Ancient Monuments

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Barrowmouth gypsum and alabaster mine at Saltom Bay

A Scheduled Monument in St. Bees, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.5267 / 54°31'36"N

Longitude: -3.6104 / 3°36'37"W

OS Eastings: 295875.450667

OS Northings: 515797.425901

OS Grid: NX958157

Mapcode National: GBR 3J73.52

Mapcode Global: WH5Z7.HHZ2

Entry Name: Barrowmouth gypsum and alabaster mine at Saltom Bay

Scheduled Date: 3 September 2004

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021106

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35009

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: St. Bees

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: St Bees

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes the remains of buildings, levels, spoil heaps,
enclosures and an inclined plane which comprised the Barrowmouth gypsum
and alabaster mine located on the steeply sloping coastline below cliffs
overlooking Saltom Bay, Whitehaven.

The date when gypsum and alabaster mining began at Barrowmouth is unknown
but the first reference to gypsum here is found in Hutchinson's History of
Cumberland, published in 1794. During the first half of the 19th century
John Hamilton was described as an alabaster and gypsum merchant in the
Cumberland Directory, while his brother Billy mined the deposits.
Documentary sources dated to the 1860s mention alabaster levels driven
straight into the hillside with the alabaster being produced for
ornamental purposes only and for making moulds at Whitehaven Pottery
Works. Packhorses carried the alabaster up a winding path connecting the
mine with the cliff top. The Ordnance Survey map of 1863 shows the mine
consisting of three alabaster levels together with five buildings and
three small enclosures. This enterprise closed during the early 1880s. In
1888 mining operations were started again by Joseph Robinson & Co Ltd. New
adits or levels were driven and the gypsum was taken to the cliff top in
trucks along a tramway, also known as an inclined plane, powered by a
steam winch. The gypsum was processed in a factory at nearby Lingydale and
some of the plaster produced was further processed into wallboards. A
combination of flooding, roof collapses and contamination with anhydrite
led to closure of the mine in 1908. The Ordnance Survey map of 1925
depicts the mine remains consisting of a large surface extractive hollow
and a cluster of buildings and small enclosures on a plateau overlooking
the beach. A short distance inland four other structures are shown
together with the inclined plane, a bridge and a further structure
alongside the inclined plane.

The top of the inclined plane is located at NX96141595 at a point where it
is joined by an old quarry track. Lower down the inclined plane crosses a
track on a stone-built bridge, while a large concrete block thought to be
the engine mounting for the steam winch lies nearby. Three roofless
stone-built structures stand between the bottom of the inclined plane and
the beach. The largest, central structure, appears to have been two-roomed
whilst the other buildings may have been single-roomed. A fourth building,
depicted near the beach on the 1925 map, appears to have been destroyed by
coastal erosion. A large mine or quarry working represented by a hollow
dug into the hillside is situated north west of the bridge carrying the
inclined plane over the trackway. To the south west of this, on a plateau
overlooking the beach, are the heavily overgrown remains of the structures
and enclosures depicted on the 1925 map. Traces of enclosure walls and
building platforms can be identified together with the stone-lined
entrance to a level. Remains of the earlier 19th century mining operations
are less easy to interpret beneath the undergrowth but at least one
building platform survives to the north of the large hollow dug into the
hillside together with traces of the track along which packhorses carried
gypsum up to the cliff top prior to construction of the inclined plane.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Gypsum has been a basic ingredient of the plaster industry for building
rendering and decorative purposes since the 13th century. More recently,
its uses have included applications for medical and surgical purposes, in
the pottery, brewing and paper industries, and still on a large scale for
building plaster and plasterboard. Alabaster, a fine-grained, compact form
of gypsum, has been valued since the medieval period as a material for
carving religious sculptures and for domestic ornamental and decorative
The gypsum industry is defined as the processes of mining, quarrying,
transporting, preparing and producing gypsum. The mining technology used
to exploit gypsum is the same as that used in other mining industries. To
produce plaster, rock gypsum or alabaster scrap is transported to plaster
mills where it is crushed and ground to powder prior to being heated in a
kiln to remove most of its water content. This process produces Plaster of
Paris, while higher temperatures produce a pure plaster. Remains of the
gypsum industry comprise similar elements to those found in other mining
industries such as adits or levels, open-cast workings, gin circles,
engine houses, inclines and a range of associated buildings, together with
gypsum grinding mills and kilns.
Aside from rare occurrences of Roman `plaster' burials, evidence for the
use of gypsum plaster in England occurs first from the mid-13th century in
building works, initially as an import from France and a little later
documented as being mined in Dorset, Yorkshire and the Trent Valley, and
later in Somerset and the east Midlands. In the 19th century new quarry
sources in Cumbria, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire were
opened to meet increased demand. From the 1820s gypsum began to be
produced in underground mining as well as quarrying. From the 1920s gypsum
plaster and plasterboard gradually replaced lime plaster for use in
buildings. The plasterboard market grew throughout the 20th century,
leading to the resultant modernisation of mines, quarries and processing
plants. Opencast mining is used in the modern industry in the east
Midlands and Cumbria.
The earliest known use of alabaster in England is on the carved doorway of
Tutbury church, Staffordshire (1160-70), and by the end of the 14th
century a centre for medieval carving had grown up around Fauld,
Staffordshire, exploiting the local hillside exposures of the mineral.
Fauld survived the rise and fall of the industry to become the last
commercial source in England for alabaster. As the popularity of alabaster
for religious sculpture grew in the 15th century, extraction was also
taking place in the east Midlands. These hand-dug quarry sources supplied
the workshops of Nottingham which had established a high reputation for
alabaster carving. The demand for commemorative sculpture and secular
decoration increased during the 17th century with a new alabaster source
on the Somerset coast complementing existing sources, and by the late
18th/early 19th century alabaster was also being mined in Cumbria. From a
highly selective sample made at national level, seven gypsum industry
sites have been defined as being of national importance. These have been
defined to represent the industry's chronological depth, technological
breadth and regional diversity.

Despite being overgrown by vegetation, Barrowmouth gypsum and alabaster
mine at Saltom Bay survives reasonably well. It is the only example in
north west England of a late 18th/early 19th century gypsum and alabaster
mine. It continued in production until the early 20th century and will
retain important information relating to the technological developments in
the mining and transportation of gypsum and alabaster during this period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Barrowmouth Gypsum and Alabaster Mine, (1999)

Source: Historic England

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