DERBYSHIRE AND YORKSHIRE COALFIELD
Widespread evidence of industrial activity including
mine buildings, former spoil tips, and iron and
Complex mix of built-up areas, industrial
land, dereliction and farmed open country.
Many areas affected by urban fringe pressures
creating fragmented and downgraded landscapes.
Substantial areas of intact agricultural
land in both arable and pastoral use.
Small, fragmented remnants of pre-industrail
landscape and semi-natural vegetation, including
many areas of woodland, river valley habitats, subsidence
flashes and other relict habitats.
Ever present urban influences from major
cities, smaller industrial towns and mining villages.
Widespread influence of transport routes,
including canal, road (M1, M62) and rail, with ribbon
developments emphasising the urban influence in
Rolling landforms with hills, escarpments
and broad valleys.
Local variation in landscape character reflecting
variations in underlying geology.
Strong cultural identity arising from history
of coal mining and other heavy industry.
is a large landscape area embracing the major industrial
towns, cities and a substantial slice of countryside
and villages of the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire
and Yorkshire Coalfields. It is generally defined
by shallow Coal Measures as the underlying bedrock
and is bounded by the Peak district and the woollen
towns of the Yorkshire Southern Pennine Fringe to
the west, by the Pennine Dales Fringe to the north
and by the Southern Magnesian Limestone escarpment
to the east.
The landscape is underpinned by generally low and
undramatic but variable hills, escarpments and broad
valleys, and is dominated everywhere by extensive
urban influences and industry. There has been constant
change and development since the era of the industrial
revolution, when there was rapid expansion of housing,
transport networks and industry of many types. The
result is a complex intermingling of rural and urban
areas and of modern commerce and industrial dereliction,
the whole creating a mosaic of disparate land uses
The landform is characterised by generally north-west/south-east
ridges formed by the alternate banding of wet shales
and dry sandstones, although locally this can be
confused by faulting and folding. The different
rates by which these bands weather away give rise
to the undulating waves of the landform. The natural
west to east flow of the rivers, from the Pennines
to the North Sea, is almost at right angles to the
ridges. In practice this creates a very characteristic
pattern in the river valleys which flow north or
south along the shale/mudstone troughs between the
ridges until a weak spot in the softer sandstone
is encountered, for example, at a fault. Here the
stream or river will abruptly change course almost
at right angles to its previous course until it
hits another ridge line. This characteristic step
wise flow and valley/ridge structure results from
the underlying Coal Measures geology. Towards the
west of the area there is a distinct drop from the
Pennine uplands to the lower-lying east. Further
local variation in the topography arises from glacial
deposits and alluvium or as the result of recent
human activity in the form of subsidence flashes
and reclaimed colliery spoil heaps.
Industrial activity has resulted in a diversity
of building types and styles extending out from
village centres. Many of the rural areas suffer
from urban fringe problems around the main towns
and some are fragmented and down-graded, creating
a landscape of neglect. There are, however, stretches
of relatively unspoilt agricultural land, giving
rise to some quite intact farmed landscapes, for
example the area west of Barnsley and the Moss Valley
between Sheffield and Chesterfield. Semi-natural
habitats including woodland and river valley habitats
are fragmented and scattered but they assume a greater
significance, surrounded as they are by urbanisation
and dereliction. In some areas the broadleaved woodlands
form green, calm backdrops to the mix of uncoordinated
development. In Derbyshire remnants of enclosure
and other pre-industrial landscapes jostle cheek
by jowl with the industrial. The effect of ribbon
development is such that it exacerbates the predominance
of the urban influence. At the same time, extensive
land renewal projects are creating new landscapes,
particularly along the river valleys.
Much of the landscape is dominated by the extensive
urban areas and by industrial activity. Mills and
factories tended to follow water courses along the
valleys, whilst the underlying coal gave rise to
a very active mining industry. Many of the mines
have now closed, but the remains of collieries and
extensive spoil tips are still clearly visible in
many villages and small towns in the eastern half
of the area. More recent development for engineering,
manufacturing and light industrial uses as well
as for commercial and retail development have extended
out from urban areas, often along main road corridors,
adding to the complex mosaic of land uses, the ribbon
development and its impact on the landscape. The
ensuing dense network of roads, along with major
transport routes such as the M1, M62 and main railways,
all compound the urbanisation of the area.
Several major rivers cross the area, including the
Aire, Calder, Dearne, Rother, Don and Erewash, but
their courses tend to be obscured by the industrial
development that has grown up around them. Subsidence
flashes and lagoons create valuable wildlife habitats
in these valleys but they are often surrounded by
mines, tips and industrial works. Often only the
general valley form distinguishes these areas.
area is underlain by Coal Measures, which consist
mainly of mudstone with beds of sandstone and many
seams of coal. Like the Millstone Grit of the Pennine
uplands to the west, the sandstones resist erosion
and form a recurring pattern of escarpments that
stand proud of shallow, mudstone-floored valleys.
The sandstone beds of the Coal Measures are rather
thinner than those of the Millstone Grit, however,
and hence the escarpments they form are less dramatic,
lower and more founded. Major rivers crossing the
area have carved broad valleys floored by fertile
alluvial deposits, and glaciation has contributed
to the shaping of some valleys such as the Aire
Valley near Leeds.
It is, however, the working of coal by deep mining
and later by opencasting, together with resources
of stone, fireclay, ironstone and soft water, which
have had the greatest effect in shaping the landscape,
triggering the industrial growth which has been
so dominant in its effect on the area.
and Cultural Influences
early history of the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire
Yorkshire Coalfield landscape was similar to that
of the surrounding areas. Clearance of the original
forests eventually led, by medieval times, to a
landscape of villages, hamlets and individual farms.
Well-developed open field systems were common in
the east, but small, irregularly hedged and walled
fields prevailed further west. Hunting forests and
deer parks were established and the open fields
and commons were gradually enclosed, privately initially,
and then by Parliamentary Enclosure Acts.
The medieval manorial parks in the 17th century
were mostly deer parks. These were often landscapes
in the 18th century, usually retaining their herds
of deer. Holly trees were grown as winter fodder
for deer, cattle and sheep, either within the remaining
ancient broadleaved woods or as "holly hags"
- separate holly wood enclosures. The presence today
of holly as a major component in many of the older
hedgerows may reflect this history.
Much of the evidence of activity by earlier generations
has, however, been lost to the widespread urbanisation
that took place from the 18th century onwards, due
to large-scale industrialisation and the rapid increase
in population. The making of iron and steel is documented
from the early part of the 17th century and local
resources of iron ore resulted in the development
of the iron and steel industry. A specialist cutlery
industry developed around Sheffield. In the early
part of the 17th century the industry would have
relied on charcoal from local woods but this was
subsequently replaced by coke. Rich local sources
of coal meant that the conditions were right for
a massive expansion into the large-scale steel industry,
with the development of steam power, in the 18th
and 19th centuries. The coal mining industry also
developed dramatically, relying initially on canals
and roads, and then on the expanding railway system
The landscape is rich in industrial archaeology,
including features such as bell-pits, mills and
goits, tips, old railways and tramways, canal and
bridges. Many of the woodlands also have strong
industrial links with oak having been managed for
pit-props or bark for the tanning industry and sycamore
to provide bobbins.
With the combination of natural resources and good
quality agricultural land, wealth was rapidly accumulated
from the 17th century onwards. Wealthy industrialists
created a number of large country houses, parks
and estates in the area in the 18th and 19th centuries,
many of which still contribute to the character
of the landscape today.
Although coal mining, steel making and heavy manufacturing
is now in decline, new industrial activity is evident
with the expansion of light industry, technology,
and related industries such as ceramics and specialised
engineering. So the disturbed landscape of sprawling
conurbations, with their intermingled housing, roads,
railways, industrial buildings, dereliction, redevelopment,
and remnant rural areas continues to evolve.
traditional villages in the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire
Yorkshire Coalfield area were built of local stone,
generally sandstones and Millstone Grit, and the
core of these areas often survives today. The majority
of settlements were however subject to rapid, industrial
expansion in the 19th century and completely new
mining villages were also built. Brick and slate,
often transported by rail, quickly replaced stone
as the local building material, and many of the
brick-built mining villages and towns built in that
period still survive today. Expansion has continued
and these settlements, with the remains of the mining
industry, dominate the landscape over wide areas.
Many of the main cities and towns have striking
urban centres dominated by grandiose 19th century
architecture, despite the high level of rebuilding
in the 20th century. Industrial benefactors were
responsible for many notable 19th century Town and
Civic Halls, Schools, Museums and Art Galleries
in several town centres, all constructed from the
Millstone Grit. Similarly the large gritstone factories
and mills dominate the valleys to the west.
Sheffield developed as a major industrial conurbation
from the combined resources of fast-flowing water,
coal and iron, and was noted for its manufacture
of items of high quality steel, in particular cutlery.
Small scale workshops gave way to enormous blank-faced
steel rolling mills and forges. Many of these are
now being demolished, manufacturing is still an
important industry, especially in the Rother valley.
Historic buildings, especially old churches, country
houses and follies associated with country estates
are important features and landmarks. Wealthy industrialists
built imposing country houses in the area, well
away from the industrialised towns. These houses
and their associated parks occur throughout the
area and include the ring of parks around Leeds,
notably Roundhay, and the large estates overlooking
the Doe Lee in north Derbyshire, for example, Hardwick
Hall, South Wingfield and Bolsover Castle.
Development continues throughout the area, with
new housing, commerce and industry steadily encroaching
into the remaining rural areas.
Coal Measures give rise mainly to poor soils which
have traditionally supported pasture. Today the
pattern is more variable, and with the balance shifting
towards arable farming. To the east especially,
and on lower ground, the land is of relatively good
agricultural quality, and is used for arable crops
or improved grassland. Permanent pasture is dominant
to the west on higher ground with greater rainfall;
dairy farms generally predominate here. Vegetable
growing is significant in some areas.
Tree cover is variable, but generally low. In areas
where the field pattern is intact there are sometimes
thick hedgerows with oka and ash as hedgerow trees.
Elsewhere this pattern has broken down and trees
are sparse. Urban fringe influences are widespread,
with small fields of often degraded pasture, vegetable
crops and cereals, gappy low cut hedges, broken
fences, horse grazing and varied urban fringe activities.
Semi-natural habitats include open water, wetlands
(including subsidence flashes), grassland, remnant
heaths and woodland and these are all of great importance
for nature conservation. Many occur within the urban
areas, or in green corridors leading into them.
On poorer soils or steeper slopes there are pockets
of broadleaved woodland which together with the
farmland help to contain the urban development.
Relatively low rainfall makes this an area of slow
tree growth, so forestry has never been a feature.
Nevertheless in some areas, such as west of Barnsley
and the Moss Valley, there is a pleasing combination
of farmland interspersed with small broadleaved
and conifer plantations.
Field size and pattern is highly variable and their
boundaries also vary, ranging from thick, well-
maintained hedges to close-cropped or neglected
hawthorn hedges, to post and wire, or post and rail
The decline of the deep coal-mining industry, and
of other traditional heavy industries in the area,
has left a legacy of dereliction. There has also
been change through the removal of formerly widespread
structures like pit head winding gear. Mines continue
to be pumped and in some areas provide important
sources of drinking water and river compensating
flow. Nevertheless there are still risks of pollution
from closed mines and pressures for coal extraction
by opencast methods still continue, along with demand
for after use of these sites for waste disposal.
Large scale programmes of reclamation of
coal spoil heaps and other industrial dereliction
has created a greener appearance and clear evidence
of a new generation of reclaimed landscapes. Many
areas of woodland have, for example, been planted
in the past ten years. Through a heightened awareness
of the value of woodlands in the landscape and the
commitment of Government and a wide range of groups
and agencies, this trend is accelerating in areas
such as the South Yorkshire Forest, between Sheffield,
rotherham and Barnsley, and the Greenwood Community
Forest around Nottingham.
As a densely settled landscape, including
a number of major towns and cities there are continuing
pressures for development of housing, commerce and
industry. The transport network has also been developed
and improved over the years, including construction
of several major motorways and trunk roads through
the area. Improvements in transport networks continue
and new or improved roads themselves generate further
demand for development, especially at main junctions.
All the development has led to a significant loss
of tranquillity throughout the area and the development
pressure will undoubtedly continue.
There are significant urban fringe pressures
affecting the countryside around towns and cities.
This, along with fragmentation of viable holdings,
makes farming difficult and the pressures are evidence
in sometimes poor standards of maintenance, for
example of field boundaries, and poor quality pasture
used for horse grazing. Demands for recreation and
access are high, which can create opportunities
but may also bring additional problems for farmers.
Some rural buildings are being sold off, usually
for conversion to residential use, which results
in a degree of suburbanisation of the countryside.
Reclamation of derelict sites will continue and
provides significant opportunities for enhancing
or creating both landscape and wildlife habitats.
Care is needed to ensure that the wealth of natural
regeneration that has spontaneously developed on
many post-industrial sites, often over a varied
topography of intimate scale and with rich historical
associations, is fully appreciated and enhanced
rather than erased by reclamation.
The enormous potential for enhancing this
landscape by, for example, significant woodland
planting has already been recognised and there are
established Community forest initiatives near Sheffield
and Nottingham, and similar programmes around Leeds
and in east Derbyshire and Sherwood. In the Community
Forests a rich mosaic of land uses will be created,
restoring dereliction and creating sites for sport
and recreation, habitats for wildlife and opportunities
for outdoor education to improve the quality of
life for all. There may be opportunities for this
sort of approach to be applied in other parts of
Recreation offers scope to enhance the landscape
and to bring degraded land back into positive management.
Creation of new formal access opportunities, nature
conservation features and facilities such as golf
courses and other visitor attractions can assist
in renewing the landscape in appropriate locations.
A number of major initiatives are already
underway in the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire Yorkshire
Coalfield landscape aimed at environmental improvement
and enhanced opportunities for enjoyment. These
build on the environmental work of the local authorities
over the past twenty years or so. In addition to
the activity in the Community Forests referred to
above, examples include Groundwork initiatives and
the East Derbyshire Woodlands Project. Greater co-ordination
between different schemes and the economic and social
development process may assist the process of renewal
in the future.
Where hedges and hedgerow trees have declined,
hedgerow restoration and replanting will improve
wildlife habitat and strengthen landscape structure
and in sustainable farming areas it may be appropriate
to restore field patterns.
Use Consultants (1994), Leeds Landscape Assessment.Unpublished
report for Leeds City Council and the Countryside
Pevsner, N, revised by Radcliffe, E.(1967), The
Buildings of England: Yorkshire - The West Riding,
Slack, M (1984) Portrait of West Yorkshire, Robert
South Yorkshire Forest (1993) Forest Plan - Consultation
Draft Summary. Countryside Commission.