Ruskin Museum
Coniston, Cumbria.
Coniston Coppermines

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Remains of the 45ft wheel at Red Dell


45ft diameter wheel at " Red Dell" circa  1900

Coppermines Valley is a beautiful place whether you are interested in the mining heritage of the area or not.
The history of the coppermines go back over 400 years but extraction of copper will go back much further than this, probably to Roman times or even earlier. The most prosperous period was the 1850s and by the 1870s the mine went in decline. For most of the mines history only gunpowder was used, hand drilling, and only tallow candles as light. The country rock is volcanic so progress would have been painfully hard and slow. Getting to the copper veins at depth could only be done by descending wooden ladders and stagings. Some of the workings were over 1100ft below the surface and around 500ft below sea level. Anyone interested in a history of the coppermines should read books by Eric Holland or Cumbria Amenity Trust which are available at the museum.
Please Note
No one should enter these mines under any circumstances without a experienced guide
and even then your safety cannot be guaranteed. There are many unstable areas and a large number of rotten false floors over large voids. You have been warned!

The Mines Today
(Photographs by Jeff  Wilkinson, Ulverston)



Although over 1000ft of the mine workings are now under water it is still possible to descend over 500ft through the complicated vein systems. It is like stepping back in time. As well as a good knowledge of where you are going it is necessary to be fully competent in Single Rope Techniques and be fit. Ascending a 180ft vertical  pitch at the end of a long day underground can sometimes not be put off !



 


The primary copper ore that was mined at Coniston is called Chalcopyrite (Copper/Iron/Sulphide). This is a yellow brassy colour similar looking to Pyrite or "fools gold" as it is often called. Since the mines closed over 100 years ago a considerable amount of post mine mineralization has taken place (Supergene). For a long time it was assumed that these were the copper carbonates Malachite and Azurite but it is now known that the vast majority of the stunning blues and greens are copper sulphates. These "supergene" minerals have a much higher copper content than Chalcopyrite. There are a number of these stunning formations in the mines and luckily they are in quite difficult  places so have remained relatively undamaged. 


                     
The miners followed the veins down and would put in false timbered floors to tram the ore to the engine shafts. At various points a man-way would be built so the miners could descend ladders to other parts of the workings. These false floors are one of the major hazards to mine explorers today. They are covered with rubble and sometimes it is difficult to tell if you are on a false floor or not. When you are in new ground and you suddenly realize you are on one, with a big drop beneath your feet, it can be a sobering experience!           

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contrary to what you would expect there are not many artefacts to be seen in the mines. This is because most were sold off for scrap as the mines suffered the slow decline and inevitable money problems, however some areas of the mines suffered from collapses due to the unstable nature of the ground and it is in these areas, where it was not worth tunnelling to retrieve them that you can find the odd mine wagon, jack roll, tallow candles and other small items. The museum has a Kibble, clay pipes and boring hammers amongst it's displays.


Exploring the mines can not be recommended but there is a much safer way to see what it is like. Cumbria Amenity Trust Mining History Society has produced a CD-Rom with over 300 superb images of above and below ground in the copper mines. It can be viewed in the Coniston Gallery or purchased at reception, price 9.00 or 11.00 including post & packing.