The story of the North Yorkshire coalfield is of a steady march eastwards. It began with the people of Roman Britain, who were not enthusiastic coalminers but used coal locally as a fuel where they could extract it without too much effort; accordingly, they dug drifts — sloping tunnels — into the east-facing slopes of the Pennines where there were outcrops of coal near the surface. Sporadic mining continued over the succeeding centuries in the Wakefield area, and even as far east as Pontefract, wherever the coal was fairly easy to get. When, under the patronage of Henry VIII, John Leland made his massive survey of England in the middle of the sixteenth century, he passed through the North Yorkshire coalfield and noted that mining still depended on ease of access. ‘The craft’, he wrote, ‘is to come to it with least pain in the digging.’ Further north, incidentally, Leland heard intimations of a problem which was to come to the fore five centuries later at Selby: ‘Some suppose that coals lie under the very rocks that the minster close to Durham standeth upon.