- Mendip Mining Laws -


There are many similarities between the techniques used by cave diggers and those used by the lead miners who worked under Mendip years ago.   Anyone who has moved spoil underground will have a healthy respect for the work carried out by the "Old Men".

In common with some other old mining areas in the UK, such as Cornwall and Derbyshire, Mining on Mendip was regulated by its own set of laws, enforced by special courts, outside the jurisdiction of the general laws of the land.   There are ten laws.   The versions that survive were written down in the 17th and 18th centuries, but they were derived from an ancient oral tradition.   During the reign of Edward IV (1470ish), their origins were described as being "from the time whereof man now living hath no memory".

There are two main versions recorded.   Variants of the first version are inscribed on the margins of maps of Mendip. One of these is the "Chewton Map", held by the Waldegrave Estate Office and another is the "Wells Map", held at Wells Museum.   These are broadly similar, with only slight differences in wording.   Another version of the laws is held at the Public Record Office.   This is certainly an older version and is thought to have been written down during the reign of Queen Mary, say 1550(ish).

The Common Version (from Chewton/Wells maps)

THE OLD AUNCIENT custome of the occupacõn of the Mynedries in and upon the Kings Maties Forrest of Meyndeepe wthin his Maties County of Somsett being one of the foure Staples of England wch hath bene exercised used and continued through the said Forrest from the time whereof man now living hath noe memory is as hereafter doth particularly ensue:

1. FIRST That if any man whatsoever hee bee that doth intend to venter his life to bee a workman in the mynedery Occupacõn hee must first of all require Lycence of the Lord of the Soyle where hee doth purpose to worke or in his absence of his officer as Lead Reve or Bailye and the Lord nother his Bayliffe or officer can deny him.

2. ITEM that after the first Lycence had the workman shall never need to aske leave againe but to bee at his freewill to pitch within the said Forrest and to breake ground where and in what place itt shall best like him to his behoofe and profitt using himselfe justlie and trulie.

3. ITEM That every man that doth begin his pitt or Groove shall have his hacks throw two wayes after the Rake1; And note that hee that doth throwe the hack must stand in his said Groove to the girdle or wast And then noe man shall or may worke wthin the Compasse of his said hacks throw.

4. ITEM That when a workman hath landed any oare hee may carry the same to clensing and blowing to what minedrie hee shall please for the more speedy making of the same soe that hee doe trulie pay the tenth thereof to the Lord of the soyle where itt was landed.

5. ITEM that if any Lord or his officer have once given Lycence to any man to build or sett upon any Hearth or washing house to wash and cleanse and blow theire oare hee who hath soe once leave shall for ever keepe itt sell itt or give itt to whome itt shall please him soe that he doe trulie and justlie pay the Lott Lead wch is the tenth pound that shall bee blowne att the same Hearth or Hearths And alsoe if hee doe keepe itt tenantable as the Craft doth require.

6. ITEM that if any man of that occupacõn doe pick or steale any Lead or Lead oare to the value of xiiid. ob. 2 the Lord or his officer may arrest all his Lead and oare house or hearths wth all his Grooves and workes and keepe them as a forfeit to his owne use And shall take the person that soe hath offended and bring him where his house or worke and all his tooles and Instruments belonging to the same occupacõn bee and put him into his house or worke and set fire in all together about him and banish him from that occupacõn before all the Myneders for ever.

7. ITEM That if ever that person doe pick or steale there any more hee shall bee tryed by the Comon law, for this Custome and law hath noe more to doe wth him.

8. ITEM that every Lord of soyle or soyles ought to keepe two Mynedrie Courts by the yeare and to sweare twelve men or more of the same occupacõn for the redresse of all misdemeanours and wrongs touching the Mynedries.

9. ITEM the Lord or Lords may make three manner of Arrests (That is to say) the first is for strife betweene man and man for theire workes under the earth. The second is for his owne dutye for Lead or oare wheresoever hee find itt wthin the said Forrest. The third is upon felons goods of the same occupacõn wheresoever hee find itt wthin the same Hill.

10. ITEM That if any man by the meanes of this doubtfull and dangerous occupacõn doe by misfortune take his death as by falling the earth upon him by drowning by stifleing wth fire or otherwise as in times past many have bene The workmen of this occupacõn are bound to fetch the body out of the earth and bring him to Christian buriall att theire owne proper Costs and Charges although hee bee threescore fathom3 under the earth as heretofore hath bene seene And the Coroner or any other officer att Jurye shall not have to doe wth him nor  them.


  1. The hack was the miner's pick. When standing waist deep in his pit, he threw a hack in both directions along the rake (or vein).  This established the extent of his working.
  2. xiiid.ob - 13½ d., ie one shilling, one penny and one halfpenny.   This is equivalent to between 5 & 6 new pence.
  3. Three score fathom, ie 60 fathoms or 360ft (110m).   [If this refers to depth, then it is difficult to believe].

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The version from the Public Record Office

The oulde Auncyent Custum of the occupasyon of the mynerys in and uppon the Quyns maiestys forest of Mendyp wythyn hyr gracys countye of Somerset beyng one of the iiij1 stapulls of Ynglon whych hath bene exersysd and contynuyd thrugh the seyd forest from the tyme whereof man hath noo memory as here after doth pertyculerly doth Apere.

Fyrst of all yeff Any man what soever he be that doth Intend to ventur hys lyfe & to be a workman of the occupasyon he must fyrst of all Requier lycence of the Lord of the soyll where he doth purpose to work, or In hys absence hys offyser cauly the lede Reve or baylyff, where upon the Lord nothyr hys offysers cannot by the ould custm of the occupasyon deny hym that doth so aske lycence.

Item after that fyrst lycence so asked never to ask lycence no more agayn but to be at hys fre wyll to pyche wythyn the sayd forest of Mendyp and to brecke the the ground where and yn what place he or they shaull thynk best hym self for hys own byhouff and proffyt yowsyng hymself justly and trewely Accordyng to the occupasyon, &cet.

Item that every man when he doth bygyn hys pyt other wysse caulyd a grouff shaull have hys haks throw ij2 weys after the Rake so that he do stand to the gyrdyl or wast In the gruff, that then no man shaull macke nother mell wythyn that ground by the custum of the occupasyon.

Item that when any workman hath landyd Any wore he maye carre hyt to weshing and blowing to what myndry he semyth best for hys proffyt and commodyte so that he doo paye the tenth of that in lede or wore to the lord of the soyli where hyt was dygyd, &c.

Item that yeff any lord or lords of the myndrys or hys offysers have or hereafter doo once gyve lycence to buyld or sett upp any herth or herths howse or howses to weshe and blowe there wore yn, the tenant once so havyng lycence maye kepe hyt, sell hyt or gyve hyt for ever to whom hyt shaull plese hym wythout any let or contradyccyon so that he do yowse hym self justly and trewly and payng the Lote Lcde the whyche ys the tenth of the flyght and proffytt of that herth and all so to kepe hyt tenaunt abull Acordyng to the Lawe and custm of the occupasyon, &c.

Item and yeff any man of that occupasyon do pike or stell any lede or lede wore to the valew of xiijd. öb.3, the Lord or hys offyser maye Arest and sese apon all hys lede and lede wore, herth and howse grouff and groves and to kepe hyt at Aforfyt to hys one yowss and byhouffe and shall tacke the person that so hath offendyd and bryng hym where hys howss & wore ys, hys worke and towlles with all Instruments bylongyng to that occupasyon and then put hym yn hys howss or workyng place and set fyer yn all together abowt hym and banyshe hym from that occupasyon for ever by fore the face of all the myners thereof, &c.

Item and yeff that sayd person do ever offend any more In that occupasyon by piking or stelyng then he shaul be comyttyt to the Quyns geyle for the occupasyon hath no more to do with hym, &c.

Item the lord or lords of every soyll Apon Mendip ought to kepe a court ij2 tymes every yere and to caull the myners togyther and to chowse xij4 of the onestys men & to swere them for the redress of all mysdemeners as concernyng that occupasyon, &c.

Item the Lord of every soyll or hys offyser maye macke thre maner of rests as concernyng to that occupasyon, the fyrst ys for stryff betwyne man and man for there worke under the yerth, the second ys for hys own dewty of lede and wore where so ever he or hys offyser do fynd hyt wythyn the sayd forest and the thyrd ys fellons goods as consernyng that occupasyon where soever the Lord or hys offyser do fynd hyt wythyn the sayd forest, &c.

Item and yeff there be Any man by thys doutfull and dangerus occupasyon do tack hys deth and ys slayne by faulyng of the yerth Apon hym, by drownyng, by styfflyng with fyer or wother wyse as in tymes past many hath ben so murthryd, the coroner nother no offyser of the Quyns Maiestes hath not to do with the boddy nother with hys or there goodes but the myners of that occupasyon shaull fetch up that ded boddy out of the yerth at their own proper costs and charges and all so to burye hym in Chrystyn buryall all though he do tacke hys deth lx5 faddom dyp under the yerth, as here by fore meny a man so hath ben lost, &c.


  1. iiij = iiii = 4
  2. ij = ii = 2
  3. xiijd. öb. = 13½d, as above
  4. xij = xii = 12
  5. lx = 60


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