For this the second of my occasional posts on the mining sites we have explored and surveyed in 2013 for the Windermere Reflections Project, I will concentrate on the Providence iron mine which is located at the northern end of Grasmere.
In the late nineteenth century this mine, together with the more southerly Fairfield iron mine, formed the contemporaneously worked Tongue Gill Mines. The mine exploited both a north-west/south-east and a north/south orientated haematite ore vein in the Borrowdale volcanic rock running through the area of Great Tongue on the western flank of Fairfield mountain.
Prior to the nineteenth century the mining literature had both Tongue Gill mines recorded as being worked around 1700 to supply ore to a furnace in Great Langdale. However, it was the short lived boom in the early to mid-1870s that prompted the opening (or re-opening) of many mines across the region and saw a massive, and very intensive period of iron extraction. This was fuelled by an increase in the value of iron ore when the price of iron rocketed from 13s to £1 12s per ton, and many entrepreneurs across the region were keen to take advantage of this opportunity.
It is within this context, that we see the documented short-lived but intensive activity at the Tongue Gill mines of Grasmere. The Providence Mine was opened by the Providence Iron Co Ltd in 1873 and was worked by them until 1876, with the chief agent being John Muse, a successful miner from Alston. The mine was excavated to exploit a 16ft thick vein of solid haematite and the mine posted mineral statistics for 1874 for 300 tonnes of ore extracted which was valued at £350 along with the ore from Fairfield mine. The success was short lived due to fractured and unstable ground conditions, high transport costs due to a lack of a nearby railhead, and a declining market for iron from 1875 onwards. The mine was acquired by John Muse himself in 1877 as part of John Muse, J Straughton, Ashton and Co. who also ran the successful Force Crag mines, but the mineral statistics show that it stood idle between 1877-82. The brief documented history for Providence Mine in this period is relatively simple, and the straightforward surface layout of the mine would suggest that most features were associated with this short-lived episode of exploitation.
The surface layout for Providence Mine is separated into two distinct zones, with evidence for the majority of the features at the upper workings in the north-west of the site and with smaller lower workings in the south-east. The upper workings consist of various extractive areas beneath a collapsed vertical shaft at the summit of the mine. There are several adits, trial scoops and a hushed channel with spoil heaps straddling the outer enclosure wall and clustering along the course of a small tributary stream of Little Tongue Gill. This stream was undoubtedly where the prospecting for an ore vein was undertaken along the stream bed as it climbed upslope and iron staining is visible as far up as 1700ft in the stream bed. At the foot of the upper workings there is a walled loading ramp on the side of an access trackway that runs away from the mine, towards the lower workings and a junction with the Grisedale Hause packhorse route.
Separate from this zone, at the lower workings, thee is a single collapsed adit with spoil heap located further downslope adjacent to Little Tongue Gill and near to the Grisedale Hause packhorse route. The adit may have functioned to drain the upper workings of the mine; it would have provided an easier haulage level to bring ore out rather that winding it up the top shaft, or transporting it further from the upper workings.
The most unexpected feature encountered on the survey was a large oval scooped stock enclosure, which, would typically have been of prehistoric/Iron Age in date. It has a well-defined kerbed entrance on the east side and would have corralled cattle at the foot of Great Tongue, where trampling and the extraction of manure from the centre has created a scooped effect. The location of any round house within the site would have been in the south-west corner where there is a small flattened area, but there is no other surface evidence for it.