Before the Bug'n'Wink - coal mining at Coleorton, Leicestershire

This is a longer version of the article published in Community Voice July 2023

People have been digging for coal in Coleorton since medieval times and coal provided economic wealth for the landowners and paid occupation for the village population. The last working mine in Coleorton was New Lount, which opened in 1924 and closed in 1968. The Bug’n’Wink closed in 1933 though the site was used for training and a “drift” was created to provide ventilation and access to New Lount while in operation. The Bug’n’Wink was Coleorton No 3 colliery and opened by Checkland & Co a year or so after the closure of both the Coleorton No 2 mine (“Alabama” by Hough Mill) and Coleorton No 1 colliery (“California” where Peggs Green Rec. is now) in 1873.

The 19th century was a bumper period for mining in the Coleorton and surrounding areas: there were a number of mines established including Peggs Green and Joseph Smart’s colliery and brickworks. The first population census which recorded occupations of residents took place in 1841 and the subsequent 10-yearly records show a steady increase in the number of men and boys working at the collieries.

We don’t have much information about mines or miners in earlier times, but newspaper reports from the 1700s tell of colliery businesses, of accidents and too-frequent deaths in mines.

Reported in the Kentish GazetteIn November 1791:
“A new colliery has been opened at Coleorton in Leicestershire; the coal of which was proved last week, and found to be of equal quality to any in the country.”

And in the Leicester Journal December 1792:
We are desired to inform the Public, that there are now TWO PITS in full Work on the deep COAL in this Coal-work, and in order to prevent any Imposition in future, a Weighing Machine is erected ..…. A great Quantity of Coals will be got of the best Quality.” Coleorton New Colliery opened just to the south of the future Bug’n’Wink Coleorton No. 3 colliery.

We have personal stories – William Butler of Coleorton was described as a collier on his marriage in 1754 to Margaret King; John Kidger describes his family’s search for work during the mid-1700s including Coleorton, probably the Paddock Pit.

We have the evidence of artists: an engraving by S. Shaw shows the original Viscount Beaumont’s school and almshouse in 1794 with slag-heaps from Coleorton coal-mines behind, and in 1618 the Coleorton Masque hosted by Sir Thomas Beaumont at Coleorton Hall referred to Sir Thomas’s wealth from his Coleorton mines and a comic piece included “black faeries” – black from working in the coal-pits.

In 1985 British Coal Opencast commenced open-cast mining at "the Lounge" in the area between Newbold and Lount behind Coleorton Hall, now reclaimed as Rough Park and Birch Coppice. On clearing away the top layers of soil they discovered extensive mines, a series of “pillar-and-stall” workings as far as 30 metres below the surface with vertical shafshafts going down. Tree-ring dating of timber props showed these mines were from 1450 – 1600.

Pillar and stall workings ecposed by open-cast at Lounge

Baskets, tools, shoes and clothing were found well preserved in the dark airless environment. Archaeologist Robert F. Hartley spent eight years researching, preserving and cataloguing the findings - see his photo of excavation unveiling the pillar-and stall workings. These may have been the mines that contributed to Sir Thomas Beaumont’s wealth.

We no longer have any coal-mining in Coleorton, it’s now a pleasant, green, semi-rural village with little local industry. But we should not forget the mines, the miners and their families who made COAL – orton.


Sandra Dillon
July 2023