Bangarth and Blea Tarn iron mines, Eskdale – report online

Inside of the open drainage adit at the foot of Blea Tarn Mine

Inside of the open drainage adit at the foot of Blea Tarn Mine

The report for the Bangarth and Blea Tarn iron mines survey is now available online via the OA Library. OA North was invited by the National Trust to undertake a detailed topographic survey of two iron mines at Bangarth and Blea Tarn, in Eskdale, Lake District (NY 1538 0081 and NY 1676 0061: approximate centre). The survey was undertaken in March and November 2012.

Eskdale Iron Mines, 2012 Survey Locations

Eskdale Iron Mines, 2012 Survey Locations

The Eskdale mines comprise seven mines, or mine groupings, that were worked during the late nineteenth century and include Blea Tarn and Bangarth mines. A lease on the areas covering Bangarth and Nab Gill mines was taken by S and J Lindow in September 1845 and they initially focused on establishing levels at Nab Gill. Prior to 1854, however, they had putatively focused their workforce on ‘opencast’ extraction at Bangarth, which did not prove to be particularly successful and in c 1856 they withdrew from these operations. A subsequent attempt to mine Bangarth was made by Joseph Fearon in 1860, which was abandoned in the late 1860s.

The area between Nab Gill and Bangarth was leased by Faithful Cookson in the 1860s, who sub-let it to Whitehaven Iron Mines Ltd in 1871. This company established an additional level below the earlier Bangarth workings, and worked on four levels at the site, and began work at Blea Tarn mine, where they established seven. However, the vein narrowed as the works penetrated into the hillside and the company abandoned Bangarth in 1874 and the main focus of work was then directed onto the Nab Gill mine, which became the most successful of the operations in the area.

Peat storage hut, near Bangarth Mine, Eskdale

Peat storage hut, near Bangarth Mine, Eskdale

The present survey has identified a complex archaeological resource at both Bangarth and Blea Tarn ironstone mines. Both mines are predated by elements associated with zigzagging trackways giving access onto the common for both stock grazing and peat cutting. Sites found adjacent to these trackways include small stone quarries, peat huts, sheepfolds and shelters. The area of Bangarth mine contains extensive evidence for cairnfields/field-systems of both earth and stone construction and stone-walled boundaries. Their considerable complexity, with areas of large consumption banks, interspersed with clearance cairns and probable later narrow ridge and furrow cultivation, point to multi-period use comprising at least small-scale cultivation and occupation on the now open common. There is evidence of two putative medieval shielings and a probably later demolished farmstead, as well as a platformed stock enclosure.

Part of the detailed topographic survey of Bangarth Mine, Eskdale

Part of the detailed topographic survey of Bangarth Mine, Eskdale

The simplest distribution of mining features is that at Blea Tarn mine, which reflects that there was a single phase of development from 1871 which proved unsuccessful in finding extensive ore deposits. Elements of mine adits, trials and open cutting were evident on at least five levels, including a large drainage adit at the base of the mine.

The mining features at Bangarth mine are more complex reflecting initial stoped working of a sizeable lode at the mine from the mid-1840s through sporadic activity to the late 1860s and renewed exploration from 1871. Evidently, the extent of viable ore was such that it was deemed profitable to revisit the mine for further exploitation and, unlike at Blea Tarn mine, as is evident by the extensive spoil heaps and an inclined plane constructed for transport to the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway. On the upper part of the site the putative early stoping at the top of the mine has been worked and reworked as the large opencast pit has directly cut through the earlier workings; a series of truncated adit mouths, trials and spoil heaps indicate the earlier extraction operations.

Opencast pit at the summit of Bangarth Mine, Eskdale

Opencast pit at the summit of Bangarth Mine, Eskdale

On the open common the mine was evidently worked on a further two levels where there are extant features associated with two open cuttings: a trial mine and an adit. Immediately downslope, below the modern enclosure wall, is another level of working consisting of a large platformed working floor with three adit mouths and the top of the inclined plane.

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