Reasons for Designation
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.
Coking is the process by which coal is heated or part burnt to remove volatile
impurities and leave lumps of carbon known as coke. Originally this was
conducted in open heaps, sometimes arranged on stone bases, but from the mid-
18th century purpose built ovens were employed. By the mid-19th century two
main forms of coking oven had developed, the beehive and long oven, which are
thought to have been operationally similar, differing only in shape. Coke
ovens were typically built as long banks with many tens of ovens arranged in
single or back to back rows, although stand alone ovens and short banks are
also known. They typically survive as stone or brick structures, but earth-
covered examples also exist. Later examples may also include remains of
associated chimneys, condensers and tanks used to collect by-products. Coke
ovens are most frequently found directly associated with coal mining sites,
although they also occur at ironworks or next to transport features such as
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. All surviving pre-
1815 ovens are considered to be of national importance and merit protection,
as do all surviving examples of later non-beehive ovens. The survival of
beehive ovens is more common nationally and a selection of the better
preserved examples demonstrating the range of organisational layouts and
regional spread is considered to merit protection.
The spread of railed transport and the increasing demand for coke in iron
production from the mid-19th century led to the establishment of numerous coke
works at colliery sites in the North East Coalfield. The Inkerman colliery
coke works is typical of this movement. The development of the coke industry
in County Durham led to innovations in the methods of production and oven
design, and led to the widespread introduction of the beehive oven. This
design was pioneered in, and became characteristic of, the North East
Coalfield. The coke ovens at Inkerman illustrate this design, and are now one
of only a small number of sites nationally where examples of the beehive oven
survives in a complete state.
The monument is situated within a modern coal yard and an adjacent field to
the south east of Inkerman Farm, and includes the ruins and buried remains of
part of the Inkerman coke works, including two virtually intact beehive coke
ovens. It forms part of what was once a far more extensive coal mining
landscape which is now largely cleared and landscaped. The remains of a
separate double bank of 21 beehive coke ovens run parallel on the west side of
the two virtually intact ovens. These range in condition from nearly complete
to fragmentary but are also included in the scheduling.
The Weardale Iron and Coal Company opened the Inkerman colliery in 1853 and
immediately began coke production from 20 ovens built at that time. In 1875
the number was increased to 50 ovens built in two rows. After 1880 the site
was operated by a succession of companies. The coke ovens were used for brick
production in their later years, but had become disused before World War I.
Following closure in 1969 the colliery, including most of the ovens, was
cleared and landscaped.
The beehive coke oven was a design developed in, and once typical of, the
Durham coalfield. It was technologically intermediate between burning coal in
heaps and the modern by-product oven. The ovens consist of brick built domes
measuring 3.35m in diameter by 2.29m high internally. The retaining wall and
part of the earthen insulation has been removed from some of the ovens
revealing their construction. The remains of small top central holes and back
flue openings survive particularly well and provide evidence of the
technological process involved in coke production using the beehive oven
design. Part of the front retaining wall and doorways, which are of dressed
masonry construction, survive.
The surviving south frontage of the two well preserved ovens has been used as
one side of a later rectangular building. The building is poorly preserved and
its function and relationship to the ovens is unclear. It is not, therefore,
included in the scheduling.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.