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Coal mining remains at Birch Coppice and Rough Park, 950m and 1.5km south of Smoile Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Coleorton, Leicestershire

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Latitude: 52.7604 / 52°45'37"N

Longitude: -1.4197 / 1°25'10"W

OS Eastings: 439257.261164

OS Northings: 318242.912231

OS Grid: SK392182

Mapcode National: GBR 6GW.V7B

Mapcode Global: WHDHM.5W66

Entry Name: Coal mining remains at Birch Coppice and Rough Park, 950m and 1.5km south of Smoile Farm

Scheduled Date: 24 November 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018462

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31754

County: Leicestershire

Civil Parish: Coleorton

Built-Up Area: Newbold

Traditional County: Leicestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Leicestershire

Church of England Parish: Coleorton St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Leicester


The monument lies in Rough Park and Birch Coppice, around 1km north west of
Coleorton village, and is within two separate areas of protection. It includes
earthworks and buried remains of part of the Coleorton historic coal mining
area, including medieval land boundaries whose character was determined by
their proximity to mine workings. The area is well-known for early mining
remains, some of which were exposed in the early 1990s by opencasting close
to the site. Evidence recovered included early 14th and 15th century tools,
textiles and unparalleled dendrochronological (tree-ring) dating of pit props
which led to a substantial revision of mining history.
Mining took place in the area from at least 1204 until the 1990s, and this is
reflected in the density and complexity of the remains. From at least the 13th
century, coal was picked up, or mined in shallow opencuts. The latter will
survive as buried remains. The cuts were succeeded by the sinking of small
closely-set pits, whose surface remains take the form of dense clusters of
hollows and small-scale earthworks. These are visible most clearly in the
north part of the site, where hollows of up to 0.5m depth and mounds of
similar height are seen in clusters. A deep boundary ditch of the same period
survives as a linear cut of up to 1m deep along the north eastern limit of the
site. Further ditches are thought to survive in the southern part, and
demonstrate the relationship between agricultural and industrial activities
during the medieval period.
From the late Middle Ages coal was mined using pillar-and-stall workings, in
which pillars of coal were left to support the roof as miners cut along the
seam. Techniques were also developed to support the deepening shafts with
timber props. It was from this type of working in the nearby opencast area
that pit props were analysed, providing a mid-15th century date. It is
believed that similar workings will survive in the southern area of the site.
These methods were superseded by longwall mining which allowed more coal to be
removed, and by deeper shafts. Areas close to the site exposed by opencasting
showed that the longwall technique, previously thought to have originated in
Staffordshire in the late 17th century, was in use here by 1620. This period
also saw the development of new techniques to solve the problems of
underground drainage, winding and transport. The Beaumont family who owned the
mines at this time introduced the earliest tramways to the area, and the
remains of the tramway network employed at the site will survive as buried
features. Drainage and winding were driven by horse-powered machinery, the
horses walking on circular platforms or `gin circles' which remain as
earthworks. In the central area of the site gin circles around 3.5m diameter
and 1.5m high are visible. From the 18th century atmospheric engines and steam
engines were used for drainage and winding, including a pumping engine brought
in by Robert Stephenson during the 1830s. Stephenson oversaw new developments
in ventilation, drainage, transport and shaft cutting. A system of soughs
(drainage cuts) was constructed, and a method of lining shafts with cast-iron
bands introduced. Evidence of all these developments will survive in buried
Further coal mining remains are visible approximately 500m north east of the
site, and these are the subject of a separate scheduling. All fenceposts,
track surfaces, feeding hoppers, water tanks and telegraph poles are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Coal has been mined in England since Roman times, and between 8,000 and 10,000
coal industry sites of all dates up to the collieries of post-war
nationalisation are estimated to survive in England. Three hundred and four
coal industry sites, representing approximately 3% of the estimated national
archaeological resource for the industry have been identified as being of
national importance. This selection, compiled and assessed through a
comprehensive survey of the coal industry, is designed to represent the
industry's chronological depth, technological breadth and regional diversity.
Extensive coal workings are typical of the medieval and post-medieval coal
industry, although this style of exploitation continued into the early 20th
century in some marginal areas which were worked on a very small scale with
little capital investment. In its simplest form extensive workings took coal
directly from the outcrop, digging closely spaced shallow pits, shafts or
levels which did not connect underground. Once shallower deposits had been
exhausted, deeper shafts giving access to underground interconnecting
galleries were developed. The difficulties of underground haulage and the need
for ventilation encouraged the sinking of an extensive spread of shafts in the
area worked. The remains of extensive coal workings typically survive as
surface earthworks directly above underground workings. They may include a
range of prospecting and exploitation features, including areas of
outcropping, adits and shaft mounds (circular or sub-circular spoil heaps
normally with a directly associated depression marking the shaft location). In
addition, some sites retain associated features such as gin circles (the
circular track used by a horse powering simple winding or pumping machinery),
trackways and other structures like huts. Some later sites also retain
evidence of the use of steam power, typically in the form of engine beds or
small reservoirs. Extensive coal mines vary considerably in form, depending on
the underlying geology, their date, and how the workings were originally
organised. Sites can include several hundred shafts spread over an extensive
Coal occurs in significant deposits throughout large parts of England and this
has given rise to a variety of coalfields extending from the north of England
to the Kent coast. Each region has its own history of exploitation, and
characteristic sites range from the small, compact collieries of north
Somerset to the large, intensive units of the north east. A sample of the
better preserved sites, illustrating the regional, chronological and
technological range of extensive coal workings, together with rare individual
component features are considered to merit protection.

The mining remains at Birch Coppice and Rough Park survive well, providing
evidence for the historical and technological developments of a much more
extensive area. The range of surface features varies from simple shafts to
more complex shaft mounds with gin circles and an associated transport system,
allowing the development of the mine workings to be understood. Buried remains
will preserve details of drainage, haulage, cutting and ventilation
techniques. In addition, surface remains retain information on pithead
apparatus, a particularly rare feature of early coal mining sites; information
about the system of tracks and tramways at the site will also survive. The
site's industrial archaeology is enhanced by the presence of medieval field
and woodland boundaries, surviving as earthworks within the monument, whose
character has been clearly determined by pre-existing mine workings. The
monument is therefore unusual in retaining elements of an agricultural
landscape shaped by its relationship to an evolving industry. The site has
links with the Beaumont family, pioneering mine owners, and the Stephensons,
influential engineers of the early railway period. The archaeological remains
will provide valuable information on the different mining techniques employed
in the Midlands and North East coalfields, where both families were
influential in introducing innovations to the coal industry.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hartley, R F, Coleorton, (1992), 76-77
Griffin, Colin P , 'Industrial Archaeology Review' in Technological change in the Leics & S Derbys coalfield

Source: Historic England

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