Forward modelling of maturity against vitrinite reflectance and chemical data for a number of onshore boreholes was used to test a range of subsidence and thermal histories for the Pennine Carboniferous Basin. The preferred models suggest maximum palaeotemperatures were reached during late Cretaceous or possibly early Tertiary burial, consistent with the outcome of previous apatite fission‐track studies. Models in which maximum palaeotemperature was attained in the late Carboniferous are considered less likely: rapid burial under a normal heat flow requires an unrealistic thickness of missing late Westphalian strata, whilst high regional heat flow is incompatible with the observed vitrinite reflectance gradients. The lithologies assumed for missing strata have a significant influence on the range of estimates of eroded thicknesses. Preferred estimates of Cenozoic erosion range from around 1.6 km in Mesozoic basinal areas to around 2.8 km within areas of present Carboniferous outcrop.