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Coal mining in the United Kingdom


Coal mining in the United Kingdom

This article covers deep pit, underground mining, for surface mining of coal in the UK see Open-pit coal mining in the United Kingdom
Coalfields of the United Kingdom in the 19th century.

Coal mining in the United Kingdom probably dates to Roman times and took place in many different parts of the country. Britain's coalfields are associated with Northumberland and Durham, North and South Wales, Yorkshire, Scotland, Lancashire, the East and West Midlands and Kent. During the 1980s and 1990s the industry was scaled back considerably. In 2013, there are three deep-pit mines in the UK, Hatfield Colliery and Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire and Thoresby Colliery in Nottinghamshire.[1] There are numerous open cast mines in the UK.


  • History 1
    • Industrial Revolution 1.1
    • Decline 1.2
  • See also 2
  • References 3


It is probable that the Romans used outcropping coal when working iron or burning lime for building purposes. Evidence is mostly from ash discovered at excavations of Roman sites.[2] There is no mention of coal mining in the Domesday Book of 1086 though lead and iron mines are recorded.[3] In the 13th century there are records of coal digging in Durham[4] and Northumberland,[5] Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire, the Forest of Dean and North[6] and South Wales. At this time coal was referred to as sea cole a reference to coal washed ashore on the north east coast of England from either the cliffs or undersea outcrops. The early mines would have been drift mines or adits where coal seams outcropped or by shallow bell pits where coal was close to the surface.[7] Shafts lined with tree trunks and branches have been found in Lancashire in workings dating from early 17th century and by 1750 brick lined shafts to 150 foot depth were common.

Industrial Revolution

Annual UK coal production (in red) and imports (black), DECC data.
Coal mining employment in the UK, 1880-2012 (DECC data)

Coal production increased dramatically in the 19th century as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace, as a fuel for steam engines such as the Newcomen engine, and later, the Watt steam engine. A key development was the invention at Coalbrookdale in the early 18th century of coke which could be used to make pig iron in the blast furnace. The development of the steam locomotive by Trevithick early in the 19th century gave added impetus, and coal consumption grew rapidly as the railway network expanded through the Victorian period. Coal was widely used for domestic heating owing to its low cost and widespread availability. The manufacture of coke also provided coal gas, which could be used for heating and lighting.[8]


From the beginning of the 20th century, the coal industry was in decline. This process intensified in the years following World War I, and again after World War II. In the two decades from 1950-1970 around a hundred North East coal mines were closed.[9] A common misconception is that Newcastle upon Tyne, and its suburbs was one of the areas affected most by the infamous mid-eighties strike. However, in reality, the vast majority of mines in that area were long since defunct by that time. In March 1968, the last pit in the Black Country closed and pit closures were a regular occurrence in many other areas.[10] In 1979, 130 million tons of coal was being produced annually from 170 underground mines, but by 2010 the three remaining mines produced only 17 million tons. Following the breaking of the union’s power, British coal-dependent industries have turned to cheaper imported coal.[11]

In early 1984, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher announced plans to close 20 coal pits which led to the year-long miners' strike which ended in March 1985 with the miners defeated.[12] Numerous pit closures followed, and in August 1989 coal mining ended in the Kent coalfield.[13] Further closures were announced in 1992 by John Major,[14] who privatised the industry in 1994,[15] by which time British Coal had closed all but the most economical of coal pits.[16]

The miners strike caused coal production to slump to an all-time low, followed by a brief recovery until it declined towards the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s. A total of 100 million tons was produced in 1986, but by 1995 the amount was around 50 million tons.[17]

The last deep mine in South Wales closed when the coal was exhausted in January 2008. The mine was closed by British Coal in the privatisation of the industry 14 years earlier and re-opened after being bought by the miners who had worked the pit.[18]

See also



  1. ^  
  2. ^ Galloway 1971, p. 5
  3. ^ Galloway 1971, p. 11
  4. ^ The Durham Coalfield, Coalmining History Research Centre, retrieved 2010-12-05 
  5. ^ The NorthumberlandCoalfield, Coalmining History Research Centre, retrieved 2010-12-05 
  6. ^ The North Wales Coalfield, Coalmining History Research Centre, retrieved 2010-12-05 
  7. ^ Galloway 1971, p. 20
  8. ^ Making gas from coal, National Gas Museum, retrieved 2011-12-06 
  9. ^
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ John F. Burnes (April 16, 2013). "Whitwell Journal: As Thatcher Goes to Rest, Miners Feel No Less Bitter". The New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2013. 
  12. ^ "1984: Miners strike over threatened pit closures". BBC News. 1984-03-12. 
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ "Leading Article: John Major: Is he up to the job?". The Independent (London). 1993-04-04. 
  15. ^ [3]
  16. ^ [4]
  17. ^ "Thatcher years in graphics". BBC News. 2005-11-18. 
  18. ^ "Coal mine closes with celebration". BBC News. 2008-01-25. 


  • Galloway, Robert L. (1971), Annals of Coal Mining and the Coal Trade Volume 1, David & Charles Reprints,  
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