Abstract The Parkgate coal of Langsettian age in the Yorkshire–Nottinghamshire coalfield is typical of many coals in the UK in that it has a high sulphur (S) content. Detailed information on the distribution of the forms of S, both laterally and vertically through the seam, was known from previous investigations. In the present work, 38 interval samples from five measured sections of the coal were comprehensively analysed for major, minor and trace elements and the significance of the relationships established using both raw and centered log transformed data. The major elements are used to quantify the variations in the inorganic and organic coal components and determine the trace element associations. Pyrite contains nearly all of the Hg, As, Se, Tl and Pb and is also the major source of the Mo, Ni, Cd and Sb. The clays contain the following elements in decreasing order of association: Rb, Cs, Li, Ga, U, Cr, V, Sc, Y, Bi, Cu, Nb, Sn, Te and Th. Nearly all of the Rb is present in the clay fraction, whereas for elements such as V, Cu and U, a significant amount is thought to be present in the organic matter, based on the K vs trace element regression equations. Only Ge, and possibly Be, would appear to have a dominant organic source. The trace element concentrations are calculated for pyrite, the clay fraction and organic matter. For pyrite it is noted that concentrations agree with published data from the Yorkshire–Nottinghamshire coalfield and also that Tl concentrations (median of 0.33 ppm) in the pyrite are greater than either Hg or Cd. Unlike these elements, Tl has attracted less attention and possibly more information is needed on its anthropogenic distribution and impacts on man and the environment. A seawater source is thought to be responsible for the high concentrations of S, Cl and the non-detrital trace elements in the Parkgate coal. Indicative of the seawater control is the Th/U ratio, which expresses the detrital to non-detrital element contributions. Using other elements, similar ratios can be calculated, which in combination offer greater interpretative value.