As the Lake District joins the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef and Grand Canyon on the list of Unesco’s world heritage sites it is easy to forget that all but the high fells are largely a manmade landscape. Indeed sheep farming is probably the main reason behind this new status not that everyone agrees with it. But mining and quarrying have also dramatically altered the landscape. A 13th century document tells of gold, silver, copper and lead mines in the Newlands valley. This is thought to be Goldscope mine and the foot of the Handscarth ridge. Yewthwaite Mine is below Cat Bells, probably the most popular fell in the Lake District. Most visitors however are unaware of the mining activity that took place on its western flank. It was operational in the later half of the 19th century working on a vein of lead. There was also a vein of copper but this was not fully developed. The galena extracted was dressed on site using a crusher with power generated by a water wheel on Yewthwaite Beck.
The high peak on the far right is Causey Pike, 637m high with a southern flank giving one of the most relentless, steepest climbs I have ever done.
Lead mining has had a tremendous impact on much of the Yorkshire Dales. Both providing a wealth of fascinating archaeological interest and transforming the landscape in a barren industrial wasteland. Grassington Moor has had a long history of mining. Being flatter than Swaledale and the northern dales and lacking the steep sided valleys, early ore was gained not by hushes and drifts into the hillside but by sinking of shafts to reach the mineral veins. Early shafts were no more than 30 metres deep with the vein being worked horizontally until it became exhausted or unsafe.
In the 19th century the Duke of Devonshire acquired the moor and began a more industrial exploitation. An horizontal adit was driven linking the shafts for drainage and a cupola coal fired smelting mill was built to replace earlier wood and peat fired mills. The cupola mill enabled continuous smelting. In the photo the remains of this mill are at the bottom right of the slope. Fumes from the mill were exhausted via a network of flues to the chimney at the highest point of the moor. This network of flues was to enable sections of flue to be isolated and cleaned out to recover condensed lead without halting the smelting process. The cupola built closed in 1882.
Between 1955 and 1962, Dales Chemicals reworked the old waste heaps for fluorspar and barytes which the Victorian miners had discarded. Many of the buildings dating from this time can be seem on the far left of the photo at the top of the track.
A trickle of water flows down Barney Beck, or Old Gang Beck as it was known in the 19th century when the lead ming industry in Swaledale was at its peak. Then there would have been enough water to drive stone crushers housed in a small building which stood adjacent to the beck but long since demolished. Further away up the slope the remains of smelting mill still survives, a reminder of the industry. Here bouse, the lead ore, was fired to a high temperature to release the metal. Either coal, from the nearby Tan Hill colleries, or peat from the surrounding moors, was used to fire the four furnaces in the mill. The pigs or ingots of the pure lead were then transported by packhorse to sea going ships at Yarm and Stockton. A water supply would also have been required in the smelting mill to drive the bellows, carried by a wooden launder or chute from higher up the beck. The mill operated from 1839 to 1881 and replaced two earlier 17th century mills.
Greenside Mine was once the biggest lead mine complex in the country and operated for nearly 300 years finally closing in 1962. The High Horse Level was one of the earliest to be exploited by Dutch ‘Adventurers’ in the late 17th century. The stone extracted was dressed to separate out the lead ore and waste materials dumped producing the fan of tailings.
Dressing required a constant supply of water so Sticks Gill was dammed on the left of the photo. In the 1870s the ’Top Dam’ burst causing much damage.
The hill opposite is Green Side, from which the mine takes its name. Its on the on the east ridge of Stybarrow Dodd. The two large ‘glory holes’ are collapses of the Gilgowars Level which occurred in 1862 collapse. Fortunately this happened on a Sunday when the mine was closed so no one was killed.
Records show that lead has been mined in Dowber Gill in Wharfedale since 1663. There could well have been earlier activity. The village of Kettlewell at the foot of the gill was built around the fortunes of the mine. Productivity was highest in the 19th century with 192 tons of galena mined in 1838. In 1851 a large block of the ore was exhibited at the Crystal Palace Exhibition. Closure came two decades later in 1874
A trip over to Swaledale to explore the dales north east of Reeth. This is lead mining country. The lead is found in vertical mineralised veins deposited during the cooling of hot fluids forced up through the underlying limestone geology. Lead is found as the ore galena and Swaledale has been dug, stripped and robbed in the search for this valuable mineral for at least two thousand years. Lead ingots have been found bearing the names of Roman emperors and it is thought that the Romans used enslaved native Brigantians to mine their lead. It was much valued and it is thought that buildings in Rome itself used Swaledale lead in the roofs.
After the Romans left, the big abbeys, Rievaulx and Bridlington Priory and aristocratic landowners all took their share of the proceeds of lead mining in the area. By the 18c mining became more ambitious, economies of scale meant smelting mills, where the lead is extracted from the ore by heating, could be built catering for the output from several mines. This smelting mill is at Marske. It’s actually two. An earlier one, nearest the camera, connected to the chimney at the top of the hill by a flue. Later a second mill be built next to the chimney itself.