Coal from Tindale Fell

(Page created 19/04/05)

From the article ‘The Price of Coal’ by Graham Brooks in The CIHS Newsletter, December 1995, by kind permission of the author

Coal has been mined in the North Cumbrian Pennines near Brampton since medieval times, according to local legends, by the monks of Lanercost Priory. Documentary evidence of mining starts in the seventeenth century with maps showing drifts into Tindale Fell, a wild area remote from main areas of habitation, owned by the Earls of Carlisle of Haworth Castle. All this early coal had to be transported to either the local markets in Brampton, Carlisle 10 miles away, Penrith 20 miles away, or Alston via a series of well-established coal roads, or to local industries, mainly lime kilns.

Another problem with the collieries was their high elevations, with the drifts being up to 1000 feet above sea level. The drifts operated by carrying their coal to local stacks or banks to which the carts came for their loads, so easing the problem of getting the carts to the drifts. However cartage was still a significant cost in the production of coal in the Haworth collieries. Hutchinson, in his history of the county of Cumberland, suggests that the cost of moving coals six to seven miles was sufficient to increase the pit head price by 100%, and this kept the price of coal high and restricted further sales. However he does say that the quality of the coal also played an important part in the sale of it.

The accounts for Tarnhouse and Talkin Pits for the late 18th century suggest that most of the coal was sold at the pit head, and carried away by cart. The main route was via Halbankgate and Kirkhouse to Brampton for Carlisle, or via Castle Carrock for Penrith. These local coal roads were often blocked by snow, and many coal leaders were employed by the collieries to keep banks of coal available at such places as Carlatton and Armathwaite. Lord Carlisle found it necessary to maintain these roads although they were outside the colliery area, and this lead to increased costs for the coal.

Another factor in the price of coal was the cost of stabling the horses. This rose from 600 per annum in 1790 to 900 per annum in 1796, mainly due to the rise in the price of fodder crops.

Around this time Lord Carlisle instigated the building of a waggonway from his Tarnhouse collieries to Brampton, the way being opened in 1799. Originally this was a horse drawn system using wooden rails. This waggonway soon became a success and was constantly being enlarged and expanded and was carrying 20,000 tons of coal to Brampton per year. With time the lines were replaced with a variety of cast and wrought iron rails. However, horse carts still played a major part in the distribution of the coal from Brampton, or still directly from the pit head.

In 1827 it was proposed to open a railway line between Newcastle and Carlisle. A report in the Carlisle Patriot on the 24th March 1827 discusses the economic benefits such a railway would bring and lists the townships which could be supplied with coal from the Brampton coalfield. The article finishes by saying that the revenue to the railway company from coal may be considerably higher due to transporting it via the railways.

Despite the opening of the railway to Carlisle large amounts of coal were stille being carried by horse and cart to areas not served by the railway, such as Penrith. It was not until the opening of the Lancaster to Carlisle Railway in December 1846 that the end of transport direct from the pit head by horse and cart was brought to an end.

A series of documents in the Carlisle Record Office show that the transfer of coal transport from the horse and cart to the railways was actively encouraged. For example a meeting was held on the 13th April 1848 between the Lancashire and Carlisle Railway Company and James Thompson, who was then leasing the Earl of Carlisle’s collieries around Brampton. The outcome of the meeting was that James Thompson was to reduce the price of coal delivered to Penrith Station to 12s 6d per ton, but the price of coal at the pit head was to be increased from 7s to 8s. If this did not have the desired effect of withdrawing the traffic from the turnpike and public roads then the price at Penrith Station was to be reduced to 11s 8d per ton. In return the Railway Company would appropriate the whole of their stock of coal wagons (150) to the exclusive ervice of Mr Thompson.

So the coming of the railways both caused a reduction in the price of coal at the market by reducing the direct transport costs, but also by price fixing to encourage the carriage of coal by the new railway system to the detriment of the more traditional means.