MinesMine PlansLinksContactLinksHome

Nenthead History and Surface Features

Back to Mine Index

The earliest mining around what is know as the village of Nenthead was probably via surface workings and shallow pits, and would have dated to well before the 1700's. Nenthead at this time did not exist, and the area of the village to be, consisted of a hand full of dwellings.

It was the formation of the Quaker owned London Lead Company in 1692 and the subsequent merging with the Ryton Company in 1705, which was involved in smelting lead ore, which brought change to the mining that was being carried out in the area. After the merger, the London Lead Company (LLC) started to acquire mines of its own. During this period they applied for leases for the mines at Nenthead from the Greenwich Hospital who were the owners of the Alston Moor Estate, but failed to obtain them. However, Colonel George Liddle was granted leases, and he was responsible for building the first smelt mill at Nenthead in 1736. Liddle's operations proved to be unprofitable and the leases for the mines where transferred to the LLC by 1750.

With so many mines under the operation of the LLC they soon realised that an infrastructure was needed to support the expanding mining activities, and they expanded the site from the smelt mill to what became the village of Nenthead. With the LLC mostly being owned by Quakers, they felt a strong sense of social responsibility towards the miners. As a result, the company built miners cottages, shops, schools, a clock tower, a post office, a market hall and chapels for the miners and their families, along with the introduction of 'Mine Shops'. These were a sort of lodging house right at the portal of a mine so that miners did not have to travel distances during the working week and short harsh winter days.

The LLC was responsible for one of the largest mining developments in the area, and they were keen to use the latest developments to increase productivity. They employed mining engineers and chemists and subsequently were able to improve smelting and metal recovery operations. Joseph Dickinson Stagg's fume condenser was used for the improved recovery of lead from the smelt mills fumes, and Hugh Lee Pattinson's new process for the separation of lead and silver improved the yield of silver from poorer lead ores, as well as saving fuel. The LLC smelt mill continued to be used until it was closed at the beginning of the 1900's.

The LLC operated at Nenthead until 1882, when the leases were sold to the Nenthead and Tynedale Lead and Zinc Company. This company only operated at Nenthead for a relatively short number of years, and its decline was due to the falling price of lead. In 1896 the leases were sold to the Vielle Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium, which heralded yet another new era for the Nenthead mines.

The Vielle Montagne Zinc Company (VMZC) introduced modern technology and ideas to the mines at Nenthead. A system of air compressors driven by water via pelton wheel turbines was built, which powered new rock drills and winches. Traction engines and locomotives for haulage replaced horses, and acetylene lamps replaced candles. The VMZC reworked the old LLC workings for zinc and drove extensive new levels in the mines, which commanded new ore shoots. They still extracted lead, but this was not the main ore.

In 1905 the old LLC dressing mill was rebuilt when the VMZC commissioned a new plant on the site. The new mill was built by the Krupp's Company from Germany and came online at the end of the 1900's. It was a gravity separation plant and was said to be the most modern in the world. The treated ore from the mill was transported to Alston and then taken by rail to Tyne Dock where it was shipped to Belgium for smelting. VMZC operated at Nenthead to around the end of the 1930's.

During the Second World War the Ministry of Supply reworked the dumps for the production of zinc and lead for the war effort. In this period a floatation plant was erected within the older mill buildings. At the end of the 1940's the Anglo Austral Mine Ltd took over the leases from VMZC and the mill at Nenthead was refitted with a floatation plant to treat fluorspar, mainly from the Cambokeels mine in Weardale. Towards the end of operations in 1960, part of the dumps from the Rampgill Firestone Level were treated at the mill, but this proved to be unsuccessful. The plant was then sold to the Rampgill Mill Company for lead and zinc recovery from the dumps around Nenthead. The enterprise was short lived and closed down in 1963. In the same year the lease for Smallcleugh Mine was taken up by local miners, but little large scale mining took place. In 1970 the British Steel Corporation took up a lease for the whole of Alston Moor to explore for fluorspar, but nothing ever became of this at the Nenthead site.

Nenthead serviced a large amount of mines in the Nent Valley and ones from further a field. This left many surface remains around Nenthead itself. There are remains of a smelt mill, a gravity separation plant mill, powder houses, mine shops, reservoirs, leats, hydraulic installations, compressed air installations, aerial rope ways, fume flues, a chimney and old tramways to name a few.

Today Nenthead is a mecca for mine explorers and home to the North Pennines Heritage Trust, which has since 1996 been restoring the Nent Valley mine site. Now you could easily drive through this quiet village without realising the importance of its historical heritage. We use Nenthead as our base for exploring the mines in the area. Places to stay at, are the Miners Arms pub (B&B) and Mill Cottage / Assay House bunk houses. At the Miners Arms you can stay on a bed and breakfast basis. Breakfast and evening meals are available in the pub. Beware of giant vegetables at certain times of the year. Contact: Tel 01434 381427. The Mill Cottage is also a bunk house, but it has full facilities for self catering, and is just that little bit closer to the mine entrances in the Nent Valley (important for the lazy ones). Sleeps 6. Its great to have a barbeque in the summer (however bring something to kill the midges). In 2007 the Assay House was converted to a bunk house as well, this sleeps 12. Contact: Tel 01434 382037 / 382045 or web - www.npht.com/nentheadmines/activities/bunkhouse

Surface Mining Remains

Photographs of surface remains in the Nent Valley.

Last Updated 29/04/15.

Snow Trip up the Nent Valley

With Nenthead covered in deep snow, how could we resist going up the Nent Valley in an Landrover?

(Charlie, Karli, Mark, Mike), 27th February 2005.

Natural Features

Photographs of the landscape in the Nent Valley and Alston Moor.

Last Updated 17/09/05.

Chimney and Flue

Following the course of the flue up towards the chimney on the moor.

(Charlie and Mike), 10th July 2005.

London Lead Company Smelt Mill

The remains of the lead smelting mill.

Last Updated 03/03/09.