Coal has been found during the excavation of the Roman Road Ryknield Street, now part of the A60 that passes along the western edge of the Coalfield. It is known that the Romans mined and smelted lead and more than likely used coal as some form of heat as coal and ashes have been found at various forts and villas.


The earliest ‘recorded’ working of coal in N 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.  

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.


Bell pits mainly mined prior or during the Tudor period have been located at between Belper                                         and Ripley at Morley Park, between Belper and Denby, at Heage near Derby, between Brackenfield and Shirland, to the west of Pentrich, near Eastwood and towards Langley Bridge, near Selston, in the Pinxton area and at Ripley, Cossall and Kimberley.  The photo to the left shows a bell pit exposed whilst the photo to the right shows a bell pit that has collapsed and fallen in.













At Salterwood (Derbys) bell pits were found 16 feet (4.9m) x 10 feet (3m) at the top to 19 feet (5.8m) x 12 feet (3.65m) at the bottom and 20 feet (6m) deep. No doubt there are other bell pits as yet undiscovered.


Fatal accidents continued to be recorded, Robert Dewy died whilst digging coal at Codnor in 1304 and at Hanley in Derbyshire, Goddard of Kilburn was killed when the hemp rope broke whilst descending a ‘colepyt’ in 1313. Emma Culhare daughter of William Culhare was killed while drawing water from the colepyt at Morley in 1313 (one of the earliest references to ‘le damp’ also known as choke damp) and of a woman working in a pit.


At Denby great numbers of oak trees were cut down so as to mine coal, a non-to pleasing event for the local populace.


In 1316 a company of colliers were leasing a mine for 9 men to work a pre-existing mine at Cossall in Notts, paying the owner Richard de Willoughby 12d (5p) per week for each pickaxe.  They were excused payment when unable to work through floods or gas.  It was known then of the dangers of methane and carbon dioxide gases.  The field was called Vytestobbe about 6 miles from the city of Nottingham.  A sowe or sough (suff) was being driven at Cossall.


In 1377 a lease to mine coal was granted to John Prymme for 20 years at a rent of 10 marks, the currency of the period, to search for coal near Belper. The Carthusian Monks at Beauvale mined coal at Newthorpe and Kimberley as well as at Selston.


There were mines at Morebrech and Wodebrech in the fields of Trowell in 1390.  On a lease water gates and heddryftes are mentioned as well as ‘damp’. A ‘charcoal’ pit was working at Tibshelf in 1395.  This was probably the one referred to in the account of Richard Wodehouse, bailiff therefrom the morrow Michaelmas in 17 Richard II until the same feast of Michaelmas the following year wayleave.


At Codnor a mine was valued at 33s 4d (£1.66⅔) on the death of the owner John, Lord de Grey in 1430.

In 1433,


Richard Milner and company was granted a mine of coals at Morley Park at the rate of £7 6s 8d (£7.33) a year.


In the north of Derbyshire there was mining of coal at Alfreton (Swanwick), Belper, Chesterfield, Cossall, Denby, Duffield, Eckington, Morley and Ripley.


John Southbury was mining ironstone at Morley Park around 1480.


A note on the use of Soughs.

The use of soughs was an early feature of mining which allowed for drainage of working.  A sough was a small tunnel driven in the coal seam or just below it, which started at a watercourse and rose up gently following the coal seam contour.  It allowed coal to be mined to the rise side towards the outcrop or basset edge.  As the water percolating in from the surface ran into the sough and away, it left the miners in relatively drier conditions than if the sough had not existed.  Dip workings were unable to be worked at this time, as they would be flooded.  Later, certain types of pumps such as churn, common chain or rag pumps would be invented which would allow the working of dip workings, before the introduction of horse gins, steam or electric pumps. All of the known soughs in the two counties of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire had many shafts sunk along their routes as a method of getting the material out and also for some ‘fresh air’ ventilation for the miners driving the tunnels.
















                            Examples of Soughs exposed    by open-cast  mining


Main text continued-


By 1550 Mines were being sunk at Bolsover, Eckington, Sutton Scarsdale, Chesterfield, and to the south at Heanor and Ripley.


Corves (Corf) or hazel wicker baskets were introduced from Germany in 1564 and used in conjunction with hemp ropes to haul coal up the shafts, this method was to continue in use in some mines well into the 19th Century.
















Above is an example of a wicker corf, the image to the right shows a corf is being raised up the shaft whilst an empty one is waiting to be filled.


John Zouche of Codnor opened the first charcoal blast furnace in the area at Loscoe in 1582.  After his death the ironworks and coal mines were leased to Sir Francis Willoughby of Wollaton.


Raising the coal from the early shaft mines was a basic affair often involving little more than a form of Windlass, however the development of Horse Engines (abbreviated to Horse Gins or simply Gins) allowed for greater depths and loads to be lifted. Locally Huntington Beaumont, son of Nicholas of Coleorton a new style Manager and Engineer at Wollaton is thought to have made use of a horse-driven windlass or winding device around 1588, which could have been a cog and rung type gin.  By using horses in this manner, shaft depths around 100 yards (90m) could be reached.  Horses would be used later to operate machines to raise water prior to the development of steam pumping. Horse Gins were used for winding coal up the small diameter shallow shafts up until around 1690, whereas at the very shallow mines the use of adits (aka drifts) or the windlass was still the preferred system.







Example of a Horse

Engine or Horse Gin

as used to raise coal

from shafts.







Beaumont other contribution to mining was one of the earliest known use of ‘railles’, to form what is still believed t be the first English waggonway (an early form of railway/tramway, later on metal plates would be used instead of timber rails leading to phrase Plateway and Gangway).  A two miles long track to the River Trent was the first use of the rails, which were 4 inches (0.10m) square wooden rails on sleepers.  By 1604 there was a wooden railway from Strelley to the outskirts of Nottingham laid by Beaumont. 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.

The use of ‘Newcastle Roads’ (Waggonways) in the North East became very popular, and were the forerunner of the NE Railway network using both fixed steam engines as well as horses to pull the waggons.



Early waggonway in operation, the

design of these varied reionally but

all used variants of wooden rail or in

later versions iron plates.






In 1610 a pit was working at Pentrich near Swanwick






By now Rag and Chain pumps were

operational to rid water from dip workings

to allow deeper mining to continue.






Mines were now well established at Alfreton, Belper, Butterley, Denby, Heanor, Langley, Morley, Riddings, Ripley, Shipley, Stanley, Swanwick.


In 1618 John Zouch 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.


Denby 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.


William Senior produced a plan of the county of Derbyshire in 1637. There were around 30 pits in Derbyshire at this time.

Sough Sough2 Corfe Corfe2 Horse Gin Waggonway rag-and-chain-pump-being-used-to-raise-water-from-a-mine-from-de-re-D95KD6 Bellpit