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Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire

Coal Seams

From the Middle Ages the Crown exercised a prerogative right not only to gold and
silver mines but also to other mines such as copper, tin, iron and lead and ???


Listed in date order is the relevant Kings of England:

Kings of  Wessex and all England:

  • Egbert 802 - 839
  • Ethelwulf 839 - 855
  • Ethelbert 860 - 865
  • Ethelred I 865 - 871
  • Alfred the Great 871 - 899
  • Edward the Elder 899 - 925
  • Althestan 925 - 939
  • Edmund I The Magnificent 939 - 946
  • Edred 946 - 955
  • Edwyn or Edwin 955 - 959 (Local to Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire)
  • Edgar 959 - 975
  • Edward The Martyr 975 - 979
  • Ethelred II The Unready 979 - 1013 and 1014 - 1016
  • Edmund II Ironside 1016
  • Edward The Confessor 1042 - 1066

The Houses of Normandy and Blois:

  • William the Conqueror 1066 - 1087
  • William Rufus 1087 - 1100
    Henry 1 Beauclerc 1100 - 1135
  • Stephen 1135 - 1154.

Plantagenet kings of England

  • Henry II 1154 - 1189
  • Richard I (Coeur de Lion) 1189 - 1199
  • John (Lackland) 1199 - 1216
  • Henry III 1216 - 1272
  • Edward I (Longshanks) 1272 - 1307.

Part 1 - The Rise Of The Industry

The 12th Century
1101 - 1200

The Old Quarter Days

New Years Day was now decreed as 25th March or Lady Day, up to 1751.  Sometimes this is confusing. The other Quarter days of the year were Midsummer, 24th June, Michaelmas, 29th September and Christmas, 25th December.  It will be noted that almost all leases to mine coal were associated with one or more of these dates.


Nigel Fitzwilliam Stafford changed his name to Greisley which later evolved as Gresley.

A large wood in the Manor of Hedcote (Heathcote) South Derbyshire became Gresley Wood. Around this time coal began to be very important as a fuel because great swathes of woodland had been chopped down in the past but now the landowners were looking after their estates.

The Shipley Charter

The Shipley Charter states: ‘I give in perpetual alms for the safety of the soul of myself and of my wife and for my children and for the souls of my father and mother, my land called Grenewsweit (Greenwich) with all its pertinences in woods and in open fields and all other things, namely in minerals and in pasture, and common rights of mining and wood - cutting in Scipleia (Shipley), which I hold freely in that township. This gift is made with the agreement and goodwill of Robert my man and lord of the same township.  It is given free of all land services and constitutes the following land namely from Stemesford up to the boundaries of Kidesle (Kidsley) and of Hemesovre (Heanor). The brothers (of the Abbey) are not to have more than four axes (woodmen?) in the forest. I concede and confirm to the Abbot the ten acres which Robert has given in alms and the 20 acres which he has sold to him and also six acres which Walter has sold to him. The reference to Robert concerns the tenant at Shipley, Robert le Vavasour, described as Hugh’s man between 1146 and 1155’.

A separate Charter, made by Gilbert, Earl of Lincoln, ratified the gifts from Hugh de Muskham (or Muschamp).  It included further information that: ‘the land in the territory of Siplee with woods and open land given with the free agreement of Robert of Sipleia and his brother’. It can be assumed that the Walter named above was the brother of Robert of Shipley.


A papal bull of Adrian IV, dated 8th November 1156 confirmed acceptance of the gifts to the Monks at Rufford Sherwood Forest, (the Monastery founded by Gilbert, Count of Lincoln in 1139, for the Cistercian Order dedicated to St Mary) and made the point – land cultivated and uncultivated at Sipleia (Shipley) with a forge and other things. This pointed to the fact that the land at Shipley was well - wooded and that there were minerals already being worked. From the wording of the grant it implied that the land was adjoining Kidsley and Heanor and that open fields, woodland, pasture and that minerals (coal and possibly iron ore) were accessible. Dale Abbey was close by.


The Abbots of Burton Abbey held extensive lands and rights and were using coal in 1271 when it is recorded that Abbot John Stafford made a grant of 3 cartloads of coal to Margery de Nerbone.

The Nutbrook drained the area of land later known as the Delves, where coal bassets out. This area was some 15 miles from Rufford and possibly too far for the Monks to look after their property properly so at sometime between 1170 and 1199 Robert of Shipley and William his son acknowledged that they and their heirs were to pay half a silver mark annually at Pentecost to the Monks at Rufford for their holdings.  – (extracts from Paper by Philip Ibbotson B Ed).

Earliest Recorded Mining

The Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Coalfield extends through into Yorkshire and it is here that coal was recorded as being worked in the year 1161 at Kirkstall Abbey, near Leeds.

It is thought that coal could have been worked prior to 1100 in the South Derbyshire Coalfield. This Coalfield is cut off from the North Derbyshire Coalfield by barren ground. Many stone buildings were in the area made from local quarried stone. Burton Abbey, Gresley Priory, Repton Priory (1172) and of course there would be many monks living at these locations. In the area between Bretby and Stanhope the Stanton, Eureka and Stockings seams outcrop at the surface. In the Newhall region Kilburn, Alton and Belper Lawn outcrop. Old workings have been found in these areas. There was a packhorse road from Repton Abbey to Newhall.

It is more than likely that coal was worked at this time in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire (and pre 1150?) from outcrop and / or Bell pits. It is thought that mining at the outcrop was done under Roman rule also. Minerals have been worked in Britain for 5,000 years as previously stated, so it possible that coal was worked in certain parts of the country for far longer than originally thought. Stone tools such as stone hammers and large stone wedges, wooden shafts of hammers bound with withes – thought to be willow or hazel twigs, as well as wooden wheels were found in old workings at Bath pit at Moira, Measham and it was thought that they could be pre - Roman in age (ref The Ashby Coalfield, Edward Mammott 1833). The Romans did use the coal particularly for creating ornamental things and of course knew of its burning properties but extensive woodland covered the area so wood was used as a source of heat.

The 13th Century
1201 - 1300

The earliest recording of mining in Leicestershire was at Swannington, Worthington and Donnington - le - Heath some time during the 13th Century although it is possible mining of coal was carried out way before this. The majority of the pits were around Swannington and Measham.

Coal has been worked in the Measham area (Leicestershire) for a long period (Jeayes’s Derbyshire Charters). It was ‘recorded’ that coal was being worked at Swannington (Leicestershire) in 1204 during the reign of King John. This small Coalfield was fairly isolated and eventually bordered the South Derbyshire Field where coal was known to have been mined in 1208. A Charter of confirmation relating to the village of Swannington, formerly preserved in the Tower of London, confirms the gift of one Philip, son of Eilnod, to Rudolf, son of Gerbold of a piece of land, worth 2 shillings (10p) per annum, in Swannington where cole is found.

Coal was also mined at Swadlincote (South Derbyshire) in 1208 for William de Gresley granted half of his lands in the 5 acres of woods stretching from Leverichgrave to Blakepit where coal was known to be worked to Robert de Sugkenhull.

There was a cluster of outcrop workings most probably from the Middle Ages. In South Derbyshire coal was recorded as being worked at Newhall in the Wapentake of Repton in 1256.

The earliest ‘recorded’ working of coal in Derbyshire was at Little Hallam Ilkeston in 1250 almost one hundred years later than the Monks.  This was closely followed by mining in the forest at Duffield Frith in 1256, then at Morley, Smaly (Smalley), along the Derby / Chesterfield Road in 1275, and Breaston, Denby and Wingerworth in 1285 and Denby in 1291.   

Ironstone (iron ore) was mined at Codnor around 1270. It is without doubt that the working of coal would be close by these areas

The First Road Death

The village of Breaston is mentioned; with the first road death associated with coal occurring when William de Naylestone was run over by a coal cart pulled by 3 horses.

Noxious Fumes

It is said that Queen Eleanor (wife of Henry III who reigned 1216 - 1272) felt obliged to move from Nottingham Castle to Tutbury in 1257, because of the noxious fumes given off by the coal burners there.  The coal was coming from Wollaton, Strelley and Bilborough on the South East edge of the Erewash Valley in Nottinghamshire. Obviously these mines had been working for some time, more than likely prior to 1150 AD.

Burning of Sea Coal was Banned in London in 1273

A point of interest – burning of sea coal was banned in London in 1273 by Edward I (1272 - 1307) due to pollution, and afterwards checks were made at the ‘gates into the city’ to enforce this.  It can obviously be seen that no coal from this region was sent there at the time because there was no way of transporting it. That was to come later when an attempt was made by transporting coal overland and by river to Hull and then by sea to London. It was unsuccessful as the price of coal was more than coal transported by collier ship direct to London from the Newcastle area.

The coal trade was confined to the inland market for many years but the local demand grew.


In 1280, the currency of the period showed that 20 marks was equal to £13 6s 8d (£13.33) and 5 marks was equal to £3 6s 8d (£3.33 in todays money, only shown to compare but of course the amount today including inflation etc would be very different).  Therefore 1 mark was about 13s or 160d (66p) so 20 marks would be worth approx £330 in 2011.

Granted Entrance to Mines of Coal

Hugh de Morley granted and confirmed to Simon, Abbot of Chester in 1285, free entrance and exit to his mynes of sea coal wheresoever they may be found in his lands in Morley and Smalley to all burgesses and sellers of coal.  Also many mines and quarries were owned by the Crown or belonged to the estates of the duchies.

At this time, coal was being mined at Alfreton, Breaston, Cossall, Denby, Selston, Swanwick and Wingerworth also. In South Derbyshire mining was being done at Smoile and Worthington Rough area.

Fatal Accidents

Henry Ryling of Kilburn was killed in a ‘colepyt’ at Denby in 1291.  This is one of the earliest recordings of a fatal accident at a mine. No doubt there had been lots more previously to this. Mining was becoming a dangerous occupation.

Coal was being mined at Scarsdale, near Heath (North Derbyshire) in 1294

The Vikings

The Vikings were known to have invaded and some settled and formed a village called Sivardingescote. Various spellings in the 13th and 14th Centuries gave the name Swarlincote, Swarthlingcote, Swarthingcote, Swatlyngcote but by the 16th Century the name of Swadlincote (South Derbyshire) had evolved. Other settlements with Viking origins are scattered about in the 3 counties.

In South Derbyshire, a lease dated 1294 from Henry de Verdun, Lord of the Manor to Thomas, son of Richard de Alrewas and his wife Matilda gave the rights to make profits from ‘sea coals’ and other minerals found underground in Swadlincote. John de Finton, Lord of the Manor of Swadlincote granted a messuage and a virgate of land to Thomas Kateson to work or mine coal but carefully at the time, made sure that some profits from the ‘sea coles’ and other minerals were obtained by himself.

Also in 1294, coal was known to have been mined in the Wapentake of Scarsdale, (Derbyshire).

Some coal was also worked at Donington in the late 13th Century.

Fatal Accidents

In 1300 three men were killed working coal at Breaston (Nottinghamshire). Around this time two other miners Richard le Grobber and John le Grobber were crushed in a coal pit at Newhall.

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Pit Terminology - Glossary