershire in the early days also and the demand for more coal to the growing City of Leicester led to outcrop diggings via adits and then the road transport became a problem to deliver the fuel. As stated previously firstly it was by packs of horses with panniers, then horse drawn wagons, but the roads were poor and sometimes impassable in bad weather. There were mines at Swannington in 1566 leased to William Harwar who in 1576 sold the remainder of the lease to Thomas Beaumont.

Although a very ancient way of mining coal Bell pits were still being worked at Eckington and Barnes Farm area, Dronfield Woodhouse. Pits were working in the fields at Swadlincote (South Derbyshire). At Elmton, (North Derbyshire) the price of coal was around 1s-6d (7½p) a ton in 1567

Mining continued in 1570 at Measham (Edward Dilke, Nicholas Taylor and Thomas Henshawe lease) and also at Oakthorpe (Thomas Henshaw lease).

Byron Family

Sir John Byron the Elder, of Clayton, Lancashire purchased most of the estates of the Priory of Newstead from the Crown, and settled at Linby, (Nottinghamshire) in 1571.  It is said that he may have worked pits at Newstead?  I would suggest this is very doubtful, the seams are too deep in that area, however he did take out a lease on mines at Selston a few miles away where seams of coal outcropped or were close to the surface. 

He also lent Sir Philip Strelley money with which to work his collieries at Strelley and Bilborough, adjoining the Willoughby’s pits at Wollaton, Trowell and Cossall, all established mining areas.


Wollaton Hall

Between 1560 and 1580 the miners around Nottingham were paid 6d to 7d a day (2½p). (Equivalent to about £3.50 in 2011).

Wollaton Hall belonging to the Willoughby’s was built out of the proceeds of coal at a cost of £8,000 (many millions in today’s money 2011).  Today this fine building is a museum and its deer park grounds regularly used for many activities. The Ancaster stone used for the fascia of the building was brought from Lincolnshire and paid for by profits from selling the coal in that county. Coal was transported to Belvoir Castle also for use by the Duke of Rutland.

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Pit Terminology - Glossary