Lead mining was once one of the most important industries in England, and for millennia the Yorkshire Dales was a significant and busy centre of activity. Many areas across the Dales bear the scars of lead mining activity both ancient and modern, although they are now tranquil and serene.
This book introduces you to the fascinating history of the lead mining industry in Yorkshire, the methods and technologies involved, the many uses of lead, and some of the most significant lead mining sites in the area. Finally, two carefully chosen walks will guide you around some of the most beautiful lead mining country in the Dales.
History of Lead Mining
Uses of Lead Through Time
Methods of Extraction and Processing
Lead Mining Sites in the Dales
Out and About in Lead Mining Country
Walk 1: Upper Swaledale
Walk 2: Around Reeth
The mining and working of metallic ores is one of the oldest industrial activities to be practised in the British Isles. From prehistory Britain was known to be rich in deposits of tin, copper, silver, gold, iron and lead, and over the centuries mining has underpinned the economies of many isolated and rural upland areas.
Lead mining in particular has always been a harsh, dangerous and often insecure existence, which shortened the lives of those who engaged in it and rarely resulted in fortunes for the men at the rock face. Nevertheless, whole communities were once dependent on lead mining and smelting, with the evidence of their activity to be found in the Yorkshire landscape to this day if one knows how and where to look for it.
Lead ore and the minerals associated with it typically occur in limestone country, less commonly in gritstone and occasionally in shale. Deposits of galena (lead sulphide) occur where hot fluids rich in minerals migrated through the earth’s crust, leaving behind them precipitates or traces of chemical reactions. Over millennia these traces built up to form veins, sometimes breaking the surface of the ground but often buried deep in caves or running through the rock.
In the limestone-rich hills of the Pennines the presence of lead ore has been known and exploited for thousands of years. The limestone, laid down by the mineral remains of creatures swimming in the shallow Carboniferous seas that covered the area some 310 million years ago, is interspersed with layers of shales and mineral ores, and capped by millstone grit at higher levels. It is no exaggeration to state that the detailed study of the UK’s complex rock stratigraphy, often carried out prior to or during lead mining activities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, kick-started the modern science of geology.
Galena is the world’s primary source of lead. It occurs naturally in sedimentary rocks, and is metallic silver in colour when it is first exposed to the air, although it rapidly tarnishes to a dull grey. The maximum amount of lead which can be extracted from galena by smelting is around 86%, but few veins contain more than 10% galena; 5% is more likely, and any less means that extraction operations are likely to run at a loss if their chief target is lead.
However, galena is almost always found in association with various other minerals, chiefly sphalerite, fluorspar, barytes and calcite, and also with silver; in fact, many galena-mining operations today see these minerals or silver as their primary targets, with lead disregarded as a by-product. The mineral extraction industry grew from the start of the twentieth century as the lead mining industry declined.
Each mineral has its own industrial uses. Sphalerite is the most important zinc ore, and is used in making galvanised iron, paint, and as a gemstone. Fluorspar is also used in jewellery in the form of the prized Blue John (found near Castleton in Derbyshire), but it is also a source of fluorine for the chemical industry, and is used in the manufacture of Teflon, anaesthetics, toothpaste, aluminium and in the fluoridation of water. Barytes is used in paint manufacture, oil and gas drilling, and to make glossy paper for photographic printing and other uses, as well as in the barium meals used in modern medicine. Calcite is used to make pebbledash or stucco, in the paint for the white lines on roads, and for various purposes in the chemical industry.
Once, however, all these minerals were regarded as waste products, with the search for lead driving the excavation of vast networks of caverns and tunnels beneath the Yorkshire landscape, as well as the construction of buildings and transport networks to process the extracted ore and ship the finished product. This book will take you on a tour of lead mining’s history, the industrial uses of lead down the centuries, the methods used to extract and process the ore, and the locations of some of the most significant and picturesque remains to be found in the Yorkshire Dales.
Publisher: Bradwell Books
Released: Spring 2019
Size: 240 x 170mm
Author: Louise Maskill