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Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire


The 17th Century


Mining began in the Parish of Teversal, (Nottinghamshire) sometime prior to 1615.

Fatal Accidents

Christopher Hardy was ‘slayne in a coal pit road’ in the Parish of Teversal, (Nottinghamshire) and buried in Teversal Churchyard in 1619, as noted in the Parish records.


Mining began at Shortwood by Trowell (Nottinghamshire) and 2,700 loads were produced in 1619 - 1620.

The Turners

By the following year 1620, George Turner had obtained all the rights.  John Turner (d 1648) described as a ‘rich collier’ had purchased the Swanwick estate from John Brailsford of Heanor, and his son John Turner (d 1726) built Swanwick Hall (1672 - 1673).

Coke Ovens

Coke Ovens began to be erected as it was found that coke when tried for smelting of copper and later tin and lead was better than previously used methods. Coke is a very highly efficient fuel that burns smokelessly. It was found that by heating certain types of coal for a period of between 14 and 29 hours in beehive type ovens that were sealed to prevent air being drawn in, that during this process when the temperature inside the ovens reached about 1,000oC the coal carbonised. Whilst in the process of burning, the coal gases and vapour left the oven through pipes in the top. The coal in the oven became a fluid mass and as the process continued that fluid mass began to harden or ‘cake’ in the form of coke. The oven was then opened and the coke shovelled out and broken into various sized pieces and it was found that on reaching air outside the oven it began to burn fiercely and by dousing it with water it cooled the coke down rapidly.

Over the years several different seams of coal were mixed together to get the best product.

River Trent

Also in 1620 the JPs of Nottingham had no fear of the scarcity of corn since other counties sent up the River Trent for coals and brought in the corn whenever it was needed. 


Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon purchased a coal mine at Heather (Leicestershire) in 1621. He owned mines at Oakthorpe also. Beaumont owned pits at Measham, Oakthorpe, Thringstone, Heather and Derby Hills.

Several Measham pits owned by Walter and George Hill continued to be worked and in 1625 these were leased by the Earl of Huntingdon for a period of 29 years at a rent of 2s 6d (12½p) for each week that coal was raised.

The price of coal at Strelley had risen to 4s 6d (22½p) a rook or 3s 2d (15¾p) a ton by 1623.


The Earl of Devonshire paid about £100 (app £10,000 in 2010) for his pits at Chatsworth for his own use at Chatsworth House.

The original house on the site was demolished and the new House built by Bess of Hardwick, now the progenitrix of the Cavendish family. There were many diggings over the years as seen on the plan there are 2 seams of coal outcropping to the northeast of the House where the land rises steeply, only a few hundred yards (m) away.

The coal would be worked firstly from the outcrop then bell pits to about 20 feet (6m) deep approx as many are known about in that area and up to Robin Hood hamlet and then mined by sinking shafts 10 to 25 yards (9 to 22m) deep approx. Vast quantities would have been mined whilst the house was being rebuilt and a goodly amount then to keep fires burning in all the extensive rooms and kitchen. The Baslow coal seam runs across Eastmoor and outcrops on the floor of the Emperor Lake.

Later to substantiate the coal mining there a record in the accounts book by the Steward of the 4th Duke in 1760 shows the following remarks.

Cole pit on the top of Chatsworth Park. Sunk a pit on the top of Chatsworth Park to try for cole, the upper bed is 11 inches (0.28m) thick then about 9 or 10 inches (0.23 or 0.25m) of dirt. The under cole ¾ yard (0.69m) thick and very good – at this pit the cole lies about 14 yards (12.8m) deep. To John Laycock sinking 3 pits .... £7.4.0  (£7.20p). To James Swindel and partners sinking a pit 11 yards (10m) deep in ye Park ..... £2.0.0 (£2.00p).

Memo the above pit ... when they came thro’ the quarry the water was so strong they could not go down any more, it is imagined the Cole lies 25 yards (23m) under the quarry.

Again from later records it shows that the total spent on ‘trying for cole’ at the top of the Park in 1763-1764 was £234.19s.4½d (£234.92p).

Gunpowder First Used

Gunpowder was first used in the mines as a blasting agent from about 1620-1627 onwards, but not in general use until about 100 years later. Safety fuses to explode the gunpowder were made by gunpowder surrounded by cotton, that when lit would burn steadily, hopefully allowing the miner to retreat to a safer place!


1625 - 1650

Charles I succeeded to the throne 1625-1649, when it became a Commonwealth under Cromwell.

South Derbyshire / Leicestershire

By 1625 Hastings was working a mine at Swadlincote (South Derbyshire). This was Newhall colliery. At Bardon Park near Charnwood Forest there were some coal mines of great value. Now there were many colliers who were destitute. Some Measham pits were owned by Walter and George Hill but in 1625 were leased to Earl of Huntingdon.

Also in 1630 a Christopher Horton retained the rights to work coal on farm land although he had rented it to Thomas Leighton of Swadlincote.

Food Crisis

However there was a food crisis due to a poor harvest in 1630, as expressed by the Justices of Nottingham who had every hope that ‘in the summer time when coal carriages do come into our county for coals they will bring corn with them as formerly divers countries have done’. Likewise flat bottomed boats or barges were sailed on the River Trent taking coal downstream to Gainsborough and returned with grain and other goods brought in from Hull. Coal was also taken to Newark.

Rights To Mine Coal

All the rights to mine coal owned by Sir Walter Ashton were sold to Nicholas Beaumont for £9 15s 0d (£9.75), (getting on for £900 in 2010). There was a partnership between Sir Francis Willoughby and profits were made from 6,000 to 8,000 tons per year.

The colliery at Wollaton was worth £300 by 1631Denby colliery was well established and an undertaking leased at £50 per year for 21 years.  By 1634, Derbyshire miners were being paid 10d (4p) a day.

John Eyre Lord of the Manor granted permission in 1635 to work coal on the waste or common ground of Newbold, Derbyshire.

Mining Undertaker

In 1636, coalmines were leased by landowners to mining undertakers, and George Turner was granted mines at Swanwick Delves from the Crown at an annual rate of £4 for 21 years.  He had the monopoly of all coal and ironstone in the manor of Alfreton. (£1 equivalent spending rate in 2010 was £90).

The Earl of Devonshire received around £100 from his pits at Heath and Hardstoft (North Derbyshire).

Compensation For Subsidence

Compensation was paid to some tenants for land subsidence caused by coal mining at Oakthorpe in 1635.


From a pit at Wollaton in that year, coals were got at the benk (coalface) to the value of 30 to 40 rooks or between 55 and 75 tons a week. Obviously to produce that amount of coal by the crude means available at the time I think it would probably have required around 20 men.

William Senior

William Senior produced a plan of the county of Derbyshire in 1637. There were around 30 pits in Derbyshire at this time. George Sheldon owned a pit on Thringstone Moor (South Derbyshire).


The Freschville family were able to establish an ironworks at Staveley during 1639.

Civil War

Alan King engraving

Derbyshire miners’ pay had risen to 1s 4d (6⅔p) a day by 1648, as assessed by the Justices.  They had set a wage rate for colliers in 1634, for piece work, a quarter stack of coal of 45 cwts (2¼ tons) was 3s 9d (18.75p), valued at approximately £17 in 2010.

There was a general collapse of the coal market caused by the Civil War (1645-1660).  The Parliamentarians under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell confiscated all coal pits owned by Cavaliers who were loyal to the Crown.  Unfortunately again this act caused great hardship to the ordinary colliers who suddenly had no work.

Before the War the pits at Strelley, Wollaton and Bramcote were producing well.

Coal then was priced at 11s (55p) per ‘Newcastle chaldron’.  A chaldron was equal to 52½ cwts
(2 tons 12½ cwts).

Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell

In 1642 Hastings mustered around 100 colliers and all the horses in the mines and all pikes, muskets and Cavaliers in the district and forced them to take up arms or lose their jobs, housing etc and he marched them to Leicester for an intended siege of the city. Many of the miners although under threat deserted the ranks and made their way back home. The siege did not take place. However Hastings was captured by the Roundheads and tried for treason and lost some of his lands but was spared. Later it appears that a member of the Hastings family Lord Loughborough was working mines at Oakthorpe.

The Parliament requisitions in coal in Nottinghamshire during 1646 were addressed to Constables at Bramcote, Bulwell, Chilwell, Eastwood, Greasley, Nuthall, Selston, Strelley, Toton and Wollaton.

Cromwell as Lord Protector (from Dec 1653) dissolved Parliament and the Major Generals ruled.

Donkeys First Introduced Underground

Donkeys or asses were first used underground in the pits in the East Midlands in Leicestershire to transport coal from the faces to the pit bottom around this time. The idea spread to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. However it was soon realised that the donkeys had to be purchased, stables would have to be built underground and food such as oats or hay etc and water and possibly straw bedding would be needed for these animals all costing money which created a further cost in the production of the coal and a decrease in profit whereas the boys who were doing the job of the donkeys previously did not need buying or need feeding as they brought their own food to work. I suppose the idea was that the donkey could haul the coal more quickly and in greater amounts so it was possible to increase production by being more efficient. Mules were introduced later, being stronger animals.

Small Pit at Heanor Struggling

In the late 1640s and early 1650s a small pit at Heanor was struggling to make a profit due to sales being unpredictable. It was stated that 1,500 loads of coal had been sold.