The Northumberland and Durham coal fields have a long history. They made a huge difference to the Yorkshire coastal ports, not least by using them as havens of refuge in storm and war. Early coal deliveries in the 14th century reached the coast but the cost of inland transport was too great to move the "sea-coal" far by road.
Scarborough castle managed a coal fire while Pickering castle burnt peat, turf or timber. They say that London prohibited the use of sea coal in 1306 as it tended to corrupt the air.
The ship "Blithe", possibly a Selby vessel, anchored off Filey in 1321, with eighty chaldrons of coal. Ten chaldrons were burnt by Philip of Hanbury, lieutenant to Henry de Percy, keeper of Scarborough Castle in 1336 and another eight in the next year. Three Middlesbrough men were accused of illegally marketing twenty four chaldrons of coal in the River Tees in 1361-2. At that time Middlesbrough was little more than a hamlet, with a small outlying cell of Whitby Abbey monks.
A coal ship was detained as a very early smuggler in 1366. This Flanders vessel was taking a cargo of Tyne coal to Europe when it was wrecked at Filey Brigg. Underneath the coal were two great sacks and a pocket of wool, our principal export, going out illegally, and worth ten marks. Flemish coal ships were very active along the coast in the next fifty years. The accounts of the monks of Whitby for the years 1394-1396 show them buying Newcastle coal at 3 shillings and 4 old pence a chaldron. One St Hilda's day, they had some Scarborough musicians up for their feast.