Thorne Moors peat exploitation

The following thesis has been added to the Downloads available through the ‘Publications’ webpage:

M. Limbert (2011) Peat Exploitation on Thorne Moors. A case-study from the Yorkshire – Lincolnshire border 1626 – 1963, with integrated notes on Hatfield Moors. MPhil thesis. Division of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences, University of Bradford.

This thesis was submitted to Bradford University in 2011 by Martin Limbert and is available on their website at

Unfortunately, due to a technical error, some of the illustrations have been omitted from the thesis on the above website. Therefore the complete thesis has been made available on the downloads page of the Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum website .

In 2009, the Forum published an account of modern peat exploitation, ‘Mechanised Peat Winning and Transportation on Thorne Moors’ (Technical Report No. 8, second edition). Taken together, this publication and the MPhil thesis detail peat winning and transportation at Thorne from the 17th century to the end in 2007. In addition to detailed methodologies, these sources include a coordinated narrative history, inventories of published images and bibliographical details. Only 20 copies remain of the original print run of 150 copies of Technical Report No. 8 and these are currently available at the reduced price of £5 plus p&p. Please send any correspondence about the thesis or Technical Report No 8 to Martin Limbert.


In its industrial heyday, Thorne Moors was the most extensive commercial peat operation in Britain. It became closely tied to nearby Hatfield Moors, and at both the methods of exploitation were essentially the same. Although much of Thorne Moors is situated in Yorkshire, the eastern extent lies in Lincolnshire. Recognizable differences in scale and methodology existed between the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire parts.

After regional drainage in the 1620-30s, there was increased trade in the peat of Thorne Moors along the River Don. A succession of uses included unrefined and refined fuel, products from carbonization and distillation, and moss litter for working horses. From the mid-19th century, companies were formed to exploit the new uses, especially moss litter, and export became increasingly focused on railways. In 1896, the British Moss Litter Co. Ltd was set up (restructured 1899) to assume the Thorne/Hatfield interests of several smaller companies, including the Anglo-Dutch Griendtsveen Moss Litter Co. Ltd. The British Moss Litter Co. was acquired by Fisons Ltd in 1963.

Following a contextual history, descriptions are given of both muscle-powered peat winning and transportation methodologies. These comprise exploitation in the 17th and 18th centuries, an examination of the 19th century writings of William Casson, and written allusions spanning 1863-1963. Information is imparted on the Griendtsveen Moss Litter Co. In addition to creating a ‘Dutch’ peat canal system, this company introduced an immigrant Dutch workforce, proficient in their native methods and intended inter alia to retrain local workers looking for employment with Griendtsveen. Dutch methodology persisted alongside the local methods for c.60 years. Accounts are also presented of the evolutionary limit of indigenous peat winning, and the use of narrow gauge railways. Finally the transition to mechanisation of peat cutting and narrow gauge haulage is outlined.

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