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Lead mines, ore works and smeltmills at Old Gang on Reeth High Moor

A Scheduled Monument in Melbecks, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.4006 / 54°24'2"N

Longitude: -2.0418 / 2°2'30"W

OS Eastings: 397385.0835

OS Northings: 500569.347

OS Grid: NY973005

Mapcode National: GBR GK5K.R8

Mapcode Global: WHB53.LNY9

Entry Name: Lead mines, ore works and smeltmills at Old Gang on Reeth High Moor

Scheduled Date: 15 January 1979

Last Amended: 8 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015860

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28908

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Melbecks

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire


The monument includes the structural, earthwork and remains of the Old Gang
lead smeltmill complex and associated mining and ore dressing remains and lies
on the Mill Gill, a tributary of the River Swale, approximately 6.5km west of
The smeltmill complex contains the remains of two surviving mills; the upper
mill to the north, on a levelled terrace in the hillside, and the lower mill
to the south, on the flood plain of the stream. The upper mill is the older,
and is believed to be the mill known from documents as New Mill, constructed
in the late 18th century. The lower mill, Old Gang Mill, was constructed in
1846, and incorporated the existing flue system. This complex worked until at
least 1888. The site was reused after the furnace arches had been removed to
house machinery for reprocessing waste tips.
The New Mill, which includes substantial building remains, has a complex
structural history. A flue was built from the smeltmill to a chimney on the
hillcrest north of the mill and later extended to a chimney on Healaugh Crag,
686m to the north and involving a climb of over 150m above the mill. Within
the upper mill, the flue, which consists of a largely collapsed drystone arch
with turf capping, passes over the remains of two ore hearth arches from an
earlier mill phase. The remains of an additional shorter flue and chimney lie
on the lower east side of the main flue and may have been connected to the
later slag hearth at the Old Gang (lower) mill. The remains of the upper mill
and both sets of flue and chimney are included within the scheduling.
The scheduling also includes the remains of the lower mill situated between
the upper mill and Mill Gill. The mill, which was built as a direct
replacement for the upper mill, uses the same flue system which meant that
production was not severely disrupted during the transition. The lower mill
includes a building, measuring 24m long by 10m wide and orientated east to
west, which housed four ore hearths. The building contains the remains of the
masonry hoods above the hearths. The remains of a wheelpit for powering the
bellows mechanism survives in the west end. A small building situated to the
east, measuring 6m wide by 7m long, is connected to a separate flue and housed
a slag hearth. Another building, situated to the east and measuring 7m wide by
11m long, was known as the Silver House. The building contains a large chimney
in the north wall and is considered to have been an assay house. A partly
eroded slag tip is visible south east of the main complex. The entire
smeltmill complex and flue system is Listed Grade II.
The smeltmill required a considerable quantity of fuel in the form of peat cut
from the surrounding moorland. Peat was only cut during June and thus a year's
supply would have to be cut and housed in dry conditions. The volume of peat
required at Old Gang is reflected in the size of the peatstore building. This
building is included in the scheduling and is Listed Grade II. The building
measures, 6.4m wide by 120m long, is situated on a level terrace north west of
the dressing floor. The walls consist of 36 individual stone piers, the whole
divided into three bays by two internal partition walls.
In the eastern part of the site are the remains of three hushes. These are
approximately 15m-25m wide and follow the line of the veins, generally aligned
north west to south east. Numerous shafts are located along the bottom of the
hushes, along the sides and at the upslope ends. Much of the later mining
operations were carried out from levels driven as crosscuts or directly on the
vein, and at least four levels are known to survive. The most notable level
entrance is Spence Level, situated at the south end of the easternmost hush,
which consists of a narrow arch 1.32m wide by 1.75m high, and Hard Level,
measuring approximately 1.3m wide by 1.7m high, which has a rectangular portal
with a slab roof. Mine spoil from Hard Level was transported eastwards across
a single span bridge, measuring 3m wide by 8m long, to an extensive spoil tip
almost 500m long on the south side of Mill Gill. To the south of the Gill are
the remains of two levels and a small miner's hut, measuring approximately
4.2m wide by 4.4m long. The bridge and these southern features are included
in the scheduling.
The site also includes the remains of an ore dressing works built to dress the
ore from Hard Level. The dressing floor is situated south east of Hard Level
and replaced small ore dressing areas on the fells which are not included in
the scheduling. In 1887 the dressing floor is recorded as including a
waterwheel, dolly tubs, and numerous buddles, including three trunk buddles.
The dressing floors are partly overlain by spoil and dressing waste though a
number of structures are still visible. These include the bouseteams in the
north west corner, which are 20m long and contain six bays where visible, a
wheelpit measuring 2.5m wide by 7.5m long (externally), timber settling tanks
and a series of revetment walls. The floors also include the ruins of a two
roomed building measuring 4.6m wide by 7.2m long.
The remains of a water management system which served the smeltmills and the
dressing floor are also included in the scheduling. This consists of four dams
and a series of leats. The most substantial dam is situated west of the
smeltmill flue and consists of an earthen bank 13m wide by 1.8m high. The dam
and pond area behind measure approximately 15m-20m wide by 57m long, and no
longer holds water.
All field walls are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
them 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.
Ore hearth smelt mills were introduced in the 16th century and continued to
develop until the late 19th century. They were the normal type of lead smelter
until the 18th century, when they were partially replaced by the reverberatory
smelt mill. The ore hearth itself consisted of a low open hearth, in which
lead ore was mixed with fuel (initially dried wood, later a mixture of peat
and coal). An air blast was supplied by bellows, normally operated by a
waterwheel; more sophisticated arrangements were used at some 19th century
sites. The slags from the ore hearth still contained some lead. This was
extracted by resmelting the slags at a higher temperature using charcoal or
(later) coke fuel, normally in a separate slag hearth. This was typically
within the ore hearth smelt mill, though separate slag mills are known.
Early sites were typically small and simple buildings with one or two hearths,
whereas late 18th and 19th century smelt mills were often large complexes
containing several ore and slag hearths, roasting furnaces for preparing the
ore, refining furnaces for extracting silver from the lead by a process known
as cupellation, and reducing furnaces for recovering lead from the residue or
litharge produced by cupellation, together with sometimes complex systems of
flues, condensers and chimneys for recovering lead from the fumes given off by
the various hearths and furnaces. The ore hearth smelt mill site will also
contain fuel stores and other ancillary buildings.
Ore hearth smelt mills have existed in and near all the lead mining fields of
England, though late 18th and 19th century examples were virtually confined to
the Pennines from Yorkshire northwards (and surviving evidence is strongly
concentrated in North Yorkshire). It is believed that several hundred examples
existed nationally. The sample identified as meriting protection includes: all
sites with surviving evidence of hearths; sites with intact slag tips of
importance for understanding the development of smelting technology; all 16th-
17th century sites with appreciable standing structural remains; 16th-17th
century sites with well preserved earthwork remains; and a more selective
sample of 18th and 19th century sites to include the best surviving evidence
for smelt mill structures, and flue/condenser/chimney systems.

The Old Gang smeltmill complex is considered to be one of the best preserved
lead smelt mills, and the most structurally complex, in the North Pennines.
The buildings were recorded and partly excavated in 1990-91, and buried
archaeological deposits will survive. These include important metallurgical
deposits which represent a valuable resource for studying the development of
smelting technology during the 19th century. In addition, the peatstore
formed an integral part of the smelt mill operations and is an important rare
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 (level)
and/or shafts of a mine. The simplest examples contain merely a shaft or adit
with associated spoil tip, but more complex and generally later examples may
include a considerable range of ancilliary features. The majority of nucleated
lead mines also included an ore works, where the mixture of ore and waste rock
extracted from the ground was separated (dressed) to form a smeltable
concentrate. The majority of nucleated lead mines with ore works are of 18th
and 19th 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).
The associated hushes and nucleated lead mine at Old Gang survive well and
will contribute to our understanding of the range of mining activities which
took place in this area during the 19th century.
Taken as a whole, the monument at Old Gang is a rare example of a lead mining
site which retains evidence for many of the industry's processing techniques.
There is a considerable range of documentary material relating to the site's
history and its operation and this enhances the value of the monument. It also
serves as an important educational resource and public amenity.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Clough, R T, Lead Smelting Mills of the Yorkshire Dales and Northern Pennines, (1980), 118-124
Raistrick, A, Lead Industry of Wensleydale and Swaledale, Smelting Mills, (1975), 73-78
Cranstone, D A L, 'Boles and Smeltmills' in Excavations at Old Gang Smeltmill: An interim Report, (1992), 28-31
Gill, M C, 'Memoirs' in Yorkshire Smelt Mills. Part 1, , Vol. Vol 45, (1992), 121-123
Survey Report, Fraser, R, Old Gang Lead Smelting Mill, (1992)

Source: Historic England

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