Corf Rods












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General Sir Martin Farndale KCB




Corf Rods are generally half to three quarter inch in diameter and used for making baskets called corves, which are employed for drawing coals out of pits (Bailey’s Survey of Durham, page 187).


Corf - A basket, used in mining to move coal from underground to the surface


Some of the earliest examples of this word are in Scottish sources but it has not been noted anywhere in the British Isles before the second half of the fifteenth century. At that time the ‘corf’ was a basket, which links it etymologically to ‘Korb’, the modern German word for basket, and this adds credibility to the argument that it was a late borrowing from one of the Low German languages.The OED first notes the use of ‘corf’ in connection with mining in 1653, at which time it may still be described as a basket. It was strong enough to hold substantial amounts of coal and also to withstand the rough treatment it received as it was moved about underground and taken up and down the pit shaft. The most explicit information about how the earliest baskets were made and used is in The Compleat Collier: the ‘corver’ made them of hazel rods, with saplings of oak, ash or alder for what the narrator called the ‘corf-bow’, probably a handle. They needed to be sturdy since the corves were ‘subject to Clash and beat against the Shaft sides’. Their function is described thus: ‘Labourers which are called Barrow-men … take the hewed Coals from the Hewers … and filling the Corves with these Wrought Coals put or pull away the full Curves [sic] … upon a Sledge of Wood and so halled all along the Barrow-way to the Pit Shaft … where they hook it by the Corf-Bow to the Cable, which … is drawn up to the top’. An isolated reference in Brandsby in the North Riding takes the link with mining in Yorkshire back much further but raises questions about what the corves were made of there. In Mr Cholmeley’s Coeles charges in June 1616 the items included picks, shovel irons, the collyer waige viijs, and 2 corves, 4 stapples to them viijd. It is likely that these ‘staples’ were U-shaped metal handles which may imply that the corves were made of wood. In Farnley, in 1707, the accounts listed expenses for new Corves and of one mending, for the wright worke 6s 4d, nailes 4d. A Beeston reference in 1754 to two corfes slipering 1s 8d, points to the use of iron runners. It is known that corves were later made of wood and iron but perhaps the practice has a longer history in some regions. They were certainly in use long before 1787, the date when they are said to have been invented by a Sheffield ‘viewer’ called John Carr. However, Carr’s contribution may have been that he fitted guides to prevent the corves from bumping against the sides of the shaft when being raised. By the early nineteenth century corves had axletrees, cods, corner plates and wheels: the cods were the axle bearings. Corves are mentioned regularly in Yorkshire colliery accounts


in Farnley, Swillington and Elsecar and it is clear that the loaded corf came increasingly to be seen as a standard measure: 1704 A pit sunke about 20 yards from … Dick Taylor’s pit, it is 13 yards all but 6 inches deepe and Coales got in it from no 6th to no 13 is 124 Corves, Farnley. In Colsterdale, in 1694, new corves were ‘38 inches in length, 19 in breadth and 12 inches in depth, to hold four bushels each