Information and photographs submitted by subscribers are posted in good faith. If any copyright of anyone else's material is unintentionally breached, please email me

Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire


Pits In Derbyshire And Nottinghamshire

The Romans

The Roman Road, Rykneld Street or Ryknield Street, now part of the A61, passes through the western side of the North Derbyshire Coalfield from Derby along Stretton Edge, and through the towns of Clay Cross and Chesterfield into Yorkshire. In this area many coal seams outcrop at the surface or lie at a shallow depth. Coal and dust has been found in the old foundations during excavations along the route between Oakerthorpe and Chesterfield. To the south west of Alfreton was a fortlet and another small fort at Pentrich. Another Roman road known as Lilley Street ran from the main road to the south end of Alfreton (note the name of the Lilley Street Colliery at Swanwick in the late 1800s to mid 1900s).

Coals are natural products abounding in many parts of the world and where beds outcrop on the scarped hillsides and the fact that coals have set fire by spontaneous combustion probably led to the fact that it could be used as a fuel.

One of the earliest documented references to uses of coal as a fuel is thought to be written in a book on 'Stones' by the Greek naturalist and philosopher Theophraptus around 350BC where it is mentioned that 'an earthy substance which would kindle, and which could be used by smiths'.

It is thought there was a local market for coal in the Second Century. Various minerals have been mined in Britain for 5,000 years or so. The Romans were known to have mined lead and fluorspar and iron ore in Derbyshire from about 80 AD. It is assumed that they mined some coal from outcrops or shallow pits to use in the smelting of the ore, metallurgy and smithy work, lime burning and domestic heating although as yet no evidence has been found in this area but it is possible that they mined coal and ironstone at an ancient site found at Allpits Plantation near Calow in Derbyshire.  It is known that they cut and polished some coal – being the best stone in Britain.

However at Templeborough near Rotherham and other fortifications and villas throughout the country, heaps of coal or ashes have been found proving that they did use coal. The word mine is from 'minare' the Latin 'to drive with threats', as in the early days criminals were often sentenced to work in the mines, as they worked under threat of further punishment.

The Roman truck wheel base was equivalent to 4’ 8½” (1.435m), later to become the standard rail gauge for the railway system throughout Britain, and many other countries in the World.

Coal was used in parts of the country before the Romans came as flint axes have been found embedded in coal. The Roman Empire collapsed and the last troops left Britain in 410ADBritain is then known to have gone into decline, but there was integration of some Romans to about 450AD amongst the English until the country was split up into Kingdoms from the year 613 to 1017, when it came under the Danish Rule

Anglo Saxons

However coal was mined intermittently during the Anglo-Saxon period and it is noted in the Saxon Chronicles of the Abbey of Peterborough that they were not unacquainted with the use of coal, for in the year 852 the payment of 12 loads of fossil or pit coal was made to the Abbey. This coal could have been mined at a delph or delve which is a shallow working at the outcrop of a seam of coal. The word delph comes from an Anglo-Saxon word daelph meaning to dig.

Domesday Book

Page from the Domesday Book
Page from the Domesday Book

The Domesday survey of England was carried out in the years 1086-1089 on the orders of William the Conqueror (1066-1087), following the Norman Conquest of Britain in 1066 when Harold Godwin was defeated at the Battle of Hastings.

The assessors noted everything of value, but there was no mention of coal or coal mining.  It is thought that coal mining was being carried out at the time, albeit in a small way and I believe it is probable that when the survey was carried out no mining was taking place, as during the summer months the labourers worked on the land, ‘farming’. In the winter months they gathered or ‘farmed’ the coal at the outcrop for the Lord of the Manor.  Of course the chief fuel for cooking and warmth at the time was wood and would remain so for many years.  It is possible that coal (a black stone) being of a secondary nature and not thought valuable was a perquisite for tenants in the same way as peat or underwood / brushwood and not mentioned.

Coal is a layer of vegetation that has been compressed by overlying strata over millions of years and is not a mineral albeit that it is always referred to as such in the later years of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Middle Ages

Mining of minerals were noted in 12 counties. In the Middle Ages the Crown held the rights of gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, ironstone and other valuable minerals etc.


William II reigned 1087 - 1100 when he was succeeded by
Henry I 1100 - 1135
Stephen 1135 - 1154
Henry II 1154 - 1189, then
Richard I (the Lionheart) 1189 - 1199
John 1199 - 1216
Henry III 1216 - 1272.

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Coalfield

The M1 motorway bisects the Coalfield almost equally and follows closely the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The North Derbyshire part extends approximately 30 miles south to north from Breaston near Stapleford to Beighton on the border of South Yorkshire.  The maximum width at about 15 miles extends from Dore to Shireoaks.  It is about 9 miles wide from Alderwasley to Pinxton, 7½ miles wide from Belper to Langley Bridge and 5 miles wide from Morley to Stanton.  The Coalfield in Nottinghamshire was originally a narrow strip of exposed Coal Measures strata 3 miles wide and 17 miles long from Stapleford in the south to Teversal in the north, however eventually this would extend to about 40 miles from Asfordby / Cotgrave to Harworth and about 12 miles wide from Teversal to Ollerton as exploitation of the concealed Coalfield continued.  Of course the Coalfield is a continuation of the huge Yorkshire Coalfield and some names of seams near the borders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are influenced by that. The seams dip at a generally gentle fall from west to east and are known to continue under the North Sea to the Continent.

The names of the coal seams worked in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are listed below in descending order from the surface and as can be seen, some names originate from place names whereas others are relevant to the properties of the seam itself. There are also many thin un-named un-workable seams varying from only a few inches (mms) thick to 18 inches (0.5m), many being splits from named seams and are only important locally.

Return to Top

Pit Terminology - Glossary

Bob's Menu

Coal Seams