Lead mining was once a thriving industry in the Yorkshire Dales and the remains of which can still be seen most notably on the slopes of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.
Throughout the Yorkshire Dales the sedimentary rock, Limestone, is very prominent. It is within the limestone fractures or narrow veins of the northern dales that precious minerals such as Galena otherwise known as lead ore is found.
The early mining technique was dirty, hard and dangerous. It was carried out by men, women and children in very remote areas of the Yorkshire Dales. The early miners relied only on a pick and a shovel and brute force to dig a shaft down to extract the ore from the veins of the limestone.
Hushes refers to open cast workings. The open cast working used surges of water to flush broken rock out of their excavation. The method was used in areas such as Gunnerside Gill, where the vein was within an outcrop on a steep valley side. The miners built small turf dams at the top of hills and released the water when it was full. The water would then follow the predefined channels known as leats which would sweep the soil and loose rock away and reveal any new veins that lied beneath.
Hushing was only a suitable method for extraction of ore which lay only a few metres underground. For anything deeper a shaft must be used to mine the deeper sections of the veins.
Arkengarthdale – Tanner Rake in Slei Gill is a good example of what was probably a combination of opencast mining and hushing
Swaledale – Gunnerside Gill, Ridley Hush near Grinton.
Hundreds of shafts can be found across the hills of the dales, differing from shallow to deep shafts – easily identified by the circular soil around the collapsed shafts. The shallow shafts run through vertical or near vertical veins and are normally less than 10 metres apart. The deep shafts often worked more than one vein and have a lot larger circumference than the shallow shafts and often used a horse gin – a device that used a horse to power the hauling device.
Men and children were either winched down with one foot in a loop on the rope and holding on with both hands, sitting in the kibble (the bucket they used to hoist the lead or to the surface) or they climbed down the stemples. The stemples were small wooden bars that had been jammed into the rock to form a type of ladder – a very dangerous ladder. The stemples were the source of many fatal accidents within the shafts.
Good examples of shafts can be found in Gunnerside at the Old Smelt Mill and Gnnerside Gill. Also, at High Harker Side and Fremington Edge and Whaw Edge.
In the early days the depth of shafts were on average around 30 metres. It was in the early 19th Century that the miners had to go deeper to find the lead ore and to do this they built levels. Levels are horizontal access tunnels that were built into the side of hills either to allow miners to intersect the vein to extract the ore or simply to provide drainage. Levels or the remains of levels can be found across the dales, including at the Old Gang Smelt Mill, Bunting Level at Gunnerside Gill and Booze wood in Arkengarthdale.