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Medieval and post-medieval coal mining remains in Harridge Wood and Edford Wood South

A Scheduled Monument in Stoke St Michael, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.2331 / 51°13'59"N

Longitude: -2.4906 / 2°29'26"W

OS Eastings: 365844.596352

OS Northings: 148324.30014

OS Grid: ST658483

Mapcode National: GBR MW.2LT7

Mapcode Global: VH89V.S86K

Entry Name: Medieval and post-medieval coal mining remains in Harridge Wood and Edford Wood South

Scheduled Date: 17 May 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019023

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29697

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Stoke St Michael

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset


The monument, which falls into three areas of protection, includes part of a
medieval and post-medieval coal mining area, surviving as a complex of mounds,
spoil tips, bell pits, adits, shafts and leats, and associated below ground
features, all preserved within woodland. The site lies on the Mendip Hills
within a coalfield which stretches from Gurney Slade eastward to Mells. The
area of the scheduling is approximately 16ha encompassing Harridge Wood East,
part of Harridge Wood West, and Edford Wood South, and is considered to
preserve the best surviving range of surface features indicative of later
medieval and post-medieval coal mining techniques within the coalfield.
A study of the remains lying in the woodlands of the Nettlebridge Valley, east
of the modern A367, by Powlesland and Stokes, has demonstrated that multi-
period extraction of coal took place using a range of mining techniques
which became more sophisticated with the passage of time. The earliest
recognisable form of coal extraction identified in the study were bell
pits. These characteristic shafts are often closely spaced due to the miners
desire to `chase' the coal. In this 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 which gave the pits their name.
The spoil from the shaft was mounded around the top of the shaft producing,
over time, a conical hollow resulting from the collapse of the shaft or its
infill after workings had ceased. When a bell pit was exhausted the miners
moved a short distance along the predicted line of the seam and excavated a
new shaft; this results in the high density of bell pits in coal rich areas.
At least 52 such bell pits have been recognised in Harridge Wood East where
they are interspersed with occasional small spoil heaps. These bell pits vary
widely in their dimensions although one of the largest recorded had a total
diameter of 25m with a central hollow 13m wide and 1.8m deep. The bell pit
technique is thought to have been employed from the medieval period into the
early post-medieval period. Also recorded in Harridge Wood East are a
considerable number of shafts and at least 16 adit mines (horizontal passages
for access or drainage) plus a number of water leats for driving machinery
and/or pumping away water. These remains are complex and often overlain
indicating continued activity over a period of time. Although undated, the
extraction techniques, especially the use of controlled water power, are more
characteristic of the 16th-18th centuries.
The multi-period pattern of extraction found in Harridge Wood East is repeated
just to its south in Edford Wood South with bell pits and spoil heaps
representing what is considered to be pre-18th century mining activity. The
earlier remains are overlain by two firmly dated 18th century mine shafts
which have been recorded at national grid reference ST66214833 together with a
large leat, 1.6m deep and an average 4.9m wide, with sluices for water
control, and the remains of the ruined walls of a wheel-pool which is over 3m
deep. All of the water management features are probably associated with
generating power for winches. This mining complex appears to have gone out of
use in the 19th century. Bell pits are less closely spaced and are fewer in
number in Harridge Wood West where mining activity appears to have been less
intense. However, at national grid reference ST6554830 four mine shafts with
their associated spoil heaps and water leats survive. The northernmost shafts
are approximately 2m square and show evidence for stone lining of the shafts.
The other two shafts are water filled during the winter and all may be capped
only with timber and soil. These mines are shown as derelict on maps of the
mid-18th century. Further associated water pools and leats can be traced to
the south west of the shafts across the stone bridge known as Hatches Bridge.
The hamlet of Pitcot, which lies just to the north of the scheduling, is
recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086; its name suggests a long tradition of
mining in the area. The coalfield is known from contemporary documents
to have been active from about 1300 and to have supported hundreds of small
workings although, of these, few lasted beyond 1800. The scheduling lies
within one part of this long exploited coalfield which only finally ceased
production in 1968 with the closure of the New Rock colliery north of Benter

All fence posts and fencing, gates, telegraph poles, and the gravel surfacing
of the track leading to Heathercott House are excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath all these features 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 coal mining workings in Harridge Wood and Edford Wood South survive
exceptionally well and illustrate a range of medieval and post-medieval coal
mining features which have been preserved by their incorporation into
woodland. They will retain intact stratigraphy with underground workings
certain to survive. The workings have been recognised, by way of a detailed
archaeological study, to represent a range of mining extraction techniques
which were employed prior to the 19th century. As such the remains will
therefore offer archaeological information contributing to the better
understanding of the development of the coal mining industry in the South West
and nationally.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Down, C G, Warrington, A J, The History of the Somerset Coalfield, (1974)
Gould, S and Cranstone, D, The Coal Industry: Step 1 report, 1993, Unpub report for English Heritage
Gould, S, The Coal Industry: Step 3, 1994, Unpub report for English Heritage
Powlesland, I, Harridge Wood, Somerset, Archaeological Management Plan, 1998, Report for Somerset Wildlife Trust
Report for Somerset Wildlife Trust, Powlesland, I and Stokes, P, Woodlands of the Nettlebridge Valley, (1998)

Source: Historic England

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