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.