A Rich Seam: Lead Mining and Textile Heritage in the Yorkshire Dales 2017- 2019

In 2017 we started one of our most significant projects in recent years, A Rich Seam: Lead Mining and Textile Heritage in the Yorkshire Dales which involved us re-housing and exhibiting one of the country’s most fascinating lead mining collections..

A total of 860 objects, including mining wagons and tools, were given to the Dales Countryside Museum by the Yorkshire Dales Mining Museum in Earby when it closed in 2015. We received a fantastic grant of £90,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund it means that the artefacts can now be re-examined and displayed. At the same time, it allows us to tell the stories of miners and of the members of Earby Mine Research Group who assembled the objects over the past 50 years. These items are very significant to the history of the Yorkshire Dales as there had been lead mining activities here for many centuries.

The Old Providence Mine Ore Crusher

One of the most challenging tasks is to reassemble Old Providence Mine Ore Crusher, described as the most complete water wheel and double roller ore crusher in the country. In 1840 the Old Providence Company, who owned the mine at Dowber Gill near Kettlewell in Wharfedale, had the crusher built and modernised the existing smelt mills during a brief spell of prosperity. Both mines and mill closed in 1875 leaving the mill, crushers and water wheel abandoned.

The wheel was initially recused by Earby Mines Research Group in 1971 who then reassembled it at the Yorkshire Dales Mining Museum until it closed before being transferred to the Dales Countryside Museum in pieces in July 2017.

A team of a dozen volunteers has spent a total of 900 hours putting it back together. This involved volunteers in dismantling parts of the waterwheel. Each component of the wheel was scraped and cleaned to get rid of the old paint and checking for rust and potential repairs. Once cleaned and examined, the painting process began. Each component had two layers of undercoat and a topcoat. The volunteer completed this by spring 2018. Our volunteers have been on hand to provide advice during the re-assembly due to their invaluable and extensive knowledge of engineering, mining history and the fact that some of them helped rescue the wheel from its original location!

DCM volunteers Dave Carlisle, left, and Mason Scarr, have helped to reassemble the Providence Mine ore crushers

“We’ve reconstructed it from what looked like a pile of scrap; it had been demolished in a hurry at Earby.  It took 18 months just to lay out all the pieces and do the painting and rust proofing to get ready for assembly.

“It feels great to see it up.  There are plenty of old water wheels running, but this is the only ore crusher remaining in the Yorkshire Dales.  There is nothing like this in the North of England.  In Britain it’s unique. It’s just a pity; it’s not a whole wheel.  By the time it was rescued in the ‘70s, half of it had been taken away for scrap or washed down the beck.”

Volunteer Dave Carlisle, a long-time member of the Earby Mines Research Group which saved the crusher in 1971

New Mining Displays

Now with a vast collection of mining artefacts, new interpretation and displays were created by the same design company. With this came a new minerals display highlighting the different minerals found in the Yorkshire Dales. Also,  new exhibits on display exploring the mystery of “Buckden Bill” whose body discovered at Buckden Gavel lead mine in 1964. New oral history points allow for visitors to hear recordings from those who had rescued some of the artefacts from derelict mines.

Alan Butterfield on the difficulty of getting landowner permission to extract to ore crusher at the Providence mine near Kettlewell

New Textiles Display

As well as bringing the lead mining collection back to life, a new gallery was created from the museum’s extensive textile holdings. Significant building work took place inside the museum to extended the upper gallery floor. The new area allowed us to install new interpretation panels and display units. Our new displays included a brand-new knitting stick (sheaths) display enables visitors to see both sides of the individual knitting sheaths. Some of the knitting sheaths in the collection are hundreds of years old. The new space has allowed us to display more examples as of rag rugs and quilts traditionally made in the Yorkshire Dales. Also, we have a new demonstrating area where our textile volunteers hold demonstrations of different traditional textiles methods.

The DCM’s collection of Dales knitting sticks are now on permanent display

Overall, the new displays allow us to exhibit better the rich history of lead mining and textiles in the Yorkshire Dales. The lead mining and textile industries were once vital to the Dales, especially in the 19th century. They went hand-in-hand, with miners often knitting on the way to work to supplement their income.