Hostname: page-component-594f858ff7-c4bbg Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-08T01:34:38.459Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "corePageComponentUseShareaholicInsteadOfAddThis": true, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Industrial coal consumption in early modern London

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 April 2016

University of St Thomas, 2115 Summit Avenue, St Paul, MN 55105, USA


The importance of energy, in particular coal, is the subject of ongoing debate amongst economic historians who examine its relationship to the timing and nature of British industrialization. Yet attention to the case of London during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries shows that heavy coal consumption did not require industrial production, nor was heavy industrial coal demand dependent on steam engines. Rather, through the first sustained attempt to quantify industry's proportion of London's demand for mined coal, this article argues that the early modern world's leading coal market was driven primarily by domestic rather than industrial consumption, but that many industrial facilities nevertheless consumed fuel on scales often associated with later industrialization.

Special section: Communities, courts and Scottish towns
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Pennington, M. (ed.), A Series of Letters between Mrs. Elizabeth Carter and Miss Catherine Talbot from the Year 1741 to 1770. To Which Are Added, Letters from Mrs. Elizabeth Carter to Mrs. Vesey, Between the Years 1763 and 1767 in Four Volumes, vol. II (London, 1809), 67 Google Scholar.

2 ‘Sea coal’ refers to mined coal rather than charcoal.

3 ‘A bill to suppress and prevent glasshouses, etc.’, British Library (BL) Stowe MS 597, fols. 105v–106.

4 De la Bédoyère, G. (ed.), The Writings of John Evelyn (Woodbridge, 1995), 138 Google Scholar.

5 Thomas, K., Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England, 1500–1800 (London, 1983), 245 Google Scholar; Cockayne, E., Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England, 1600–1770 (New Haven, 2007), 208 Google Scholar; Ormrod, D., The Rise of Commercial Empires: England and the Netherlands in the Age of Mercantilism, 1650–1770 (Cambridge, 2003)Google Scholar, ch. 4.

6 Nef, J.U., The Rise of the British Coal Industry, 2 vols. (London, 1932)Google Scholar.

7 Hatcher, J., The History of the British Coal Industry, vol. I: Before 1700: Towards the Age of Coal (Oxford, 1993), 39 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Brimblecombe, P., ‘Interest in air pollution among early fellows of the Royal Society’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 32 (1978), 124 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Hiltner, K., What Else Is Pastoral? Renaissance Literature and the Environment (Ithaca, NY, 2011), 107 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Bédoyère (ed.), Writings, 131.

11 Besides Nef and Hatcher, on coal production and trade, see also Flinn, M.W., The History of the British Coal Industry, vol. II: 1700–1830: The Industrial Revolution (Oxford, 1984)Google Scholar; Levine, D. and Wrightson, K., The Making of an Industrial Society: Whickham, 1560–1765 (Oxford, 1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Healy, S., ‘The Tyneside lobby on the Thames: politics and economic issues, c. 1580–1630’, in Newton, D. and Pollard, A.J. (eds.), Newcastle and Gateshead before 1700 (Chichester, 2009)Google Scholar; A. Burn, ‘Work and society in Newcastle upon Tyne, c. 1600–1710’, Durham University Ph.D. thesis, 2014. On pollution, M. Jenner, ‘The politics of London air: John Evelyn's Fumifugium and the Restoration’, Historical Journal, 38 (1995), 535–51; Cavert, W.M., ‘The environmental policy of Charles I: coal smoke and the English monarchy, 1624–40’, Journal of British Studies, 53 (2014), 310–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 See most recently Wrigley, E.A., Energy and the English Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, 2010)CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed, summarizing many earlier publications. Important developments of Wrigley's arguments include K. Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, 2000); Allen, R.C., The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambridge, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Parthasarathi, P., Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600–1850 (Cambridge, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Kander, A., Malanima, P. and Warde, P., Power to the People: Energy in Europe over the Last Five Centuries (Princeton, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For dissent from the position that coal was an important cause of British industrialization, see Mokyr, J., The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700–1850 (New Haven, 2009)Google Scholar, esp. 267–72.

13 Flinn, History, 217.

14 There is abundant anecdotal evidence that much coal was bought in London but consumed elsewhere in the Thames valley, but it is not clear that this added up to significant quantities.

15 Harding, V., ‘The population of London, 1550–1700: a review of the published evidence’, London Journal, 15 (1990), 111–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wrigley, E.A., ‘A simple model of London's importance in changing English society and economy 1650–1750’, Past and Present, 37 (1967), 44 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Davies, M., Ferguson, C., Harding, V., Parkinson, E. and Wareham, A. (eds.), London and Middlesex 1666 Hearth Tax (London, 2014)Google Scholar.

17 Beier, A.L., ‘Engine of manufacture: the trades of London’, in Beier, A.L. and Finlay, R. (eds.), The Making of the Metropolis: London 1500–1700 (New York, 1986), 141–67Google Scholar; White, J., London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing (London, 2012), 207–26Google Scholar, 234–47.

18 Kander, Malanima and Warde, Power, 133.

19 Cavert, ‘Environmental policy’; T. Birch and R. Folkestone Williams (eds.), The Court and Times of Charles the First (London, 1848), vol. I, 113, 117; T. Dekker, A Strange Horse-Race at the End of Which, Comes in the Catch-Poles Masque (London, 1613), sig. D3; ‘An execration upon Vulcan’, in B.H. Newdigate (ed.), The Poems of Ben Jonson (Oxford, 1937), 152; Davenant, W., ‘First dayes entertainment at Rutland House’, in The Works of Sir William Davenant (New York, 1968)Google Scholar, vol. I, 358. This quote is from an epilogue probably authored by the composer Charles Coleman. Edmond, M., Rare Sir William Davenant: Poet Laureate, Playwright, Civil War General, Restoration Theatre Manager (Manchester, 1987), 126 Google Scholar.

20 The earlier figures derive from various estimates of both grain input and drink output, generated by government as well as by the Brewers Company itself. The later figures are based on excise taxation. Details are provided in W.M. Cavert, ‘The brewing industry in early modern London’, forthcoming. London's primacy by the late sixteenth century is described in Unger, R.W., Beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Philadelphia, 2007), 117 Google Scholar.

21 Westminster Abbey Muniments 33, 906–63, Abbey Stewards Accounts.

22 London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) Foundling Hospital Brewery Budgets, A/FH/M/1/5 (1755); LMA A/FH/A/6/1/10/2 (1757).

23 The National Archives of Great Britain (TNA) State Papers (SP) 12/98/37, ‘An estimate of all maner of charges for the brewing of 13 ton of beare yn London’, 1574; TNA SP 16/341/124, ‘An estimate of the particular charges the Brewer ys at’.

24 For the primacy of commercial brewing even in the sixteenth century, see Cavert ‘Brewing industry’.

25 Refining this average further to reflect change over time in brewing methods and in the relative market share of large and small breweries would be desirable but would require additional research on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century urban brewing.

26 Hatcher, History, vol. I, 517, gives data for 1561–62 (10,667 tons) and an estimate for 1580 (27,224).

27 Ibid., 501.

28 Based on 12,000 chaldrons (16,800 tons) for brewing and c. 200,000 tons total.

29 Table 1 uses these figures for 1595 and 1620 to estimate 19,000 tons for brewing out of a total of c. 110,000.

30 London brewers were taxed on over 2,050,000 barrels of strong and weak beer per year from 1689 to 1692, but only about 1,700,000 annually from 1700 to 1735. Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS A. 339, fols. 16v–17.

31 Dillon, P., Gin: The Much-Lamented Death of Madame Geneva; The Eighteenth-Century Gin Craze (Boston, MA, 2003), 35 Google Scholar, 83, 286.

32 BL Add MS 39,683, fol. 8, ‘Observations on distillation’, 1763; Henry E. Huntington Library (HEHL) ST 28, p. 22, ‘An estimate of the charge that is necessary for the carrying on a distillary at Bridgewater’ (1724–25).

33 Based on these figures, Table 1 allows 1,000 tons for London distilling in 1650, which is quite likely generous.

34 Calendar of State Papers Domestic 1666–67 (London, 1864), 122; The Interest of the Nation, as it Respects All the Sugar Plantations Abroad (1691); An Enquiry into the Reasons of the Advance of the Price of Coals (1739) 10; The Case of the Glass-Makers, Sugar-Bakers, and Other Consumers of Coals (1740); T. Lowndes, A State of the Coal-Trade to Foreign Parts (1745), 7.

35 For the English refining as unimportant before 1660, see Deerr, N., The History of Sugar (London, 1949), 458 Google Scholar; Sheridan, R.B., Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies 1623–1775 (Kingston, Jamaica, 1994), 2930 Google Scholar; Zahedieh, N., The Capital and Colonies: London and the Atlantic Economy, 1660–1700 (Cambridge, 2010), 218–19Google Scholar.

36 Schumpeter, E.B., English Overseas Trade Statistics 1697–1808 (Oxford, 1960), 61–2Google Scholar; Sheridan, Sugar and Slavery, 22–30; TNA CUST 3/4, 3/13, 3/22, 3/40, 3/50, Ledgers of Imports and Exports, 1700, 1710, 1720, 1740, 1750; and T64/276B/361–78, Treasury Trade Returns, 1735–53.

37 Thanks to Nuala Zahedieh for discussing this point.

38 An Account of the Late Application to Parliament, from the Sugar Refiners, Grocers, & c. (1753), 43.

39 Cambridge University Library (CUL) MS Ch(H) Political Papers 51, 128, which claimed that London's 23 ‘leading merchants’ sold over £500,000 worth of refined sugar annually, at a time when prices were about one shilling per pound. Beveridge, W., Prices and Wages in England: From the Twelfth to the Nineteenth Century: Price Tables, Mercantile Era (London, 1939), 197 Google Scholar, 293, 430. The interests of the seemingly well-informed author of this proposal to Walpole would have been served by inflating rather than underestimating the scale of urban refining, so it seems likely that his totals are not significantly low.

40 Stein, R.L., The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge, 1988), 132 Google Scholar.

41 Table 1 is based on the lower estimate. Accepting the refiners’ own figure from 1753 would double the totals.

42 McKellar, E., Landscapes of London: The City, the Country, and the Suburbs, 1660–1840 (New Haven, 2014)Google Scholar.

43 J.C. Jeaffreson (ed.), Middlesex County Records, vol. II: 3 Edward VI to 22 James I (London, 1887), 304; C. Jenner, Town Eclogues (1772), 27.

44 Hull, C.H. (ed.), The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, Together with the Observations upon the Bills of Mortality, More Probably by Captain John Graunt (Cambridge, 1899), 304 Google Scholar.

45 Guildhall Library (GL) MS 3047/1–2, Tylers and Bricklayers Company Searchbooks, 1605–50 and 1650–80.

46 Clarke, L., Building Capitalism: Historical Change and the Labor Process in the Production of the Built Environment (London, 1992), 132–7Google Scholar; this total is also corroborated in Berg, M., The Age of Manufactures 1700–1820: Innovation, Industry, and Work in Britain (London, 1994), 53 Google Scholar. One projector found that three-storey houses covering a substantial 1,200 square feet would require 170,000 bricks. BL Add MS 61,605, fol. 69, ‘A tax on brick to raise annually £126000’.

47 Lucas, R., ‘The tax on bricks and tiles, 1784–1850: its application to the country at large and, in particular, to the county of Norfolk’, Construction History, 13 (1997), 34–5Google Scholar; de Vries, J. and Van der Woude, A., The First Modern Economy: Success, Failure, and Perseverance in the Dutch Economy 1500–1815 (Cambridge, 1997), 304–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Reddaway, T.F., The Rebuilding of London after the Great Fire (London, 1940), 127–8Google Scholar. See also the claim that some brick makers produced three million bricks in The Case of the Brickmakers and Bricklayers within the City of London and Fifteen Miles Thereof (1728).

49 Houghton, J., A Collection of Letters for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade (London, 1727)Google Scholar, vol. I, 188. There were differing contemporary estimates for coal use in brick making which may reflect real variations in practice, but Houghton's figures are consistent with claims made by building contractors and brick suppliers in 1713/14 to the Commissioners for Fifty New Churches, as well as a 1730 report to the House of Commons. Lambeth Palace Library MS 2723, fols. 11, 22, papers of the Commissioners for Fifty New Churches.

50 Hatcher does not have data for this period, but 283,375 tons were shipped in 1637/38, and from c. 320,000 to 577,000 tons during the 1680s. Hatcher, History, vol. I, 501–2.

51 In the early seventeenth century, for example, 88% of the buildings found to house poor lodgers were made of wood. Baer, W., ‘Housing for the lesser sort in Stuart London: findings from certificates, and returns of divided houses’, London Journal, 33 (2008), 65 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

52 Guillery, P., The Small House in Eighteenth-Century London (London, 2004)Google Scholar.

53 BL Sloane MS 3986, fol. 31, ‘An account…of all the houses, churches, chapels,…taken from a survey made in the years 1726 and 1727.’

54 A Just and Exact Account Taken out of the Books of the Several Brickmakers . . . in the Year 1711 (1712?); The Case of the Brickmakers, Tilemakers, Slaters, Lime-Men, Masons, and Paviours (1712?).

55 R. Neve, The City and Country Purchaser (1703), 44, which states that one load (32 bushels) of lime would serve 4,600 bricks; Transactions of the Society Instituted at London, for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, vol. XV (1797), 177, which found that 130 bushels of ‘small refuse coal’ would make 480 bushels of lime in Somerset.

56 R.P. Cruden, The History of the Town of Gravesend in the County of Kent and of the Port of London (1843), 443.

57 Ibid.; Ormrod, D., ‘Industry’, in Armstrong, Alan (ed.), The Economy of Kent, 1640–1914 (Woodbridge, 1995), 107–8Google Scholar.

58 For an overview and bibliography, see Wilmott, H., A History of English Glassmaking AD 43–1800 (Stroud, 2005)Google Scholar.

59 For the vast fuel needs of the trade in Venice, McCray, W.P., Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice: The Fragile Craft (Aldershot, 1999), 98100 Google Scholar, 110, 133, 199 n. 36. For heavy fuel demands in England, see Thirsk, J. and Cooper, J.P. (eds.), Seventeenth-Century Economic Documents (Oxford, 1972), 205 Google Scholar; Godfrey, E.S., The Development of English Glassmaking 1560–1640 (Chapel Hill, 1975)Google Scholar; Howell, J., Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ. Familiar letters, Domestick and Foreign (London, 1705), 3 Google Scholar.

60 Godfrey, English Glassmaking; D. Seeley, C. Phillpotts and M. Samuel, Winchester Palace: Excavations at the Southwark Residence of the Bishops of Winchester (London, 2006), 81–97; TNA SP 14/113/49, petition of Robert Mansell.

61 Godfrey, English Glassmaking, 194–5. Hatcher, building on Godfrey, suggests that about 10,000 tons for all of England's glass houses would be a generous estimate for c. 1640. Hatcher, History, vol. I, 449. Table 1 allows 2,500 tons for London by 1650.

62 Tyler, K. and Willmott, H., John Baker's Late Seventeenth-Century Glasshouse at Vauxhall (London, 2005), 12 Google Scholar.

63 Houghton, Collection, vol. II, 48 (n. 198 for 5 May, 1696).

64 Wilmott, English Glassmaking, 120. The glass house allegedly operated near Aldgate in 1653 by John Chaworth, for example, does not appear in the secondary literature. TNA KB 27/1754, r. 282.

65 Earle found that 5–8% of workers in samples from south and east London were employed in the glass industry; Earle, P., A City Full of People; Men and Women of London 1650–1750 (London, 1994), 274–6Google Scholar.

66 Mitchell, B.R., British Historical Statistics (Cambridge, 1988), 417 Google Scholar. Total production rose quickly from 10,600 tons in 1747 to 14,100 in 1750, but did not exceed 20,000 tons until 1790. For fuel ratios, see Godfrey, English Glassmaking, 194; Chandos Papers, HEHL ST 28, p. 17, estimated costs of a Welsh glass works, 1724.

67 Powell, H.J., Glass-Making in England (Cambridge, 1923), 93111 Google Scholar; Flinn, History, 237–8; C. Ross, ‘The development of the glass industry on the Rivers Tyne and Wear, 1700–1900’, Newcastle University Ph.D. thesis, 1982, 5.

68 Supposing, for example, that London in 1700 contained another 2,000 tradesmen who each consumed 7.5 tons of coal in their shops annually, plus another 100 facilities requiring 100 tons of coal each, this total of 25,000 tons of additional coal would still not equal the demand of the brewing industry alone.

69 Hull (ed.), Economic Writings, 304; Bédoyère (ed.), Writings, 137–8.

70 Godfrey, English Glassmaking, 193–5; HEHL ST 28, p. 17.

71 C. Povey, Proposals for Raising a Thousand Pounds (1699).

72 GL MS 3047/1, 28–9.

73 Reddaway, Rebuilding of London, 128.

74 CUL MS Ch(H) Political Papers 51, 128; Sir John Fellowes Papers, Norfolk Record Office, FEL 705, 554x7. Thanks to Koji Yamamoto for generously sharing photographs of the latter documents.

75 This discussion draws on Cavert, ‘Brewing industry’.

76 Mathias, P., The Brewing Industry in England, 1700–1830 (Cambridge, 1979), 551 Google Scholar; Cavert, ‘Brewing industry’.

77 LMA B/THB/B/150–1, Truman Hansbury Buxton malt and barley ledgers.

78 BL Add MS 39,683, fol. 8.

79 An Essay upon Excisi[n]g Several Branches that Have Hitherto Escaped the Duty of the Brewing Trade (1699), 21–3; Povey, Proposals, 2.

80 The York-Buildings Dragons (1726), 6–7.

81 This pamphlet has been attributed to the leading engineer and Newtonian John Theophilus Desaguliers, but this is unlikely. Carpenter, A.T., John Theophilus Desaguliers: A Natural Philosopher, Engineer and Freemason in Newtonian England (London, 2011), 138–40Google Scholar.

82 J. Allen, Specimina ichnographica: Or, a Brief Narrative of Several New Inventions, and Experiments (1730), 14. See also Ben Franklin's claim in 1766/77 that it burned 4s of coal, or roughly one seventh of a ton, per hour. François Willem de Monchy to Franklin, 9 Jan. 1767, at accessed 15 Sept. 2014.

83 See n. 12.