A ’ hole’ lot of mining news, ancient and modern in the North West of England

So here it is, the North West (NW) of England has hogged the mining news of late with controversial plans of a new metallurgical coal mine as well as sensational headlines of “Sinkhole ‘swallowed’ Cumbrian farmer on quad bike1.”

It seems if you have an interest in mining both historical and future then the NW of England or more specifically, Cumbria, is the place to be.

The proposals to create a new metallurgical coal mine in Cumbria which would mine coal of a grade suitable for use in the production of steel have polarised opinions and so I am not going to add fuel to the fire here. The decision to grant the planning has been approved by Cumbia County Council on three occasions but is now going to a public enquiry following complaints from environmental campaigners3. From a personal point of view, my feelings on this are mixed, as being a geologist and someone that has been involved with assessing mining risk due to the legacy of historical mines, the prospect of there being the first new underground mine for 30 years is of great interest, however, in terms of the environmental issues and roadmap to carbon zero, the proposal to open a mine such as this leads me to think I would need a lot of convincing it is the right thing to do. One thing that I can be sure of is that this story has not finished yet.

I would point out that for those in the conveyancing sector, if the opening of the mine does become a reality and the necessary licences of approval are granted by the Coal Authority then a Groundsure CON29M or GeoRisk + Report would identify this in the sections relating future and present underground coal mining.

Moving swiftly on to avoid courting controversy, what a bounty of minerals the NW of England has lurking beneath its surface. I must make further mention and provide some historical background information to that cracking headline, “Sinkhole ‘swallowed’ Cumbrian farmer on quad bike1.”

Coal and non-coal mining in the North West of England

Diving deeper into this it is reported that a 60 foot deep sinkhole had opened up at Bowesfield Farm in Stank, south Cumbria1. Our team at Groundsure spearheaded by Catherine Shiers and Tom Harvey-James, were quick off the mark and wrote an article on 5th March 2021 where they described the historical iron ore workings and offered some explanations as to what could have been the cause of the ground subsidence.

What our clients are assured by is that at Groundsure we hold mining data in house with some 1.5 million historical Ordnance Survey maps covering the country as well collections of the available abandonment mine plans. Perhaps what is not quite so well known is the Groundsure sinkhole database which holds some 75,000 recorded sinkhole incidents. It's good to know we know where the holes lie. In the case of the farmer and the hole he fell in, we were quickly able to narrow down the mine names and abandonment plans we have covering the area.

For those of you who have an interest, whilst there are numerous examples of ironstone workings which form bed like structures in a similar way to coal, the workings at Stank such as Woodbine Pit the iron ore body comprises a series of veins not unlike the steeply dipping mineralised veins and ore shoots of Cornwall. There might well therefore be expected to be early bell pit mining leading into more extensive, later deeper and complex trial pitting and goffan style workings as the miners were able to reach ever deeper depths as a result of technological advances around the time of the industrial revolution.

In Cumbria, the mining areas were divided into well-defined regions. Major deposits occurred around Egremont, Cleator, Cleator Moor, Ennerdale, Eskdale, Millom and Ulverston, with numerous smaller deposits within the Lakeland fells – Langdale, Coniston and Grasmere for example2.

What can be relied upon is that the Groundsure GeoRisk Reports cover off all mining including coal and non coal as well as other aspects relating to ground instability. If you are purchasing a property in a coastal area, the GeoRisk Reports are for you as there is a section covering the risks relating to coastal erosion.


  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-56290236
  2. https://www.cumbria-industries.org.uk/a-z-of-industries/iron-mining/
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-56405836