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Middle Greenlaws Level Lead Mine & WWII Aircrash Site

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Middle Greenlaws Level lead mine and ore Works at Daddry Shield, Weardale (NY 889369) is also the location of a World War II aircrash that is commemorated with a memorial in the village square of St Johns Chapel nearby. A circular route of one and three-quarter miles has been suggested to visit this fascinating site. Although the footpath and the track that passes through Middle Greenlaws Level Lead Mine is a public right of way, the bulk of what remains of the site – up the Daddry Shield burn – is not and permission should be politely requested from the landowner in the farm further down the hill for access. In the event that permission can’t be obtained, the top of the site can be accessed by continuing up the footpath over the fields instead of turning onto the track that enters the tunnel.

Middle Greenlaws Level mine and ore works is one of several lead mining sites in Weardale that are protected as Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) and which is also on the Buildings at Risk Register. The Historic Environment Record (HER) indicates mining activity to the east of Greenlaws as early as the 14th century with leases granted by the bishop of Durham; activity on the site itself dates from 1725. In its economic hey-day, like most of the mines in the dale it was owned by the Blackett-Beaumont Lead Mining Company then passed into the ownership of the Weardale Lead Company towards the end of the 19th century. Today, although the site looks fairly ruinous, there is actually a great deal left to see: entry is via a long stone-arched tunnel that runs beneath the huge heap of mine waste or ‘spoil’ the growth of which eventually necessitated the tunnel’s construction (wellies or well-proofed boots might be required to get out of the tunnel without getting your feet wet).

On the right, out of the tunnel, is a well preserved example of what is thought to be the mine superintendent’s shop or office while across the burn can be seen the pit for the water-wheel that once drove the ore crusher. Further up the burn beyond the debris that was carried down in the flood of January 1995 which devastated the site is a stone staircase that leads to the lower of the two dressing floors where the ore was graded.

Just before the staircase, in the wall, low down on the right, can be seen the top of the arch through which the burn was directed by the mine operator until it diverted itself in the wake of the flood. Water was almost always the only source of power in a Dales lead mine and operators carefully controlled how it flowed into and through a site by using a network of leats, aqueducts and culverts to direct it to the various processes.

Standing on the lower dressing floor, the tall stone compartments that can be seen on either side of the burn are the ‘bouse teems’ (the difference in design indicates that they may not have been built at the same time). Wheeled tubs running on narrow gauge railway tracks carried mined rock or ‘bouse’ out of the mine and over the bouse-teems where it was dropped into the compartment that corresponded with the miner-partnership that had loaded the tub. This was common practice in lead mines of the time to ensure that each partnership was paid only for the ore that it had extracted.

Further up the burn on the other side is a low building comprising individual rooms that is thought to have been the accommodation or ‘shop’ for miners who had to travel longer distances to the site. Beyond that is the Middle Level portal, the entrance to the mine which was constructed as a horse-level which as its name implies provided enough room to allow horses to pull the tubs the 170 metres to the West Vein. The rails are still visible disappearing into the mine’s gloomy interior. This upper level had a network of tracks to cover both sets of bouse teems.

By continuing up the burn we can climb out of the gorge where the remains of what was the mine’s timber store overlooks the rest of the site. The burn itself is full of the mineralised rock known to miners as fluorspar or ‘bonny bits’ (fluorite to give it its proper name) that extended the life of the mine when the market for lead collapsed at the end of the 19th century.

Photographs of the site from the 1970s not only show the mine before the 1995 flood but show the timber store in considerably better condition. Now the arch under which the wooden doors once swung seems to want to mock gravity while all around it the rest of the stonework crumbles. The shallow pits close to the timber house to the west are early shafts dug to access the uneconomic West Vein and the long shallow gully is the remains of Greenlaw Hush (hushing was a relatively unsophisticated way of exploiting lead veins that outcropped at the surface). The east end of the hush, which would have run into the burn, was filled with spoil from the mine.

Forty years after the mine was formally abandoned in 1913, the site became the location for a shocking war-time tragedy when a RAF Wellington bomber on a night-time training flight crashed in low cloud close to the timber house killing all seven of the crew. When I visited the site I was informed by the farmer that the aircraft knocked the chimney off the nearby farmhouse and that the actual crash site is visible from the timber house although I was unable to positively locate it.

The final hurrah (to date at least) for Middle Greenlaws is indicated by the rusting tractor (used as a source of power) close to the portal that was abandoned following an unsuccessful attempt to rework the mine in some way (possibly for fluorspar) in the 1980s.

The site was the subject of an archaeological survey by Wardell Armstrong Archaeology Ltd as part of a management plan funded by Natural England between April 2011-April 2012 (hence the black and white ‘targets’ around the site). You can compare this with similar sites in the dale as well as the Killhope Lead Mining Centre (award-winning museum and heritage centre): Slitt mine, Westgate; Brandon Walls mine, Rookhope; Harehope Gill mine near Frosterley; Sedling Rake mine near Cowhshill and Stanhopeburn mine near Stanhope plus others in Teesdale.

References:

Town, Matthew. ‘Middle Greenlaws Level Lead and Ore Works, Daddry Shield: Archaeological Survey’. Archaeology County Durham, Issue 8 2013: Durham County Council