The landed interest and the development of the South Yorkshire coalfield 1750 to 1830

Medlicott, Ian Raoul (1982). The landed interest and the development of the South Yorkshire coalfield 1750 to 1830. MPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000fc92

Abstract

The Norfolk and Rockingham-Fitzwilliam families possessed the two most extensive landed estates in South Yorkshire. It was the consolidated nature of the property which placed the owners in a favourable position for the exploitation of minerals. This is essentially a comparative study between the two great landed estates in the development of their collieries. Both landed proprietors were initially reluctant to take the collieries into direct management, but once the financial situation forced them to do so, the ensuing capital investment turned their mines into the most extensive in South Yorkshire, Although the thesis is concerned mainly with the expansion and management of the collieries, no work of this kind can omit social factors relating to mining, and therefore these will be referred to where appropriate.

The expansion and profitability of the two mining enterprises were determined by transport developments. Whereas Norfolk sought to protect his Sheffield market by opposing transport schemes into Sheffield, Rockingham and Fitzwilliam actively participated in schemes that appeared to open more extensive markets. However, neither landed proprietor was able to break out of the limited South Yorkshire market, before the coming of the railways.

The proprietors of extensive collieries in the eighteenth century were pioneers in mining technology and it was in this area that the Norfolks, in particular, made notable contributions. But problems associated with management and accounting were not adequately solved. Although the proprietors of both estates could exercise control only from a distance, they were not prepared to delegate managerial responsibilities. This led not only to inefficiency but an inadequate response to changing market conditions. In accounting, too much reliance was placed on the steward and master system - then common practice on the landed estates. They were unable to come to terms with current and capital accounts, with little attempt at depreciation accounting, which disguised the true profit situation of their collieries. Even so, the owners of the Sheffield and Wentworth estates were pioneers in large- scale mining, and it was on their capital investment, technological innovations, and development of coal markets that the nineteenth century coal industry in South Yorkshire was built.

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