Is there coal beneath the land near Borley Wood ? In the eighteenth
Millicent Esq., Lord of the Barham Estates in Linton, seriously
attempted to dig for coal. What inspired him to undertake this
scheme in an area where present day experts say there is no
possible geological evidence for thinking that coal might be
found, we shall never know.
A document in the archives of Pembroke College is entitled,
“ Proposed Agreement among the inhabitants of Linton for
trying to find Coale on Linton Heath.” The College inherited
the Barham Estates in 1807 from Sarah Lonsdale, the widow of
Robert Millicent and all the Barham estate papers were transferred
to the College archives.
In the document John Disbrow, the uncle of the widowed Sarah
Millicent, outlined a scheme to attract potential investors.
He invited subscribers “ to raise money towards opening,
digging and boreing a certain pitt or pitts in or upon the soil
or waste ground called Linton Heath belonging to Robert Millicent
Esq.for finding or discovering a coal mine thereon.” A
list of forty four investors is attached. The two largest contributions
of £20 were subscribed by Robert Millicent himself and
by John Twyn, the leasehold farm tenant of the 388 acre Great
Barham Farm ( Barham Hall today ).
If coal was discovered , each subscriber was to receive two
hundredweights of coal for each 1/- invested. Work began on
June 24th, 1737 and up to seven workmen sank a mine shaft
some 228 feet deep. This was completed by December, 1737 and
the cost of the seventy six yard bore was listed as 11/ 9d.
The workmen were paid at a rate of 1/ 3d per day and various
items of expenditure were listed in the accounts:-
Pay William Pittches for 16 feet of timber at 11d per foot:
14 – 8d
for four spades: 2 – 0d
for nine shovels to Thomas Smith:
4 – 0d
Paid Robert Harley for four deales: 5 – 4d
for two and three inch deales: 6 –
Paid Thomas Smith for eleven days work: 13 – 9d
for carrying up things in his wagon:
2 – 6d
for beer: 5 – 0d
Supplying beer to workmen was quite common in eighteenth century
labour agreements. It was also stipulated that money donated
by any spectators at the mine site should be spent in the
ale houses controlled by subscribers to the scheme.
Did they find any coal ? Geologists I have talked to state
that there was no possibility of this, but contemporary evidence
challenges this view. The Barham Estates were auctioned in
1741 after the death of Robert Millicent and the sales literature
of the time lists the income of the Estate. One sub section
states, “ Part of the Heath ground has been bored and
there is found a large Vein of very good coal which may very
much increase the value of the Estate.”
A further piece of evidence is provided by the prestigious
“ Universal” Magazine of 1747. The writer of an
article makes a reference to a coal mine found at Linton.
Thereafter there is no mention of a coal mine at Barham or
Linton. By 1750 the Barham accounts show that the Estate bought
all its coal from Cambridge merchants.
However, the coal mine is mentioned by William Mortlock Palmer
the local Linton doctor and well respected antiquarian. Writing
in 1910, he referred to the coal mine site and located it
between Borley Wood and the Roman Road ( Wool Street ).
He wrote that a number of local residents still referred to
a track leading from the Road towards the Heath, as “Coal
Hole Lane.” If you walk on the Horseheath side of Borley
Wood you can clearly see part of this track or lane where
it leads from the Roman Road to the supposed site of the Linton
Heath Coal Mine. There is a large dip or hollow on the Heath
at this point and some people believe that any mine might
have been of the open cast type. If any trace of coal was
found it could only have been poor quality lignite. Lignite
is a soft brown fuel with characteristics that put it somewhere
between coal and peat. It is overlain by boulder clays, sands
and gravels and is usually extracted by open cast mining.
Robert Millicent had married the twenty five year old Sarah
Disbrow in 1736 when he was twenty four years of age. The
Barham Estate was heavily mortaged which probably explains
Robert’s interest in digging for coal. He was an apothecary
by profession and interested in scientific and industrial
matters. He died at the age of twenty eight and the marriage
His widow later married the Reverend Christopher Lonsdale
who died in 1783. Sarah Lonsdale died in 1807 aged ninety
two and left her 914 acre Barham Estate to Pembroke College,
Cambridge. The Millicent family had owned the Barham Estates
from 1551, and Robert is likely to be remembered for his coal
mine rather than for any other achievement of his brief life.