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Swannington Gorse Swannington Gorse Swannington Gorse

Gorse Field

At 5.73 acres the Gorse Field is larger than the average field in the Swannington area. It is a centuries old fragile heath grassland which is quite rare in Leicestershire as most fields have been subject to intensive agricultural practices, such as ploughing, which destroys the natural habitat.

There is documentary evidence of bell pit mining at the Gorse Field in 1205, a decade before King John signed the Magna Carta.

Our volunteers conserve the Gorse Field by encouraging the gorse to spread, creating flight paths for the birds, leaving wild areas as bird nesting sites and preventing the willow from invading the ponds.

Horse Gin

This replica horse gin was constructed on the site of an original by Trust volunteers. The horse and handler sculpture was created by two ex-miners.

Click to read more about:-

North West Leicestershire Coalfield

Bell Pit Coal Mining From 1205

Gorse Field Restoration

Horse Gin Construction


Gorse Field venue for book launch

The Gorse Field provided the venue for the launch of a new book
'Exploring the landscape of The National Forest'

Book Launch

The North West Leicestershire Coalfield


The North West Leicestershire Coalfield is relatively shallow around the Staunton Harold area and gets progressively deeper as it moves south east to the Ellistown and Battleflats area. This is why coal was extracted in the Coleorton and Swannington areas for centuries before the technology advanced sufficiently to access the deeper seams to the south east.

The coal seams underlying the village slope upwards to the northwest and continue downwards to the southeast, emerging at the surface progressively with the top seam out-cropping at the north end of the village.

Bell pit coal mining from 1205


The village landscape still holds evidence of working over a period of 800 years, the earliest record dating to 1205. Early mining was by quarrying, then by driving adits and then by bell pits. The coal accessible from bell pits was worked out by the 15th century and wooden shafts were sunk to deeper seams, coal and water being extracted by horse gins. A shaft section, extracted from opencasting in the neighbourhood, is displayed in Snibston Discovery Park, Coalville, Leicestershire. Evidence of these three types of working can be seen on the Gorse Field.

Bell Pits

Bell Pits

The bumps and hollows on the Gorse Field as well as many fields around Swannington are evidence of bell pit mining.
 
Cross-section of bell pit mines. Miners would reach the coal seam and dig as far as they dare to extract coal thus forming a bell shape.


Bell pits visible as depressions on Swannington common. Hough Mill is circled in green.
  In 1520 the manor with its coal was purchased by William Wyggeston, who leased the coal rights to entrepreneurs, who used the latest mining techniques available at the time and coordinated extraction so that, by the end of the 17th century a considerable amount of coal was being extracted.

But water, held in centuries-old workings, caused difficulties and newly invented Newcomen Pumping engines were installed by John Wilkins by 1717 to deal with this. By the time of his death in 1726 he had made a fortune from his mines.

Much investment was made into the village mines in anticipation of the linking of the village to the abortive Charnwood Forest canal in 1795. Steam winding engines were introduced into the mines but the canal's disastrous failure in 1802 limited further development until the arrival of the railway in 1833.

Gorse Field Restoration


During the years prior to the Trust purchase of the Gorse Field the area of open grassland has gradually been reduced by the encroachment of bracken, trees and shrubs. The impact of this was very few birds, not many wild flowers and a site that was difficult for people to walk around.

The Trust sought advice from the Wildlife Trust which in summary comprised:-

Remove some of the trees so as to provide flight paths for birds (and paths for people).

Keep some of the wild areas, thickets of blackthorn, hawthorn and brambles as these provided safe nesting sites for the birds, although the thickets required periodic thinning to prevent them from becoming too overgrown.



Trust volunteers clearing excessive growth from the Gorse Field.
Remove sycamore saplings as sycamores can be invasive and block the light. Prune hawthorns and elders (not in the wild areas) and cut back the bracken to prevent them from encroaching on the grass areas.
Prune the gorse to stimulate regrowth.

Bring in sheep or cattle to graze the land between July and February.

Trust volunteers have been actively following this strategy for many years. The main problem is persuading a farmer with sheep or cattle that they should graze them on the Gorse Field.

Horse Gin


Initially the father would send his wife and children down the bell pit as he was the only one strong enough to pull them back up. Technology improved with the advent of the gin whereby a horse would do the hard work.

Gin Sculpture

Horse Gin
Contemporary illustration of a horse gin.


The completed gin and headstocks were officially unveiled on 3rd April 2004 by the Area Secretary of the Leicester Area N.U.M. in the presence of the Deputy Chairman of Leicestershire County Council and The Chairman of North West Leicestershire District Council.

The project was sponsored by; Helen Jean Cope Trust, Leicester Area National Union of Mineworkers and Leicestershire County Council. The metal horse and man statues were the first works by a pair of former miners after the colliery closed.



The late Bill Hale, one of the original members of the Trust visiting the workshop to check progress on the Gin sculpture.

 

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