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

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019023

Date first listed: 17-May-2000

Map

Ordnance survey map of Medieval and post-medieval coal mining remains in Harridge Wood and Edford Wood South
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Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Somerset

District: Mendip (District Authority)

Parish: Ashwick

County: Somerset

District: Mendip (District Authority)

Parish: Stoke St. Michael

County: Somerset

District: Mendip (District Authority)

Parish: Stratton on the Fosse

National Grid Reference: ST 65397 48181, ST 65946 48341, ST 66163 48279

Summary

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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 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.

History

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Details

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 Cross.

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.

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

Legacy

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

Legacy System number: 29697

Legacy System: RSM

Sources

Books and journals
Down, C G, Warrington, A J, The History of the Somerset Coalfield, (1974)
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, 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)

End of official listing