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By Jack Randell

Ochre is a hydrated oxide of iron, occurring typically in pockets of soft clay-like material. Normally of a deep red colour, it can occur in various colours, from yellow, through red, to brown. It often occurs in conjunction with other iron ores, e.g. haematite.

Ochre has been used by man as a pigment for many thousands of years, often turning up on archaeological sites. More recently, it has found use as a pigment in paints and dyes. It is the 'red ochre' or 'yellow ochre' we found in our paint boxes at an early age.

In addition to its use as a pigment, ochre is also used as an iron ore. The actual use of the ore is determined by its quality and colour.

Ochre was mined at several places in the region. There were many mines in the Mendips, including those at Axbridge (ST431 551), Compton Martin (ST541 567) Hutton (ST360 581), and Winford (ST534 637), all of which still have underground passages accessible to cavers.

A Hades Caving Club visit to Clearwell Caves in August 2006 - Photo by Steve Grudgings

A Hades Caving Club visit to Clearwell Caves in August 2006 - Photo by Steve Grudgings

In the Forest of Dean iron mines, both haematite and ochre were worked. However, the ochre would have mainly been used for iron production rather than as a pigment. An example is Clearwell Caves (SO577 082), formerly mining ochre, and now a show mine.

Nearer to hand, Golden Valley at Wick (ST706 732) is the site of an ochre works, most of whose production (at least latterly) was used for pigment. Initially the ochre was mined at the site, but latterly most of the ore was imported (e.g. from Mendip) for processing. There was an iron works in the valley as early as 1761, and the ochre works finally closed in 1968.The site is now a nature reserve, but some of the processing sheds and various other features can still be seen, and there are useful information boards detailing the industry and nature.

External Website Links:
Hades Caving Club
Golden Valley - Mining - Geology
Clearwell Caves

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