Barytes

(Page created 19/04/05. Last updated 27/09/09)

Silverband Mine (G.Brambles)

a shortened version of the chapter by Alen McFadzean and Ian Tyler in Lakeland’s Mining Heritage

Unlike copper, lead, iron and coal – the common minerals of the county – barytes has been mined as a commercial product only since recent times. Prior to the mid 18th century it was of little value to the mining companies, and was, along with calcite, quartz, and other gangue minerals, thrown over the tips as a waste material. Nowadays barytes is in great demand for a variety of purposes, and the Lake District mines have in recent decades produced many thousands of tons. Lakeland’s barytes industry terminated though in 1990 when Force Crag, the last working mine, was forced to close after a serious collapse in Zero Level brought production to a halt.

Mines in which barytes has been present as a vein ore, and worked as a commercial mineral, include Blencathra Mine, Ruthwaite Mine, Potts Gill Mine, Sandbeds Mine, Force Crag Mine, and the mines of the Cross Fell area. Barytes has also been present as a gangue mineral in Greenside and Hartsop Hall mines, in Patterdale, and at Wythburn Mine, Thirlmere.

Like the majority of Lakeland mines, Force Crag developed as a series of intensive working periods and interludes of abandonment.  When the mine was first investigated in 1775 it was galena – the mineral ore of lead – that was the attraction, and this was extracted from the lower levels of the mine. The upper reaches of the mine, however,  situated above the 2000 feet contour of the steep slopes of Grisedale Pike, were worked exclusively for barytes. A total of 60,000 tons of the mineral were produced in its lifetime.

The main vein at Force Crag is vertical by nature, though dipping slightly to the north. It has been worked by a series of levels driven from the fellside, intersecting the mineral over a series of heights. As with most Lakeland mineral mines, once the levels has been driven they were then linked internally by a series of shafts and ladderways to aid the extraction of the mineral and facilitate the movement of men and equipment from one level to another. One of the interesting features of the Lakeland barytes mines, which puts them apart from the other mineral workings, is the wide adoption of the pillar system. The veins were stoped away, leaving huge blocks of mineral in situ to enhance the stability of the mine.

Mineral was removed from the veins with high explosives. Once dislodged it was allowed to lie in the floor of the stope prior to being drawn off from the tramming level below through wooden hoppers. In Force Crag the batteries of hoppers in the 1100ft level, and the miniature hoppers in the narrow 650ft level, emphasise the fact that not only was mining an industry for skilled and knowledgeable men of the rock, it also encouraged the craft of woodworking and allowed no end of scope for creative genius.

Caldbeck was the other main barytes mining area of the Lake District fells. Situated in a two-mile area of decomposed Borrowdale volcanic rock on the north side of High Pike, the barytes lodes course across the fell in an east-west direction, cutting the many copper and lead veins for the which the area is famous. Mining started in earnest in the 19th century, though undoubtedly the Elizabethan miners were aware of the existence of the beautiful heavy spar, but it was not until the Great War that the situation started to improve.

The Potts Gill mines – opened as early as 1844 – worked on and off till the 1940s, when prospects were good for the Caldbeck Fells and barytes mining took off in a big way. Driggith Mine, which had produced copper and lead, had been reopened for barytes in 1926, but came under new ownership no less than three times during the 1940s. East Potts Gill Mine commenced in 1942 for barytes, and soon this essential war mineral for munitions was being produced from the Back Vein where barytes formed a rib a full six feet in width. The outcrop of Sandbeds East was discovered in 1927, but exploration and production did not proceed till 1946. Sandbeds West Mine, which was a continuation of the lodes worked in Sandbeds East, was not discovered till 1956.

The veins varied in width from a few inches to twenty feet, though not all the filling was barytes. The main gangue mineral was quartz, with barytes averaging a thickness of just under two feet. Some 150,000 tons of dressed barytes were produced from the mines of Caldbeck. Operations ceased in 1966 with the closure of the Sandbeds mines.

Barytes mining also developed into a substantial industry in the eastern borders of the county. The mined area commences in the north at Hartside, and follows the Pennine escarpment down through the Hilton and Appleby area to Brough. No less than fourteen major veins have been worked for lead, barytes, witherite and fluorspar. Many of the mines are to be found in the inhospitable region where Cross Fell and Dun Fell dominate the area and the wind speed averages 50 to 60 mph.

Just below the summit of Dun Fell is to be found Silverband Mine. Originally worked for galena by the London Lead Company, the mine produced a staggering 215,000 tons of dressed ore between 1939 and 1963. The mine, situated at an altitude of over 2000 feet, presented its owners the La Porte Company with a transportation problem. This was solved by the erection of an aerial ropeway, three and a half miles down to the plant, the remains of which are still visible. More recently, under new ownership, the vein has been worked by opencasting, with the ore milled on site and then transported down the steep winding road in huge lorries to the valley below.

FEATURED SITE

Force Crag Mill

FURTHER READING

Force Crag, the history of a Lakeland mine : Ian Tyler, Red Earth, 1990

PLACES TO VISIT

Click here to view the list of minor vein mineral sites