Thought some of you might be interested in an update that I wrote for the British Micromount Society's Newsletter a few months ago.
Some of you may recall my report of the visit I undertook to the Greenlaws Mine in St. Johns Chapel, Weardale, way back in 2014. It had taken the team of enthusiastic part time explorers seven years to dig out the collapsed shaft to a level of 260-foot-deep, accessed from the Firestone level down to the first of the flats abandoned in 1897. Several years have passed with lots of work being done to meet Health & safety requirements and make the mine a safer, fun environment to explore.
Meanwhile, it’s also taken at least two years to drive a connecting tunnel, by hand, into the original old mine workings. This was one of the main objectives of the project. The tunnel took longer than anticipated because of the interesting geology and the distracting fluorite and galena filled pockets! Too easy to chase the pretties and veer off course. Pete Ward says of the connecting tunnel, ‘Interestingly we are intersecting well mineralised faults and completely unworked flats. The entire High Flat horizon of the Great Limestone is heavily altered and full of clay filled vugs. One such structure has been followed for several meters and is packed with slabs of magnificent fluorite crystals from which these twins came (pictured). It is very clear that different fractures are mineralised from different fluid 'plumes' of almost infinitely varying composition.’
Several recalculations and course corrections saw the team eventually break through into the historic main flats in the autumn of 2018. I imagine it would have seemed an Indiana Jones type experience, breaking through the rockface into an open tunnel, somewhat akin to that first moment felt by Howard Carter as he looked into the tomb of Tutankhamen and saw ‘wonderful things’. Here too, the team were met with wonderful things. This was the gateway to the rest of the mine workings, the tunnels leading off for kilometers in several directions. Most of it untouched and unexplored for over 150 years, just as the ‘old man’ had left it.
One of the main objectives of the project at Greenlaws is to record, research and where possible to preserve the Industrial archaeology. Evidence of the miners who once worked these tunnels is astounding. The low roofs are covered in soot from their tallow candles, and the occasional clay pipe rests on a rock. Their clog prints on the floor of the tunnels seem as fresh as the moment they were made. Their finger-marks in the clay still wet…. It’s no wonder then that Pete, who runs the project, says it makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Its almost as if the miners have just walked down the tunnel and around the corner, their voices and footsteps echoing back through time. Their presence is palpable in the atmosphere of the old workings.
Some of the artifacts show remarkable preservation. One of the most spectacular and quite unexpected of these is an almost intact powder flask, in workings the team can confidently date to around 1830, complete with its contents of gunpowder.
Just as remarkable was the discovery of one of the miners’ boots /clogs. The miners’ boots are made of leather and with a thin strip forming the laces, also had iron soles (not too dissimilar to modern steel toe capped and soled boots!), that’s what makes the distinctive clog/boot prints.
Pete remarked that the old men who worked down here are starting to come to life again. ‘We know the names of their tunnels, who worked them and when. We are fairly confident we can put names to the owners of these items. The boot found here was probably owned by a miner named Joseph Natrass. We're still looking for a one-legged miner wearing the other boot!’ The miner's clog prints in the Waggon Way, which look like they were made a few hours ago, were made in the 1890's as the miners were pulling the last pillars out of the mine before abandonment.
Greenlaws is fast becoming a treasure trove of social history of the ancestors of many Weardale names: Nattrass, Coulthard, Ritson, Lowe, Hills, Rutherford, Race - all worked in these exact tunnels and left their footprints here. You can still see the faint trails of the sled marks on either side - no barrows - they dragged wooden sleds with ore on them.
The exploration team were delighted to finally reach Jacksons level, another 100 feet below the Waggon way this February. This was the main haulage for the Greenlaws mine. There have been countless attempts over the years to gain access to this level of the mine, which hasn’t been accessible since the 1920’s. Slowly but surely the team are opening up large areas of the vast mine workings. A lot of safety rigging during exploration has led to the discovery of other stopes and levels with dates on the wall of 18 May 1866 together with more clog prints and amazing artifacts.
The geology continues to surprise us and yes there are lots of Fluorite cavities and many will be left for others to enjoy and marvel at. The gorgeous deep berry colours and sometimes very large individual crystal sizes are quite beautiful. The team has been fortunate to have been asked to exhibit these lovely British pieces at many international events and shows. Museums and Institutes from around the world are wanting to be involved in the project as they realise the importance of what the team are trying to achieve. The serious job of laser mapping is ongoing as exploration has revealed many new tunnels and stopes not recorded, which makes things more interesting. meanwhile the team continue to make amazing discoveries and come face to face with the past and the, ‘old mans’ ever present reminders of their hard lives spent underground.
My thanks to Pete Ward and all the amazing and skilled crew of explorers; geochemists; mine engineers and experts who contribute in their spare time to this important project and help make the mine a safe and fun place to be. Thanks to the amazing photographers for allowing me to use their pictures ( Steve Dalgliesh; Max Holburn; Pete Ward; Ed Coghlan). Finally thank you to the Pattinson Family for their continued support and belief in the project and their active encouragement of this ongoing adventure of discovery.Please note there is no public access to the mine. Research visitors are welcome. For more information contact Colleen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Pete at email@example.com