by F. C. Price
As we shiver through this winter of discontent with our empty grates, cold central heating and garaged cars, let us generale a little optimism by reflecting on Britain's first major energy crisis — a crisis that was really solved by the Church.
1 hroughout the Middle Ages wood was the main fuel. but as we entered into the Tudor period a growing population and an expanding industry in• creased the pressures.
ike us. the first Elizabethans continued to squander their resources until it was almost too Lee. Then the plaintive pleas of the conservationist, were heard.
One reported: "The waste and destruction of the woods in the counties of Warwick. Staf
Hrd, e re ford • W re est e r. Monmouth. Gloucester and Salop is not to he imagined." The price or firewood in I (tinfoil trebled in the space of a few Nears. A shortage of' charcoal led to a decline in the iron Industry. which via, singled out the most voracious consumer.
Because of the dearth or government commission reported that the sailors of the Channel pork "would not he able to dry their clothes."
The oft:Urns answer was to rind urn alternative form of fuel. I hanks to the initiative of the medieval Bishops of Durham nd the priors of several monasteries dotted around the North-east. coal wail already known.
Like the twentieth century oil moguls who have been slowly developing the North Sea oilfields. these dynamic clergy of Northumherland and Durham had for centuries been esplon ing the rich coal seams of their estates,
As early as 1274 Bishop
Stichill of Durham was leasing out his mines, while 20 years later Bishop Anthony Bek was denying a profit of 12s. 6d. DA ice a year front one at Chester.
ny the middle of the followine century Bishop Hatfield lig five, mines at tit hiekha) to John Pulhore, Rector of Whickham, and Sir Thomas Gray. Their annual rent was 500 marks a year and they were restricted to the extraction of 20 tons a dal.
The development of t he coalfield on the north hank of the Tyne N..\ as due to the monks of tynemouth Abbey, who held vast estates there. The Prior had special N+harNe, built at North Shields, and V. ;is shipping coal
out as earl is 1269.
The monk, of Durham considered their [nines so valuable that they appointed Thomas Anesle) as their custodian in 1361 it i weekly wage of six silver pennies.
BY 1.362 Finchale Priory as 1111: the then huge Annual profit of £6 13s. 4d. from a single colliery at Softlev. and two coal picks were listed oil the inventory of the Priory .
In some instances the monks leased out the right to work a mine: in others they operated it themselves. To the monks of Finehale belongs the distinction of having been the first to work a seam below water level,
because in 14% they spent ill) on the installation of a pump.
As it was uneconomical to transport coal overland. the North-east field was fortunate in being located close to the sea. Thus the old "collier" or "sea• coal" route from the Tyne to the Thames became the equivalent ()I' the oil pipelines now being laid beneath • the same North Sea.
Orieinally coal was shipped out as hallast by ships which had carried grain to Newcastle. but by the late fourteenth centur\ some 7,000 tons annually Wa'• being exported to ports along the East Coast.
Edward III, for instance. bought more than 550 tons in 1366 for shipment to Windsor Castle. And Whitby Abbey had four tons delivered in 1394.
Some 5(1 years earlier a consignment of 50 tons had been shipped to the monastery on HAN Island for use in the hive cry and lime-kiln.
Coors tendency to create smoke and noxious fumes Lredted a prejudice against its use its zi domestic fuel until the :id\ eta of the brick chime), in I odor times. After this the demand soarLid until. by the end ol the sixteenth century. London was importing 74,01)11 tons annualIN It also came into use in those industries where it created no particular technical problems. such • as lime-burning. soap manufacturing and glassinak \ that time, however, the monasteries had been dissolved and their valuable mineral assets appropriated by the State. After centuries of do elopment and modest proles. the Church finalIN missed out on the vast financial killings created by the fuel crisis of the Tudor period.