J. N. Bentley on behalf of The Coal Authority
Aerial Drone Survey
The North Pennines have a long and rich history of mining and the orefield was the largest producer of lead and silver during the 19th century. Carrshield and Coalcleugh are located in the West Allen river valley, a tributary of the River Tyne, roughly 20km south-west of Hexham. Mining operations had taken place at both sites since at least the 17th century, and although by the late 19th century both we no longer being mined for lead, mining for zinc was still possible. All works at Carrshield finally stopped in 1941, although mining at Coalcleugh continued into the 1950s when the shafts and levels were used to mine out fluorspar for use in the steel industry. The remains surviving at Coalcleugh today include a few standing buildings, adits, and numerous spoil heaps. Carrshield survives as a small hamlet with the mine workings located to the south on the banks of the river.
In 2016, NAA was commissioned to assist with the remedial works at Carrshield designed to redirect water into the River West Allen away from the spoil heaps of the former mine workings. This consisted of the archaeological monitoring of soil removal, repair of the mine tailings retaining wall and the partial demolition of a miner’s cottage at nearby Low Blue Row to make it safe. As the site lay within the Carrshield Lead Mines and Ore Works scheduled monument (National Heritage List Entry Number 1015849), operation of the entire project had to be conducted under Scheduled Monument Consent supplied by Historic England under Section 42 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
Due to the position of the mine in the steep-sided valley, archaeological monitoring for the repair of the retaining wall for the tailings and dressing floor often had to be done from within the river or from the bank opposite the mine. The reworking of the mine tailings at Carrshield uncovered several structural remains related to dressing floors and earlier mining operations and the tailings had buried the former row of cottages of which Low Blue Row was once part. An interesting feature within the Low Blue Row cottage was a small niche, probably a cupboard, next to the front door.
In 2018, NAA was once again asked to monitor the excavation of a check weir to the north of the Carrshield site. To achieve this, a section of boundary wall within the scheduled monument had to be dismantled as well as further soil removal to accommodate the water works. A wooden structure resembling a buddle or settling tank was identified below the wall. Raw material extracted from the mine known as “bouse” would have been fed into the trough or tank and then agitated with running water to leave behind the heavier ore. It was clear that further mining waste had been dumped in the area, probably products of the dressing or washing of extracted ores.
Later the same year, NAA was commissioned to undertake similar archaeological works at Coalcleugh, just 2km south of Carrshield. The remedial drainage works were designed to divert water away from the former mine workings and spoil heaps, consisting of concrete line channels and pipelines, and spanned from the valley head in the south through the former hamlet and mine of Coalcleugh and into the River West Allen downstream.
The remains of the mine workings at Coalcleugh were less obvious than at Carrshield and far less extensive, and through the course of the excavation several structural remains were found largely describing buildings depicted on historic mapping. Perhaps the most significant was the edge of a building, which probably represented a crushing mill installed in 1808. A settling tank constructed from wood and filled with very fine sediment had been connected to the building from the exterior by a culvert and a large crushing wheel was recovered from nearby mine waste. Further south, at the mouth of the concrete water channel, an extant wagonway with rails, rail chairs and sleepers was uncovered to the west of a large retaining wall and would probably have served to transport extracted material from the mine levels to the south to the crushing mill in the north. Further up the valley to the south, the remains of two buildings with a cobbled road between them were located below large deposits of mining waste. One of the buildings retained the remnants of three different episodes of flooring, suggesting that not only had it been occupied for some time, but that it had also sustained considerable use. Near to these buildings, a sealed mine adit had to be reworked to fit a drainage pipe so that any water flowing from it could be diverted into the drainage scheme. At the very south of the scheme, the concrete channel was tied into the remains of a large culvert probably related to a building that had been demolished by 1898.
The archaeological monitoring in the north was, like at Carrshield, hampered by the steep-sided valley formed by both the River West Allen and the former mine workings, but careful consideration of the operation with J. N. Bentley meant that excavation could go ahead. Excavation of the easement for the concrete channel was hindered by a storm, which forced a large amount of material from the existing spoil heaps into already excavated areas. It did, however, reveal the presence of the wagonway and a hitherto unknown retaining wall. Uphill to the south, the considerable flow of water from the valley head offered a different problem; how to archaeologically excavate remains under fast-flowing water. Again, with the help of the client a solution was reached, and work continued with only minor disruption.
The remains of the former mine workings found at both Carrshield and Coalcleugh describe a rich tradition of lead mining in the North Pennines, and the crushing wheel from Coalcleugh was deposited with the Nenthead Mines mining history centre. Although numerous difficulties arose during both projects, a flexible approach to working, a good relationship and timely communication with the client produced creative solutions meaning that work could go ahead.