Barrowmouth gypsum and alabaster mine at Saltom Bay


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1021106

Date first listed: 03-Sep-2004


Ordnance survey map of Barrowmouth gypsum and alabaster mine at Saltom Bay
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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This copy shows the entry on 09-Dec-2018 at 21:21:25.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cumbria

District: Copeland (District Authority)

National Grid Reference: NX 95924 15813


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

Reasons for Designation

Gypsum has been a basic ingredient of the plaster industry for building rendering and decorative purposes since the 13th century. More recently, its uses have included applications for medical and surgical purposes, in the pottery, brewing and paper industries, and still on a large scale for building plaster and plasterboard. Alabaster, a fine-grained, compact form of gypsum, has been valued since the medieval period as a material for carving religious sculptures and for domestic ornamental and decorative work. The gypsum industry is defined as the processes of mining, quarrying, transporting, preparing and producing gypsum. The mining technology used to exploit gypsum is the same as that used in other mining industries. To produce plaster, rock gypsum or alabaster scrap is transported to plaster mills where it is crushed and ground to powder prior to being heated in a kiln to remove most of its water content. This process produces Plaster of Paris, while higher temperatures produce a pure plaster. Remains of the gypsum industry comprise similar elements to those found in other mining industries such as adits or levels, open-cast workings, gin circles, engine houses, inclines and a range of associated buildings, together with gypsum grinding mills and kilns. Aside from rare occurrences of Roman `plaster' burials, evidence for the use of gypsum plaster in England occurs first from the mid-13th century in building works, initially as an import from France and a little later documented as being mined in Dorset, Yorkshire and the Trent Valley, and later in Somerset and the east Midlands. In the 19th century new quarry sources in Cumbria, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire were opened to meet increased demand. From the 1820s gypsum began to be produced in underground mining as well as quarrying. From the 1920s gypsum plaster and plasterboard gradually replaced lime plaster for use in buildings. The plasterboard market grew throughout the 20th century, leading to the resultant modernisation of mines, quarries and processing plants. Opencast mining is used in the modern industry in the east Midlands and Cumbria. The earliest known use of alabaster in England is on the carved doorway of Tutbury church, Staffordshire (1160-70), and by the end of the 14th century a centre for medieval carving had grown up around Fauld, Staffordshire, exploiting the local hillside exposures of the mineral. Fauld survived the rise and fall of the industry to become the last commercial source in England for alabaster. As the popularity of alabaster for religious sculpture grew in the 15th century, extraction was also taking place in the east Midlands. These hand-dug quarry sources supplied the workshops of Nottingham which had established a high reputation for alabaster carving. The demand for commemorative sculpture and secular decoration increased during the 17th century with a new alabaster source on the Somerset coast complementing existing sources, and by the late 18th/early 19th century alabaster was also being mined in Cumbria. From a highly selective sample made at national level, seven gypsum industry sites have been defined as being of national importance. These have been defined to represent the industry's chronological depth, technological breadth and regional diversity.

Despite being overgrown by vegetation, Barrowmouth gypsum and alabaster mine at Saltom Bay survives reasonably well. It is the only example in north west England of a late 18th/early 19th century gypsum and alabaster mine. It continued in production until the early 20th century and will retain important information relating to the technological developments in the mining and transportation of gypsum and alabaster during this period.


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


The monument includes the remains of buildings, levels, spoil heaps, enclosures and an inclined plane which comprised the Barrowmouth gypsum and alabaster mine located on the steeply sloping coastline below cliffs overlooking Saltom Bay, Whitehaven.

The date when gypsum and alabaster mining began at Barrowmouth is unknown but the first reference to gypsum here is found in Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, published in 1794. During the first half of the 19th century John Hamilton was described as an alabaster and gypsum merchant in the Cumberland Directory, while his brother Billy mined the deposits. Documentary sources dated to the 1860s mention alabaster levels driven straight into the hillside with the alabaster being produced for ornamental purposes only and for making moulds at Whitehaven Pottery Works. Packhorses carried the alabaster up a winding path connecting the mine with the cliff top. The Ordnance Survey map of 1863 shows the mine consisting of three alabaster levels together with five buildings and three small enclosures. This enterprise closed during the early 1880s. In 1888 mining operations were started again by Joseph Robinson & Co Ltd. New adits or levels were driven and the gypsum was taken to the cliff top in trucks along a tramway, also known as an inclined plane, powered by a steam winch. The gypsum was processed in a factory at nearby Lingydale and some of the plaster produced was further processed into wallboards. A combination of flooding, roof collapses and contamination with anhydrite led to closure of the mine in 1908. The Ordnance Survey map of 1925 depicts the mine remains consisting of a large surface extractive hollow and a cluster of buildings and small enclosures on a plateau overlooking the beach. A short distance inland four other structures are shown together with the inclined plane, a bridge and a further structure alongside the inclined plane.

The top of the inclined plane is located at NX96141595 at a point where it is joined by an old quarry track. Lower down the inclined plane crosses a track on a stone-built bridge, while a large concrete block thought to be the engine mounting for the steam winch lies nearby. Three roofless stone-built structures stand between the bottom of the inclined plane and the beach. The largest, central structure, appears to have been two-roomed whilst the other buildings may have been single-roomed. A fourth building, depicted near the beach on the 1925 map, appears to have been destroyed by coastal erosion. A large mine or quarry working represented by a hollow dug into the hillside is situated north west of the bridge carrying the inclined plane over the trackway. To the south west of this, on a plateau overlooking the beach, are the heavily overgrown remains of the structures and enclosures depicted on the 1925 map. Traces of enclosure walls and building platforms can be identified together with the stone-lined entrance to a level. Remains of the earlier 19th century mining operations are less easy to interpret beneath the undergrowth but at least one building platform survives to the north of the large hollow dug into the hillside together with traces of the track along which packhorses carried gypsum up to the cliff top prior to construction of the inclined plane.

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: 35009

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Barrowmouth Gypsum and Alabaster Mine, (1999)

End of official listing