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Coniston Copper Mines, History and Surface Features. Coniston, Cumbria.

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The mining of copper in the Coniston complex started towards the end of the 16th century, and German miners carried out the earliest 'large scale' mining activities. These early workings were almost always worked from the surface starting at outcrops of the copper veins. All the work would have been carried out by the use of hand tools. As the workings became deeper it became increasingly difficult to take the ore out and to drain them. In the early 17th century coffin levels were driven to provide access and drainage to the bottom of the workings. These early levels would have been driven by hand, using metal tools and wedges. Fire would also be employed to heat the rock, which would then fracture after rapid cooling with water. Towards the mid 17th century the German miners had taken some of their workings down to over 60m. Mining continued until the start of the Civil War in 1642. After the war mining was started again, but on a lesser scale than before with much of it reworking old workings. Up to the war, the copper ore mined was transported via packhorse along difiicult route to smelters on the outskirts of Keswick, some 20 miles away. The smelters were destroyed in the conflict.

The next major period of development started in the late 1750's with the formation of the Macclesfield Copper Company by the industrialist Charles Roe. Work continued on the veins that the German's had left behind and the workings were deepened to over 110m. A water wheel was constructed for haulage and water pumping, and along with the use of gunpowder this contributed greatly to the increased speed of ore extraction and depth of workings.

Towards the end of the first quarter of the 19th century John Taylor, a well known and successful mining engineer came to Coniston. Together with his mines manager John Barratt, a new period of activity followed with the driving of many new shafts, access and drainage levels. At this time the mines around Coniston relied on water power for pumping, winding and ore processing. A system of leats was built to collect and divert water to the required areas. By the mid 19th century the Coniston mines were reaching their peak period, and some of the deepest workings were approaching 270m. Transportation of ore to smelters during these periods was via cart and boating via Coniston Water to Ulverston Canal. Ore production at this time was so great that at the end of the 1850's a railway line was constructed from the Furness to Coniston.

During the 1860's the output of copper ore started to decline which was a continuing trend. Some of the workings were so deep that the cost of maintenance and pumping was becoming uneconomical with the falling production rates. The last two decades of the 19th century saw the decline of the mines, despite efforts from the introduction of new technology such as dynamite and compressed air drills. Imports of cheap ore from abroad finally provided the last straws. Pumping was stopped, however some of the higher veins above the water table continued to be worked with the new methods until the very early 20th century. At this point parts of the complex had reached a total surface to bottom depth of over 550m.

The early 1910's brought a French company to Coniston headed under Henri de Varinay to reprocess the dumps by using electrolysis. However this was short lived with the outbreak of the First World War. In the 1930's some reworking was carried out and mining completely ceased in the early 1940's. The 1950's rekindled some interest in the mines when a Canadian company carried out some prospecting, but ultimately this never reached any fruition.

The primary minerals found at Coniston are arsenopyrite, chalcopyrite, iron pyrites, malachite, tennantite and tetrahedrite. In the early days of working, the miners due to its easier smelting characteristics favoured malachite. At the peak of the mines the main ore was chalcopyrite. Some veins were so rich in this that the only treatment required was crushing to manageable size. The blue formations that Coniston is so famous for are secondary copper mineralisations. Acidic surface water working its way down through the ground and into untapped ore bodies dissolves the minerals and causes crystallisation of the colourful copper formations. The blue and sometimes green formations are called supergenes and consist mainly of copper sulphates, with a little of copper carbonates.

For decades, the Cumbria Amenity Trust Mining History Society (CATMHS) has explored, researched, conserved and preserved the great copper mines at Coniston. Their work stretches back to the 1970s beginning with the initial tentative explorations by the small group of friends that eventually formed the society. Through decades of dedicated work the society has gradually been revealing the mine’s secrets culminating in the recent re-opening of the Kernal Level and the resulting discovery of huge workings.

Coniston Copper Mines are very much a vertical world, where deep shafts, false floors, precariously stacked deads and many other dangers abound. These mines present a serious danger to the inexperienced and should not be entered without a knowledgeable guide.

Red Dell Surface Features

Surface Features up the valley of Red Dell Beck.

Updated 3th April 2009.

New Engine, West Bonsor and Thriddle Shafts

Surface features, at and around the shaft tops.

Updated, 3th April 2009.

East Bonsor Shaft

Surface features, at and around the shaft top.

(Mike and Pete), 3th April 2009.

Paddy End Surface Features

Surface features, up the valley that Paddy End is located.

Updated, 3th September 2009.

Old Engine Shaft

Surface features, at and around the shaft top.

Updated, 3th April 2009.

Bonsor Upper Mill

Surface features of the Bonsor Upper Mill.

Updated, 14th July 2011.