Wythop Silica Brick

(Page created 19/08/12)

An edited version of an article by J.D.J. Wildridge in The CIHS Newsletter, based on original research by John Martin

In the area surrounding Wythop Hall (NY 203285) – on the fellside above the west shore of Bassenthwaite Lake – is a considerable quantity of quartz, and from 1920 until 1937 various moves were made to exploit it:-

First venture

This took place in 1920 when Mr Lyon of Ruthwaite Barytes Mine (NY 238369) sought permission to put “one or two shots into the ground” in Wythop Woods to see if silica was present, and to ask for a take-note if successful. Solicitors were advised and agreed with Mr Frazier, the estate agent, that “it is not desirable to encourage these people”, and any offer was to be turned down. Mention is made at this stage of ‘Braithwaite Mines Ltd’, which was a conjectured name for any venture to exploit the silica deposits, and a Mr Wright was named to put the shots down.

Lord Barnard, the estate trustee, was consulted and he suggested that more investigation should take place before rejection, and it should be determined how far any sporting rights might be interfered with. He also states that mineral rights may be a gold mine but output check may be difficult, and that Mr Scoular could help in negotiations as “none of us can know very much about the minerals concerned”.

Mr Scoular, a mining engineer, suggested the company (Braithwaite Mines Ltd) be offered a lease of five years and a dead rent of £150 per annum with a royalty of 6d. per ton on silica.

Nothing seems to have happened.

Second venture

In June 1927, Mr Frazer (agent for the Hutton Estate) reported a meeting with Mr Anthony Wilson (Manager of The Thornthwaite Lead Mine) who was acting as agent for “a company now seriously consideration of a brick making plant with which could be incorporated a silica plant”. A lease was proposed of 45 years (3 year breaks) as follows:-

Minimum rent – £25 per annum
Royalty – 3d. per ton based on weight of silica bricks produced and sold
Mine top of mill site
Ropeway to road at Beck Wythop
Cart to Thornthwaite to grind
Rights – Access to land for bricks (making and storage); To get large amounts of silica (Yet to be approved); To construct tramways, use water, drill rigs, etc.
(The name of the party is not disclosed)

In October 1928, Mr Davies of the Cumberland Granite Co. of Embleton was asked to assist with enquiries through Mr Wilson. Mr Wilson was reluctant to disclose names, but it was known that her was connected with a Mr James Gill of Portinscale – prime mover of the new company – and he (Mr Davies) was assured that there was ample finance.

The aim was to produce 20,000 tons of silica per year for bricks to be manufactured at Wythop or Sheffield. Professor Gilligan  reported favourably on the venture and the names of Mr Gill’s supporters were:-
a) Mr Johnston – Leeds Fireclay Ltd.
b) Mr A N Braithwaite – M.P.
c) Mr Seacombe Mills
d) Mr J S Killner – brick machine maker

Mr Davies now outlined some conditions for a lease in a communication to Mr Wilson concerning:-
a) Bona fides of lessees and ability to produce and install up-to-date equipment
b) Terms – 50 years lease with dead rent of £50 for first year and £75 thereafter
c) 6d. per ton up to 10,000 for silica; over 10,000 and up to 20,000 tons 3d.; after which it became 4.5d
d) Extract silica only and they were to have space for plant
e) Land – rent £2 per annum. There was to be protection of property and the leasor to have right of purchase at the end of the lease

In January 1929 the company registered as Lakeland Syndicate Ltd., and Mr Gill suggested that Lord Barnard be a member of the board. He refused.

March 1929:- Mr Davies reports capital for the venture is said to be £125,000 and fine details of the lease e.g. minerals, metal ores, measures to calculate royalty etc. were to be discussed. 10,000 bricks per week were project. The estate commissioners finalised the lease subject to Forestry Commission selling a piece of land at Beck Wythop for railway sidings. The lease was finally agreed in early April, but by the end of April the Syndicate indicated its inability to complete the leases and purchases because finances had still to be arranged.

Third venture

In June 1929, Mr R.B.Wright of Wright Production Co Ltd sought to work silica at Beck Wythop and asked for a take-note. No apparent action.

October 1929 – Wright Production Co Ltd of Rose Gill, Crosby, offered £25 per annum and 3d per ton to work silica. (Directors D. Newcombe Wright, W.H.Butler, & H.Gregory). D Wright proposed to visit site to fix position of outcrops because he was uncertain of whereabouts. It was thought that there were possibly two outcrops – on Hagg at Beck Wythop, and on Ling Fell. Another possible location for these two outcrops being Woodend on Barf, and Beckstones Gill at Birch Crag. 

Wright wanted a take-note, but the estate solicitors informed Waugh & Musgrave (Wright’s solicitors) that “the whole of the sililca in the Wythop area has recently been leased at Lakeland Syndicate Ltd so that the offer by The Wright Production Co Ltd cannot be entertained”. Mr Wright is disappointed but hopes to get his small requirement from Lakeland Syndicate.

Fourth venture

January 1932 – Lakeland Syndicate is not active and anyway trade is depressed.

February 1932 – Mr Gill wrote to Mr Davies his regret about the rent and “The position at the moment is that arrangements have been entered into for the company to be formed Lakeland Syndicate and the capital subscribed not later than March 25th, and this time as the general outlook is more favourable than it has been for some time past I really believe that the matter will be completed”. As no movement has taken place by September, Lord Barnard suggests that Mr Anthony Wilson should take over the lease.

October 1932 – Mr Gill asks for time to complete investigations. £500 has been spent and the estate solicitors were advised “in spite of the unsatisfactory record of the Syndicate …. they should grant the request”.

September 1933 – The prospectus for Lakeland Bricks (Refractories) Ltd was issued. The estate solicitors suggested that Mr W.M.Fletcher-Vane might be offered a directorship (declined) and the “issue will be a success as the matter is now in good hands”.

November 1933 – £50,000 of £80,000 had been subscribed but difficulties were being encountered because the markets were in decline and as a result the venture collapsed due to insufficient capital subscription.

Fifth venture

July 1934 – Lakeland Syndicate sold out to Cumberland Silica Bricks Ltd.
The directors were George Rupert Dugdale (Director of Rotary Smelting Ltd), mining engineer, Ronald King of Petroleum Technical Insurance Underwriters, Alex Francis Hervy (Director of Lakeland Syndicate Ltd).
Manager – James Gill, BSc.
Capital – £8000
Issue – 100,000 6% participating preference ordinary shares 10/- each; 100,000 deferred ordinary shares 1/- each with the proviso that application for deferred ordinary shares only would not be considered.

August 1934 – Consett Iron Co (Mr P.D.Robinson) asked for samples of the silica to be mined. This was sent to Mr S.Tweedie Esq at Castleheads, a chemical analyst. As a result of this analysis Robinson wrote to Mr Vane about the C S Bricks prospectus about “how preposterous are some of the claims made in the prospectus”.

Tweedie’s analysis was:- SiO2 = 98.17%. Refractories cone 33 = 1740C. Good angularity. Conversion (change in specific gravity after heating) showed weakness in structure after heating whilst a comparative sample proves strong. Conclusion: “It is difficult to assess the stone as regards the suitability for brick manufacture, without trial, owing to the tendency to crack and the nature of the stone after heating”.

Mr Wilson then wrote to Mr Vane to point out that the Wythop quartz was not superior (presumably to Weardale); that production costs for nearly pure silica at Weardale were 3/6d per ton and he expressed doubts about Mr Gill’s claims and the high costs involved, althoug at this time Gill was revising his costs. Wilson said that he was doubtful about joining the board.

October 1934 – A letter was published in the ‘Financial News’ from the editor of the ‘Refractories Journal’ concerning Cumberland Silica Bricks Ltd, pointing out that erroneous statements were included in the prospectus and that unjustified criticism was made about British Silica Brick manufacture e.g. that silica bricks manufactured in other parts of the country will not withstand more than 1650C without signs of fusion. It was pointed out that Prof Rees of Sheffield had stated that normal products of silica brick makers usually fuse between 1700C to 1730C. C S Bricks further stated that most high quality bricks were imported, this also being untrue as only a small percentage were imported.

In reply Messrs Lindo & Co (Cumberland Silica Brick’s solicitors) stated that their clients had made the necessary investigations and that claims in the prospectus were correct. They further added: “The fact remains that there is a demand by users of silica bricks for a higher quality brick than even the highest quality which Prof W.J.Rees claims can be manufactured in this country, and it is this quality of brick that our clients intent to manufacture and supply from this unique deposit of silica which they are fortunate enough to have acquired”.

Dec 6th 1934 – The estate solicitors advised Mr Vane that the company was subscribed to, and early in 1935 work seems to have begun.

Feb 2nd 1935 – The first accident at the works was reported in The West Cumberland Times when a Mr Turner, a recently started employee, sustained a serious eye injury requiring a stay in Carlisle Infirmary.

Feb 6th & 7th 1935 – The West Cumberland Times and Whitehaven News reported a discussion at Cockermouth Rural District Council of a letter from the Friends of the Lake District suggesting the desirability of using the power of planning acts “to prevent spoilation of the County by starting a silica brick works on the side of Bassenthwaite Lake”, and that money should be set aside to clear the dumps from the old lead mines at Thornthwaite. The Friends thought that there was doubt about the long term future of this development. The matter was referred to the County Council planning committee. The editor’s view was that the creation of jobs was most important.

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Whether any production took place has not so far come to light. Some buildings were erected near Wythop Hall, but the planned works at the site of the old lead mine at Thornthwaite were never begun.