Middlehope Shield and Low Slit lead mines and ore works


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015825

Date first listed: 03-Jul-1997


Ordnance survey map of Middlehope Shield and Low Slit lead mines and ore works
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: County Durham (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Stanhope

National Grid Reference: NY 90483 39215, NY 90544 39634


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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.

Middlehope Shield and Low Slit Mines retain a concentration of well-preserved features set within a wider lead and iron mining landscape. Of particular importance are the various water-powered features, especially the hydraulic engine bed, with pipeway and reservoir, which was used to pump out the shaft workings at Low Slit Mine. The two dressing floors are also of high importance, being well preserved mid-19th century examples that were not modernised towards the end of the 19th century (which is the case at many other mining sites). The floor at Middlehope Shield, being waterlogged, is thought to retain preserved timber features, and the Low Slit dressing area is considered to retain relatively deep archaeological deposits. The layout of the two mines, with their internal and external transport and water power links, are good examples of mid-19th century organisation. Both areas of protection lie on a major public footpath, the Weardale Way, which follows the tramway route between the two mines. The monument thus forms an important educational resource and public amenity.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument, which is divided into two areas, is situated within a steep sided valley which runs northwards from Westgate village. It includes the ruined structures, standing earthworks and other remains of a pair of organisationally linked 19th century lead mines with their associated ore works. The monument also includes all deposits of mining and dressing wastes within the areas of protection. The two mines that form the monument (Low Slit and Middlehope Shield Mine) are approximately 400m apart, but are linked by a tramway and leat system. A major producer from the early 19th century, they were worked in conjunction with one another by the W B Beaumont Company, which rivalled the London Lead Company as the largest mining concern in County Durham. In the 1860s a large dam was built and a hydraulic pumping engine was installed at Low Slit Mine. White's Level (the main level of Middlehope Shield Mine) was worked out by the mid-1860s and most production had also ceased at Low Slit by 1872. In 1882 the lease passed to the Weardale Lead Mining Company which produced small quantities of ore from the workings up until 1895. The lead mines uphill to the east and west, which were also worked opencast for iron ore, were operated by a separate firm, the Weardale Iron Company. These mines are not included in the scheduling. The remains of Middlehope Shield Mine forms the northern area. At the north end of this area lies the drainage level which has lost its portal but is still open and issuing water, being some 1.5m high and 1m wide. Adjacent to the entrance are the 1.2m high earthwork remains of a twin-celled, 6m by 4m building. A tramway runs immediately to the rear (north) of the building from an ore slide above the level entrance. This c.16m long stone built chute allowed the transfer of materials from a standard gauge mineral railway (a branch of the Stanhope & Tyne railway) to the narrower gauge tramway. To the west of the level entrance is a curving, flat-topped finger tip of mining waste extending over 40m southwards, forming a flood barrier against the burn. Immediately to the south of the building lies a spread of coarse jigging waste (ore processing waste up to 4cm diameter discarded after being agitated in water to separate the heavy ore from the lighter waste material). The discharge from the level enters a c.18m by 14m reservoir extending 12m from the level, southwards. The east side is terraced into the hill with a revetment wall standing to 1.6m above the water level, the west side is dammed by the 0.5m high tramway embankment. To the west of the tramway is an open leat that becomes culverted south of the reservoir and feeds the ore works which lie c.140m to the south of the level. The works lie within a flat bottomed area c.14m by 40m north-south, bound on all sides except the south west by quarry faces and revetment walls up to 3m high. On the west side are the stone footings of a two-celled building, the southern cell measuring c.2m by 2m and the northern one c.3m by 3m. On the east side are the 0.8m high ruins of a wheelpit with the foundations of a crushing plant, all being obscured by rubble, together with the ruined remains of three stone piers which carried the tramway over the wheelpit and crusher. The rest of the area is a dressing floor (where ore was processed to remove waste rock and concentrate the lead minerals) and is thought to retain evidence of manual ore processing equipment and the settings for the mechanical jiggers that were also powered by the waterwheel (jiggers were devices consisting of a sieve held in a tank of water, and worked by agitating gravel sized particles to cause the heavier lead ore to separate from the lighter waste material). Immediately to the north west of and above the level area are the 1m high remains of a c.3.5m by 4.5m single-celled building. Above and to the east of the crusher is a c.8m by 12m terraced area formed by a c.3m high revetment wall which forms the back of a set of three bouse teams (storage bays for unprocessed ore). Approximately 15m south of the reservoir a tramway branches off the track to the crusher to run along the edge of the terraced area, past the mouths of the bouse teams, and then along the east side of the stream gorge to the southern protected area of Low Slit Mine. Low Slit Mine straddles Middlehope Burn which is culverted for 13m by a c.4.5m wide, flat arched culvert (the arch drawn from three centres). Four metres south west (down stream) the burn passes under a 7m wide bridge formed by a single 4m wide round arch. A shaft, capped with an unsecured 5m by 5m steel plate, lies 16m to the north of the bridge. Immediately to the north east lies a 6m by 12m by 4m deep stone lined pit bisected by a c.0.7m wide, 12m long wheelpit in line with the shaft. This narrow wheelpit is choked with rubble to within 1m of its top. The base of the larger pit is also obscured by rubble. Immediately to the south east is a 8m by 4m wide single-celled building surviving as an earthwork except for the 3m high remains of the north east wall. The wheelpit is thought to have been used for powering winding machinery working the shaft. The 2m high bed for a hydraulic pumping engine lies c.22m SSE of the shaft on the opposite side of the burn. The engine bed is complete and lies within a 6m by 10m stone built engine house which mainly survives as footings except for the 4m high south east wall. The hydraulic engine, which formerly stood here, was built at the Armstrong engineering works at Elswick in Newcastle upon Tyne and was powered by water pressure provided by water held in the West Slit Dam c.50m above, 140m to the west. The dam is intact and still holds water and is formed by a horseshoe-shaped bank 5m high. At the base of the bank, the valve at the head of the pipeway to the engine can be seen surviving in situ. Extending 15m to the north east of the engine house are the ruined remains of a 5.5m wide, three bayed building terraced into the hillside. The north east wall of this range survives to 2m and retains the remains of a flue for a stove. The ruins of a further three smaller buildings survive extending from 10m to the south west of the engine house. These are also terraced into the hillside and lie immediately above and east of the narrow terrace for the tramway from Middlehope Shield Mine. The 2m to 2.5m high lower revetment wall for the tramway forms the rear wall of a bank of six bouse teams, whose side walls survive as footings. Extending approximately 35m south east of the southern end of these bouse teams is a further set of eight bouse teams formed by 6m long walls extending out from the natural cliff face. The easternmost six of these bays are nearly complete with side walls up to 4m high. It is thought that the tramway was supported on these side walls, allowing the bays to be filled from above. Between the bouse teams and the burn (which loops to the west) there is a dressing floor covered in spreads of dressing wastes. These deposits are thought to bury the remains of manual ore processing equipment. The eastern bank of the burn is stone built and contains a number of culverts which issue water from the dressing area into the stream. All drystone fieldwalls and modern fencing are excluded from the scheduling, however the ground beneath 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.

Legacy System number: 29008

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Burt, R , The Durham and Northumberland Mineral Statistics, (1983), 70-71
Tyne & Wear Industrial Monuments Trust, Lead working sites in Co Durham recommended for protection, 1989, Typescript report

End of official listing