Snailbeach lead mine


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


Ordnance survey map of Snailbeach lead mine
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
Worthen with Shelve
National Grid Reference:
SJ 37658 02109

Reasons for Designation

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. 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 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 wheel pits, dams and leats. The majority of nucleated lead mines also included ore works, where the mixture of ore and waste rock extracted from the ground was separated ('dressed') to form a smeltable concentrate. The range of processes used can be summarised as: picking out of clean lumps of ore and waste; breaking down of lumps to smaller sizes (either by manual hammering or mechanical crushing); sorting of broken material by size; separation of gravel-sized material by shaking on a sieve in a tub of water ('jigging'); and separation of finer material by washing away the lighter waste in a current of water ('buddling'). The field remains of ore works vary widely and 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, such as wheel pits and, more rarely, steam engine houses. The majority of nucleated lead mines with ore works are of 18th to 20th 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). Nucleated lead mines 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 nucleated mining such features can be a major component of many upland landscapes. It is estimated that several thousand sites exist, the majority being small mines of limited importance, although the important early remains of many larger mines have often been greatly modified or destroyed by continued working or by modern reworking. A sample of the better preserved sites, illustrating the regional, chronological and technological range of the class, is considered to merit protection.

Snailbeach mine ranks as one of the best surviving examples of a lead mining complex. It retains a remarkable concentration of ruined structures which preserve evidence for an evolving sequence of mining techniques from the late 18th century through to the 20th century and, together with earthworks and buried remains, illustrates the whole surface history of the industry during that period. Many of the structures survive particularly well and form a large group illustrating the mine's general layout during its period of peak production in the 19th century. Ore processing works are less well represented nationally, but archaeological surveys and documentary evidence have indicated that buried remains will survive here, particularly beneath White Tip, and the survival of extensive spoil tips is itself unusual. The Snailbeach complex has been recognised as being the best preserved of the Shropshire lead mining sites. Distinct regional variations in mining practice were recognisable until the beginning of the 19th century, and the early remains at Snailbeach, such as the 18th century winding engine house at Old Engine Shaft and the early exploratory shafts and their associated structures, are therefore particularly valuable examples. There is a considerable archive of documentary material relating to the history of lead mining at Snailbeach, including information on site ownership, management, output and employment and this, too, enhances the value of the site. The mine serves as an important educational resource and many of the surface remains are now accessible to the general public.


The monument is situated within the village of Snailbeach on a west facing scarp slope at the northernmost limit of the Stiperstones ridge. It includes intact buildings and ruins (a number of which are Listed Buildings), earthworks and other remains of parts of Snailbeach lead mine. It also includes parts of an extensive water management system and parts of the associated tramway and railway networks. Although lead mining in the Snailbeach area is believed to have occurred during the Roman period, the first clear references to mining at Snailbeach take the form of leases to Derbyshire miners in 1676 and 1686, whilst systematic working of the main lead vein was begun by Thomas Powys and partners in the 1760s. In 1783 the Snailbeach Mining Company was formed and it operated the mine continuously through the next century. Most surface remains at the site date from the mid or late 19th century when a long programmme of major refitting was undertaken. Snailbeach was a rich mine with a large output of lead ore, and throughout the latter half of the 19th century it was one of the top national producers. As the output of lead declined towards the end of the 19th century, the extraction of barytes (used in paint manufacturing) became an important secondary activity and completely eclipsed lead production after 1910, becoming the main ore extracted at the site. Large quantities of barytes were produced not only from underground mining, but also from reworking old spoil tips and, in 1900, the Halvans Company was formed specifically for this operation. During the 20th century the level of operations gradually declined and underground working ceased completely in 1955, although some reworking of spoil for spar (quartz and calcite chips) was still undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s. Snailbeach mine is spread over an area of half a square kilometre. The main ore processing areas and spoil heaps are situated along the foot of the scarp slope, at the mouth of a small valley within which the actual mines and their associated surface remains, including shafts, chimneys and engine houses, are located. There are a large number of old shafts and adits, some of which formed the centre of mining operations, whilst many were used for exploration or were unsuccessful ventures to extract the lead ore. There were four main shafts: Old Engine (also known as George's Shaft), Black Tom, Engine and Chapel. The latter, together with several adits and collapsed stopes further to the north east, all of which are some distance to the south east of the core of the mining operations, are not included in the scheduling. An estate map of 1766, the earliest cartographic record of the Snailbeach landscape, indicates that a number of shafts had been sunk by this date in the western part of the site (in the vicinity of Old Engine Shaft), and on a north-south alignment beneath the present White Tip. The latter are believed to be a series of exploration shafts used to locate the main vein and, although now overlaid by White Tip, they, together with any associated structures, will survive as buried features. By 1797 mining had reached a depth of approximately 80m and the company was employing a Boulton and Watt engine to pump the workings dry, probably through Old Engine Shaft. A number of structures associated with this shaft remain standing, including the ruins of a late 18th century building situated to the west of the shaft. It is thought to be the earliest standing structure at Snailbeach and is important for understanding the early development of this part of the site. The building is square in plan and has a thickened east wall, suggesting that it originally functioned as an engine house with the east wall acting as a pivot point for the beam of a pumping engine serving Old Engine Shaft. By the mid 19th-century this building formed part of a blacksmith's shop complex, the main block of which retains many internal fixtures and fittings, including bellows, a water tank, tools and workboxes. The blacksmith's shop is Listed Grade II and is included in the scheduling. Other structures grouped around Old Engine Shaft include a winding engine house, erected in 1872 when the shaft was deepened, the miner changing house or barracks, built in the 1870s, and an early 20th century boiler house. The stone-built engine house is a Grade II Listed Building and is included in the scheduling. It originally contained a horizontal steam winder and is believed to have replaced the earlier engine house when the shaft was deepened in the 1870s. To the west of this structure are the earthwork remains of a small pond which was excavated in the late 18th or early 19th century to provide a water supply to the boilers. Approximately 120m to the south of Old Engine Shaft, on the upper slopes of Resting Hill, is a second shaft, known as Engine Shaft, and its associated surface remains which constitute a set of well preserved mine components and are included in the scheduling. Engine Shaft is believed to have been sunk in the 1790s and was used for pumping water out of the mine and for winding. To the east of the shaft are the remains of a mid-19th century winding engine house (a Grade II Listed Building) and its boiler house, and to the west are the ruins of the three-storey pumping engine house. This building was erected in 1858 and housed a 61' Cornish engine which replaced an existing flatrod system of drainage. It is also Listed Grade II and is included in the scheduling. Approximately 1km to the north west of Snailbeach mine are the ruins and earthwork remains of the earlier flatrod drainage system, replaced by Engine Shaft, which are situated at the head of Wagbeach Adit. It operated between c.1795 and 1858 and is the subject of a separate scheduling. The lead ore was not raised to the surface via Engine Shaft, but was removed from the underground workings by a tramway along the Day Level, an adit which connects Engine Shaft with the ore processing area and dressing floors on the valley floor. The portal for this adit is dated 1848 and is visible at the base of the hill, immediately to the east of the miners' barracks. Following the construction of the Snailbeach District Railway in 1877, an inclined plane was built between Engine Shaft and the new rail system on the valley floor. The upper half of the incline survives as a raised linear earthwork, but its lower section has been cut away for new housing in the last decade. An 1872 map of the site indicates that, prior to the construction of the incline the carefully constructed track which currently provides access to Engine Shaft and its buildings was the principal means of access to this area, and this was used again following the abandonment of the incline. Black Tom Shaft is situated approximately 160m north east of Old Engine Shaft. Mine working was being undertaken in this area prior to 1820, and the original Black Tom Shaft is thought to be the same as a shaft shown in this vicinity on the 1766 estate map. Thereafter the area is believed to have remained a centre of mining activity, and during the late 19th and early 20th centuries barytes mining and treatment was concentrated here. Map evidence indicates that a horse-gin for winding was employed at Black Tom during the mid-19th century and, although there are no surface remains of the gin, it will survive as a buried feature to the south of the shaft. The extant winding engine house is thought to date from the use of Black Tom, from 1900, for mining barytes. It is of timber construction and is included in the scheduling. Surface features associated with the treatment of the barytes are visible to the north west of Black Tom Shaft where an ore dressing plant was located from c.1900. This area is defined by low earthworks which seem to form a grid pattern, and includes concrete plinths and a jig and spiral classifier which are included in the scheduling. To the east of Black Tom Shaft is an adit which dates from pre- 1900 and includes a stone-lined tunnel vault running back into a collapsed stope. The line of a tramway leading out of the adit towards Black Tom Shaft is traceable on the ground and rails are in situ within the tunnel and included in the scheduling. In 1863 the mine's old smelt mill at Pontesford was abandoned in favour of a new reverbatory mill completed the previous year. This new mill is located some 0.8km to the north west of the mine and is the subject of a separate scheduling. The two were connected by a tramway which transported the dressed ore from the ore house situated immediately to the south east of White Tip, to the smelter. The ore house is a rectangular, stone building which is thought to have been erected between 1864 and 1869 when the dressing floors within the core area of the mine were remodelled, and the dressed ore was stored here prior to its being transported to the smelt mill. It is a Grade II Listed building which is now in use as a Baptist church and therefore not included in the scheduling, but the ground beneath is included. The new smelt mill to the north west had a partly buried flue, approximately 1km in length, which ran across the mine site up to Resting Hill where the fumes, together with the smoke from the Engine Shaft boilers, were discharged via a chimney. The present chimney, which is Listed Grade II and included in the scheduling, was erected in 1885 following the collapse of the original chimney. The flue ran for part of its length in a trench below ground level but it remains visible between the chimney and the track leading to Engine Shaft. It can also be traced intermittently in the northern part of the site, close to Black Tom Shaft, and where it crosses White Tip it is thought to survive as a buried feature. Maps of the mine from 1864 to 1901 show a group of four buildings to the south west of Black Tom Shaft which are believed to date from the construction of the smelter flue in c.1862. On the 1872 map the most northerly building is marked as the `condensing house' and lies on the line of the flue. Although there is no surface evidence for these buildings they will survive as buried features. The core area of the mine, to the north and east of Old Engine Shaft, retains the highest density of standing and buried remains of Snailbeach mine and from the late 18th century onwards it served as the main ore processing area. On emerging at the surface the ore was tipped down chutes leading to the dressing floors where it was crushed and separated. The crusher house complex is situated 35m to the east of Old Engine Shaft. Although the bulk of this complex is thought to date from between 1847 and 1864, the foundations of earlier buildings which are marked on tithe maps in this location are believed to survive as buried features. The crusher house is a square structure with walls standing up to 2m high. The crushing engine is believed to have been reconstructed in 1873 and, in 1876, was connected to new jiggers to save on labour costs. The north wall of the associated engine house incorporates a circular opening for the drive to the crusher house and a circular recess for a flywheel. The crusher house itself is Listed Grade II and, together with the rest of this complex, is included in the scheduling. To the south west are the ruins of a late 19th century compressor house, and its boiler house and chimney. It originally contained two Siemens and Edwards compressors which provided compressed air for rock drills and winches underground. The compressor house and its adjacent chimney are Listed Grade II and, together with the ruins of its boiler house, are included in the scheduling. After the ore had been crushed it was then taken to the dressing floors to be separated by means of an assortment of buddles and jiggers. The mineral dressing floors situated to the north of the crushing house complex underwent several periods of remodelling during their use. The dressing floors at the southern edge of White Tip are marked on the 1838 tithe map at which time they included two buildings and a semi-circular yard area. Parts of the mine are believed to have been reorganised in 1848, at the time of the construction of the Day Level, and after this date the dressing area was considerably larger, extending south beyond the present approach road to the mine. The floor was again remodelled in the 1870s and maps after this date show a rectangular enclosure incorporating several buildings, a length of tramway, two circular buddles and a waterwheel in this area. The ruins which remain visible at the southern edge of White Tip are thought to date from the late 19th century and the remains of earlier structures will survive as buried features. A second dressing floor, dating from the mid-19th century, is situated between the road and the crusher house. Map and photographic evidence indicates that it also underwent a number of alterations between 1864 and 1901. With the exception of traces of timberwork, there is little surface evidence for the dressing floor itself, but buried features, including circular buddles which are shown on early maps, will survive here. At the end of the dressing processes, the ore was taken by tram via a tunnel beneath the road to the ore house for storage. Sections of the tram rails remain in situ on the northern edge of this dressing floor and are included in the scheduling. The core area retains the ruins, earthworks and buried remains of further significant features associated with operation of the mine. These include the ruins of the manager's office and the locomotive shed (a Grade II Listed Building), and the foundations of the site office, the weighbridge and buildings associated with the carpenter's yard located to the north east of the crusher house. The locomotive shed was built in c.1877 as part of the Snailbeach District Railway to accommodate two locomotives. Map evidence indicates that it stands within an area previously occupied by two buildings, each with a semi-circular yard area, which have been described as dressing floors. The remains of these structures will survive as buried features and provide evidence of early 19th century ore dressing at the site. To the south east of the mine's core area is the substantially intact candle house, together with the plot in which it is set and its approach roads. The powder magazine is located to the north east of the candle house (a Grade II Listed Building); it has a double skin of walling and was constructed in 1863. These structures are included in the scheduling. In 1872 a reservoir was constructed to the east of the core area as a solution to the mine's water shortage problems. The 1864 map of the site shows a large spoil heap in this area which is thought to have been used to construct the reservoir dam. The dam was originally fed from a stream to the south east of Snailbeach by means of a leat. The route of this leat, consisting of open channels and pipes along different parts of its length, can still be traced. A 60m length of the leat, where it enters the reservoir, is included in the scheduling in order to preserve the relationship between the two features. The reservoir valve house is located immediately to the west of the dam and is a low, earth-covered structure of brick and stone. Internally, it retains a section of the main scour pipe and the valve and is included in the scheduling. The overflow channel for the reservoir runs from the north western end of the dam to join a second channel leading from the valve house. This combined channel runs beneath the track that leads to the eastern part of the mine, and then curves westwards and connects with a pond. This small reservoir is marked on the 1766 map of the site and is thought to have originally supplied water for the dressing floors and the boilers. It is believed to be the earliest visible feature on the site and lies to the east of the carpenters' yard. Further up the valley, to the south east of the reservoir, is a short adit, Perkin's Level, which dates from c.1820. It was an important access point into the eastern part of the mine and gave access to a subsidiary vein from which barytes was excavated by the late 19th century. To the north of Perkin's Level is an area of earthworks, including a platform and an embankment of earth and stone, and spoil heaps which are associated with the working of Perkin's Level. A second adit, marked as an `Old Level' on the 1901 Ordnance Survey map, is situated approximately 40m to the north east and is also included in the scheduling. The area between the 1872 reservoir and Perkin's Level is the site of a mid-20th century ore processing plant which was erected to separate calcite from the barytes and is included in the scheduling. The plant consists of a collapsed timber-built shed, with a corrugated iron roof, and was powered by a steam engine driving the shaft through pulleys, one of which still remains. A short length of tramway extends north from the shed, and a second length runs east. Close to the shed are the remains of several kibbles, a jaw crusher, iron piping and a heap of barytes. The waste material both from the processing plants and the underground workings was transported by tram to the spoil heaps which now form a distinctive feature of the western approach to the site. From at least 1872 a tramway ran from the Day Level to the spoil heap situated to the west of Old Engine Shaft and sections of the tramway bed remain visible. The construction of the branch line from the Snailbeach District Railway into the mine in 1877 involved making a cutting through this spoil and a bridge (which is also included in the scheduling) was erected over the cutting in order to retain the tramway. A further tramway ran between the dressing floors and White Tip and is believed to survive as a buried feature. White Tip holds a considerable volume of waste material from the mine and from the processing works. Most of the area it now covers was established between 1838 and 1864. From 1911 a Halvans (the Cornish term for waste material) Company was formed to work the waste heaps and to extract barytes from the upper levels of the mine mainly via Black Tom Shaft. At the south western edge of White Tip are the ruins of the company's engine house. It was erected in c.1900 and housed a steam engine used to drive the tip-reprocessing plant. The interior of the building retains the foundations for the cylinder together with the flywheel pit and is included in the scheduling. Map evidence indicates that several generations of spar (quartz and calcite chips) processing plant were sited on White Tip and these will survive as buried features. The ore house (a Grade II Listed Building), number 19 and number 8 Snailbeach and their associated outbuildings which occupy the area around Black Tom Shaft and the early reservoir, the farm buildings to the east of this shaft, the road bridge across the former Snailbeach District Railway to the west of White Tip, the electricity and telegraph poles, fence posts, sign posts, modern walling and the surfaces of all roads and pathways are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath all these features is included.

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


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

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Books and journals
Brook, F, Allbutt, M, The Shropshire Lead Mines, (1973), 65
Brook, F, Allbutt, M, The Shropshire Lead Mines, (1973), 67
Brown, I J, Snailbeach Mine Stage 2 Study, (1984), 18
Lancaster University Archaeology Unit, , Snailbeach Mine Stage 2 Study - Archaeological Survey Volume II, (1990), 15
Lancaster University Archaeology Unit, , Snailbeach Mine Stage 2 Study - Archaeological Survey Volume II, (1990), 17-18
Lancaster University Archaeology Unit, , Snailbeach Mine Stage 2 Study - Archaeological Survey Volume II, (1990), 37
Lancaster University Archaeology Unit, , Snailbeach Mine Stage 2 Study - Archaeological Survey Volume II, (1990), 3-4
Lancaster University Archaeology Unit, , Snailbeach Mine Stage 2 Study - Archaeological Survey Volume II, (1990), 27-8
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Shropshire, (1968), 322-3


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.

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