Whitesike and Bentyfield Lead Mines, Cumbria
Often in remote locations, remains of former industries tell the story of how our ancestors worked the resources around them to grow and drive the industrial revolution. This site is something of a hands-on textbook but until interpretation panels were added, this knowledge was limited to people in the know. Thanks to Historic England funding, the buildings are no longer at risk of collapse and now locals and visitors alike can enjoy and learn from the remains.
Where: Alston Moor, Cumbria
Years on register: 1998–2012
Now desolate location that once teemed with industry
In the 19th century, Alston Moor on the borders of Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland, hummed with activity. Rich veins of lead lay under the Pennine hills. Whitesike and Bentyfield lead mines are part of the area’s extensive lead-mining landscape.
Lead had been mined on the moor since medieval times, but the industry expanded massively during the 19th century. Between 1848 and 1882, lead production was at its peak, with an enormous 12,000 tons extracted at Whitesike and Bentyfield Mines in these 34 years.
Evocative remains threatened by harsh weather
The remains of the two mines and the associated ore-works occupy a site nearly half a mile long. A range of features survive on either side of Garrigill Burn, a stream which provided water and power for processing lead ore. Mine entrances, pits for a water wheel which drove the crushing mill, bouse teams used to store unprocessed ore, dressing floors where ore was processed, and massive spoil tips all survive. The miners’ accommodation, known as the Bentyfield mine-shop, evokes the era when the site teemed with workers.
By 1998 the lead mines were in very poor condition. Over the century since the mine was abandoned, regular flooding had damaged features, whilst the harsh weather of the North Pennines had left the mine-shop in danger of collapse.
Conserving the mine and improving visitor experience
In 2006-7, Historic England and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership jointly funded a Conservation Management Plan. This looked at the site’s needs, and was used to draw up plans to conserve key features. The Bentyfield mine-shop, wheel-pits, and stream-side walls were all consolidated with a £43,000 grant from Historic England.
A Natural England Higher Level Stewardship scheme provided partnership funding. The wider project improved footpath access and drainage. Presentation boards now tell visitors about the site’s history and the lead mining processes which took place there. Match-funding was provided by the North Pennines AONB Partnership, as part of their Heritage Lottery Fund-supported Living North Pennines Project.
The project has significantly improved the visitor experience. The main features are protected from flooding, allowing people to continue learning about lead mining in future.
How we made a difference
Having our Inspector of Ancient Monuments on the project team meant that advice was always on hand to ensure that optimum conservation techniques were used. We also provided essential partnership funding, covering costs which partner organisations couldn’t.
Together, our funding provided the best for the site: consolidation of the historic remains, interpretation of the site’s history, and management of the natural environment to prevent flooding.
Visit Alston Moor to see Whitesike and Bentyfield Lead Mines for yourself, and learn about how people worked the land to mine lead.