BYGONE INDUSTRIES OF THE PEAK, Derbyshire

This is one of a series of articles published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 6th May 1996 (p.7), and reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

The series is now available as a fully-illustrated paperback, published in 2006 by Wildtrack Publishing of Sheffield (ISBN 1-904098-01-0)

BYGONE INDUSTRIES OF THE PEAK: COAL MINING

The story of mining in the peak is far more closely associated with lead than coal, yet isolated beds of coal occur close to the eastern and western boundaries of the Peak National Park. Though mainly of inferior quality, this coal was worth extracting from early times, as indicated by this entry from Annals of Coal Mining and the Coal Trade (Galloway 1898): 'Sea coal in the Forest of Macclesfield was committed to the charge of a forester appointed in 1382: (The expression sea coal was used to differentiate from charcoal).

Thirteenth/fourteenth-century Derbyshire mining records mention a woman killed by fire-damp (methane) and a man who fell to his death from a rope. Miners were lowered by rope into bell pits, so-called from their shape; according to a reference of 1815, a bell pit formerly existed near Stanage Pole, Hathersage.

A coal mine at Fernilee in the parish of Hope was the subject of an ownership dispute brought before the Star Chamber in 1606. In modern times, this mine was possibly submerged by the Goyt Valley reservoirs, as was one of the private mines which had served Errwood Hall. Several generations of the Shallcross family of Fernilee benefited from ownership of the High Peak coal mines, generally known as the Shallcross Pits, near Chapel en le Frith. One descendant, John Shallcross, issued his own trading tokens.

Coal seams around Axe Edge were worked from about 1600. Known collectively as the Buxton coal mines, though actually in the parish of Hartington Upper Quarter, individual names included Goyt Colliery, Goyte's Moss Colliery, Burbage Colliery, Axe Edge and Thatch Marsh Colliery and the Level Mine.

In the 18th/19th centuries, mining also took place in Wildboarclough parish and Goldstitch Moss in Quarnford. Coal from Pott Shrigley served the local brick making industry in the latter half of the 19th century.

Collieries have also been worked at Rowarth, Robin Hood near Baslow, Beeley Moor, Lumsdale near Tansley, Tansley Green, and Chatsworth Old Park. The Baslow coal seam actually outcrops on the floor of the Emperor Lake at Chatsworth. Documents quoted by the Duchess of Devonshire in her book The Estate refer to pits sunk in 1760 'on the top of Chatsworth Park to try for cole'.

Coal exposures at Alderwasley in the south-east of the Peak were exploited from at least the 17th century; during the Civil War Parliamentary troops 'took pewter and brass out of a coal pitt worth £30'. This may refer to valuables hidden for safekeeping but brass was also the name given to iron pyrites, found in some coal mines. By his will of 1771, William Peat of Alderwasley bequeathed to his children 'my Coal Pits or Coal Mines and Delphs of Coal and ... the Tools materials and utensils for the getting of Coal'.

THE LIME BURNERS

Coal extraction in the Peak was most active between 1780-1880 both for domestic use and, more importantly, as an alternative to the over-exploited supplies of wood and peat used in fuelling lime kilns. Extraction from the Goyt and House Coal seams, west of Burbage and Axe Edge, led to the concentration of lime burning in the vicinity, notably on Grin Hill. Elsewhere this activity was carried out on farms for individual use. Farmers from Monyash, Flagg, Taddington, Ashford and Wormhill used to collect coal from the Level Mine for this purpose. In 1780 the Duke of Devonshire - who owned the Buxton mines - leased the coal rights on Goyt Moss to a group of four men, presumably lime burners, in return for the spreading of lime on his lands within Hartington parish.

The House Coal seam was worked by 130 pits between Berry Clough and the Staffordshire boundary. The most economical access to such a shallow seam involved sinking new pits and abandoning old ones. Deeper seams were reached by shafts or horizontal adits driven into the hillsides, known as 'day eye' pits. Small boys were employed to work in restricted spaces and also to lead the horses which worked horse gins, or horse engines - used to raise coal before the days of steam power. Some later pits on the House Coal seam still show remains of circular gin tracks around which the horse was driven. In 1790 this monotonous task earned a lad sixpence a day, a quarter of what a man was paid for underground maintenance or shaft sinking.

From around 1770, coal from Buckett Engine Pit on the House Coal seam was taken out by boat on an underground canal - the lad who boated the coal was paid eight pence a day. A horizontal tunnel had been driven towards, and then alongside, the coal seam. Known as the Duke's Level, it drained into the river Wye which flowed nearby. The output was to be put to good use in the 1880s when it was fed via a pipeline to a sewage treatment works in Ashwood Dale.

By the early 19th century, coal was being transported on the Peak Forest canal, serving many lime kilns along its banks en route. The Peak Forest Tramway was busy with two-way traffic, coal being taken up to the quarry workings around Dove Holes, from which limestone and lime was brought down.

Meantime, a tunnel was driven into Thatch Marsh Colliery by the Duke of Devonshire 'for the better supply of Buxton with coals'. Coal from both the House Coal and Goyt seams was brought out through this tunnel on rails. Some time after the Cromford and High Peak Railway opened in 1831, sidings were constructed to serve this and other collieries, delivering coal to stone quarries within reach of the railway.

Advances in rail transport improved the availability of better quality coal from outside the Peak and local mining declined. The Goyt and House Coal seams were officially abandoned in 1893 and 1919 respectively. In 1871 their combined output had peaked at 31,300 tons, falling by 1891 to 10,200 tons. Ten years later just 1,100 tons were extracted from the House Coal seam.

During the present century, some old mines were accessed in times of national emergency. During the General Strike of 1926, coal from Axe Edge was supplied to the Magpie lead mine at Sheldon and stones are told of coal being got out when the severe winter of 1947 led to acute fuel shortages. That was the year when coal mining companies were nationalised, but in the Peak there was nothing left to take into a new era.

For further reading see The Coal Mines of Buxton (Roberts & Leach, Scarthin Books, 1985).

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 6th May 1996.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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