Keld Heads lead smelt mill and mine complex


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Keld Heads lead smelt mill and mine complex
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Richmondshire (District Authority)
North Yorkshire
Richmondshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 07744 91141, SE 07936 90772

Reasons for Designation

Nucleated lead mines and smelt mill sites are a prominent type of field monument produced by the lead extraction and processing industries. Lead mines 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 flat rod systems, transport systems such as railways and inclines, and water supply and water power features such as wheel pits, dams and leats. The majority of lead mines are of 18th to 20th century date, earler mining being normally by rake or hush (a gully or ravine partly excavated by use of a controlled torrent of water to reveal or exploit a vein of mineral ore). Lead smelt mills consist of a range of buildings and structures associated with the processing and smelting of lead ore. The smelt mill itself, is a building containing one or more furnaces or ore hearths, a bellows mechanism for providing draught, and may also include slag hearths for further processing of smelt waste. A flue extends from the mill to a chimney which would expel fumes away from the mill site and also allow for the condensing of lead within the fume on the flue wall for collection and processing. Lead ore was provided for smelting in a dressed form (separated from waste rock to create a smeltable concentrate). Ore dressing took place at either the mine site or the smelt mill. The range of processes can be summarised as: picking out clean lumps of ore and waste; breaking down lumps to smaller size; sorting of broken material by size; separation of gravel sized material by shaking on a sieve; and separation of finer material by washing away lighter waste in a current of water. The field remains of ore works 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. Other associated features found at smelt mills include fuel stores, further processing structures such as condensers and separate slag hearths, water management works such as leats, dams and culverts, transport systems, assay houses for testing the grade of an ore, stores, smithies, offices and housing. Lead ores invariably contain traces of silver and some larger smelt sites included a silver refinery to exploit this. Lead mining and smelting sites 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 the lead industry such features can be a major component of upland landscapes. A sample of the better preserved sites illustrating the regional, chronological and technological range of this class of monument is considered to merit protection. Keld Heads lead complex displays a wide range of features associated with the lead exploitation and processing industry. The site is unusual in that there are well preserved structures of both a mine and smelt mill lying close together and being worked as a single unit. The monument includes the rare and well preserved remains of an engine bed at the mine and an ore condenser at the mill. In the 19th century the smelt mill complex was regarded by contempories as the most advanced in the country. The mine is the oldest recorded in Wensleydale and was the richest in the county and with the late and technologically advanced smelt mill, the site offers important scope for the study of lead exploitation and its development both locally and nationally.


The monument includes the remains of the Keld Heads lead smelt mill and nucleated mine complex situated on the north side of Wensleydale 800m east of Preston-Under-Scar. It is divided into two separate areas. The mine and associated structures are located at the foot of a scar and the mill lies 300m to the north with associated features extending for 250m up the hillside. The mine complex includes the standing remains of the engine house, chimney, a further building and the wheelpit. The engine house is a rectangular shaped stone structure, unroofed and lying partly below road level, and measures 20m east to west by 10m north to south. Within the building are the remains of the engine bed which supported the engine used for pumping and winding in the mine. Connecting rods from the engine passed through an arched tunnel beneath the road and then down the mine shaft. To the south of the engine house and sharing a party wall is a further stone building 20m by 10m, thought to be stables and stores. The chimney lies 20m to the east of the engine house, is c.2.5m square in plan and is c.12m high. The wheelpit lies 30m to the west of the engine house and is a narrow stone trough 12m long by 1m wide. It is mostly cut into the hillside but because of the uneven slope the western part is built above ground level. The wheel pit held a wheel for winding and pumping in the mine before it was replaced by the engine. The remains of the smelt mill lie on a wide terrace north of the mine and include the footings of the demolished mill building, now mostly buried by quarry waste. The mill building originally had a rectangular room orientated east to west, measuring c.20m by c.10m which housed a bellows and water wheel at the west end, and two ore hearths on the north east wall where dressed lead ore was smelted. A flue extended northwards from the mill to a chimney on the hillside above. In 1855 a third ore hearth was added and the mill extended by the addition of a second room at right angles on the north side of the mill measuring c.18m north to south by c.10m east to west. This housed two slag hearths on the south east wall to process the slag from the initial smelting. A second flue emerged from this later building and joined to the existing one to form a double flue sharing a central wall which extended northwards for 150m to the condenser house and then continued as a single flue to the chimney. A further flue emerged from the north of the mill and joined the main double flue further to the north. The flue was extended in 1855 to a new chimney over 3km distant at Cobscar as the original chimney had been placed too close and fumes were not carried away but tended to settle nearby. The walls of the flue survive intact for most of its length and although most of it has collapsed some sections still survive as an arched tunnel or a channel with a stone flagged roof. Only the first 250m of the flue is included in the scheduling. The condenser house consisted of a stone building and a large wooden structure to the west and the flue from the mill running between them. The stone building held a water wheel which provided a draught to draw fumes from the flue in the wooden structure where heavy material was condensed in what were known as Stokoe Condensers. Water was passed through the condensers and emerged at the bottom with lead condensed from the fume held in suspension. This water was then fed out to stone flagged settling pits from which lead deposits could be collected for re-processesing. The wheel house survives as a ruined building, partly built into the hillside, with low walls measuring c.10m by 5m. The tail race for the water wheel survives as a stone culvert extending south to discharge into the beck. The settling tanks are clearly identifiable as a stone lined tank 30m by 10m with a central partition and sluice at the west end, lying 40m to the south east of the condenser. The condenser building itself was a wooden structure and no longer survives above ground level. A large tank 80m wide lies 250m north of the mill. This was fed by springs and served as a reservoir. Further becks have been culverted and diverted to create ponds and to manage the water supply required for smelting and associated processes. The peat store stands as a roofed building c.30m south of the mill. It is a stone rubble structure 18m by 4m and has a corrugated sheet roof. It is two storeys high with four arched entrances at the front (east face) with square windows in the upper storey. Lead was first known to have been mined at Keld Heads from the 12th century and by the 13th was a prosperous operation which provided lead for the roof of Jervaulx Abbey. In 1823 the mines were becoming exhausted but a series of long adit levels were driven deep into the hillside beneath the mill which brought back prosperity to the mine. The smelt mill complex was built in the early to mid 19th century to replace that at nearby Preston Mill and was extended in 1855. With the introduction of new equipment and techniques in the mid 19th century to smelt the large amount of ore, Keld Heads was considered to be the most advanced in the country. It is known that silver, which occurs naturally in lead ore, was refined here, although not in large quantities. Towards the end of the 19th century flooding of the lower levels of the mine increased pumping costs and this combined with a fall in the value of smelted lead resulted in the closure of the mine and mill in c.1888. The peat store and lead mine buildings are Listed Grade II.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Clough, R T , The Lead Smelting Mills of the Yorkshire Dales, (1962), 96-101
Raistrick, A, The Lead Industry of Swaledale and Wensleydale: The Mines, (1975), 99-104
Raistrick, A, The Lead Industry of Swaledale and Wensleydale: The Mines, (1975), 99-104
Raistrick, A, The Lead Industry of Swaledale and Wensleydale: The Mines, (1975), 99-104


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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