Thick coal, our Black Gold

The first actual mention of coal pit in Wednesbury is a deed in the Record Office, Tower of London, titled: Assignaciodotis Juliance quce fuit uxor Johannis de Heronville.

A piece of land is described as “Lying near Bradeswalle, against the cole-pits.” The date of this document is 1315.

The next account is taken from the Itinerary of Leyland, the antiquary, who was employed by Henry VIII to make a survey of England about the year of 1538. He writes: “There are secoles at Weddesbyrie, a village near Walsall”.

Then later a fellow named Camden (who followed Leyland) wrote his ‘Britannia’ in 1575 says: “The South part of Staffordshire hath coles, digged out of the earth, and mines of iron; but whether more to their commodity or hindrance, I leave to the inhabitants, who do or shall better understand it.”

The ancient parish registers also show evidence that the mines were worked in the days of Elizabeth. The register of burials during that year supplies information that show some were killed whilst at work in the pits, amongst which is the following:

“Anno 1577, Christopher Daly was buried; he was killed in the ryddinge, in the colepit.”

Also in the register of baptisms are the names of many children whose fathers are described as colliers and forgemen.

In the proceedings in Chancery in the reign of Queen Elizabeth is a record of a suit, as to whether the tenants of the manor Wednesbury had a right to dig coal for their own use, they claimed it their right.

But the best account of the working of the Wednesbury mines at the period can be found in Plots History of Staffordshire.This book was published at Oxford in 1686 and the following is an account of the Wednesbury coal:

“The smith’s and kitchen fires are much better supplied by the common coal of the country, especially that of Wednesbury, Dudley and Sedgley, which some prefer to the Cannel itself; the texture and other qualities thereof such, viz, that is a flat, shining coal, having a pretty open grain.Lying seldom on a level with the plane of the horizon, but most times somewhat inclining to it (according to which it cleaves into blocks at the discretion of the workmen). It burns away with a sweet, bright flame and into white ashes leaving no such cinder as that from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

He goes on to mention that there are 12 to 14 colliery’s all working at one time producing 4 to 5 thousand tons of coal yearly.Most land was thick with coal and could sometimes sell for £100 per acre, but in that one shaft, they could easily draw £500 worth of coal yearly.

He also mentions the wealth of Wednesbury not only from coal but from wood. That being that the glass houses, salt works, brick making and malting all performed from coal brought straight from the earth, some iron works could only perform with charcoal. In sinking for coal in Wednesbury, they meet with first the earth and the stone… second, blue clunch and third coal!

This, then, is the account of the Wednesbury “thick coal”, at the close of the 17th Century.

Next: The Iron works

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One thought on “Thick coal, our Black Gold

  1. Pingback: Middle ages | The History of Wednesbury

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