A day underground in the North Pennines. Nenthead Mine complex produced mainly lead ore (galena) for two hundred years up to 1961. The workings are vast; there are many accesses with kilometres of level passages with rails for trucks pulled by a Pit Pony. Many routes are now impassable due to rockfall and flooding: this visit was only possible with the experience and equipment of a couple of local specialists. But aside from the discomforts of access, it was staggering to see how small the working areas are in the stopes and how extensive the mine complex became. The miners were chasing thin seams of mineral long distances underground so the scale is long and thin, not big and fat like a coal mine. Nonetheless the mine was profitable for nearly two centuries. The practical understanding of the geology is impressive as is the magnificent craftsmanship that produced the stonework that is still lining the tunnels.
The Nenthead mine complex installed a hydroelectric generator with water supply hydraulics to a Pelton wheel at the foot of a 100 m. shaft which (amazingly) led to an underground canal to the railhead at Alston village a five miles away. The electricity powered pumps underground, allowing exploitation of lower levels, and extraction machinery and smelting on the surface. Nenthead village also benefitted, one of the first villages in the Pennines to have electricity.
Nenthead Mine is relatively well ventilated and relatively dry at the level we visited this time. I’ll have to improve my rope skills to go much further and see more.
Nenthead Mine is in The North Pennines AONB UNESCO Global Geopark
Big thank you to Samuel and Julian who kept me safe and took me to places I would not otherwise have gone. Boldly.