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Rotherhope Fell Mine, Leadgate, Black Burn, Alston, Cumbria.

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Rotherhope Fell mine predominately worked the west end of the Rotherhope Fell Vein and part of the east end, which changes to Rotherhope Cleugh Vein. The first workings were via Charlton's Level which now is known as the Rotherhope Fell High Level. A partnership was formed in around 1800 by Mr Charlton and Graham Clark and they proceeded to drive this level. They found some veins, but mostly they were unproductive. They gave up the lease in 1818 and it was taken up by the Wilson's in 1827. The Wilson's continued to drive the level and retried some of the Charlton's trials with some success, mainly in the Four Fathom Limestone, producing some 55 tonnes of lead ore. The level was driven for a total of 700m, crossing Rotherhope Fell, New Rotherhope Fell and Greencastle Tarn Veins.

To try the Rotherhope Fell Vein at a lower horizon the Wilson's drove the Middle Level in the Five Yard Limestone. At 350m it cut the Victoria Vein, and then a further 350m brought it to Rotherhope Fell Vein. It was then driven a further 335m to where it cut the Rotherhope Fell New Vein which proved to be of no value. By 1829, 425 tonnes of lead ore had been produced with this peaking in 1836 to 1220 tonnes. The Middle Level was eventually used to take off water from hydraulic machinery installed in the Blackburn Level.

Further development of the mine progressed with the driving of the Blackburn Level, which was started in the mid 1830's. The level runs due south almost 900m until it cuts Victoria Vein, which was worked southwest from the Blackburn Level, via a rise and surface shaft. The level then turns south, southeast to reach the Rotherhope Fell Vein at 1280m. During this period the Blackburn Level became the main production level for the mine. The Wilson's retained the lease on the mine until 1880, and then ownership was recorded as the Rotherhope Fell Lead Mining Company. From 1827 to 1885 a total of 45,492 tonnes of lead ore had been produced.

In 1900 the Vieille Montagne Lead and Zinc Company purchased the lease and started working the mine. Where the level cut the Rotherhope Fell Vein two shafts were sunk, named No1 and No2. No1 shaft was 113m deep and tested the vein down to the Jew Limestone, which was found to be poor. No2 shaft was 37m deep and later became a pump sump for dewatering the workings below Blackburn Level. The main working level from No1 Shaft was at 37m (20 Fathom Level), which extended 425m to the northeast and 253m to the southwest. On the north east side, from the 20 Fathom Level, the 30 Fathom Level (50m below Blackburn Level) was driven which worked some 102m of ground. There was also a short level at 76m (43 Fathom Level) at the base of the Whin Sill. Vieille Montagne also briefly tried the northeast end of Victoria Vein from the Blackburn Level, driving a short drift 35m long with two rises, but this only found very poor ground.

The Blackburn Level extended another 457m from No1 Shaft to the northeast and 1174m to the southwest. The ground around No1 Shaft was quite poor and only moving further away from it, richer deposits were discovered. To the southwest, 316m from No1 Shaft a 1 in 3 incline provided access to the Central Flats on the footwall of the vein. A third shaft, No3 Shaft was sunk from the Blackburn Level at a distance of 628m southwest of No1 Shaft. This was 43m deep and at 37m worked the 20 Fathom Level for a distance of 389m in the Whim Sill.

The Vieille Montagne Lead and Zinc Company produced 19,499 tonnes of lead ore between 1913 and 1947. Fluorspar was also mined by hand picking the vein and between 1906 and 1914, 908 tonnes had been produced, with a total of 14,326 tonnes over the mines life. During the Second World War there was a small output from the mine, but nothing of significance. In 1948 the mine was taken over by Anglo-Austral Mines, a subsidiary of the Imperial Smelting Corporation and then closed down and dismantled. Subsequently some fluorspar was produced by a small company in Alston. In 1974 the Middle Level tailings were taken to Frosterly in Weardale for treatment.

Blackburn Level Engine Rooms

A rare oppertunity to visit the engine rooms on the Rotherhope Fell Vein.

25th May 2014, (Karli and Mike).