Barytes is barium sulphate, a heavy white mineral often discoloured by impurities such as iron. The modern name is now barite but in this webpage the older term will be used. Until the 19th Century, it had no use and was thrown away on mine waste tips. It was then found to be a good ingredient of paper, paint and other chemicals. It was initially mined at lead mines since it was found closely associated with the lead ore in the veins. Then when larger deposits of barytes were found, it was mined in its own right. Many lead mines managed to survive the price crash in the late 19th Century by producing barytes instead of lead.
Due to impurities, barytes had to be treated before it could be sold. This involved crushing it down to the consistency of sand and then bleaching it in tanks of sulphuric acid. This operation was carried out in specialised barytes mills and there were a number spread throughout Shropshire. The biggest and most efficient was the Malehurst Mill near Pontesbury.
Much of the information on this webspace has been taken from the book by M Shaw entitled “Lead Copper & Barytes Mines of Shropshire” and this is recommended to the reader.
Gazetteer of Barytes Mills
During the late 1830s, barytes from Bulthy and Wotherton Mines was being milled here. In May 1838, it was leased to Wiliam Heighway Jones for 7 years. In 1851, the owner’s son fell under a wheel and operations appear to have ceased from that time. It was demolished and the site now lies buried under the road next to Shropshire Wildlife’s premises.
The waterwheel at the mouth of Wagbeach drainage level became redundant when a new pumping engine was erected at Snailbeach Mine in 1848. In 1858, Cliffdale Barytes Company approached the mine owners with a plan to use the wheel and to erect a mill to process barytes. A lease was granted by the landowner (Marquess of Bath) until 1863, when a further lease was granted for 21 years at £20 per annum. It was still working in 1915, when extra millstones and a gas engine were installed to supplement the waterwheel. Barytes came from the company’s own mines at Calcot and Ridge Hill. The barytes was crushed between two heavy rollers, then the resultant sand was bleached in sulphuric acid in lead lined wooden tanks to remove iron oxide and calcite. After washing and kiln drying it was milled. There were two sets of three horizontal wheels, one operated by the waterwheel and the other by the engine. The mill ceased in 1926 and in 1929 it was demolished and the waterwheel removed. There are the remains of the waterwheel pit and iron penstock used to drive the dressing mill machinery.
CothercottSJ 40790 00291
Cothercott Mill and Mine operated between 1910-1928 producing a total output of 23,000 tons of high purity barytes from beneath Cothercott Hill. The operation was started in 1910 by R J Pugh with a workforce of 5 miners. In 1912 it was taken over by J B Walker and closed in 1928. It was opened again between 1934-1935 but did not last. Barytes was transported by light railway round the northern side of the hill to the mill beside the road. At the mill, the barytes was hand-picked and washed. It was then ground using 10 pairs of French burr stones, producing up to 200 tons per week that was 99.7% barium sulphate. It was sold for medical use as a barium meal. The remains of mill site are readily visible with foundations, a retaining wall, the remains of the reservoir, tramway and some mill stones. [Pastscape] [Pulverbatch]
In 1890, the old bleach works was bought by Shropshire Barytes Company, complete with a 300 horsepower Robey engine and 18 sets of millstones. In the following year it was sold to the Wotherton Barytes & Lead Mining Co Ltd and began processing barytes brought from Wotherton Mine by traction engine and trailers. It was an unlucky building as, in December 1897, a millstone fell off its bearing on the top floor and brought down the roof and 3 floors. The Wellington Journal recorded “about seven o'clock when the workmen were at the various occupations some bricks fell and a cracking noise which was heard above the noise of the machinery alarmed them. All of the occupants but two were enabled to quit the building and the central part of the mill collapsed. A man called Samuel Rogers whose duty was to repair barrels was working at the end of his bench and his little boy, five years of age, who had recently come to keep his father company, was at the other end of the bench in the middle of the room. A strange feature of the affair is that the walls and both ends of the building were left standing and while the father was perfectly unharmed, the boy, who was only a few foot away was crushed underneath and when his body was found, quite dead”. A few days later in January, as men were clearing away the debris, an arch over the first floor supporting a number of barrels gave way during the latter’s removal. This injured two men, Samuel Rogers and John Jones, the irony being that Rogers was the father of the boy who had been killed earlier.
It was rebuilt but in 1912 output from Wotherton Mine fell and barytes was brought instead from Bog Mine. The curse struck again in 1915 when there was a fire but it was rebuilt again. At that time barytes was passed through a jaw crusher, then taken via an endless bucket belt to bleaching vats. After 8-10 hours of bleaching, it was washed, dried and passed to be milled using French Buhr millstones. In 1916 there were 24 such stones and these processed 5000-6000 tons per year. By 1919 it was owned by Shropshire Mines Ltd but it closed and was demolished in 1925 after the new Malehurst Mill opened.
In 1862, the Maesbury Paint Mill was opened by Edward Peate. Barytes from Snailbeach Mine was brought via rail to Oswestry then by road. At the mill it was ground down as an ingredient of paint. Peate died in 1888 and the mill closed at that time.
The mill was opened in 1917 by Shropshire Mines Ltd and sold to Malehurst Barytes Co Ltd in 1925. It took barytes from the Bog Mine, causing the closure of Hanwood Mill. The barytes was originally carried in a cart pulled by traction engine but this was replaced by an overhead cableway. During 1921-1923, the cableway also brought barytes from Tankerville and Roundhill Mines. Barytes from the ropeway was tipped into a 50 ton storage bin. It was then washed and broken down to ¾” size in a jaw crusher. Two rotating trommels then separated it into 5 sizes from 1/16” to ½” and above. From here it was passed to jigs to separate the heavier barytes, which was then taken to bleaching tanks. These held 20 tons at a time and were treated with sulphuric acid to remove impurities. The acid was drained out and the barytes washed several times, dried and milled.
By 1928 were supplying Laporte Chemicals with 140 tons of barytes per week. In 1932 it was bought by Laportes and in 1942 they built a separate plant on site to make ammonium perchlorate and potassium perchlorate for tracer bullets and flares. This plant could treat 5¼ million tracer bullets a day. There were 6 men per shift, over 3 shifts. After the war this building was mothballed but demolished in 1959. Another overhead cableway was built in 1945 from Huglith Mine to bring their barytes until that mine closed in 1947. Until that time, the plant was capable of producing over 7,000 tons a year of different grades of ground barytes for the paper, leather and paint industries. The output from Gatten and Sallies Mines was transported by lorry to the Huglith Mine end of the cableway until they too closed in 1948. The mill then ceased operations. The ropeway was dismantled in 1951 and the site sold in 1956. It was used by various industries after that.
In 1893, Taylor Gilbertson & Company began grinding barytes in a mill to the west of the Bishops Castle road south of the village. By 1897 it was operated by Minsterley Mining & Milling Company, using barytes from Roundtain Mine. By 1901 it was operated by Minsterley Baryta Co Ltd, possibly using barytes from the Perkinsbeach mines. The company actually took out a 12 month lease for one of the mines in June 1906 but did not renew it. Operations ceased in 1907 and by 1909 the site had become a creamery.
Alfred Haywood built a barytes mill in 1889 near the road bridge over the railway. By 1891 it had been taken over by South Shropshire Barytes & Lead Co Ltd, using barytes from Snailbeach Mine and their own mine at Rhadley. It closed in 1894 but the following year Haywood took it over again, forming a company called Barytes & Lead Co Ltd. The company were locked at one time out by the landowner for not paying rent but they broke in and continued work. By July 1899 the company were in receivership and the mill was worked between 1901-1904 by J Walker. In 1906 F W Read, trading as Snailbeach Barytes Company, took over operations but presumably did not last long after the Snailbeach Mining Co Ltd ceased trading in 1911 and the mine closed. The mill was demolished in 1914 and in the 1920s the site was used by E C Gray for a spar gravel works.
There were 3 mills on this site, ie Old Mill and two at Lower Mill, one each side of the Rea Brook in the parishes of St Julian’s and St John’s. The latter mill ground barytes from the late 19th Century to early 20th Century. The building was demolished in 1963.