Linton in Pictures
A History of Linton
in Photographs
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Is there coal beneath the land near Borley Wood ? In the eighteenth century Robert 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 – 0d
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 was childless.

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.