On the summit of Fountains Fell, the Lower Howgate Edge Grit rests unconformably on the Main Limestone and a 30 inch (0.76m) thick seam was worked in the shale between the Lower and Upper Grits. The coalfield was included in Kelly’s study because it overlooks Ribblesdale, but much of the fell’s drainage runs eastwards. Its ownership also belongs with the east, as it is split between the townships of Malham Moor and Halton Fell, and so it is also included here. Kelly suggested that the minimum number of shafts was 71, but a more detailed survey, by Martin Roe, recorded a total of 192 shafts around the fell’s summit. When examined in 1974, three shafts, with an average depth of 12.5 metres, remained open. It was remarked then that some tips appeared to contain no coal debris and it was speculated that these may be associated with flagstone mining.
The coal was sold as Lime Coal, Fire Coal and Smithy Coal, but at some time it was also made into coke, and an oven remains near the path. Kilns on Buck Haw Brow, near Giggleswick, were burning Fountain Fell coal in the early 19th century, “but the coal was regarded as particularly noxious by those living downwind of the kilns”.
Attempts were made to find a second seam and the log of a borehole sunk near Fountains Fell Tarn records four thin seams of coal and one which was 29 inches (0.73m) thick at a depth of 50 metres. This appears never to have been worked, but would have been near the base of the Lower Grit. Kelly points out that a group of 14 pits shown on recent Ordnance Survey mapping corresponds with the expected position of the second seam, but goes on to regard them as shakeholes because there is no spoil and they are in a sandstone which directly overlies the Main Limestone.
The same source notes that “Bed 1 rises up the hill to about 10 feet [3 metres] above the level of the borehole at the surface; then comes a bed of shale in which there is a coal about two feet six inches thick [0.76m], followed by shales (in which there is another seam three inches thick), and these by flagstones on the summit”. An undated letter (probably 1872) from W.H. Dalton, in the John Brigg Papers, mentions that Fountains Fell Colliery was about to reopen and that the second boring was in progress, looking for the continuation of “the new seam”.
Gill, M.C. “Great Dales Coalfield, Eastern Areas” British Mining No.86 (2008), pp.68-108
Gill, M.C. & Squirrell, M. The Malham Mines (British Mining No.97, 2014)
Kelly, M.Geology of the Lune and Upper Ribble Coalfields (British Mining No.85, 2008)