The Bishop’s Coal

Over the past few months I’ve been editing the papers of Nicholas Wood (1795-1865). Wood was a ‘mine viewer’ and his statue is to be found in the library of the Mining Institute in Newcastle. One of his roles was to act as viewer for the Bishop of Durham. the one he worked for was probably the last of the ‘prince bishops’ holding the last vestiges of power delegated from the crown. The See of Durham owned more than 26,000 acres in Durham and Northumberland. Beneath lay mineral rights, mostly coal. Of course the Bishop was well detached from the awful working conditions experienced by the miners and the ever present risk of death. The Dean and Chapter of Durham cathedral also owned mineral rights so presumably some of the Royalties earned went into the upkeep of the cathedral. It’s interesting to speculate what the Bishop did with his huge income earned off the backs of those colliers.

Wood was certainly a good choice as viewer and guarded the Bishop’s interests and income very carefully. Interestingly Wood doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the help he gave to the better known George Stephenson in developing a miner’s safety lamp and also with Stephenson’s early locomotive Blucher.

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