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Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire


The 17th Century



James I (James VI of Scotland) became King of UK 1603-1625 when the countries were united.

Tax On Coal

1600 - Tax on coal sold increased to 5 shillings for coal shipped abroad and 1 shilling for home ports.

South Derbyshire

In the Charnwood Forest of South Derbyshire in 1600, a total of 30 pits were working at Heather (Earl of Huntingdon), Ravenstone (Richard and William Barwell), Packington (Earl of Huntingdon), Swannington (Wyggeston Hospital), Thringston near Peggs Green (Earl of Huntingdon), Coleorton and Newbold (Sir Thomas Beaumont) and Staunton Harold and Lount (Earl Ferrers).

There were 30 pits in the South Derbyshire Coalfield:-

  • 3 Staunton Harold pits
  • 4 Lount pits (Earl Ferrers)
  • 4 Coleorton pits
  • 1 or 2 Newbold pits (Sir Thomas Beaumont)
  • 4 Swannington pits (Wyggeston Hospital)
  • 4 Thringstone /Peggs Green pits (Earl of Huntingdon)
  • 5 Packington pits (Earl of Huntingdon)
  • 2 Ravenstone pits (Richard and William Barwell)
  • 2 Heather pits (Earl of Huntingdon)


Pits operated by Strelley in Nottinghamshire began to threaten the Willoughby's pits but fortunately for Sir Percival Willoughby the extreme indebtedness of the Strelleys had landed their collieries in the hands of the creditors so the threat was only temporary. Huntingdon and Nicholas Beaumont made a bargain in 1601 with Sir Percival Willoughby who had debts and who was more than pleased to lease his Wollaton pits to them for 21 years. The lease would be renewed in 1603. They also acquired a lease of Bilborough colliery that had a great potential in their eyes.However they were concerned about the finding of coal at Trowell Moor which lay to the west of the Wollaton workings.There was a temporary shortage of miners at Wollaton in 1602 when there was a sudden spurt in the demand for coal and at Wollaton, the Stovers (senior partners in a sub-contract system) were accountable to Undermen, day and night, regarding output, tools, candles, ropes, timber and fines etc to be taken out of wages.During 1603 the pits at Strelley and Wollaton leased by the Beaumonts produced around 20,000 rooks of coal (c 25,000 tons) due to the required increase but only about 14,500 rooks were sold as the demand suddenly dropped once more to approximately 12,000 rooks and sales were only in the region of around 15,500 rooks in 1604 as the demand rose once more. Wollaton colliery was closed but at the Strelley colliery they began to work two shifts to keep up the production.

The Morrison family were working coal at Selston in 1600 as well as running their iron mills. 

The First English Waggonway, Nottinghamshire (Birth of the Railways)

Huntingdon Beaumont invented ‘railles’, the first English waggonway.  A two miles long track to the River Trent was the first use of the rails, which were 4 inches (0.10m) square lengths of wood on sleepers with metal flanges on the inside of the rails laid in line allowing ordinary carts to be pulled by horses easier than if pulled along an unmade road or cart track.

Start of the installation 1597 - 1598 and a wooden railway was in use by 1st Oct 1604 from Strelley to the outskirts of Nottingham laid by Beaumont.

This was before he went to the North East.

Newcastle Roads

Huntingdon took his ideas to the North East where he had interests, near Cramlington, and his ‘Newcastle Roads’ as they were called there became very popular and was the forerunner of the North East Railway network and some fixed engines were used as well as horses to pull the waggons. Beaumont had agreed to deliver up to 7,000 loads of coal to Nottingham each and every year but as was proved this target was never achieved.

Dispute Over Mining in Fernilee Manor

In 1605, Thomas Bagshawe of Ridge Hall, Derbyshire, (filed a Bill of Complaint in 1606), in which he alleged that Ralph Cooke, Yeoman and 22 others assembled armed with pitchforks, bows and arrows, pistols, guns and other weapons and threatened Bagshawe’s servants with death if they did not cease mining coal in Fernilee manor

Star Chamber

An assault was made on John Davie, a ‘collier expert’. The dispute went before the ‘Star Chamber’. The title to the minerals in dispute between Bagshawe who had purchased the Manor and John Hibbert who held a lease still in being from the previous Lord of the Manor.  This small Coalfield lies isolated in the North West of Derbyshire.  The coal seams are different to those of the rest of the field and the names of the seams are quite different as referred to earlier.

A previous argument some years before between Nicholas Strelley and Willoughby regarding the sough that was essential for draining the Wollaton pits was settled in the Star Chamber. Strelley had begun mining in the Strelley Field adjacent to the Wollaton pits and Willoughby had accused him of trespass and also sabotaging his drainage sough.

(Wikipedia - The Star Chamber (Latin: Camera stellata) was an English court of law that sat at the royal Palace of Westminster from the late 15th century until 1641. It was made up of Privy Councillors, as well as common-law judges and supplemented the activities of the common-law and equity courts in both civil and criminal matters. The court was set up to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against prominent people, those so powerful that ordinary courts would never convict them of their crimes. Court sessions were held in secret, with no indictments, and no witnesses. Evidence was presented in writing. Over time it evolved into a political weapon, a symbol of the misuse and abuse of power by the English monarchy and courts.)

Following agreement Willoughby was allowed to have the higher output than Strelley his competitor, for allowing him to use the sough for drainage from his pits.

Spontaneous Combustion

It is more than likely that there was spontaneous combustion of the Main coal seam around Oakthorpe village (South Derbyshire) in 1606, due to the periodic loads of clay being delivered. It was an indication that its probable use was for sealing off sections of working or for prevention against fire or even the spread of gas.

Men were employed to continually check for looking to the damp. It is thought that up to 3,000 tons of coal a year was being produced at Oakthorpe (Henry Hastings 5th Earl of Huntingdon) in 1606 by about 20 men.

Local timber was in short supply for use in the pits as supports and some timber was brought in from Castle Gresley. Wheeled vehicles were used in the Main seam 10 ft - 15 feet (3m - 4.5m) thick which lay from 45 feet - 80 feet (13.7m - 24.3m) deep. George Shirley, Lord of the Manor of Staunton leased the cole delphs and workes of cole to William Wallys, John Yeomans and William Holmes. The pits were Nether pit, Olden pit and Parkers pit.


Thomas Henshaw owned a pit at Oakthorpe. His nephew Roland was working in the Earl of Huntingdon’s pits at Thringstone and Oakthorpe.

Gin Or Sough Pit

It was normal now for the larger pits to have a gin or sough pit where water made underground was collected and raised to the surface to be dispersed. Most of the drainage ‘engines’ were worked using teams of horses circling a gin pit where a cog system was attached to stout metal chains. Usually at the time the water was raised up the shaft in leather buckets or later wooden barrels.

Bell Pits

Bell pits to the Clod coal were worked previously in South Wood to the east of Ticknall.

South Derbyshire

Several coal mines were working around Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Greasley and Swadlincote at this time. Sir William Paget Lord of the Manor of Burton on Trent leased mines at Winshill Heath and Winshill Wood in 1608 to his steward Richard Almonde for 21 years at £40 per annum. Pits were also worked at Stanhope Bretby.


Sir Percival Willoughby, by a clause in his lease of coal mines at Bramcote, (Nottinghamshire) in 1609, agreed to deliver up at the expiration of the term, ‘such and so many pitt and pittes open and chanderable and fitt for gettinge of coales therein as shall be wrought, and coales gotten in at any time within three years before the end… of the said term of 21 years’.

John Speed's Map

John Speed, Cartographer
John Speed, Cartographer

A plan of Derbyshire was produced by John Speed a distinguished Cartographer in 1610-1611 showing the main relevant details at that time. This was an extract from his work ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’.


William Senior, scivenor or surveyor commenced work for the Cavendish family the year after Bess of Hardwick died in 1609. He was employed to find out exactly what lands and assets the family owned. He spent 30 years or so on the task as the estates were scattered about England. His main task was to complete the Derbyshire Estate for the Earls of Devonshire and he was paid £40 per year. It was known that the family held certain mines of coal. His book of maps and terriers of his surveys are kept at Chatsworth House.

The Arte Of Collierie

At Strelley (Nottinghamshire), there were 4 pits working in 1610 and the lessee covenanted ‘to work all the said workes orderlie as by the Arte of Collierie might be done for the benefitt of future times’.  Coal was 3s 10d (19p) a rook or equivalent to 2s 10½d (14⅓p) a ton.  (£14.50 equivalent in 2010).

Cock Top

In 1610 a pit was also working at Harstoft (Hardstoft – Cock Top) near Tibshelf and at Pentrich, (both in Derbyshire). 

St Katherine’s Churchyard

On 10th September 1610 it is written that Ann Wilson daughter of John Wilson, collier, was buried in St Katherine’s Churchyard at Teversal (Nottinghamshire).


Thomas Beaumont son of Sir Henry Beaumont acquired the lease of the Measham mines for £500 per annum in 1611 from Sir Edmund Anderson and his son Sir Francis Anderson who had run the pits since 1570s. He had to purchase the stack of coal on the pit bank amounting to some 2,500 loads.

Chain pumps were operational by now to rid water from dip workings to allow mining to continue. As the pits were sunk deeper the water problem increased and a variety of methods of getting rid of the water were tried.

A Measham colliery (Leicestershire) was leased for a rent of £500 per annum by Thomas Beaumont. About 3,000 tons of coal was stacked at the pithead by the previous owner so it was very tempting; however the enterprise failed after a short period and mining ceased in that area and according to Professor JU Nef there are no records of any large mines in the district during the 17th Century. It would appear that production outstripped demand. The price at the pithead was 1s 7d (7½ p) a ton.


The Strelley colliery (Nottinghamshire) produced around 16,000 rooks (20,000 tons) per year, between 1605 and 1611. However likewise as above, later, 8,000 rookes of coal would be stacked on the pit top unable to be sold. A rook appears to be approximately 1.25 tons.


A forge was built on the River Meden at Pleasley (Derbyshire) by 1611 and by 1617 a furnace had been built at Whaley and a forge at Cuckney in Nottinghamshire. Up until about now only charcoal had been used for smelting, however because of the disappearance of huge chunks of forested areas throughout the country coal was introduced by Dudley. Limestone readily available in Derbyshire was used as a flux in charging the furnaces.

Lease Granted

James I granted the lease of a mine in Duffield (Derbyshire) for 27 years @ £36 per annum.

Glebe Terriers

Glebe Terriers were produced in 1612. These were inventories pertaining to parcels of land and land attached to the Parish Church, and sometimes included coal pits. There are instances mentioned where a colliery is owned or leased by a Reverend either for the Church or himself. (See for example Rev’d Twentyman 1656).




The 'Great Snow' broke after 7 weeks in 1614. Obviously this would have hampered coal production. A great drought followed it in the summer.

Price Of Coal

By 1614 a wainload of coal at Eckington was 2s (10p) or 2s 3d (11¼p) a ton. 

Mines Were Now Well Established At

  • Alfreton
  • Belper
  • Bolsover
  • Butterley
  • Chesterfield
  • Denby
  • Duffield Chase
  • Eckington
  • Heanor
  • Langley
  • Morley
  • Riddings
  • Ripley
  • Shipley
  • Shuttlewood
  • Stanley
  • Sutton-in-Ashfield
  • Swanwick
  • Tibshelf
  • Totley
  • Wingerworth

In South Derbyshire there were mines at:-

  • Gresley
  • Measham
  • Newhall
  • Oakthorpe
  • Swadlincote

Later, parts of the boundaries of the counties of Derbyshire and Leicestershire would be changed.

Huntingdon Beaumont

Huntingdon Beaumont having returned to Nottingham in 1612 heavily in debt reported that the year 1615 would yield him £1,000 less than expected from the colliery at Strelley ‘in respect of unseasonable weather’ rain continued, which no doubt flooded the workings.  At that period there was no easy way to drain flooded workings and it would have taken some considerable time before production started again. The pits began to lose money dramatically.

Bell Pits

It is possible that Bell pits were still being worked at:-

  • Gosforth Valley towards Kitchen Wood, near Hilltop Road on the Bull Close Farm area
  • Brierley Wood
  • Loundes Wood near Unstone
  • Ramshaw Wood
  • Unstone (owned by Simon Naylor, died 1618, and Mary Stephenson, died 1621)
  • Bullclose near Hilltop
  • Broomfield
  • Broadmarsh, 1679
  • Barlow Brook
  • Holmley Lane area.

Coal Used in Industry

A furnace at Nottingham belonging to Sir Percival Willoughby used between 500 and 600 tons of coal for the production of 800 cases or 80 tons of glass at a glassworks at Wollaton established in 1615. However the scheme to sell the glass on the London market failed and the works closed down around 1617.  Most of the coal output was absorbed by local industry in the malting, lime burning, soap boiling, beer, hats, textiles, salt and iron foundries. Brickmaking was very important as house building increased rapidly as the population increased and it was estimated that 7 tons of coal was required to produce 16,000 bricks.

Strelley Colliery Seized

Strelley colliery (Nottinghamshire) was seized for non-payment of debt and there were 8,000 rookes or about 12,000 tons of coal ready stacked at the pithead for sale.  The coalmines at Strelley had yielded £206 in annual rent. (£20,000 in 2010).

Boring Rods Invented

In 1618, Huntingdon Beaumont introduced boring rods into Wollaton (Nottinghamshire).  He pioneered the searching for coal by boring, but the idea took some time to spread to other areas. The boring rods, a great ager (auger) and a little ager (auger) were used to find the depth of the coal seam and also the thickness however it was a very slow and painful process. Wrought iron rods that could be joined to one another were bounced on a wooden beam supported on a wooden tripod. At each stroke of the bounce the rods were turned a quarter turn by the operator. Unfortunately the chisel end of the bore had to be sharpened every few inches as the rocks soon made the chisel blunt. Hopefully fragments of the various rocks were obtained from the hole in order of succession as they reached the top of the hole when the drill rods were pulled out to enable the end to be sharpened. The bits were collected in a wimble to be examined. A few years later a set of rods was purchased by a Lord William Howard for £6 15s 9d (£6.79). (Equivalent to about £650 in 2010). Beaumont had returned to Nottingham from pits in the North East Coalfield where he had lost a considerable amount of money on several grandiose schemes that had failed and owing several creditors. He had attempted to revive his mining activities to pay off his debts but after 6 years of trying he was eventually arrested in October 1618 and sent to Nottingham Gaol where he languished and died destitute in March 1624. It was a tragic ending for such a brilliant man.

Earl of Huntingdon

Henry Hastings, 5th Earl of Huntingdon owned coal in Leicestershire and in 1618 he approached Sir John Beaumont regarding the possibility of driving a sough across his property. Beaumont’s financial backers called in the debts owed and unable to pay he ended up in prison.

Value Of Mines

Wollaton colliery re-opened soon after the demise of Huntingdon Beaumont though with limited success. Near Newbold two mines at Gyllesmoor and Outwoods were valued at £3 6s 8d (£3.33p). In the same year John Zouch, Lord of Alfreton of Codnor Castle sold all the coal and ironstone in Alfreton parish and Swanwick to Thomas Johnson of Loscoe, George Turner of Swanwick and Edmund Meymott of Alfreton.

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Pit Terminology - Glossary