Tuesday, 24 March 2009

A Man-made Landscape.
















I see, in a poll of favourite holiday places in the UK, conducted by the Tourist Board, North Yorkshire came first. This must be very good news this year for our huge tourist industry up here, but it does make me pleased that we live slightly off the beaten track.
On Sunday we went up into Swaledale, which starts only two or three miles from our farm and which is a very different dale from Wensleydale, much wilder, higher and in a lot of places man-made landscape.
Lead was mined up here as early as Anglo-Saxon times. If you read my post on Addlebrough and the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army you will have read about the battles with the Brigantes. Well, apparently, the prisoners that were taken at the battle were sent as slaves to work in the lead mines of Swaledale. Oh what cruelty and deprivation haunts this beautiful land of ours.
We went first to Grinton, which sits on the top of the moor that bears the name of our village. This is active grouse moor and here and there red grouse were sitting on the heather enjoying the sunshine. In the distance were plumes of smoke where they were burning off patches of heather - an essential part of grouse-moor management.
Parts of Grinton lead mine workings have been carefully preserved. To search for lead they looked for veinstones and when they found enough to suggest that there was lead-bearing ore, they would dam up the beck at its head on top of the moor and let in back up. Once there was enough water they would knock down the dam and water would gush down the stream bed, scouring the surfaces and exposing the rock. This left huge gashes in the hillsides - called hushes. Later in the week, when I put on a post about Arkengarthdale I will put on a photo of hushes. Many of them are as deep as thirty feet or more.
Then the miners would go in and dig out the lead bearing rocks. They would sort out and throw away any rocks which had no ore veins in them; then they would crush the ore bearing rocks by hand (later by machinery); wash it on racks; then it would be ready for smelting.
The photographs show the smelt mill remains at Grinton. There is also a shot of the flue - or part of it. These flues often went as far as a mile up the hillside and ended with a chimney (some chimneys still remain and are visible for miles). What they needed was a good draught for the smelting and the flue and chimney also carried away the noxious fumes - well away from where the men were working.
When the vaporised lead had condensed in the flue, small boys would be sent up with a brush and shovel to collect it.
Vast fortunes were made in the early nineteenth century but not by the miners (same old story). These men often walked four or five miles over moorland to get to their lead workings, often in bitter weather, poorly clad, from little mining cottages where the lived in squalor. Then after a hard days work regardless of weather, they would have to walk back home - and all for fourpence a day:-
Fourpence a day me lads, and very hard to work,
And never a pleasant word from the gruffy-looking turk.
But his conscience it may fail him
and his heart it may give way.
Then he'll raise our wages to ninepence a day!
In the early part of the twentieth century the bottom fell out of the market because of cheap imports (same old story) and the poverty-striken miners had to move on. Some went down the pits in Durham, some went into the mills in Lancashire and the more adventurous went to Spain
There is a record of many of them emigrating to America (can you imagine the conditions on the boats for these very poor families, who had very little). There is record of families walking from
Swale dale to Liverpool, pulling all their belongings on a sledge behind them. It is said that one poor family, who had a terrible journey to Liverpool, thought they had reached America when they got there and didn't realise that there was still a journey across the Atlantic. Many of the women and children died on the voyage. The men mostly went to the same area of the States and settled in a town which they called Richmond, after the town at the head of Swaledale
Tomorrow I will take you up into even higher country. Meanwhile let us all enjoy our comfortable life style and be grateful that we don't have to endure those awful conditions.





27 comments:

Poet in Residence said...

Well there you are, what we've always known, now it's official!

Cathy said...

It's beautiful country there. There is the tradition of mining here as well and so many of the miners were immigrants from your country. The coal companies are still tearing up this beautiful state. We would be better off with tourism but people are stuck in their ways. I went into a deep mine when I was in college and had to crawl thru a section of it. I will never understand the industry or the men who endure working it. That one trip was scary as hell. I hope I get to see Yorkshire someday. It's big wish of mine.

Elizabeth said...

Yes, I don't think we realise how tough people had it in the olden days --and some parts of the world to this day.

My latest mantra "I will never complain about unimportant things".

Gwen Buchanan said...

I agree, we know no hardships like they endured...


As I tour blogs that tell the history of times long gone, I am amazed that there is still so much evidence of that life ... it seems that the sights of the past is all surrounding ... and with such a large population everything still feels spacious... How is this...

Dave King said...

It's gorgeous country, no argument there! Thank you for the local info and for making it come alive. Splendidly written - as the scenery deserves.

Reader Wil said...

What a history! We had coalminers in the Netherlands. Same story and same unhealthy conditions! You write well! Have a great week in beautiful Yorkshire!

Arija said...

I wonder how long the boys lived who were sent up the chimneys to scrape off the lead.
Beautiful phtos and sad conditins for the miners.

Wilmoth Farms Rachel & Her Farmer said...

I sure do learn sooo much on your blog! I changed mine so hopefully you can get on easier..let me know! I loved the bird picture! I'm a huge bird lover!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

A wonderful job, Weaver. I can never get over your area's sense of spaciousness juxtaposed with all the layers of history. Your writing and photos do them proud.

I understand why miners, being men with serious and practical needs, go into the mines. And I understand, too, why those mine owners, being men of greed and willing to take advantage of those whom they can, who understand when they have someone to has to work and will settle for whatever they're given, and work under whatever conditions provided—safe or not—will choose to operate their business in this bottom-line mentality way.

But isn't it curious how some of the worst jobs ever—dangerous, dirty, cold, damp, dusty, with all sorts of subsequent health issues, and long hours—always seem to pay the least? And still do today. Which certainly goes to show you that we live in a world where many are still governed by desperation…and others by avarice. A world in which the Golden Rule continues to rust.

Heather said...

No Health and Safety in those days either. We complain a lot now, but have nothing to bear in comparison with those days. The stone arches and old buildings are very picturesque but we need reminding of the harsh realities of what went on. Thankyou for your kind words in your comment on my blog. Just think - you will be enjoying your cherry blossom when mine is but a memory.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

Right now I'm doing my bit for North Yorks. tourism as we are having a couple of days based in Oldstead, near Thirsk. Byland Abbey is just down the road, so we will take a look at it tomorrow. The weather doesn't look very promising but .....!

willow said...

It's amazing the old mine buildings are still there after all these years. What a history. Beautiful and intriguing countryside!

Gramma Ann said...

Interesting story about mining. As someone else commented, it is going on more or less in some areas of the world even today. I too, wonder if the young ones who climbed up the chimneys died young...what a sad life.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I think we are pretty well all agreed that it was an awful life - but then - as the farmer says - it wasn't any better for farmworkers in those days or in fact for any manual workers. There was always this gap between the rich and the poor - as Poet says - it has always been so. And it still isin places like the sweat shops of India and Thailand.

jeannette stgermain said...

When I saw your comment on Reader Wil's blog I just had to visit you. I admire survivors of war, because they have suffered one way or another. And with your husband, it was in the nick of time - I had malaria myself, twice, so I know how deadly that disease can be!

maggi said...

I came across your blog from a comment on Heather's. Beautiful photographs and such interesting history

acornmoon said...

Such a rich county,almost as good as Lancashire! well, I am allowed to say that as I am a Lancashire lass. Both are beautiful in their own unique ways.

Woman in a Window said...

A sad life for all who had to toil so, I think, but such beautiful country now.

Cloudia said...

Makes the plantation work endured by many of our Hawaii forebearers seen almost benign by comparrison.
Wonderful country!

Aloha & thanks

Bdogs said...

My memory of such high old places is that they hold a power, still, and speak to mysteries.

Crafty Green Poet said...

history repeats itself over and over just in different ways. Very interesting post

Teresa said...

Thank you for such an interesting article. It's sad that many fortunes are made on the backs of the unfortunate masses doing the dirty work. Compared to those workers we all live like kings today.

Memo to self: Don't utter one word of complaint when things aren't what I'd like them to be.

Lucy Corrander said...

I am so grateful that I live now and not then. So fortunate!

It's odd, and it makes me uncomfortable, that the suffering of others can leave such interesting and surprisingly beautiful marks on our landscapes.

Lucy

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments - too numerous to answer but I think everyone agrees that those were awful times if you weren't rich and powerful.

Mistlethrush said...

Maybe you should get a job as a part-time tour guide? Or write a local history book?

jeannette stgermain said...

I would come back to read and it's quite a story. Thank you for sharing it. The truth should be told. th miners and their families deserve that!

Janice Thomson said...

Gosh incredibly interesting history with these fascinating photos.It's so true the 'good old days' really were not that good for many - the things they endured are beyond our comprehension.