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Gunnerside Gill lead mines and ore works

A Scheduled Monument in Melbecks, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.4072 / 54°24'25"N

Longitude: -2.0969 / 2°5'48"W

OS Eastings: 393807.644548

OS Northings: 501305.013696

OS Grid: NY938013

Mapcode National: GBR FKSG.TX

Mapcode Global: WHB52.RHN7

Entry Name: Gunnerside Gill lead mines and ore works

Scheduled Date: 16 May 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015830

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29007

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Melbecks

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire


The monument, divided into three seperate areas, is situated in Gunnerside
Gill, 3.25km NNW of Gunnerside village, on unenclosed moorland. The largest
area includes the earthwork remains of two hush systems, on the west and east
sides of the Gill, with part of their related water management features; the
structural remains of the Bunton ore works on the east bank of Gunnerside
Beck; and the structural remains of a number of mining and ore processing
features related to a series of levels on the west bank. To the south two
seperate areas include, the well preserved remains of Dolly and Barbara Levels
with their associated ore processing features.
The monument forms the core mining areas of an extensive landscape which has a
well documented and long history: records from the 1680s for example, show
that mines within Lownathwaite ground broke into earlier abandoned workings of
the `Old Man' (miners' shorthand for workings of much earlier date) at a depth
of 17 fathoms (c.34m). A number of medieval lead boles (wind blown smelting
fires) exist on Winterings, the high ground to the south east. The mineral
rights were originally owned by the Wharton family from 1544, but from 1787,
were owned by a series of joint mineral lords known as the AD Lessors. These
later owners, followed a policy of splitting the mines into blocks leased to
venture capitalists, normally taking Gunnerside Beck as one of the boundaries.
Two smeltmills were built in Gunnerside Gill, one in 1769, just north of
Botcher Gill Gate, of which little now survives; and the other, Blakethwaite
Mill, in 1820. The latter is the subject of a separate scheduling. The gill
retains evidence of a range of mining techniques including shafts, hushes and
levels, together with associated ore works. A complex of dams, leats and other
water management features were constructed to supply waterpowered machinery
both above and below ground. One reservoir and a pair of dams, are the subject
of seperate schedulings. In the mid-19th century the mines were reaching the
water table, and in 1864 Sir Francis Level, starting nearly 1km to the south
of the main mining area, was driven northwards to act as a drainage and
exploratory level. The entrance to this level, along with the two associated
dressing floors, are the subject of a separate scheduling.
Underground mining was conducted from Sir Francis Level between 1883 and 1906.
The monument includes two fine complexes of hushes with the North, South and
Sun Hushes on the west side of Gunnerside Beck and the Gorton, Friarfold and
Bunton hushes to the east. In Gunnerside, hushing is thought to have been
used mainly in the later 18th and 19th centuries, after the vein had been
heavily worked out during the 17th century, and earlier, by shaft mining. The
large scale use of water is thought to have ended by 1830 with the driving of
Sir George Level close to the flood plain of the beck. However small scale
mining by opencast methods is thought to have continued in the hushes on both
sides of the beck throughout most of the 19th century.
From around the mid 18th century, most of the output was from whim shafts.
Earlier shafts tended to be stepped and irregular, the ore being manually
lifted up in stages. Whim shafts however were vertical and continuous,
necessitating the use of horse-powered winding gear (a `gin') to lift the ore.
From the 1780s, to combat the increasing problem of flooding below ground,
drainage levels were driven, both from Gunnerside Gill and from the
neighbouring valleys. Bunton Old Level was started c.1800 and in 1828 was
linked underground with Hard Level, running to Hard Level Gill, 2.5km to the
east of the monument.
Shortly after 1805 (before 1811), an ore works was established at the mouth of
a large horse level, Bunton New Level. Bunton ore works was expanded at least
once (in the 1850s), and became the main ore processing area on the east side
of the gill. Mining and ore processing operations ceased at Bunton before
1888. Other horse levels (with smaller ore works) also existed, for example
the Priscilla Level, which was started in 1821 on the west side of the beck.
Along with Sir Francis Level, this was the last level being worked, with
operations finally ceasing c.1905.
A line of shafts with collars of spoil are visible running west-east from 700m
north west of Moss Dam, followed by the course of a shooting road for 450m.
These shafts are also surrounded by broad deposits of ore processing
wastes(dressing),including some, 1100m north west of Moss Dam, which have been
reworked. The line of shafts, forming a band 100m wide, continues eastwards,
varying in form from simple circular depressions typically 3m diameter, to
mounds of spoil up to 30m in diameter and 2m high with a depression (marking
the shaft) at the top. Either side of the main band of workings there are low
earthwork remains of small dams and drainage channels feeding into a set of
hushes that start approximately 200m east of the sheep pens. These earthworks
range from 10cm- 20cm up to 1m high and although some extend for over 200m
beyond the northern and southern extents of the mine workings, most of the
features are concentrated within 100m of the hushes. Most of the drainage
channels lead into a band of three main hushes (North, South and Sun Hushes)
which run down the hillside following the veins. At their deepest they are
individually up to 30m wide and 20m deep, forming a band approximately 100m
north to south. They retain exposed working faces, as well as evidence of
occasional shafts in their bases which are thought to date after the ending of
the large scale use of water in c.1830. Around the hushes there are also
small, undisturbed spreads of dressing wastes. On the north side of the
workings the drainage channels all feed into the North Hush before the 510m
contour. On the south side, a band of drainage channels at least 100m wide
continues all the way down the hillside to feed into leats supplying water to
the 19th century waterpowered ore processing features of Priscilla and Sun
Hush Levels.
Priscilla Level entrance lies 25m west and approximately 3m above the bed of
Gunnerside Beck. It is a horse level (1.55m high with a 0.65m gauge tramline
still in situ) and is blocked by stone walling 5m inside the collapsed portal.
The tramline leads to a series of low finger tip spoil heaps of mine waste,
the western one of which extends 70m south to end at a bank of three wash
kilns (storage bays for unprocessed ore).
These stone built structures are well preserved standing to 2.2m. They are
cone shaped with curved side and rear walls. Adjoining the southernmost wash
kiln there is 1.1m high platform forming a knocking stone where the
unprocessed ore was manually broken up with hammers. A spread of waste from
this process extends westwards to the beck. The still open Staple Shaft lies
15m to the west of the bouse teams. This 3.7m diameter shaft was sunk in 1880
and contains a 0.28m diameter iron pipe which was the feed pipe for the still
in situ underground hydraulic pumping and winding engine installed in Sir
Francis level c.38m below ground. At the east end of North Hush, immediately
up hill and to the south west of Priscilla level, there is an irregular heap
of mine waste 25m-30m in diameter. This is thought to derive from opencasting
operations at the eastern end of the hush. Approximately 150m to the south of
Priscilla Level lie the mine spoil heaps of Sun Hush Level which was active in
1862, but is thought to have been driven in the early 19th century. The level
entrance (marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:10000 as Woodwards Lead Level) lies
buried in hill wash and later spoil from opencasting operations in the hushes
above, but will survive as a buried feature. On top of the spoil heap is the
10.54m by 5.24m, two storey, twin-celled mineshop. This building is roofless,
but stands to eaves level. Both southern rooms were unheated and have been
interpreted as store rooms. The upper northern room (entered from the higher
ground to the west) is interpreted as the mine office and the lower room, with
its evidence for a stove is interpreted as miners' accommodation.
Approximately 60m north of the mine shop are the partly buried remains of a
waterwheel pit for a c.9m diameter wheel to power a pair of ore crushers. The
crushers themselves have been removed, but stone foundations survive along
with a number of timbers, some with iron bolts, together with the large stones
used as counterweights.
The band of shafts extending eastwards above Gunnerside Beck splits into three
main bands of workings as the Gorton, Friarfold and Old Rake veins diverge.
The latter pair continue without a break for c.1.5km into Flincher Gill.
However the dressing wastes around the shafts have been heavily reworked from
a shelf in the hillside marked by the 540m contour, eastwards. Below this
level to the west the earlier remains are well preserved. The hushes (being
from north to south: Gorton, Friarfold, Old Rake and Bunton Hush) survive as
deeply incised gullies with working faces, areas of dressing wastes and mine
spoil. They also retain a number of well preserved earth and stone dams,
typically up to 1m high, built across the bases of the gullies. The more
dispersed water management features extending on the east side beyond the
limits of the concentrated area of mining are not as well preserved as those
found to the west, and have not been included in the scheduling.
Approximately 100m east and 70m above Gunnerside Beck the mouths of
the hushes are crossed by a rough pack horse track now used as a public
footpath. Immediately adjacent, at the foot of Gorton Hush and opposite
Priscilla Level, is the intact portal of Old Bunton Level (also called Gorton
Level) driven c.1800. This is only c.0.5m high and was driven as a drainage
level. Approximately 300m to the south at the foot of Bunton Hush there is the
later Bunton Level. This is also still open and discharging water, it has a
typical 1.18m high vaulted portal and in situ 0.55m gauge iron tramline. The
portal is contained within the northern room of a single storey 10.4m by 5.6m,
twin-celled building, interpreted as a store building controlling access to
the level. Three large spoil heaps of mine waste fan out to the north and
north west of the level. Sited on the southernmost spoil heap is a 15.1m by
5.6m, three celled, single storey mineshop. This survives to eaves level, but
is roofless. The west room was an unheated and windowless store; the centre
room has a substantial fire place with a stone lined pit in the middle of the
room, and has been interpreted as a smithy; the east (and largest room) has
evidence of a stove and is thought to have been miners' accommodation. All
three rooms are stone flagged. An 8.9m by 5.9m structure built into the slope
lies c.15m north of the mineshop. This contains ramps made out of packed
rubble and has been interpreted as a building designed for the transhipment of
materials from pack horses to mine tubs. To the south of the mineshop, some
40m south west of the horse level, are the well preserved standing remains of
a north-south oriented bank of 17 bouse teams. These storage bays for
unprocessed ore are square backed and typically 2.3m wide, 3.1m deep and 1.8m
high. They retain a number of in situ and displaced timbers and iron rails,
and to the west is a large spread of hand picked waste (resulting from the
initial hand sorting of the ore).
A well preserved wheelpit, supplied by a leat from Water Sikes stream to the
south, lies c.3m south of the bouse teams. It used a c.7.4m diameter overshot
wheel, to power a pair of crushers to the north and south, which fed a variety
of processing units at this mine. The wheel is shown in a 1925 photograph.
The platforms for the crushers retain substantial timber framing with bolts.
Immediately to the south west and to the north west there are a pair of
platforms up to 2.2m high, retaining part of their original planking, which
are thought to have been for water powered jiggers (water filled wooden trunks
containing sieves in which ore was agitated to separate the heavier lead from
the lighter waste). To the north west there are two north-south oriented
terraces, the upper being c.22m by 3.5m and revetted by a 1.9m high wall, and
0.7m above the 15m by 3.3m lower terrace. The terrace itself contains a number
of timbers up to 0.6m high surrounded by fine dressing waste, the remains of
buddles (an ore processing device which used running water to separate finer
particles of ore). Downhill and 30m to the west of the wheelpit are two sub
circular stone-built tanks which are fed by a stone-built culvert from the
terraced buddling area. These are settling tanks (the upper one is c.1.25m
diameter and 1.9m deep, and the lower 2.6m diameter and 0.8m deep) to allow
the collection of very fine particles of lead from the waste water from the
other processing devices.
Approximately 100m to the south west of the Bunton Level wheelpit, on
the banks of the beck just to the north of Water Sikes stream, are the
remains of Sir George Level and its ore works. This was driven as a trial
between 1828 and 1833 and reopened for a few years in the early 1860s. The
level entrance itself is buried in later spoil and hill wash. Immediately to
the north there are the well preserved remains of a bank of five bouse teams,
some retaining waterlogged wooden planking, and a tram rail which runs along
their western side. To the north west there are a series of revetted areas
containing deposits of dressing wastes with the timber remains of a number of
ore processing devices.
Dolly Level, which is sited c.450m south of the North Hush, and is in a
seperate area of protection, was driven as a drainage and exploratory level
It is first mentioned in 1806, but is thought to date from the late 18th
century, being the earliest known drainage level in Gunnerside Gill. It was
still worked in the 1870s. The site, is very well preserved, including an
intact horse level portal, entering the rear of a two storey 5m by 4m building
with a 4m by 3m second room to the north. To the east are a set of mine spoil
finger tips which form a scree slope down to Gunnerside Beck. Approximately
30m south east of the level there is a bank of 14 bouse teams surviving as
partly collapsed structures. These are unusual because they vary considerably
in width (ranging from 1.5m to 3m wide). In front and to the east of these are
spreads of knocking and hand picking waste. Around 50m south west of
the level, downhill from the bouse teams are the remains of a wheelpit for
a c.6m diameter wheel. Immediately to the south there is a revetted terrace
containing the foundations for a crusher. Downhill and c.10m to the west
there is a second level area with jigger waste forming a scree slope down
to the beck, with a further terraced area with dressing waste to the south.
The mine is served by two trackways from the south, one leading from the bouse
team and one entering the lowest terrace.
Barbara Level , which was driven in the early 19th century and reopened
c.1857, is situated on a natural terrace at about the 440m OD contour
on the east side of Gunnerside Gill, and is also in a seperate area of
protection. Barbara Level includes a pair of adit entrances and a dressing
floor. The main adit, which runs east into the hillside, is open and has a
drystone corbelled roof and revetted entrance. The remains (two parallel wall
stubs) of a small building, 4m by 3m, are situated to the south of the
entrance. A linear spoil tip leads from the adit to the west before
bifurcating. The remains of a second adit, with rock-cut roof and sides, lies
up slope, 40m to the east.
The dressing floor includes the remains of a 17m long bank of four paved
bouse teams. The side and rear walls of the bouse teams are tumbled and partly
obscured by rubble. A large area of coarse dressing waste, the location of the
initial dressing of the ore, lies to the west. To the south, a low revetment
wall partly encloses a relatively flat c.9m by 9m dressing floor. This
includes the partly buried remains of timber box culverts, a 2m square raised
platform (thought to be a knocking stone) and fragments of an iron grate (for
sizing the ore) that lies scattered across the floor. A tip of medium grade
(jigging) waste lies to the west and a stone built 1.5m by 5m rectangular
trunk buddle (in which a gentle flow of water was used to separate fine
ore particles from waste), containing and surrounded by fine dressing
waste, lies just to the south.
Excluded from the scheduling are all dry stone field walls, modern fencing,
shooting tracks and stone built grouse butts, but the ground beneath these
features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Approximately 10,000 lead industry sites are estimated to survive in England,
spanning nearly three millennia of mining history from the later Bronze Age
(c.1000 BC) until the present day, though before the Roman period it is likely
to have been on a small scale. Two hundred and fifty one lead industry sites,
representing approximately 2.5% of the estimated national archaeological
resource for the industry, have been identified as being of national
importance. This selection of nationally important monuments, compiled and
assessed through a comprehensive survey of the lead industry, is designed to
represent the industry's chronological depth, technological breadth and
regional diversity.
Nucleated lead mines are a prominent type of field monument produced by lead
mining. They consist of a range of features grouped around the adits and/or
shafts of a mine. The simplest examples contain merely a shaft or adit with
associated spoil tip, but more complex and (in general) later examples may
include remains of engine houses for pumping and/or winding from shafts,
housing, lodging shops and offices, powder houses for storing gunpowder, power
transmission features such as wheel pits, dams and leats. The majority of
nucleated lead mines also included ore works, where the mixture of ore and
waste rock extracted from the ground was separated ('dressed') to form a
smeltable concentrate. The range of processes used can be summarised as:
picking out of clean lumps of ore and waste; breaking down of lumps to smaller
sizes (either by manual hammering or mechanical crushing); sorting of broken
material by size; separation of gravel-sized material by shaking on a sieve in
a tub of water ('jigging'); and separation of finer material by washing away
the lighter waste in a current of water ('buddling'). The field remains of ore
works vary widely and include the remains of crushing devices, separating
structures and tanks, tips of distinctive waste from the various processes,
together with associated water supply and power installations, such as wheel
pits and, more rarely, steam engine houses.
The majority of nucleated lead mines with ore works are of 18th to 20th
century date, earlier mining being normally by rake or hush and including
scattered ore dressing features (a 'hush' is a gully or ravine partly
excavated by use of a controlled torrent of water to reveal or exploit a vein
of mineral ore). Nucleated lead mines often illustrate the great advances in
industrial technology associated with the period known as the Industrial
Revolution and, sometimes, also inform an understanding of the great changes
in social conditions which accompanied it. Because of the greatly increased
scale of working associated with nucleated mining such features can be a major
component of many upland landscapes. It is estimated that several thousand
sites exist, the majority being small mines of limited importance, although
the important early remains of many larger mines have often been greatly
modified or destroyed by continued working or by modern reworking. A sample of
the better preserved sites, illustrating the regional, chronological and
technological range of the class, is considered to merit protection.

The lead mining remains of Gunnerside Gill represent an exceptionally well
preserved lead mining landscape, containing a wide range of lead industry
sites and individual features. It is well documented historically from the
17th century onwards and the phased programme of archaeological survey further
contributes to the understanding of the remains. The gill is accessible to the
public and the archaeological remains form an important educational resource
and public amenity.
The main mining area within Gunnerside Gill was where the Friarfold and Old
Rake Veins converged with a number of smaller veins to form the highly
mineralised ground of Lownathwaite and Melbecks Moor. This resulted in a long
mining history represented by many varied features. On the Lownathwaite
plateau, the monument includes a fine set of hush dams and other water
management features alongside a number of undisturbed shafts with small scale
ore processing areas. Many of these shafts are thought to pre-date the hushes,
and are thought to be 18th century and earlier. On the east side, the system
of hushes is even more complex (as the veins diverge). The 19th century ore
works and horse levels on both sides of the beck retain a wide range of
nationally rare features. The Bunton and Sir George washing floors are
unusual, retaining well standing remains as well as timber structures
partly buried in rubble and dressing waste. On the west side, the remains
include the shaft and water feed pipe to the underground hydraulic engine in
Sir Francis Level below. This engine is complete and believed to be nationally
unique. A similar water feed feature survives at Barbara Level, which also
retains a trunk buddle which is a nationally rare survival. Dolly Level, which
is one of the earliest horse levels in Gunnerside Gill, retains a complete
layout of a small, mainly manual, ore works, providing a very good
illustration of the organisation of a simple ore works, which contrasts with
the more complex and multi-phased ore works at Bunton.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Dennison, E, Gunnerside Gill Phase II: Archaeological Survey, (1995)
Draft report to National Park, Gill, M, Historical Survey, Gunnerside Gill, (1995)

Source: Historic England

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