Medieval coal mining remains immediately south of Benter Cross


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Medieval coal mining remains immediately south of Benter Cross
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Mendip (District Authority)
Mendip (District Authority)
Stratton on the Fosse
National Grid Reference:
ST 64823 48884

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. 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.


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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
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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
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


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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