Mining and Quarrying in Rylstone Parish
Rylstone parish is bounded by large crags of millstone grit (a coarse sandstone) on its summits (Rylstone Fell and Boss Moor), by shales and thin limestone bands on its higher slopes and by thicker, dark limestones and shales on it lower reaches. The lower and middle parts of the township, which provide the best agricultural land, are overlain by a variable depth of fertile glacial tills. For more information on the geology and landscape of Rylstone, please see the relevant pages on this website Rylstone Project, (2016).
Stone getting and quarrying
Since the earliest of settled times, limestone and sandstone rocks have been used to provide aggregate and construction materials for track-ways and roads, for boundary markers, settlement boundaries and walls and for enclosures and buildings in the Yorkshire Dales. Indeed, some of the scars and indentations still visible on Boss Moor and Rylstone Fell may well be of ancient origin.
There is, however, little evidence of systematic, pre-medieval mining and quarrying having taken place in Rylstone. Rather, as in other Dales' townships, local people collected and hacked out the best, closest and most accessible stone that was available from naturally occurring outcrops of rock or boulder-strewn slopes close to their villages for their immediate use. Instead of speaking of 'quarrymen', therefore, those who engaged in gathering rock material were often known as 'stone getters (Johnson, 2016). Some of the earliest stone-getting related to acquiring millstones or 'querns' for grinding flour. During medieval times in Rylstone, parishioners had access to one corn mill (shared with Hetton on Hetton Beck) and possibly also to another in the central village fed by the mill pond, although this may be of later origin. Raistrick (1967) speaks of:
'In two places on Rilston Fell a finished and a partly finished millstone is still lying partly embedded in the soil. It is clear in each case that they have been made from neighbouring large boulders of Millstone Grit, which have been slit by using a row of wedges. On the many parts of boulders still lying about there is a row of half-wedge slots and it seems from this that the early millstones were taken from stone lying about and not quarried. However, there are some small quarries under the rocky edge of Rilston Fell where stone has been levered out and where areas of chippings mark an old dressing floor'.
Dry stone walls, often made of the most local sandstone or limestone - or a combination of the two - are a feature of Rylstone parish. They largely date from, or after, the time of the 'Enclosures' during the 17th and 18th centuries. As seen during the project's walk-over surveys, however, many of Rylstone's walls and field boundaries are built on older foundations containing orthostats and date from earlier medieval or pre-medieval times. According to Johnson (undated), Dales' walls are often accompanied by small workings, strung out along their length. They are known as 'lazyman quarries'. since, 'the wall builders brought most of the stone they needed from the screes and scars above, but where they were short of stone they cut tiny workings alongside the wall'. There is some evidence of these on Rylstone fell-side.
Until the 17th century, when a major phase of stone house building began in Rylstone and other Dales' villages, only the churches, manor houses and other prestigious buildings were made of stone. All the rest were wooden. With the turn of the 17th century, there was a new need for good quality stone for walls, quoins, window and door jambs and lintels and roofs so quarrying began in earnest.
Many Rylstone houses from this era are built from local millstone grit or sandstone, which provides the best building stone, although the walls of some early and/or less well endowed houses from the 17th and 18th centuries were built of limestone and/or sandstone rubble, held together with lime mortar. Stronger and dressed sandstone or gritstone was reserved for the quoins and jambs etc. Such homes might then be rebuilt at a later time in better sandstone. Once thatched roofs were abandoned, they were replaced by so-called slate roofs. These 'slates' were in fact thin sandstone flags and had to be carted from further up the Dales where the Yoredale rocks provided stone which could be readily split into thin sheets. Such flags are still widely used for Dales' house roofs, but are generally imported from India!
There are no working stone quarries in Rylstone, but maps provide clear evidence of previous quarrying activity.
Fig. 1. Boss Moor: old millstone grit quarries and coal pits.
The image above is from the OS six inch map (revised 1907; published in 1910) and shows two, quite-large, disused millstone grit quarries on Boss Moor, as well as some smaller open-cast workings. A recent photograph below shows the same quarries.
Fig. 2. Modern view of disused Boss Moor quarries from Google Earth.
While it can be presumed that the Boss Moor millstone grit was used for local houses and walls, at least in the Fleets area, it is believed that this stone was also used to build Winterburn reservoir. Constructed in eight years from 1885 and 1893, the reservoir was erected a mile above Winterburn village to maintain the levels on the Leeds and Liverpool canal. The gritstone is said to have been ferried from Boss Moor down to the reservoir site by a temporary, tracked railway, but no pictures or written text about this have yet been located. The reservoir was lined with puddling clay taken from land near Weets Top above Hetton.
Rylstone fell-side meanwhile is marked by many - as yet unmapped - small quarries and quarry scars where gritstone was removed for millstones, house building, gate posts and walls, as the Google Earth photograph shown below reveals.
Fig. 3. Old quarries and quarry scars below Rylstone Fell edge.
The 1907 map below shows two limestone quarries within Rylstone parish - Hall Haw Quarry (just north of the Old Hall and church) and Clints Rock Quarry to the South of the village by the railway line.
Fig. 4. Hall Haw and Clints Rock limestone quarries in Rylstone parish.
(OS: six inch map. Revised 1907; pub. 1910).
Little has been unearthed to date about the extraction of limestone from either site. Perhaps Hall Haw quarry provided limestone for the Old Hall or for other buildings and walls in the vicinity of the main village. Whilst the larger Clints Quarry is well documented by geologists and contains dark limestone and shale with fossils of scientific interest, information is lacking about the timing and purposes of the quarrying activity here. It may, however, have provided aggregate for construction of the new railway line from Skipton to Threshfield in the mid 19th century.
Coal mining in Rylstone
Some of the earliest records talk of the presence of 'bell-pits and scoriae...of widespread if usually short-lived workings, on the Clifford properties in Craven from the early fourteenth century' (Spence, 1992). The Yorkshire Dales National Park's Out of Oblivion website states that, 'locally dug coal has also been used as a fuel from the earliest times'. It continues as follows:
'Rylstone parish registers record coal being mined there throughout the medieval period. Such small coal mines are found throughout the Dales wherever the thin coal seams of the Yoredale and Millstone Grit Series outcrop'. ...'Spoilheaps and trackways are still clearly visible, but few above ground buildings were needed and so leave scant archaeological remains. The coal was generally poor quality and shaley and people often mixed it with peat to help it go further. Travellers in the 18th century were uncomplimentary about the poor domestic fires produced. It was also used in lime kilns where the poor quality and slow burn was less of a problem. Domestic scale coal extraction has left few traces, but some of the larger coal fields in the Dales were producing on a more industrial scale for many hundreds of years'.
The only coal in Rylstone parish is found on Boss Moor, which is at the Western end of the larger Threshfield - Bordley coalfield (Gill, 1994 and 2008). This was first commercially exploited by George Clifford, and then his brother Francis, who were both Earls of Cumberland and based at Skipton Castle. Francis inherited several Craven manors, along with mineral rights, from his brother George and added to his land and mineral portfolio by acquiring the Rylstone and Threshfield manors from James 1 in 1606. In the first instance, Earl Francis developed and managed the Craven coal reserves himself, (Spence, 1992). After 1616, he divested himself of the management role and leased the mines to tenants for an annual rent. This investment and subsequent income stream proved highly profitable for the Cliffords and helped them pay down the debts built up by George, as well as securing an on-going supply of coal for their estates.
According to both Gill and Spence, in June 1607, under the Earl's direction, Lancelot Johnson sank a coal pit at Threshfield. He was helped by Henry Calvert of Rylstone, at seven pence a day, and then by Thomas Fletcher. Also, as Spence, 1992 noted, 'successful searches were made in 1612 at Rylstone, where a coalpit was subsequently leased for £2 rent to a collier John Bradley'. Two workers were sinking a new coalpit at Bordley in March 1613'.
The Bordley pits continued in production, and in 1631 and 1632 records show that they were rented for £3 a year. Apparently, these were some of the Earl's most profitable Craven coal mines over the long term. The coal mined on Bordley, Boss Moor and other parts of Craven was sold for home fires and went to fuel local lime kilns and lead smelters. A proportion also went in manorial dues, or was sold in bulk, to the Earl and carted to Skipton Castle and other Cumberland houses estates in the district.
Richard Boyle, second Earl of Cork (and later Earl of Burlington) inherited from the Cliffords some of the Craven manors with good potential for mineral development and exploited them like his noble predecessors with investment through leases. According to Spence (1992), one Cuthbert Wade of Kilnsey took a 21-year lease from the Earl to develop coal within Threshfield and Rylstone parishes and was successful in this. This led to wider exploitation by the 1670s of coalfields on the fells of Rylstone and Cracoe amongst several other places in Craven. Records show that, 'the Low Smelt Mill at Grassington was burning coal from the Threshfield pits in the late 17th century' (Out of Oblivion website) and that in 1756 one Michael Lambert paid £5 for the annual rental of Threshfield colliery. After that little is known about the coalfield until the mid 19th Century when the Threshfield - Bordley pits were worked alongside those on Grassington Moor. (Northern Mines Research Society website).
The Boss Moor and Threshfield coalpits provided employment for Rylstone villagers and incomers seeking work in the 17th and 18th centuries as the parish registers record. According to Long, (undated), 'at Rylstone, in Craven, where occupations were recorded from 1720 to 1820, the percentage of non-agricultural occupations was almost always between 40 and 50 per cent. There were both colliers and miners in this parish, since Rylstone was on the border between coal and lead mining areas'. For lead mining work, the local men would have had to travel to the farthest area of Bordley or to Grassington where lead mines existed. There were no lead mines or other extractive industries within Rylstone township itself.
Within the Fleets area, there were several coal miners recorded between 1721 and 1741, including Anthony Hardie, Chris Bayle and George Harrison, originally from Cotterdale, who married Grace Ibbotson of Buckerhouse. The parish registers for Rylstone Parish as a whole show that, between 1725 and 1756, there were eight miners. The censuses of 1851 to 1911 reveal, however, that from at least 1851 onwards, there were no parishioners registered as having the occupation of miner. Nevertheless, the Boss Moor coalfield is said to have been commercially productive, until early in the 20th Century.
The Northern Mine Research Society (undated) states that, 'The Threshfield-Bordley coalfield is the most significant area of coal in Upper Wharfedale and it has been extensively worked from Backstone Edge to Boss Moor'. In 2008, Gill noted that:
'An outcrop of the Caton Coal runs 1.75 km west-south-west from Threshfield Moor to Boss Moor, then north-west for 850 metres and north for 1.40 kms until it dies out. The outcrop has been worked for all this distance but the seam has also been worked down dip from larger pits on Boss Moor and especially on Threshfield Moor, where it was split into two leaves, both 17 inches (0.43m) thick, separated by a 2 inch (0.05m) dirt band. Where last worked, in 1904, the Caton Coal at Threshfield was found to be of inferior quality'.
The map below shows that the coalfield consisted of numerous individual pits as well as the main colliery at Threshfield. Many of the pits are plainly visible to those walking over the moor and care is required not to fall into one.
Fig. 5. The Threshfield and Boss Moor coalfield and pits. Gill, M. C. (2008).
After coal production ceased in the early 1900s (and possibly also before then), people in the parishes immediately close to the coalfield were said to have helped themselves to the surface coal lying around on Boss Moor. Whether they paid anyone for this is a moot point!
Gill, M. C. (1994). 'The Wharfedale Mines'. A monograph of the Northern Mine Research Society. British Mining. No. 49.
Gill, M.C. (2008). 'The Great Dales Coalfield, Eastern Areas'. A monograph of the Northern Mines Research Society. British Mining. No. 86.
Johnson, D. (2016). Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines. An Illustrated History. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.
Johnson, D. (undated) Stone working in A survey of the north-west flanks of Ingleborough 2007-2011. Ingleborough Archaeology Group. Available from:
Long, M.H. (2003). 'A study of occupations in Yorkshire parish registers in
the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries'. Local Population Studies. No. 71. pp.14-39.
Northern Mines Research Society (undated). Threshfield Colliery. Available from:
Raistrick, A. (1967). 'Discovering a village' in Old Yorkshire Dales. Newton Abbot: David and Charles.
Spence, R. T. (1992). 'Mining and Smelting in Yorkshire by the Cliffords, Earls of Cumberland, in the Tudor and Early Stuart Period'. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol. 64. pp. 157-183.
Rylstone Project. (2016). The Geology and Landscape of Rylstone. Rylstone Project website.
 Personal communication from Thomas Wellock.
 For those interested in geology, the 'Caton' coal is a seam of coal between the Top and Bottom Grassington Grits of the Pendleian Stage within the Namurian Mill Stone Grit series of the Upper Carboniferous period and is about 300 million years of age.
 As described to me by Walter Stoney.