Rotherhopefell lead and fluorspar mines and ore works


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015827

Date first listed: 24-Oct-1997


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

County: Cumbria

District: Eden (District Authority)

Parish: Alston Moor

National Grid Reference: NY 69689 42163, NY 70149 42795


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. The ore works were an essential part of a lead mining site, where the mixture of ore and waste rock extracted from the ground were 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 size (either by manual hammering or by 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 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. Simple ore dressing devices had been developed by the 16th century, but the large majority of separate ore works sites date from the 18th and 19th centuries, during which period the technology used evolved rapidly. Ore works represent an essential stage in the production of metallic lead, an industry in which Britain was a world leader in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sites are common in all lead mining areas and a sample of the best preserved sites (covering the regional, chronological, and typological variety of the class) will merit protection.

The two Rotherhope ore works include important remains dating to two separate periods. The Vieille Montagne works is the best preserved mechanised ore dressing plant known nationally, with the foundations for a range of ore processing equipment retaining important technological information surviving within the remains of purpose built buildings. These remains complement those at Middle Level, where the exposed timbers indicate good stratigraphic survival of equipment dating to the early 19th century. Most of the ore processing techniques employed in this earlier period were manually powered and labour intensive, and were often conducted in the open air. The remains at Middle Level will also retain important technological information.


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


The monument, which is divided into two areas, is situated on the north east side of Rotherhope Fell above Black Burn. It includes the ruined structures of the lead ore and fluorspar processing plant built by the Vieille Montagne Company in the early 20th century, together with the earthwork and buried remains of a pre-1850s ore works and associated lead mining remains at Rotherhope Middle Level. It does not include the standing and earthwork remains of Black Burn Level and the extensive areas of ore processing waste besides the burn, as much of the context of these features has been lost through demolition of structures and removal of waste for reprocessing and use as hard core. The remains of Rotherhope High Level, scattered air shafts and the extensive water management system that extends across the fellside are also not included in the scheduling. However, all deposits of mining and ore processing wastes, within the areas of protection, are included. The mineral rights to Rotherhope Fell were owned by Greenwich Hospital which in 1764 appointed the engineer John Smeaton to act as a surveyor to fix boundaries for the various mineral leases. In the late 1770s he laid out a number of long levels designed to exploit the veins at greater depth. This included the Black Burn Level (later known as Rotherhope Fell Low Level) which was driven south eastwards from just above the Black Burn stream. This level was the main working entrance to the mine from c.1850 when the Middle Level ore works became disused and a new plant was built c.250m north east of Black Burn Level. Middle Level was maintained as the tail race for underground hydraulic engines. In 1907 the mine was taken over by the Vieille Montagne Company which rebuilt the Low Level ore processing plant in 1912. This plant was highly efficient and worked at nearly full capacity, processing ore from both Rotherhope and Haggs mine until closure in 1930. Re-opened in 1935 the mill eventually closed with the closure of the mine in 1947. Middle Level is thought to pre-date Smeaton's Black Burn Level. The portal and a c.30m length of the level has collapsed. This portion of the level was constructed by cut and cover (where, to maintain a constant gradient, the level passed though soft ground before reaching solid bedrock, a trench was dug, stone vaulting built and then covered over with earth to stabilise the construction). This section will retain evidence of the level's construction and is included in the scheduling. To the east of the level there are the 0.5m high earthwork remains of a range of small buildings. Extending from the level mouth there is a tramway leading to a spoil heap over 200m long and up to 8m high. This lies to the west of an extensive area containing buried and earthwork remains of an early 19th century ore works which includes numerous timber and stonework remains. At the southern (uphill) end of the works (opposite the start of the mine spoil heap) there are the mainly buried remains of a set of bouse teams (stone built bays for unprocessed ore). Approximately 50m to the north, extending for a further c.60m, is a low (0.5m high, 4m-5m wide) earthwork dam. This has been breached at its southern end and has a sluice to the north which feeds to a 20m square area of timber and metalwork remains, mostly buried in dressing (ore processing) waste. These remains include a 3m by 6m wooden frame including eight pairs of 0.3m by 0.3m square timbers which is interpreted as the base for a set of jiggers (equipment using water to separate gravel sized particles of lead ore from less dense waste material). Footings, up to a maximum of 1m high, survive of a 6m square stone-built building, and c.20m to the south east and at the north end of the area of scheduling there are the low remains of a second stone building c.3m square. The whole area between this second building and the bouse teams at the southern end of the ore works, and bordered to the west by the mine spoil heap and to the east by the dam and trackway, retains earthwork and structural remains of numerous features, together with spreads of dressing wastes. Exposed sections of timberwork demonstrate good in situ survival of features relating to the ore works and it is considered that the buried remains will provide evidence of early 19th century ore processing techniques. Spreads of dressing wastes continue downhill from the 3m square building remains, but these deposits appear to be more seriously disturbed and have thus not been included in the scheduling. The structural remains of the later ore processing plant operated by the Vieille Montagne Company in the 20th century form a second area of scheduling, c.0.8km north east of the Middle Level ore works. Included in the scheduling is a 30m long sample section of the 1m-2m wide leat that supplied water via a 1m diameter iron lined shaft and pipeway to a waterwheel and water powered turbine sited on the north west side of the main building. The wheelpit survives as a 12m by 2m stone-built structure standing to 2m high. Just to the north east of the end of the leat are the in situ remains of part of a 0.5m diameter iron pipeway which fed water to a pelton wheel sited in the main building. Pelton wheels were waterpowered turbines used to produce electricity. The main building mostly survives to eaves level; it is two storied (but with a high roofed first floor) and mainly built in rubble stone, with the northern portion built in rendered brickwork. Well lit by large windows, it measures c.35m by 8m and is oriented north east- south west. It retains evidence that the building was extended at least once during its lifetime, and part of the building is believed to be the remains of the first dressing mill built in the late 19th century. At the north and south ends, extending from the south east wall, the building extends south westwards forming two bays c.8m and c.12m wide, extending 4m and c.12m respectively. The floor of the building retains a large number of substantial concrete bases for ore processing equipment. Most of the machines are believed to have been jiggers (a jigger consisted of a sieve containing ore crushed of a uniform size which was agitated in a tank of water to separate the heavy ore from the lighter waste). The northern bay has a 3m square steel frame and brick panel tower adjacent to the south east wall which is linked to a terrace to the rear of the main building by a flatbed bridge c.2m wide, 6m long, constructed out of 0.3m square timbers. The tower is partly filled with fine ore processing material which fed to the ground floor of the northern bay via a timber chute which still survives in situ. Extending to the north west at the southern end of the main building, is a 13m by 8m breeze-block built single storey shed with a corrugated iron roof still in place. This retains the concrete bases for an oil tank and coal oil engine installed in 1927-8, to supplement and act as standby to the hydraulic power system. Immediately to the north east of this shed are the concrete bases of further ore processing machinery which would have filled a c.12m by 11m building. These are thought to date to after the reopening of the plant in 1935. A further area of machinery bases fills an 8m wide area extending 35m north east from the main building. These bases were contained within a single storey building built after 1912, and operational by 1927, and were for a number of Wilfly and circular tables. These were slightly inclined tables upon which gentle streams of water containing fine particles were directed. Working in a similar way to buddles, which were commonly used in the 19th century, they were used to retrieve very fine particles of ore, which having a higher density than the waste material, settled first, towards the top of the inclined surface. Just beyond the remains of this building, to the north east, there is a 2m high stone revetment wall and the footings of further ancillary buildings which included a weigh house and store. The corrugated iron hut within the southern area of protection (just to the north of Middle Level) is excluded from the scheduling but 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: 29014

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Raistrick, A, Jennings, B, A History of Lead Mining in the Pennines, (1983), Indexed
Dunham, K C, 'Tyne to Stainmore' in Geology of the Northern Pennine Orefield, , Vol. Vol 1, (1990), 125-126
Watson, W, 'Friends of Killhope Newsletter' in Rotherhope Fell Mine and Dressing Plant, , Vol. 28, (1993), 19-25
Book of reprinted old photographs, Raistrick, A and Roberts, R, Life and Work of the Northern Lead Miner, (1984)

End of official listing