The Bell Pits

By Neal Fitzgerald, by group historian

Bell pits were the earliest form of mines and were used to extract not only coal, but also iron ore and many other minerals.  Some bell pits went to a depth of 60ft and their crude construction made them dangerous.  The name ‘bell pit’ comes from the round bottle shape of the vertical shaft and the mining out from the seam of coal below.

Many bell pits replaced aditmines, which were tunnels into the outcrops of coal on hillsides, where the seam had made the adit unsafe and the coal too difficult to reach.

As early as 1487, there are records of small bell pits being worked in the fields in and around Denaby Woods.

Apparently, such work was carried out by individual families.

Usually once a seam was located, a second bell pit was sunk next to it and the barrier of coal eventually removed to make the two bell pits into one, and so on… until others were linked along the same seam.

Such methods were used until the seam either became unsafe or was worked out.

Dangers ensued for local people, as many bell pits were not properly filled in, which led to farm workers, poachers and walkers suddenly sinking into the ground as they crossed the fields and woods unaware of the perilous nature of the terrain and its abandoned mines.

We are not sure when such small scale mining ended within and about Denaby Woods, but perhaps with the sinking of the first deep mine in 1800, such small ventures receded into history.

Later would come the great industrial scale development of coal mining with the sinking of Denaby Colliery in the 1860’s and its sister pit Cadeby colliery in the 1890s, as part of a great national endeavour to provide coal for its factories, iron and steel works and homes.

A sketch of the Bell Pits by group historian Neal Fitzgerald.