Nenthead Smelting Mill, Nenthead, Alston, CA9 3NY.
Nenthead village, on the A689 8 km from Alston.
Easter to OCT on open days 10:30-17, see website.
Suggested Donation for Carrs Mine: Adults GBP 10, Children GBP 5.
|Classification:||Lead Mine Zinc Mine Silver Mine|
|Light:||helmet and headlamp provided|
|Guided tours:||D=60 min, L=1,200 m, 800 m surface + 400 m mine.|
B. Young (2016):
A Geological Outline Of The Northern Pennines,
OREsome Geology Report No. 2. November 2016.
|Address:||Nenthead Mines Conservation Society, Nenthead Mines, Nenthead, Alston, Cumbria, CA9 3PD, Tel: +44-7494-497868. E-mail:|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|1704||London Lead Company formed by Quakers.|
|1737||smelt mill constructed by George Liddle.|
|1825||Nenthead built as industrial village for the miners of the lead mines, Quaker industrialists recognised a moral responsibility to their workforce.|
|1896||smelt mill closed.|
|1961||Nenthead mines finally closed.|
|15-JUL-1996||opened to the public.|
|02-JAN-2001||clearing the mine work started.|
|23-JUL-2000||mine opened to the public.|
|2015||UNESCO Global Geopark designated.|
The Northern Pennine Orefield is composed of a succession of sedimentary rocks of Carboniferous age which rest unconformably upon a ‘basement’ of sedimentary, metamorphic and volcanic rocks. An igneous intrusion of Caledonian age forms a large wholly concealed granitic body called the Northern Pennine Batholith. The Lower Carboniferous sediments have cyclic sequences, known as cyclothems, consist of limestone, mudstone, sandstones and locally thin coals. The sedimentary rocks are cut by a widespread system of faults and fault zones. Hydrothermal convection cause by the heat of the intrusion caused the creation of a huge number of mineral veins in those fault fractures. The veins range in width from a millimetre up to 10 m. The veins comprise coarse-grained assemblages of gangue, or spar minerals, accompanied by variable proportions of sulphide ore minerals. The most abundant ore minerals are galena and sphalerite. The surrounding limestone was replaced by mineralising solutions, creating flats extending many metres on either side of the parent vein. They often have a higher proportions of sulphide mineralisation that the parent vein. The bulk of ores in the flats are iron carbonate minerals such as siderite and ankerite. Sulphides and other gangue minerals typically occur as bands or pockets.
The small village of Nenthead is England's highest village at 450 meters and was not built until 1825 when it was one of the earliest purpose built industrial villages in Britain housing 1500 souls, mostly Methodist in the employ of the Quaker London Lead Company. The benevolent Quakers built, amongst other things, housing, a school, a reading room, public baths and a wash house for the miners and their families, laying the foundation for today's welfare state. These hardy people lived their lives, mining all week and working on their smallholdings each weekend, a way of life which has changed little in over 100 years.
Falling lead prices and cheap imports caused many families to emigrate to America and Australia in the late nineteen century and the mines were sold to the Belgian Vielle Montagne Company who mined for zinc until the early 1940's. Nenthead mines finally closed in 1994.
The Nenthead Mines Visitor Centre was officially opened on 15 July, 1996 by John Craven, presenter of the BBC "Countryfile" program. Also in attendance was Sir Kingsley Dunham, famous for a lifetime's work on the geology and mineralisation of the Northern Pennines Orefield. Entertainment was provided by local school children dressed in period costume, and the Reeth Brass Band.
The museum is laid out amongst mine building. The site contains a small section with displays describing mineralisation, mining techniques etc. One section even covers the role of the mine agent. The site also contains six workshops units which are housed in the old Rampgill Mine woodstore, a cafe open 10.30-17.00, serves hot and colds meals and includes a gift shop. Work is continuing on site to restore other mine buildings and structures. There is ample free parking.
Text by Tony Oldham (2001). With kind permission.
The description by Tony Oldham is twenty years old, and still mostly correct. Nevertheless, there were some changes, including the name which was shortened to Nenthead Mines. The site is operated by a non-profit organisation, and like always it depends on volunteers. Twenty years ago there were regular open hours, since then they have been replaced by "open days", which are generally on weekends and during school holidays. They also offer tours after appointment for groups of 10 people or more. The site has no fees anymore, but they accept donations. The suggested donation amount is quite fair.
The site was preserved and the exhibition extended. The Power of Water Exhibition shows the workings of the water wheels, which were used to power the machines. Carr's Mine is part of an extensive underground network of tunnels and workings. Spectacular is the 100 m deep Brewery Shaft, although it's only possible to have a look down. The Brewery shaft building and shaft head itself were restored by the Trust and are now enclosed in a timber extension. It gives an introduction of the complex water powered compressed air system. They also renovated the Smelt Mill Complex from 1737, which was in production for almost 160 years. It consists of six ore-hearths, a slag hearth, two reverberatory furnaces, two refining furnaces and a de-silvering house. By 1882 the smelt mill was capable of smelting 8,000 bings, which equals 64,000 long hundredweight (3,300 t), of ore per annum.
Since 2007 the site also offers bunkhouse accommodation in two buildings. The former Assay House was the laboratory of the Assay Master, whose job was to analyse ore samples to determine their lead and silver content. The quality of the ore set the prices paid to the miners. The Mill Cottage was part of the home of the smelt mill manager. The bunkhouses are heated and very well-equipped.
Since 2015 the area is part of the North Pennines AONB UNESCO Global Geopark. The geopark supports festivals, events, educational activities in and out of school, evening classes, walking and cycling trails. Topics are the mining history as well as glacial landforms and deposits which formed during the last glaciation. Mining has left a rich heritage of ruins and spoil heaps, which are now colonised by unusual plants.
It seems that mining at Nenthead has not necessarily ended for good. In 2013 the Canadian mining company Minco started exploration for zinc deposits. The zinc was too deep to reach by old mining techniques as it is about 150 m below the surface. The company believes that the village may be sited on a huge deposit. So far mining has not been reopened, test drilling could go on for several years. And obviously profitability will depend on the price development on the world amrket.