By the 17th century the population of Darlaston had grown considerably. In 1601 Queen Elizabeth's Poor Relief Act was implemented and recorded that the town consisted of 600 houses, and 3,000 people. During the 17th century about £400 was paid annually to the poor of Darlaston which shows that the welfare state is not new. It's hard to imagine that such a large population could have existed on agriculture, and its inevitable service industries. By this time early industrialisation must have started, although on a very small scale. The many local surface deposits of coal, and the nearby iron ore deposits must have been used in a variety of cottage industries. The iron produced from the ore was known as blond or blend metal, very similar to the cold shear iron from the Cannock area. It was a good quality product, used in nail making and for tools, such as hammers.

Some of the earliest evidence for mining in the area can be found in records relating to neighbouring Wednesbury. In 1315 John Heronville, lord of the manor of Wednesbury died. John’s widow Juliana was entitled to one third of the estate for life (her dower) or until she remarried. The document relating to the dower is an important record, giving details of much of the estate. It records several coal pits, and as such is the earliest record of coal working in the town. Similarly it contains the earliest record of ironstone mining in the town.

Darlaston is situated on part of the South Staffordshire coalfield, where the middle coal measures are found, which were locally known as the ten yard seam. This forms a gently folded shallow syncline that outcrops in a wide arc from Dudley through to Darlaston, and actually consists of 12 to 14 closely overlying seams, giving the appearance of a single bed of coal. This is usually less than 400 feet beneath the surface, and in many places can be found just a few feet below the surface. The mineral rights belonged to the Lord of the Manor and anyone wishing to dig for coal had to acquire a copyhold, which was a legal document obtained via the courts. Such surviving documents provide evidence for early mining in the area.

In 1698 Timothy Woodhouse was manager of the coal mines belonging to Mrs Mary Offley, who was the Lady of the Manor. He had a two year contract and was paid £20.00 a year, for which he maintained the buildings, looked after the horses, collected arrears, hired colliers, and organised sales. In the first year he sold 3,000 sacks of coal and later went into partnership in his own business.

Another record states that Edward Blakemore, a nailer, had a milking cow, barley, winter corn, and land. He was owed £30 by the Lady of the Manor, Mrs Mary Offley for coal, and expected that his executors would go to law to recover it. This shows that much of the early industry was done on a part-time basis, shared with farming.

Records do survive from 1415 which mention plots of land lying between coalfields in Bradley. A deed of the Perry family dated 1401 mentions two coal pits in Bilston. One was called the Hollowaye, and the other the Delves, both of which were situated near Windmill Field.

Camdens Brittania, published in about 1580 has this entry: 

The south part of Staffordshire hath coles digged out of the earth, and mines of iron, but whether to their commodity or hindrance I leave to the inhabitants who do or shall better understand it.

A typical gin pit. Large numbers of these were in common use until the early years of the 20th century.
Until the mid 18th century coal was not used for heating in the home, it was only used for this purpose when moss and wood became harder to obtain. Shaw, who was writing at the close of the 18th century had this to say about mining in the area:

There are several coal-pits sunk lately, and probably will soon be more, as they have lately cut a canal through the parish to Walsall. There is only one coal mine at which they work now in this parish, in which the coal is about 7 yards thick. The ironstone is about three quarters of a yard thick, and is found in the parish under the coal. The mines are very subject to damps. The miners are subject to asthmatic complaints, and very few of them live to be seventy years of age. The air is sharp and dry. There is great plenty of brick, tile and quarry clay; in some places not more than 4 feet, and in others a great deal more. There is a mine of clay now at work in which they have gone 13 or 14 feet deep, and it is then good. They are prevented going deeper by water.

This is interesting, but Shaw must have been wrong in his assertion that just one pit was at work at this time. He also notes that the following traders were at work in the town:

gun-lock makers, nailers, fet makers, chape forgers, chape makers, stirrup makers, buckle-ring forgers, and miners.

A document dated 1750, concerns a letter from Darlaston coal mine under-manager, Joseph Lytcott to its owner. With the aid of a map, he advises the owner, not to sink any shafts in the vicinity of Clarke's Close, because of the danger of meeting other workings underground, which could cause flooding.

I think it advisable that a pitt be sunk in the lane leading to Birmingham and that they drive a road by the lane side along Mrs. Cookes hedge to prevent or discourage her getting coal under the lane, for I understand she's one that will loose nothing she can get by any means fare or fowl. I have picked the place in the lane as you will see between x..............x if they sink and work in Clarke's Close all the water in Cookes and some of Shiltons must inevitably come upon in as you may see by the drop of the coal, and if the road I speak on be driven to secure Mrs. Cookes forthwith as may be done it must be while she's working and then she will drain the water from us - if she have any and if you approve of this I will write to Mr. Wood to say I goe for London and call at my coming down to see whether it be performed.
Joseph Lytcott

Clarke's Close was an area of about six acres and contained twenty three pits, of which seven  were at work. The shafts were closely spaced as can be seen from the sketch, at Kitchen Croft they where not more than fifty yards apart. This is a clue to the type of pits being worked, namely bell pits, as the limit for underground working would have been within about a twenty five yard radius from the shaft. The leap mentioned in the sketch is probably a fault, and a sough was a drain to remove water from the mines.

The road to Birmingham is Dangerfield Lane, the road to Bilston is Moxley Road, the road to Wolverhampton is Wolverhampton Street, and the church at the bottom left hand corner is Saint Lawrence's.
Some of the larger pits in 1869 were as follows:
     
Colliery Owner
Albert Colliery David Rose
Bescot Colliery Darlaston Steel and Iron Company
Darlaston Green Colliery 1 James Sanders
Darlaston Green Colliery 2 George Oates
Greens Farm Colliery Greens Farm Colliery Company
Herberts Park Colliery David James
James Bridge Colliery J. Bagnall and Sons
North-western Colliery J. Simpson
Rough Hay Colliery Addenbrooke and Co
Victoria Colliery John Dutson

The larger pits in 1896 were:

Colliery Owner
Moorcroft Colliery 1, Moxley Moorcroft Colliery Company
Moorcroft Colliery 2, Moxley G. W. Bray
Moxley Colliery Jacob Chilton
Rough Hay Colliery S. Yates
Woods Bank Colliery Hewitt and Company
Woods Bank Colliery James Cotton
Heathfield Colliery George Lester
The Bell pit method of mining involved digging outwards from a central shaft in many directions, until the roof was in danger of collapsing. The pit was then abandoned and another dug. Sometimes a pair of shafts would be dug about 50 yards apart and joined by an underground passage in order to allow circulation of air. The coal would then be removed from the sides of the connecting passage. This very wasteful technique could be employed because coal was so plentiful and easily obtainable. Later when larger pits were dug, columns of coal were used to support the roof instead of wooden props, and so many tons of coal must have been lost in this way. Most of the mine companies were very small, owning just one or two pits.
 
A typical bell pit. The shaft is dug down to the layer of coal and the spoil is removed in a bucket that is wound up and down the shaft by a windlass.

When the coal is reached the sides of the shaft at the bottom are widened as the coal is removed. This process continues until the shaft is in danger of collapsing. The pit is then abandoned and a new one dug nearby.

The shafts would eventually collapse or be filled-in with spoil from nearby workings. Eventually little hollows would form above the shafts. These hollows could be found on much of the open land in the Darlaston and Bentley area, until the building projects of the 1960s and 1970s removed them forever.

The map opposite shows many of the mine shafts that were marked on 19th and early 20th century maps. They are only a small percentage of the total number, as many of the smaller ones would never have been recorded.

This map shows some of the many clay pits and sand pits that were in the area. The largest ones were alongside the Walsall Canal at Moxley. Until maybe 20 years ago the largest and deepest sand pit, the Moxley Sand Beds was still being filled in.

Sand from Moxley was used for casting by John Wilkinson at Bradley Ironworks and must have been used by many of the other local foundries.

The clay beds gave rise to the local brick and pot industry. These deep excavations and the many mining spoil heaps have sculpted the Darlaston landscape, which is now very different to how it used to be.

Popular sporting activities in the 17th and 18th centuries included dog fighting, cock fighting and bull baiting. In the 18th century coins were in short supply and several trade tokens were made for general circulation. The one below was produced by miller and bread maker J. Huskins of King Street.

 
Darlaston had at least one windmill. Morden's map of 1695 shows a windmill on the brow of the hill near the top of Dorsett Road.
   
Read about
Darlaston Windmill
   

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