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Visit to Killhope & Nenthead Lead Mining Museums

Jun 21 2016 News >> Latest News

KillhopeOn the 25th of May a group of FODMs members headed for the hills. Whilst the North Pennines are now classed as England’s last wilderness, in the 19th Century they were one of the country’s great industrial lead mining areas. We started off our day at Killhope where following a warm greeting by Margaret Manchester, Chairman of the Friends of Killhope we set off to tour the site. The warm greeting was in stark contrast to the outside temperature. The North Pennines even in late May can be cold. This only served to accentuate the harshness of life for the lead miners and process workers who toiled at the mine.  Over many years through the hard work of the Friends and the support of Durham County Council the lead mining story of the site has been brought to life. Buildings and equipment have been restored and brought back into use to show how the lead was extracted from the mined ore. This includes the crushing and separation equipment and also the huge waterwheel that dominates the site.

However the real story of the mine lies underground. Donning hard hats and miners lamps we waded into the mine via the combined entrance and drainage channel. This journey - not for the faint hearted or claustrophobic - really brought home the difficulties of lead mining. Lead veins tend to run vertically so the miners not only had to tunnel in horizontally but then had to follow the veins up or down working precariously from wooden planks or “stoops” as they hacked away at the ceiling. Our underground guide was literally a “mine of information” and enlivened our underground trip with all manner of macabre stories. Grateful to be back in the daylight and fresh air we repaired to the café for some much needed food and warmth.

After lunch and a quick trip over the big hill to Nenthead we set about learning about the other parts of the lead process; smelting and de-silvering. As well as lead the mined ore contained small amounts of silver. We were told by our guide Peter Jackson,Chairman of the Nenthead Mines Conservation Society that it was often this small amount of silver that kept the mine financially viable.

Whilst little remains of the process equipment at Nenthead it is still possible to see the outline of the buildings used to extract the sliver. The Nenthead mine site set high in the Pennines and the adjacent village, one of the earliest purpose built industrial villages in England are stark examples of the difficulties involved in extracting the materials that fed the Industrial Revolution. In the 20th Century zinc was mined at the site and the mine finally closed in 1961. Our trip to the hills ended with a look at the recently restored “powder house” and a very welcome cup of tea back at the mine office building.

Full marks to our trip organizer Ed Dinning for a very enjoyable and educational day out. Perhaps next time Ed we will get some sunshine.

Graham Bradshaw

Last changed: Jun 21 2016

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