Coal in England

Carboniferous swamp featuring dragonfly, eryops, lepidodendrons.

Three hundred and fifty million years ago, in modern England existed the primitive swamps of the Carboniferous Period. Massive dragonflies, alligator-sized amphibians, and sail-backed dimetrodons roamed amongst equally strange flora. Ferns and mosses dominated the ground level. In the place of modern trees towered 70 foot calamites (a relative to the modern horsetail) and equally massive lepidodendrons (scaly, tree-like club mosses).[1] When these plants died, they fell into the mucky swamp below atop their fallen comrades where they lay until being buried in the acidic mud beneath, protected from full oxidation and decomposition.

Over the next few hundred million years, sediment accumulated atop the former swamp and further buried the peat consisting of the dead plants’ carbon. The combination of heat and pressure as the peat sank deeper beneath Earth’s surface slowly transformed it first into lignite and then coal.[2] In some areas the coal was exhumed back up to the surface to reveal outcrops. All of this occurred well before the appearance of man 200,000 years ago.

When man populated Britain, it took him until within the last few thousand years to identify coal’s hidden energy. It took even longer for society to harness that energy to do work. The industry of mining had to evolve as coal became ever more ubiquitous in England. Along the way, man’s understanding of the origins of the mystic rock evolved as well.

It took the Earth millions of years to create Britain’s coal, but only a few hundred years for Britain to deplete it almost entirely. In those few hundred years, though, Britain would be transformed nearly as dramatically as the fallen lepidodendron had during its metamorphosis into coal.

[1] Lyell, Sir Charles. “Chapter XXIV: Flora and Fauna of the Carboniferous Period” Elements of Geology 1871. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://;

[2] “How Coal Is Formed.” Kentucky Educational Television. PBS, 15 Dec. 2005. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <;.


1 thought on “Coal in England

  1. Leigh Bettenay

    This is a good overview. Can I suggest, however, that you provide author attribute and date so it can be properly cited by others?


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