1) This early word for ‘coal’ has been explained in a variety of ways but one important theory is that it first described coal which had been cast ashore from seams exposed on the sea bed.
The diarist Abraham de la Pryme knew that coal was obtained in this way on the Yorkshire coast, and he wrote in 1697 of great quantities washed up in Holderness. It was, he said, little more than dust, so exceeding small that it commonly smothers all their fires out, unless they keep perpetualy blowing the same. In towns along the coast the people therefore had special chimneys, and set their houses in positions which ensured a constant draught. The main alternative theory is that sea-coal was so named because for many people it was literally brought to them by sea, especially from Newcastle upon Tyne. Oliver Heywood wrote in 1665 of an exceeding scarcity of sea-coal in great towns that have been supplied from New-castle, especially London, Hul and York by reason that the Hollanders lye upon the sea-coast and hinder passage. Neither explanation seems entirely satisfactory, especially if we consider that sea-coal was the name given to coal dug out of the ground in the Pennines as early as the thirteenth century. In Old English, sea-coal or sćcol was actually jet, also cast up on the east coast, and this may have been an influence when it became necessary to distinguish between charcoal and mineral coal. Most early references are in Latin: 1306 ‘and he is digging sea coal therein, damages 6s 8d’, Sandal
1446-58 Et petit pro labore suo ad carbon. marin. per iij dies, vjd, Fountains Abbey. An earlier English reference is listed under ‘coal’.