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Lead, Zinc & Silver Mining

By David Hardwick

Lead in the form of argentiferous galena is found in much of South Gloucestershire and the Bristol area. Calamine (the ore for Zinc) has also been found and worked. Traces of old lead workings exist on the Durdham Downs in Bristol but also along the limestone ridge through Almondsbury up to Tortworth and round to Yate. Early references to Lead mining include a Saxon charter for the area that includes Penpark dated 882 AD which mentions "leadgedelf" or lead-diggings. There are later references to lead mining in the area with the discovery of the cavern Pen Park Hole in 1669. Samples were taken at various dates and there is evidence of a short period of working in the nineteenth century, but this cavern is now believed to be essentially natural rather than "an olde Lead Ore Pit" as it was described in 1678.

1888 Map of the Quarries at Almondsbury

The lead mines of Almondsbury were however perhaps more extensive. Mines were worked by a Mr Freeman in 1775 but apparently not in payable quantities. Quarrying of the limestone would have exposed the ore, which would then have been worked from the surface. It would appear that further works were carried out in the nineteenth century as shafts are marked on early ordnance survey maps and older residents have recalled walking along old tunnels, when they were little, for considerable distances.

Photo of Almondsbury church spire

It is a local legend that the lead of Almondsbury church spire is from the local mines. The spire is 70ft high and although the tower dates from the 13th century the date of the spire is not known. A plaque in the church indicates that when the spire was restored in 1925 under the direction of the architect P Hartland Thomas the lead was recast and at that time the date 1619 was found on the lead. If the original lead is from local mines it suggests an early date for workings. The date 1864 was also found on the lead so perhaps the legend comes from tales of local lead being used for repairs at that time.

Mining Journal no 777 vol xx 13 July 1850

The 1850 Mining Journal contains details of the proposed lead mines at Itchington near Alveston. Quarrying for limestone had exposed ore at the junction of the Limestone with the red marl and Sandstone. When samples were tested it was found that they contained 55-60% lead and 68-71 ounces of silver per ton of ore. The "Itchington Hill Silver-Lead Mining Company" was formed as a "cost book company" - i.e. where shareholders liability is limited to the value of their shares. There were originally 3072 shares at an original value of £3 each. The location of the mine at the foot of the hill suggested expensive machinery would not be necessary and a large return was anticipated The 1851 census for the area confirms that miners came from Yorkshire and Cornwall to live and work there but the mines appear to have had a short life.

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