A study of detrital zircon age populations in Namurian–Westphalian (Carboniferous) sandstones in the southern Central Pennine Basin of the UK has revealed considerable complexity in their provenance history. The Pendleian–Marsdenian Morridge Formation, which is known to have been derived from the Wales-Brabant Massif to the south on the basis of palaeocurrent and petrographic information, is dominated by zircons ultimately derived from the Caledonian belt to the north. These zircons were recycled from sandstones of northern origin that had been previously deposited over the massif during Middle to Late Devonian times. The Morridge Formation also includes Late Neoproterozoic zircons of local Wales-Brabant Massif origin. The south lobe of the Yeadonian Rough Rock has been previously interpreted as having a complex provenance including sediment of northern origin interbedded with sediment ascribed to a Wales-Brabant Massif source. However, the zircon spectrum lacks a Late Neoproterozoic component that would have been diagnostic of input from the Wales-Brabant Massif, and the provenance history of the Rough Rock south lobe therefore remains enigmatic. The Langsettian Ludgbridge Conglomerate is dominated by Late Neoproterozoic zircons of Wales-Brabant Massif origin, but even in this evidently proximal deposit, the provenance is complex since the main zircon group (ca. 640 Ma) cannot be matched with known local Neoproterozoic basement sources. The data either indicate the presence of hitherto-unknown magmatic rocks of this age adjacent to the South Staffordshire coalfield or indicate that the zircons were recycled from sediment with a more distal origin. Finally, the Duckmantian Top Hard Rock contains zircons that can be reconciled with a source in the Irish Caledonides, consistent with the palaeocurrent evidence, supplemented by zircons derived from the Wales-Brabant Massif, possibly including the Monian Composite Terrane of Anglesey. The study reinforces the important message that failure to recognize the presence of recycled zircon could lead to erroneous reconstructions of sediment provenance and transport history. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.