Places to visit


Early coalmines

A French coalmine in 1812 - the large steam engine was needed to pump water out of the deep shaft. The crowd is waiting for news of an accident underground.

Discovery of coal in northern France
In the 17th century, coal mining started under what is now Belgium and NW Germany, where you did not have to dig deep to find seams of coal - see 'how coal was formed'. By 1713, Louis XIV had finished conquering the neighbouring area (see "History of Flanders").

Mining engineers suspected the coal continued under northern France - but it was difficult to find. Rich aristocrats paid engineers to explore on their estates, digging deep shafts, hoping to hit coal. A small deposit of underground coal had been found near Boulogne in 1682, but the first promise of mineable coal was discovered in 1720, at Fresnes-sur-Escaut. After 20 years of drilling, Jacques Desandrouin discovered a rich seam of coal about 500 m deep near Valenciennes in 1734.

Other minerals were also being mined in the 18th century: the Duke of Croy, whose château was at Condé, had large estates stretching into the Avenois, where iron mines were opened to supply water-powered ironworks around Fourmies.

By 1756, the Anzin Company mining near Valenciennes employed 1,500 miners - by the Revolution (1789) there were 4,000.

Deep seams and drainage
To mine deep seams of coal, they needed to bring in newly-invented steam engines from England to pump out underground water.

Coal in the western part of the basin was not discovered until 1852, at Oignies, near Douai. Around Lens it was up to 1200 m deep.


Places to visit:
Centre Historique Minier, Lewarde - Mining Museum,with tour underground.
Scarpe-Escaut Nature Park - old black coal-mining area around St.Amand - Valenciennes, reclaimed and made green

Related background information
The Industrial revolution in northern France
Diagram of 19th century coal-mine


Industrial Revolution
Early coalmines
Rise & fall of coal

Early canals


Textile industry



Discovery of coal in northern France
How coal was formed under northern France & Britain




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