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Snailbeach Mine

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Snailbeach (SJ37440217)

Barite, Fluorspar, Lead, Silver, Zinc  (aka Lordshill, Vessons)

 

Snailbeach was the biggest lead mine in Shropshire and it is reputed to have yielded the greatest volume of lead per acre of any mine in Europe. It is reputed to date from Roman times and a Roman lead ingot was found at Snailbeach in 1796, measuring 22” x 7” and weighing 193lb, with "IMP HADRIANI AVG" on the top. The ingot has the equivalent of 2oz 6dwt of silver per ton. According to reports from the middle of the 19th Century the Roman workings were still clearly visible at Snailbeach and the miners referred to the upper level as the Roman Level. After the Romans left the area, the mine lay abandoned for hundreds of years. It may have been worked in the 12th or 13th Century but the first recorded working was in 1552 when John Clifton held a mine in Hogstow Forest. Some Derbyshire miners took leases in 1676 and 1686 but whether they were successful is not known. In 1761, the mine was leased by Thomas Powys for 5 years. In 1766 there were a series of shafts along the vein, indicating systematic working. In the same year a new partnership took the mine and worked it until 1772. Between 1768-1772 the mine yielded 505 tons of lead ore. In 1782, Thomas Lovett took a 21 year lease and in the following year he formed the Snailbeach Company with 7 others. In 1784 he leased land along the road between Pontesford and Pontesbury, sinking shafts to start a colliery to provide coal for the boilers at Snailbeach. The colliery continued in production until 1859, and produced 27,622 tons of coal. He also built a smelter in Pontesford to process the lead ore, which continued in use from 1784 until a new smelt mill was opened nearer to the mine in 1862. At the man site, the company sank George's Shaft (which eventually reached a depth of 750ft) and the depths of all subsequent underground workings are measured in yards below this shaft collar, eg the 40 Yard Level is 120ft below this point. Winding would have been by a horse gin, using two ropes so one kibble would be at the bottom of the shaft while the other was at the top.

The 1,200 yard long Wagbeach Level was driven from the Hope Valley and this intersected the workings at the 112 yard level, thereby draining the mine to that depth. By this time the mine was 540ft deep. The workings below adit had to be kept dry by pumping the water up to the adit to flow out. Initially the pumps were powered by a 31 feet diameter waterwheel at the entrance to the adit. The motion was converted into a horizontal direction by using rocker beams, with flat rods running all the way up the level to the shaft. Here, a further rocker beam converted the motion to a vertical direction and this operated pumps, which raised water to the drainage level. It discharged 5,000 gallons of water per hour into the stream. By 1793, a Bolton & Watt pumping engine was installed to take over from the waterwheel, pumping water up George's Shaft. Lordshill Engine Shaft (eventually 1,300ft deep) was sunk in the early 1800s and the pumping flat rods were extended to work in this shaft. An engine was sited at the surface here to wind ore in the shaft with flat rope. Black Tom Shaft was sunk in the 1820s and was 120ft deep, ore being wound up with a horse gin. A record of expenses incurred in driving levels between 1782-1820 shows :-

£4,000 - The Long Level from the Brook

£3,353 - Black Toms Level

£924 – No 1 Level in the Loard Hill (Lordshill)

£1,877 – No 2 Level in Loard Hill

£4,230 – No 3 Level in Loard Hill

£6,107 – No 4 Level in Loard Hill

£5,431 - Sundry Sumps and Cross Cutes

£932 – No 1 Level in the Rusting Hill (Resting Hill)

£3,068 - No 2 Level in the Rusting Hill

£1,960 - No 3 Level in the Rusting Hill

£1,187 - Level from the Pit in the Meadow

£1,644 - Cross Nist 5 Level to the Loard Hill

£604 - Cross Nist 6 Level to the Loard Hill

£5,725 - Callow Hill Level and Pits

Total = £41,042.

 

Day Level was driven to meet Lordshill Shaft in 1848, so that ore could be trammed straight out of the shaft to the crusher house. In 1827 two reports were prepared : one on the mine and one on the smelt works. The report by Captain Francis gives some insight into the conditions of the mine at the time. The ore dressing was generally very good, but the initial ore breaking was still by hand using hammers. Francis recommended a "machine worked by horses" that would cost "about £150". By 1827 a new lower adit was being driven, from Minsterley, to drain the mine to a greater depth. According to the report it was 850 fathoms long and still 1,800 fathoms from the mine. Captain Francis called it the "Calamine Hill Level", although the hill is called the Callow Hill. Captain Francis recommended that work on the adit should be stopped because it would be cheaper to erect a new steam pumping engine than to finish the adit. However, assuming that this is the Callow Hill adit, it was still being driven in the 1870s, although it never did reach the mine. It was probably continued because new lead veins were found in the process, and the ore mined. This often happened when driving adits and was an added bonus.

Captain Francis estimated that the "property at the mine and at the smelting house appears to be worth from £15000 to £20000". He also commented on the low lead price at the time, and indicated that profits would increase with higher lead prices. The report on the smelt works by George Henry also sheds light on the conditions there. The fumes from the smelting escaped up a chimney and included a reasonable amount of lead. Henry recommended that a new flue and chimney be installed, this would enable the lead to condense on the walls of the flue to be collected later. Of this he said, "the mass of deposit will amply repay the erection," and also have the great benefit of "doing away with the bad effects of the smoke, and will be a much desirable thing to the neighbourhood." Snailbeach Mine continued to be worked downwards and by the early 1850s the workings were over 300 yards deep. The late 1840's and 1850's were the most productive period for the mine, producing over 3000 tons of ore and up to 2700 tons of lead per year. In 1857 a new agent, Stephen Eddy, was employed, along with his son James Ray Eddy. They completely refitted the mine. They installed a new steam engine on Engine Shaft to pump the mine, which was completed in 1858, and re-modelled the dressing floors.  Eventually the waterwheel could not cope with the pumping at depth and a 60" pumping engine was installed at Lordshill Shaft in 1858. Eddy reduced the work force by 170 and stopped work in the bottom levels. The Colliery Guardian of 13th march 1858 recorded “Great anxiety was felt during the past week from a rumour that the number of hands employed under the Snailbeach Company was about again to be reduced. I am glad to hear that, such is not to be the case at present, Stephen Eddy, Esq, the manager, having found them employment for the present. Some of the other mines in the neighbourhood promise better, and there is every reason to hope that the present depression will soon give way to a more healthy state of things.” By 1862 miners were extracting ore from the 342 yard level and preparing the 372 yard level. He introduced an eight hour shift instead of the six hour shift worked at other mines in the area; because of this the miners went on strike for two weeks - resuming work when shown that their wages were higher than at other mines - being paid more for the longer shift. 

in 1863, the Government published “An Inquiry into the Condition of Mines in Great Britain in 1863” and the following was recorded about Snailbeach.

 

Chapel Shaft - 340 yards deep cutting the vein at 280 Yard Level. Used for pumping and drawing, done by skips on 1¼ inch wire ropes.

 

Engine Shaft - perpendicular to the 282 Yard Level and is continued to the 402 Yard Level following its course and underlaying South 2ft in a fathom [1 in 3]. Winding by 2 kibbles drawn by flat wire ropes 3½" by 5/8". The kibbles pass each other in the vertical section of the shaft.

 

Old Engine Shaft (Georges Shaft) -- down to 252 yards. Used as a footway and occasionally for

tools and timber as far as the 150 Yard Level. Below this level it is used as a footway. The ladders are in 10 yard lengths and inclined at 7o to the 150 Yard Level and 10o below that point. The ladders rest on wooden staging. All the levels are 7ft high and 6ft wide which aids ventilation.

 

Changing Houses - a row of sheds about 70ft long, 10ft wide, divided into 6 houses and15 yards form the shaft. The roofs are very low, no ventilation, floors loose earth. An iron pipe with a fire at one end runs through them all. No provision for washing

 

Dressing Floors - in several places with men and boys being employed.

 

Snailbeach Miners Benefit Society - this society was managed by a committee annually elected by the miners. The men paid from 4d to 9d per month, depending on their level of pay. If the men were sick or injured they received 7s per week for 6 months, reducing to 5/6d per week for the next 12 months and after that 4/6d per week. In the case of death, each adult paid 6d and juniors 4d to the funds. The widow received £4. The same sum was paid when the wife of a member died

 

Smelting Works - have within the last year been removed from Pontesbury to the mine. Since then there has been a good deal of illness amongst the men working in the smelter.

 

Health - Snailbeach was a healthy mine.

 

Housing - mostly mud huts, having 2 rooms and some perhaps 3.

 

The Mine - there is about 2oz of silver per ton. Lowest working level was at 402 yards. Men got 2lb of candles each per week at a cost of 8d. There was one 60" steam engine for pumping and 4 others. The pumping engine worked about 6 hours per day. There were 6 boilers including "one at the engine we are putting up and one at the lead works".

 

The Men - not many reside at the mine, the greater proportion are scattered over the hills. There were 203 men working underground and no women worked at the mine. They worked 8 hours per day underground and 12 hours per day if on the surface.

 

Climbing - 50 minutes to climb up or down 100 fathoms. It took 60 minutes to come up and 30 minutes to go down to the 372 Yard Level. This time was included in the 8 hour working day.

 

Fatal Accidents - over the past 8 years nobody had been killed from blasting. One man was killed by a falling stone and another fell into a sump.

 

Blasting - cartridges with straw fuses were used. Iron prickers were used. Tamping was done with lead ore, carbonate of lime and brick dust.

 

Chapel Shaft was sunk by the adjacent landowner in the 1860s to open up the eastern end of the mine but the expected continuation of the lead veins was not found as it was in Stiperstones Quartzite. By the end of 1861 the shaft was down to the 112 yard level and in 1862 an engine house was built to serve the shaft. A second hand steam winch off a ship, referred to as the "marine engine", was used. The shaft reached the 342 yard level at its deepest but never proved a success. Stephen Eddy died in 1861 and his son took over. He resigned in 1870 being replaced by Henry Dennis. Over the next few years £10,000 pounds was spent on the mine site.  In 1863 the old smelt works were abandoned and replaced by a new works nearer the mine. It was connected to the mine by a tramway for the ore. A flue for the fumes ran from the smelt works up the hill to a chimney still standing above Engine Shaft. The condensed lead fumes were recovered from the flue at regular intervals, and estimates of the amount of lead in the flue were always included in the four monthly estimates of stock. For example, 35 tons of lead was estimated to be in the flues in May 1872. A horizontal steam winder was installed on George's Shaft in 1872 and eight new jigging machines and four buddles were erected in a large shed. The Snailbeach District Railway to  Minsterley  was  built  in  1877,  to  take  smelted  lead (and later lead ore) to customers. The horse gin on Black Tom Shaft was replaced in the 1880s by a small steam engine, seated on top of its boiler. The crushing engine was reconstructed and, in 1881, the miners travelled down from the 342 yard level in a skip wound by an air winch powered from the compressor on surface. However, lead prices fell sharply at this time and in 1884 the company made its first loss. In December 1884 the company went into liquidation, with equipment valued at only £2,785 and 72 jobs lost with 76 remaining. A new company was immediately formed and work continued on a smaller scale. In 1884 the mine was 492 yards deep. In June 1888 the results of an assay of lead ore were :-

Lead Calculated as metal - 99. 99 36

Iron Oxide - 0. 00 32

Copper Oxide -  0. 00 15

Silver - 0. 00 17

Sulphur - nil

Silicious - nil

 

There was a disaster in 1895 when 7 men were killed in the shaft.  The miners’ houses were sometimes threatened by subsidence when workings approached too closely to the surface.  A typical example of this occurred in 1897 when a Mr Jones complained to the Snailbeach Mine.  A survey showed that the workings had approached to within 20 yards of the house and that they were 12ft wide at a depth of 14ft.  The company offered to buy Jones' house to work the vein as an open cutting.  Jones swiftly reached a decision about leaving his home and sold it to the company. In 1896 Lord Bath waived his royalty for three years to enable the company to deepen the mine. By July 1900 the 552 yard level was being driven east and west, prior to extracting the lead ore. This was the lowest level reached at Snailbeach. The smelting mill was closed in 1895. Output fell to only 200 tons in 1905, rising to 1000 tons in 1910. Snailbeach had not been as affected as its neighbours by the turn of the century slump in lead prices as it had particularly rich reserves. However, in the early 20th Century the price dropped so low that even here no profit could be made. The Lordshill engine stopped pumping in 1911 and the mine flooded to adit level.

 

In 1900 a Halvans Company had been formed to work the waste tips and take barite from the upper levels using Black Tom Shaft. An engine house was situated near the path up from the car park, to power machinery for processing the spoil heaps. The Halvans Company worked the mine through the First World War, the miners receiving a "war bonus" of three shillings per day worked, and carried on processing the tips until the 1930s. In the 1930s, the mine was acquired by Joe Roberts trading as the Snailbeach Barite Company, who mined barite from the shallow workings above water level. During the Second World War the miners had to have special permission from the Ministry of Labour and National Service to continue working in the mines instead of being called up to fight in the Forces. Mining was obviously a very important occupation, supplying vital raw materials. The Snailbeach Barite Company stopped working underground in 1955. Since 1955 only some reworking of the spoil heaps for spar, to use as pebble dash on buildings, has occurred. Barite from here was sent to the Windscale nuclear reactor accident to smother fuel cells. Roberts carried on working the tips until the 1970s. Although some ore is said to have been left standing in the mine, the statement "Snailbeach will never be worked again" may well be correct! The old miners were very thorough in their working and rarely left much ore for later generations. Once a mine has been allowed to flood and the machinery removed the cost of reopening the mine increases dramatically and the prospect usually becomes too expensive. Any large amounts of lead remaining in the area are likely to be below the Ritton Castle area. Unfortunately miners would probably have to dig at least 1000 feet down before they reach the top of the lead deposits, if they could find them. This is too deep and too expensive so lead mining in Shropshire is unlikely to become a major industry ever again. The Shropshire County Council acquired most of the site and, using government grants, did extensive work in the early 1990s to to infill shallow underground workings near the village and on the high ground to the east. Unfortunately the distinctive white tips were grassed over. At the same time, they acquired many of the surface buildings and preserved these. The Shropshire Mines Trust now manages the site for the Council.

 

In front of the car park are the large tips which were once white and thus a local landmark.  These have now been landscaped and planted to prevent pollution.  To the north, at the base of the tips, are several round buddles which have only recently been uncovered.  To the south-west of the village hall is Scott Level, which is a grilled and stone arched adit leading under the road towards Resting Hill and eventually towards Crowsnest Dingle. On climbing the road up to Lordshill, the first building encountered is the Halvans engine house.  This was constructed in 1900 and housed a horizontal engine to process the tips for barytes. The road then climbs past the tips to the level of the dressing floors and on the left can be seen an area of exposed spoil that has been retained for amateur geologists.  Next to this is the ore house and a tunnel under the road which allowed the ore to be conveyed from a chute in the dressing floor to the start of the tramway to the smelter. East of this is the filled Black Tom Shaft, which has been filled to within 6ft of the top and grilled.  The headframe has been rebuilt and the wooden engine shed has been preserved.  Several other features from the dressing plant can be found nearby, as well as a filled adit.  To the east is Paraffin Level which has been grilled and filled a short distance inside. On the other side of the road, several buildings remain in fair condition.  By far the most impressive of these is the compressor house and its chimney, erected in 1881.  To the right of is the grilled portal of Day Level, which leads to Lordshill Shaft and out of which ore was trammed to the crusher house.  The miners’ dry has been converted into an interpretation entre for visitors and the Shropshire Mines Trust takes visitors underground in the Summer months. Next to this is the engine house that served Georges Shaft, now filled to within 6ft of the top and grilled.  Behind the engine house, was a reservoir to serve the boilers. The headframe of Georges Shaft has been rebuilt with the original the cage.  Adjacent to the shaft is a blacksmiths shop, built onto the side of an old pumping engine house.  Next to this is the mine office, which contained documents now deposited in the County Record Office, and the engine shed for the locomotives that used to run on the Snailbeach District Railway.  This line, which had a gauge of 2ft 4 inches, was built in 1877 and connected the mine to Minsterley.

 

Some way up the hillside is the massive structure of Lordshill engine house and the smaller buildings of the winding engine and boiler house.  The grilled Engine Shaft is just in front of the engine house and to the side is the space where the balance bob used to sit.  The shaft was descended for 420ft in 1993 to a rubble blockage at the 112 Yard Level.  It was possible to squeeze into the level itself but water met the roof after about 650ft.  Further up the hill is the tall chimney that served both the Lordshill boilers and the smelter flue.  Small sections of the flue can be followed some way down the hillside.  The smelting mill building and remains of flues have been preserved but are on private land. At the top of the valley is the reservoir that served the dressing floors.  The valves are situated in a small brick building below the reservoir.  To the south are the remains of the magazine which is a square stone building with double walls to direct any blast upwards.  To the west is a section of the railway loop that took coal up to Lordshill engine house.  To the east of this are the remains of a processing shed with several kibbles and a heap of crushed barite. Perkins Level leads in 50 yards under a small capped air shaft to a junction.  Turning right leads to a stope in a barytes vein, with a passage continuing to several blind headings.  Straight on at the junction leads to a bridge over the top of a stope.  Beyond the bridge, the bottom of a large stope is reached and this is accessed by two shafts from surface, known as Sheep Shaft and Paint Shaft (named from their contents!).  Back at the bridge, a descent leads eventually to the 40 Yard Level with several artefacts including trucks, tools, etc.  A cross cut from here leads to Chapel Shaft.  A further descent is possible to the 90 Yard Level and 112 Yard Level, which is the current water level in the mine and where the Wagbeach Level connects. Adjacent to Perkins Level is another boarded up adit which is used as a water supply.  It goes 30yds to a fall.  Another adit only goes in a short way and yet another adit leads to a fork and ends in two blind headings.  There were once open stopes on top of the hill but these have been filled and landscaped.  Chapel Shaft is adjacent to a small chapel and is grilled. Nearby are the remains of the engine house and boiler with a flue that ran up the hillside to a stub chimney.  A trial adit east of here goes for 100ft to right angled turn to the right, then a further 50ft to a blind heading.  There is waist deep water for most of the way.

 

In Scott Level there were two dams, one being a concrete dam to chest depth approximately 100ft from the entrance.  This was installed to provide a water supply for a number of properties around the entrance.  There was a more substantial dam approximately 200 yards from the entrance.  This consisted of large wooden sleepers arranged as a 'V' pointing into the level, backed by around 12" of clay, held in place by a wall of bricks.  A 6" metal pipe leads from this dam to a shaft up to Resting Hill and it is thought that Scott Level was dammed here to provide a water supply for surface processing at the mine.  Part way up, the water pipe was diverted via another level and carried out to surface.  The shaft on Resting Hill now has a grill covering it but the pipes are still in place in the shaft and along the level to surface. Both dams have now been completely breached by contractors on behalf of the County Council and it is possible to explore further.  The level is very straight and without any side passages for approximate 500 yards beyond the dam.  About 20ft before the end of this level, there is a branch to the left which has only been explored for about 100ft before the low oxygen level prevented further exploration.  At the end of the main drive, the level turns left where it follows a vein which has been worked to some extent.  This branch has been followed for a further 300 yards before the low oxygen level stopped further progress.  A short distance along this branch, there is a short cross-cut to the right which leads to a flooded square shaft.  There is another right hand cross-cut slightly further on but this has not been explored.

 

Further Reading

Art of the Ghost Hunter (video)

Bibliography

Brief History

Ecological Survey

Georges Shaft Disaster Letters 1895

Education Pack

George’s Shaft Accident

Georges Shaft Disaster Letters 1895

History of Snailbeach Mine

Jiggers

Living Conditions

Main Dates

Map 1865

Map 1882

Map 1900

Map 1902

Midlands Today  (video)

Mine Inventory 1884

Mine Section

Miner’s Daughter

Minsterley Tithe Map 1832

Plan of Workings 1881

Scheduled Monument Components

Snailbeach District Railways

Snailbeach Lead Mine

Snailbeach Mining Company

Social History

Statistics of Ore Production and Employees

The Mine (Ghost Story)

Trail Leaflet

Underground Plan

Water Supply

Working Conditions