Industrial life, Nidderdale style

Gateway to our tour of the mines.
Gateway to our tour of the mines.

Take a walk through much of rural Nidderdale in North Yorkshire, and almost the only sign of human endeavour that you’ll see is connected with agriculture.  Go out into this lightly-populated area, with its apparently nearly barren hillsides, and you’re only likely to meet sheep, with the occasional field of cattle.

Yesterday, we went to  Greenhow.  It’s a charming, pretty village more noted these days for being the highest village in Yorkshire: a whole 400 metres or so above sea level.  It used to be an industrial power-house.  It was here and in the surrounding area that villagers used to mine for lead.  And the signs of this ancient industry are still here.  We set off on a walk across moorland and valley to investigate.

It’s thought that the Romans were the first to mine lead in the area, and by 1225, the abbots of Fountains and Byland Abbeys were apparently squabbling(!) over rights to mine at nearby ‘Caldestones’.  This valuable commodity  was transported over, for the time, immense distances.  In 1365 for instance, a consignment was sent to the south of England, to Windsor: ‘Two wagons each with ten oxen carrying 24 fothers* of the said lead from Caldstanes in Nidderdale in the county of York by high and rocky mountains and by muddy roads to Boroughbridge’.  At which point, the journey perhaps continued on water.  Indeed, lead was exported as far afield as Antwerp, Bordeaux and Danzig.

The beginnings of a long journey for that now-smelted lead.
The beginnings of a long journey for that now-smelted lead.

Well, we were on those ‘high and muddy mountains‘, but they didn’t cause us too much trouble.  Comfortable walking boots and a bright sunny day probably helped us on our way.  What we did see were warrens of carefully constructed and stone-lined tunnels leading to the ancient and now fully-exploited lead seams.  We saw, in the small streams now coursing along some of them, how water became a real problem to the miners of those seams.  Horse tramways hauled lead , which was smelted on site, off to what passed for major roads at the time.  It was obvious to us how very difficult transport must be in this up-hill-and-down-dale area, which even than was not highly populated, with poor transport infra-structure, and unsophisticated wooden carts to carry the goods.  Ancient spoil-heaps from now-exhausted seams litter the area.

An old lead-works, spoil heaps, a river and a perfect picnic spot.
An old lead-works, spoil heaps, a river and a perfect picnic spot.

And at the end of our journey, we strode up to Coldstones Cut.  This is a fine art work, a vantage point from which to see a vast panorama of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and beyond, as well as the last working quarry in the area.  These days, it’s all about aggregates and asphalt, but the quarry has a long history of providing lead, then limestone as well as other materials.  Andrew Sabin‘s viewing area is part streetscape, part brutal stone-block construction.  It’s a magnificent intermediary between an immense and busy industrial landscape, and the gentler and even vaster rural one in which it’s situated.

 

* An old English measurement equalling about 19.5 hundredweight.

10 thoughts on “Industrial life, Nidderdale style”

  1. Kipling – “You could tell Green-how Hill folk by the red-apple colour o’ their cheeks an’ nose tips, and their blue eyes, driven into pin-points by the wind”.
    My head’s stuffed full of all sorts of odd information!
    Pete and I both enjoyed your post and said we really must visit Nidderdale again soon.

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  2. I love it when you go on outings and tell us about them! Mining was such a terribly hard life–I’ve been to mines in Cornwall (Levant and Geevor) and was struck by the danger at every single turn. I imagine lead mining was just the same. And yet, the photos are still beautiful.

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    1. Even given that people tended to be smaller ‘in the old days’, those tunnels are terribly low and narrow: and with the added danger of flooding, no fun at all. Probably the great views were liitle consolation – especially in winter.

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  3. A fascinating tour through some industrial history. Everything seems like it was such a struggle from the primitive mining to the transportation. Someone must have been reaping riches to make it worth it. Great post.

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    1. Thank you. The land round there was pretty unproductive in other ways. Inhabitants – other than those connected with raising sheep – were probably glad of whatever work they could get.

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  4. Having lived in Norfolk for three years I think 400m above sea level would give me a nose bleed! I loved the photographs, they show how time can soften our industrial heritage.

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    1. You were MEANT to think ‘Ah, bless, fancy getting excited about 400 metres. Up here in the Pyrenees, we start climbing at 500m, and don’t stop till we get to 1300’. And yes, the old industrial remains round here are quite picturesque.

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