Observations on Lead Mining
in Shipham, Somerset, England

All photographs copyright 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Above: horizontal flues, leadsmelter, Charterhouse.

Although there were a variety of minerals mined in the Mendip Hills in the 18th and 19th centuries, the two principal minerals mined in Shipham were lead and "calamine," or zinc. In Shipham alone it was said that at the beginning of the 19th century there were as many as 100 mines in the parish, many of those in the little village itself. Indeed, it is claimed that "houses" were often constructed quickly around and even on top of newly dug mines. The 1841 census of Shipham reveals that my own direct ancestors were lead miners, (Israel Hares and family), while other members of the family mined calamine.

Over the decades the mining of lead in and around Shipham has left an indelible and peculiar mark on the landscape and its people which is still visible to this day. It is claimed by more than one publication, that Shipham in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was a lawless place of depravity that even law enforcement officials hesitated to enter. While there is little doubt that there is a great deal of truth in such observations, it is also likely that class prejudice played a significant role in these observations. It has even been suggested that some of the lawlessness of Shipham may be attributable to varying degree of lead poisoning suffered by its inhabitants.

The dozens of small mines and the piles of spoil they have produced over the years have transformed large sections of the landscape into tangles of bumpy hills and mounds, much of which are now grass covered, the so-called "gruffy ground" famous throughout the region. The spoils of lead mining have rendered the gruffy ground as well as other former mining land now developed unsuitable for the grazing of livestock. In addition, over the years there have been several incidents of residents being warned not to consume vegetables grow in soil on or near former mine works, although today these dangers have been largely dismissed.

Although there are still some overgrown vestiges of Shipham's lead mining industry to be seen near the village, the best surviving lead works in the region are found nearby. The first set of photos below are for the Charterhouse ruins, so-called due to their proximity to the village of the same name. Lead mining here can be traced to Roman times, and in fact the low walls (grassy mounds) of a Roman fort can been seen from the public footpath leading through the ruins. The views here included photos of the aforementioned gruffy ground, as well as ruins of buddles, smelting furnaces, flues used in the production of lead. The second group of photographs detail similar ruins found along the Priddy Mineries Reserve, an odd but beautiful combination of mine ruins and nature park, made possible primarily due to the lack of livestock grazing on the tainted land. I hope you enjoy this reminder of the past.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
May 2006

References:

  • The Heart of Mendip, Francis A. Knight, J. M. Dent & Sons, London, 1915.
  • West Country Landscapes: The Mendips, Robn & Rosemary Williams, Ex Libris Press, Wiltshire, 1996.
  • Somerset Industrial Heritage, Derrick Warren, Editor, Somerset Archaeological Society, 1996.


  • View of the public footpath leading through the lead works ruins. The remains of the Roman fort can be seen in the background.

     

    Below (2): two good views of the "gruffy ground" at Charterhouse.

     

     

    Below (2): additional views of the horizontal flues and leadsmelter at Charterhouse.

     

     

    Below: mounds of buddle waste surround the Charterhouse works.

     

    Below: lead works ruins along the Priddy Mineries Reserve walk near the Chewton lead works.

     

    Below: As is the case at Charterhouse, mounds of buddle waste surround Priddy Mineries Reserve walk.

     

    Below (2): two additional views of ruins along the Priddy Mineries Reserve walk.

     

     


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    This web site is copyrighted 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved.
    e-mail: jltbalt1@verizon.net