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Our Friends in Slaley

Business Ex


I was asked today if the Caretakers might be interested in preparing a quatation for some work at Bolt's Burn, for example, for a  team of 4 working for 5 consecutive days to clear a blocked culvert and repair the drystone lining.  There is some background on this hidden webpage and I can add more after a site meeting on Wednesday. The timing of the request is not entirely accidental but I can assure you is unsolicited!  Just makes a lot of sense, even with everything else going on.

English Heritage might be closer now to dressing this up as a 'project' and whatever happens I will carry on helping on the site.  I think however that this might be a chance to showcase what we're about somewhere other than Leadgate.  What do you think?


Our Friends in Slaley

John & David,  this page is for your use and will stay hidden as long as you wish.  I will allocate and e-mail you a password to Log In (look down and left below Calendar; you will need to do this to access your page.

I have left the "comment" facility active and we can use this to communicate and I will also add some useful links for you to use on this page.  Others are under the "Web Links" button on the Main Menu.

There is also a new Photo Album added under Pont Valley Photo Albums with the same title "Our Friends in Slaley" with the same title.  When you e-mail me some images I will upload these for you until you get the hang on it and take over for yourself.

Ask me for help at any time and I will do my best.

Real Archaeology and Community Involvement!

It seems to me to be fairly certain that when we in the Pontburn Valley see-off the surface miners and win-back the right to take our leasure there, that will be only just the start of our real fight.  What do I mean? For all sorts of reasons, our society is pretty much stacked against individuals and individuality.  The reasons are probably too complex and diverse to explain easily in a few words.  But how about drawing on a close parallel, a story of two guys who share a common interest in industrial archaeology and have been fighting for the right to enjoy their interest for close to 3 decades?

Their story starts in the very early 80s when they first started to explore the site of an old lead mine quite close to Gibraltar Rock at the head of the River Derwent.  It is their story and best that they tell it but I will help where I can by adding what I know or can find out.  Between us, we might make it not only an interesting account of what they have done and discovered, but also learn from each other so we do not find ourselves in the same position as they find themselves now i.e with yet another obstacle to overcome, put there by the very people who we seek to involve on our behalves to help us.

Introduction and Overview of the Site

Anyone walking the North Pennines cannot fail but be impressed with this area of outstanding 'natural' beauty.  Indeed, it is now a National Park, treasured and designated, in the language so beloved of our Conservation Planners, as an AONB - Area of Outanding Natural Beauty.  But how "natural" is this wild upland, now miles upon miles of glorious, purple heather home to some of the finest grouse shoots in the British Isles?  How much do we really know and how much have we yet to learn?

Some-time playground for the rich and famous but more often and for most of the year, a wild, un-spoiled wilderness for those brave enough to venture outdoors.  Perhaps the term "un-spoiled" is misleading for everywhere the eye turns and even below the heather, spoil heaps abound!  They shape the very landscape on which we now tread while below, just out of sight, tunnels run and conduits criss-cross the moors.  These are not natural nor quite often are the sites even recognised for what they once were.

These spoil heaps were and occasionally still remain the product of man's toils as even now mineral collectors pick-over the spoil from Galena (Lead Sulphide) and other gangue mineral mining in their quest for the strange and exotic,crystals, nature's natural treasures.

No longer commercialy viable, mineral veins remain hidden but everywhere one can only marvel at the ingenuity and endeavours of those that once eked their living from digging in the ground to service the commercial impertaives of their masters, whiel they themselves received little but a shortened life and the constant threat of a premature end.  

The waste and spoil from centuries of lead and other mining is on a scale that would put even the most recent and biggest surface-mining operations to shame. as a piddling thing of little consequence.  And all before modern machinary and mechanisation!  Horse-power when this meant exactly that, pickaxes and shovels, iron stil a valusble, scarce material, too valuable to be wantony wasted when wood and stone would do.  Dry-stone un-cemented, lime too valuable a commodity to use on the scale required, stones fasioned and set in place to stand upright or at some angle too precarious for us even now to countenance, all under their own weight, key-stones fitted with absolute certainty and precision where necessary.  Even now standing the acid test of time.

Dry-stone walls, like the conduits, criss-cross the heather-covered hills, punctuated here and there by older medieaval field boundary walls, chimney stacks and smelters, long since abandoned.  Ruins stark now but one centres of industry, belching smoke and fumes, too dangerous now to be allowed  But once perhaps like bee hives beckoning worker bees from miles around, drawing other workers from further afield.  Cornwall, Derbyshire, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. 

Now the preserve of the tourist and occasional academic in search of some research project.  A source of wonderment and amusement for those still living here that much earn their living now in some other way.  But increasingly those living close by developing their own interests in where they live, wondering what else remains hidden, out of sight and out of reach.

Natural? Hardly but no less fascinating to those that live hereabouts who would wish to know more of our heritage and those few, oh so few, prepared to take on the establishment and claim this, where they live now, as their own, rolling up their own sleeves as those that came before once did.  And for no more than the satisfaction of knowing that their own endeavours brought them closer to their heritage and gave to them answers to their own questions.  Learning not out of a book but by first-hand investigation and research, sharing what they know and could find out in the hope that in so doing, they do not have the fruits of their labours taken and claimed as their own by others.

No where in the North Pennines will you walk without encountering evidence of some lead-mining and no doubt you may well visit industrial museums such as Nenthead in the West or closer to home "The Killhope Wheel".  But these are as of nothing compared to this site now under research.  People enquiring because they wish to, guided but not blinded by the expert opinions of others elsewhere, prepared to challenge the printed word and make their own cjudgements, reaching their own conclusions

This is living history, industrial archaeology on a grand scale, unspoiled and as yet "unclassified or designated as too valuable for us mere mortals to meddle with and unlock the mysteries of how our forebears toiled and labours.  For ourselves. The structures they fashioned, their devices and tools, how they harnessed naturally occurring water courses, built damns and constructed reservoirs, constructed miles of flumes and conduits, timber and stone aquaducts miles of these, all beatifully constructed, each stone telling a story. 

This is a story of how educated, well-informed and industrious individuals have toiled themselves for 3 decades to unlock the secrets of one of these sites in the North Pennines.  Of their research and their records, how these few have informed us and shared their knowledge and experience. Of how they have pressed on in the face of disapproval and occasional ridicule from the "establishment" to make their case for this one site, winning approval and acknowledgement of their efforts, only to see "their site" wrested from them so that others, more expert, may stake claim and receive the plaudits.  It is shameful and a sad reflection on how we have fashioned our organiations and institutions so that even now it becomes impossible to work with, only for!

We hope that those taking the time and trouble to look closely at this account may yet recognise how we came to be here and of how much value has been added.  Before resolving to find some way in which we might really work together and share fairly the resources needed to rebuild these ruins, involving people because they wish to be involved, not excluding out of ignorance or petty offialdom.

Last e-mail prior to posting on comments

Thanks.  The pictures are now in the image library and I’ll bring up your password tomorrow.  I may be a little late as I’m picking up Bill Stokoe en route.  Your webpage now looks like what follows below but you and John feel free to change it around as you like.
The man you saw was likely from Natural England, formerly English Nature, which has the responsibibity, in conjunction with county and district councils (soon to be merged and re-shaped into unitary authorities) for designating areas of outstanding natural beauty and all that this entails.  There is an equally long process involved which has its roots in regional spatial strategies in which planning and development control departments are involved at all levels.  Such is the apparatus of central and local government, victim to which your farmer friend has fallen.  His reaction might as you suggested in an earlier message be one driven by anger and frustration, wrongly identifying you as the cause of his planning application rejection with the “pollution”` card being the easiest to play.  It also appears to me to be entirely sensible for him to want to refurbish his building into payng it’s way. Defra of course are also in the equation.
The timing of the mystery man’s appearance makes me think that his visit was prompted by the initial “investigations” by English Heritage with a view to their leasing of the land from the Lord Crewe estate on which they would (and seem to be building) their subsequent plans for developing the site  Both organisations are mandated to work closely together although as John would observe in a fiendishly dis-jointed, protracted sort of way.  The timescales seem to me to be about right but John would know better whether this theory is right.
If the theory is right, English Naure would need to be at least consulted in their planning process because of the implications on flora and fauna, as would David Mason, the Co Durham Archaeologist and a whole host of other people, regrettably none of which are particulaly close to the community, other than through “organised” volunteer groups.  Wht you seem to be experiencing at first hand is the fall-out from this process, which will inevitably block any application for funding, no matter how small or necessary to consolidate 30 years of free labour, until it is resolved.  And rather more unfortunately as I see it,  isolate those that say from those that do,most importantly those in the community, even further.
Can you please print off a copy of this and give it to John.  There are now some conversations taking place in the background which might be helpful.






If we in the Pontburn Valley think we live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and we do, then what of this site at Bolt's Burn?  It is magnificent in every regard.

Created on 02/04/2008 08:18 PM by dshields
Updated on 07/01/2010 08:34 AM by rmr
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