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Medieval coal mining remains immediately south of Benter Cross

A Scheduled Monument in Stratton on the Fosse, Somerset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.2376 / 51°14'15"N

Longitude: -2.5058 / 2°30'20"W

OS Eastings: 364786.135954

OS Northings: 148835.940766

OS Grid: ST647488

Mapcode National: GBR MV.28Z5

Mapcode Global: VH89V.J542

Entry Name: Medieval coal mining remains immediately south of Benter Cross

Scheduled Date: 17 May 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019022

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29696

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Stratton on the Fosse

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Details

The monument includes an area of medieval coal mining remains surviving as
irregular shaped earthworks and spoil mounds, together with possible Roman
coal workings and some post-medieval mining shafts and associated features,
within an area which was converted to pasture in the early 1700s. The site
lies on the Mendip Hills, close to the south westernmost edge of an extensive
coalfield which stretches from Gurney Slade eastward to Mells. The area of the
scheduling is approximately 11.5ha and is considered to preserve one of the
best surviving examples of a range of surface features indicative of early
medieval coal mining techniques.
Coal outcropping at the surface around Nettlebridge may have been recognised
as early as the first century AD by the Roman army who were actively involved
in lead mining in the Mendips by AD49. This was only six years after the
invasion, and they drove a major military road (later known as the Fosse Way)
through the coal producing area just to the south east of Benter Cross. A
length of about 170m of the buried remains of the road lies within the
scheduling and its course is marked by a hedge line and public footpath. The
major Roman town of Aquae Sulis (Bath) lies on the Fosse Way only 20km to the
north, and the Roman historian Solinus refers to a curious fuel used at the
Temple of Minerva to maintain the perpetual fires in the shrine `at a warm
spring adorned with sumptuous splendour for the use of mortals'. This fuel was
probably coal. In addition, fragments of coal found in excavations of the
Roman villa at Star near Shipham have been analysed and are thought to match
coal outcropping in the Nettlebridge area.
Some of the mining earthworks within the area identified in the scheduling are
considered to be unusual and they may result from Roman extraction works,
these perhaps being no more than simple scoops into surface outcrops.
However, the majority of the visible above ground works appear, from studies
undertaken on a range of ancient coal mining sites, to be medieval workings
representing some of the earliest coal extraction features in the South West
and certainly the earliest recorded in Somerset. On both sides of the stream,
which runs through the monument from north to south, are dispersed weathered
spoil dumps considered to be the result of extracting coal at the surface,
otherwise known as `outcropping'. The spoil dumps comprise waste earth and
tiny coal fragments and they generally take the form of irregular mounds and
banks which vary widely in their dimensions, the mounds being between about
0.3m to nearly 2m in height, and from 2m-3m to a maximum of about 18m in
diameter. The early medieval date of this mining landscape appears to be
confirmed by the absence of closely spaced shaft mounds (or bell pits) which
are characteristically later medieval or early post-medieval in date. In this
later process a shaft was dug to gain access to sub-surface seams; these
shafts were commonly known as bell pits as the coal was extracted to a maximum
safe width around the base of the shaft resulting in the bell shape from which
the pits are named. The above ground mounds were formed by the piling of spoil
around the top of the shaft producing, over time, a conical hollow as material
collapsed into the abandoned shaft when mining ceased. Only two or three of
the mounds within the scheduling conform to this later pattern, the best
examples being the two mounds lying close together just north of the A367 in
field OS8478 which are a maximum 21m in diameter and between 2m-2.5m in
height.
Also surviving from a later period is some evidence of gin circles which are
the distinctive circular tracks produced by a horse whilst it was employed in
raising or lowering the windlass over the shaft; horse drawn power is thought
to have been used more widely from the 17th century onwards.
The Domesday Book of 1086 records the hamlet of Pitcot, which lies to the
north east of the scheduling; this name suggests a very early mining tradition
in the area. Documents from 1300 show that the coalfield supported hundreds of
small workings from that date onwards although few of these lasted beyond
1800. Within the area of the scheduling there is no field or documentary
evidence for any 18th-20th century reworking of the relict mining area and
significant buried features are therefore considered likely to survive
undamaged. The monument lies within one part of what has clearly been an
extensively mined and long exploited coalfield which only finally ceased
production in 1968 with the closure of the New Rock colliery north of
Benter Cross.

All fence posts and fencing, gates, telegraph poles, and all existing drainage
works are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these
features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
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
area.
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 medieval coal mining remains immediately south of Benter Cross retain a
range of early small-scale mining features considered to be largely of
medieval date which, unusually, have survived later reworking. The early
medieval remains show no sign of disturbance after about 1700 and retain
intact stratigraphy with shallow underground workings likely to survive in
direct association. The range of surface features within the area of the
monument varies from outcropping works (some possibly of Roman origin) through
to shaft mounds and gin circles and thus encompasses the full range of
extraction techniques from the earliest periods when coal was mined through to
the brink of the Industrial Revolution. The remains will therefore provide
archaeological information contributing to a better understanding of the
development of the coal mining industry in this country.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarium
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarium
Down, C G, Warrington, A J, The History of the Somerset Coalfield, (1974), 224-260
Margary, I D, Roman Roads in Britain, (1973)
Solinus, , Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium, (300), B22, 10
Smith, A H V, 'Britannia' in Provenance of coals from Roman sites in England and Wales, , Vol. 28, (1997), 297-324
Other
Gould, S and Cranstone, D, The Coal Industry: Step 1 report, 1993, Unpub report for English Heritage
Gould, S, The Coal Industry: Step 3 report, 1994, Site assessment for English Heritage

Source: Historic England

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