Snailbeach new smeltmill, 350m north east of Green Acres


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


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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 37365 03026

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 reverberatory lead smelt mill was developed in the late 17th century, and marked an important stage in the development of the switch from wood to coal fuel which rendered the Industrial Revolution possible. The reverberatory smelt mill was a rectangular enclosed structure of stone or firebrick held by iron strapping, within which ore was smelted by the heat of flames from a separate coal fire in one end, reflected down onto the ore by an arched roof. The separation of fuel from ore made the use of coal possible. A chimney (or flue to a separate chimney) at the far end from the fire provided the draught to draw the flames over the ore; no air blast was used and, consequently, water power was not required. Early reverberatory lead smelt mills consisted simply of a large barn-like building containing the furnaces, with chimneys projecting from the outer wall. Late 18th and 19th century smelt mills were often large complexes containing several smelting furnaces, together with slag hearths for extracting lead from the slags, roasting furnaces for preparing the ore, refining furnaces for extracting silver from the lead by a process known as cupellation, and reducing furnaces for recovering lead from the residue or litharge produced by cupellation, together with sometimes complex systems of flues, condensers and chimneys for recovering lead from the fumes given off by the various hearths and furnaces. Reverberatory smelt mill sites will also contain fuel stores and other ancillary buildings. Many of the later sites used water power to provide the air blast for the slag hearths. Reverberatory smelt mills existed in all the lead mining fields of England, and also in some coastal areas, using imported ores; about 100 sites are believed to have existed. Since both the buildings and the sites of reverberatory smelt mills were more easily reused than those of ore hearth smelt mills, examples surviving as well preserved field monuments are very rare nationally. All early sites with any structural or earthwork remains, and all later sites retaining a range of structural and/or earthwork features, together with any sites believed to retain the remains of furnaces, whether as exposed ruins or as buried stratigraphy, will merit protection.

The Snailbeach new smeltmill survives well and is considered one of the best preserved examples of its type in the country. The remains are unusually complete for a monument of this type and date and, with the exception of the hearth itself, much of the internal arrangement of the slag mill is visible, whilst buried archaeological deposits within the floor of the furnace structure will provide information on the layout and mode of operation of the furnaces. In addition, the slag tips form an important source of information for the scientific study of reverberatory smelting and the importance of the site is increased by its short working life, with little subsequent disturbance.


The monument is situated 350m north east of Green Acres and includes the standing remains (several of which are Listed Grade II) and buried features of Snailbeach new smeltmill and the earthworks of associated reservoirs and a transport system.

The smeltmill was constructed in 1862 for the Snailbeach Mining Company, whose lead mine was located some 0.8km to the south. The mine's former smeltmill at Pontesford was abandoned in 1863 in favour of this new reverberatory mill; it possessed totally enclosed furnaces which were able to operate continuously; and was connected to the mine by railway. A decline in the demand for lead in the late 19th century resulted in the closure and demolition of much of the site in 1895, although one hearth was operated for a short period in June 1897.

Much of the layout of the smeltmill complex survives intact and, together with map evidence from the late 19th century, allows the plan of the site to be reconstructed. The buildings are situated within a rectangular enclosure, bounded by rubblestone walls along its south, west and north west sides. The smeltmill building itself defines the east side of this enclosure and is a rectangular structure of roughly coursed stone which has been constructed against a slope on a levelled terrace. It is believed to have originally housed at least four reverberatory furnaces, a roasting hearth and, at the northern end of the building, a vaulted chamber which may have been used for storage. The furnaces were located against the rear wall of the building and were charged from above, access being provided via a railway track which ran parallel with the east side of the building. The furnaces themselves have been removed but their buried remains and those of associated features will survive.

Five flues which are Listed Grade II and included in the scheduling, are visible exiting the rear of the mill structure from which they run independently to an underground condensing chamber where further quantities of lead would have been recovered from the fumes. This is located approximately 50m south east of the smeltmill structure, and although it has collapsed and been partly infilled, its buried remains will provide information for its design and plan. From here, a single flue ran southwards as far as Lordshill at Snailbeach mine where the fumes were discharged via a chimney. Parts of the flue have collapsed but, those sections which survive intact within the mine site are the subject of a separate scheduling.

Although the reverberatory furnace was effective in removing lead from the ore, the slag was still fairly rich in metal and, during the 19th century, it was invariably resmelted in a slagmill. The slagmill at Snailbeach, a Grade II Listed Building which is included in the scheduling, is situated at the northern end of the enclosure and is now used for storage. It is built of roughly coursed rubblestone with brick dressings. The interior is divided into two rooms by two parallel cross walls and the floor of the western room is considerably lower than that to the east. The hearth which was set within these cross walls has been removed but much of the internal arrangement remains visible. The basic slaghearth was of fairly simple construction with the tapping opening located at the front base of the hearth whilst the charging door was positioned above the hearth bottom, reached via the higher level at the rear. The brick flue from the slagmill is visible beyond the northern end of the smeltmill building, running south as far as the condenser.

Whereas the reverberatory furnace relied on a chimney to provide a draught, slagmills required a blast, and at Snailbeach this is believed to have been provided by steam powered fans which were probably located in the eastern half of the building. To the north east of the slagmill are four small reservoirs which have been terraced into the hillslope; they are now mostly dry but would have provided the water supply for a steam engine. Immediately to the north and north west of the slagmill are several slag tips; these in situ deposits of process residues will retain important technological information about lead smelting in the late 19th century and are thus included in the scheduling. The site was served by a network of railway tracks which transported material from one process to another, and was connected to the Snailbeach District Railway via two branch lines that approached from the north east. Buried remains of the track beds are believed to survive beneath the ground surface and these are included in the scheduling.

The south side of the enclosure is occupied by the dwelling known as the Smelthouse, part of which is believed to have formerly served as the site office. Much of the southern boundary wall to the complex has been incorporated within its fabric and this, together with the house itself, is thus excluded from the scheduling but the ground below is included. All fence posts and the dwelling's associated outbuildings are also excluded, although the ground beneath 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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Willies, L, Problems in the Interpretation of Cupola Lead Smelting Sites, (1992), 40-2
Willies, L, 'Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society' in Derbyshire Lead Smelting in the 18th and 19th centuries, , Vol. 1, (1990), 1-19


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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