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In the Middle Ages – from 5th to 15th century – this park was part of a vast wooded district used as a royal hunting ground.
Hunting was a key feature of Medieval life and became one of the activities expected of the nobility. It proved a useful training area for war, especially the pursuit of dangerous wild animals like the wild boar.
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward the 111, who was a regular visitor to the Rothwell area, hunted regularly here in the park.
In 1530 Henry V111 ‘de-parked’ the Royal Hunting Park of Rothwell and it became a grazing area for cattle. As the population and the number of cattle grew, the gradual erosion of tree cover continued and coal mining activities increased.
The onset of industrialisation created a vast increase in the demand for coal. Early mines were probably bell or bee hive pits sunk close to the surface, records show this mining took place in Rothwell as early as 1406.This shallow type of mining continued until the beginning of the 18th century.
As the primitive mines became exhausted or unsafe to work the miners abandoned them and went to dig another pit a few yards away. In recent years open cast mining has unearthed scores of these old type pits.
Fanny Pit A Brief History 1867 – 1983
Two local families have been responsible for stamping their mark on the development of the Rothwell mining history. These families were the Fenton and Charlesworth families who were mine owners for a period of 230 years from 1717 up until nationalisation in 1947. The Fenton family’s initial interest in coal mining started with Mr James Fenton in 1632, this interest declined some 188 years later after the sale of Rothwell Haigh Pit on Wakefield Road to the Charlesworth family in 1820. The Charlesworths continued as owners up to 1947. It was while the Charlesworth family were owners that the “Fanny Pit” shaft was sunk, this was allegedly named after one of the Charlsworth’s daughters, Coal production started in 1867. After that Rothwell Colliery was always known through the years of production as “Fanny Pit” by the miners and people who lived in the area.
Although it was called “Fanny Pit” the mine was only – what is called today – a shaft. The mining regulations of the day did not specify that a Colliery should have two shafts as a secondary means of egress. From the onset mining – in Fanny Pit – was a difficult task with water causing many problems. The wet conditions were caused by the shaft being sunk through water bearing Thornhill rock which outcrops in this area. As a result “Fanny Pit” pumped out 2 1/4 million gallons of water a week. It was the network of shafts around the area that enabled Coal mining to carry on so long in this area as the pits worked out the coal around them so another shaft was sunk further afield using previously exhausted shafts as ventilation to allow air into the working shafts. So the underground honeycomb continued. Britain caught up in the industrial revolution and was hungry for all the coal she could get.
It was a very profitable pit for the commercially minded Charlesworth family and they continued investment around Rothwell by sinking the several shafts that formed Rothwell Collieries. Valley Pit was sunk in 1826 to be followed by Rose Pit, Beeston Pit and Robin Hood Pit. “Fanny Pit” which started production in 1867 had a second shaft sunk in 1921 which was deepened in 1924/25 from the Beeston Pit seam to the Black Bed seam.
It is hard to realise in these days of automated and semi-automated coal mining that only half a lifetime ago there was next to no mechanisation. The work was done by Shire horses. This is why a well manned shoeing forge and farriers shop were vital. In 1924 there were 24 Shire horses stabled at Beeston Pit and 160 ponies were stabled underground at “Fanny Pit” in 1922. Rothwell Colliery was the last large mine to use Pit Ponies. Mechanisation came much later on. See Pit Ponies
Nationalisation and ownership by the people came in 1947. As all the best seams had gone, mining engineers decided to embark on a period of reconstruction to allow the colliery to produce coal quickly and efficiently for the Power Station market. This led to the conception of a “Drift Mine” with large cars and an underground locomotive system.
The 630 yard long driveage to the Eleven Yard Seam was finished in September 1951 and in 1952 the 5 ton mine cars were hauled up the drift for the first time, the underground locomotive system being completed. The coal from the “Inbye” workings was drawn by 100 horsepower diesel locomotives to the surface drift bottom were in sets of three, they were drawn to the surface “Tipper House” tipped and fed onto 42″ conveyer belts to the washer plant.
In 1974, after the successful working of the system for 22 years mine planners decided to install a conveyer in the surface drift to bring coal directly to the surface. The installation of the conveyer belt improved coal clearance.
An extract taken from “The History of Rothwell Castle and Medieval Life Rothwell & District Historical Society”
A so-called Roman well was discovered in land adjacent to Rothwell Colliery (Fanny Pit) in 1977. After extensive excavation it was found to yield many dateable finds at the bottom, from 4th century pottery to wooden items such as a spade and bowls. Many different animal bones were also found.
At the time a human skull was found but archaeologists thought that this could have been a burial site unrelated to the Roman period.
This is where the story of “Fanny Pit” almost ends. It is worth noting that at the date of closing, the last of the Rothwell Collieries, on 9th December 1983, that during their long life, those pits mined over 75 million tons of coal. To obtain the coal some 13, 832, 300, 300 gallons of water had to be pumped from the workings. Up until mechanisation in 1958 over 170 – 327 miles of timber was used. Now almost a century and a half of producing top quality coal in difficult conditions, natural exhaustion has ended the long profitable life of what was the National Coal Board’s North Yorkshire Area’s oldest colliery.
Reclamation to Country Park
Fortunately in the mid 1990’s a partnership was formed between local people, Leeds City Council and Groundwork Leeds which saw a transformation of the area.
Over the next 5 years extensive landscaping of the site allowed the land to be carefully reprofiled and tracts of meadow, woodland and wetlands were created.
Finally on the 24th of June 2000 Rothwell Country Park opened to the public, providing this corner of Leeds with much needed oasis for quiet recreation, enjoyment and of value to people and wild life alike.
To the present day
Since the park was opened in 2000 the park has been badly neglected due to lack of investment so in August 2010 the “Friends” group was formed to create/enhance and look after the existing habitat and make the park into a pleasant place for the community to enjoy.
More info on the Pit reclamation go to