The Earby Mining Museum
The Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes
Based on the disused railway station in Hawes, Wensleydale, the Dales Countryside Museum is dedicated to the history of the people of the Yorkshire Dales. It has a large collection of artefacts, collected over a number of years, by people who valued the memories of those who lived and worked the area. The Museum utilises the track bed of the former Wensleydale Railway to display an authentic steam engine and coaches, and although run by the National Park, part of the station is rented to bike shop and a café.
Much work at the Museum has recently resulted in a new display of artefacts concerned with the early textiles, of great significance in the Dales, and a collection which arrived whole from the Yorkshire Dales Mining Museum in Earby, which used to be in Yorkshire. The museum housed the mining tools and machinery collected by the Earby Mining Research Group. The two aspects of Dales life are brought together under the title of “A Rich Seam”, as the two activities went side by side in the families involved.
“In the past whole families in the Dales would be involved in both lead mining and knitting. Women and children worked at the mine top, processing the ore, while knitting was a constant activity. We have an iconic collection of knitting sticks, which were often made as love tokens.” (DCM
Earby Mining Research Group.
After the second World War, the Earby Pothole Club developed the Earby Mining Research Group, with a view to exploring mines in the Dales, especially those dug to mine lead, which were worked extensively and intensively for many years. Using hemp ropes and wooden rung ladders, their searches included recording, measuring, photographing and wherever possible recovering implements and machinery which had been left underground, culminating in over 700 catalogued items, with their name, site and area. In order to make this available to interested parties and the general public, a museum was opened in the old grammar school in Earby. Apart from the rescue and preservation of smaller items, the group were involved in restoration at such sites as the horse whim on Grassington Moor, and the smelt mill chimneys on Malham and Grassington Moors, and at Gibb Hill, Cononley.
Lead has been mined for more than two thousand years, from the later Bronze Age (c.1000 BC), later by the Roman, and again on a larger scale by the Abbeys. The earlier mines were usually just a shaft or adit and a spoil tip. As the industry developed, pumping or winding shafts were put in engine houses, with powder houses for storing gunpowder, and wheel pits, dams and leats. Housing, lodging houses, shops and offices were added. The “dressing floor” was the area where the mixture of ore and waste rock which had been brought up from underground was broken and sorted according to size. Initially done by hand, this process was gradually mechanised.
One of the most spectacular items to be rescued by the Earby Mining Research Group is the water wheel from the Old Providence mine. Rebuilt at the museum in Earby, it has been taken apart again to be re-erected on the platform at the Dales Museum. In July 2019, the wheel pit is being dug, and the crushing rollers reconditioned and painted, and inserted into their housing, ready for the full wheel to be built and erected for viewing. There are pictures on the internet of the wheel next to the Old School House in Earby.
Old Providence Mine
In 1663 three men, Smithson, Swale and Barker formed a partnership to explore and exploit the mining possibilities in Dowber Gill. The Barmaster, a local officer who presided at meetings, collected dues, and acted as a manager, was appointed by the Kettlewell Trust Lords, the manor having been bought by the freeholders in 1656. The manor was bought, after the dissolution of the monasteries by a group of London merchants in 1628, and later sold on. Sir Humphry Wharton leased the mineral rights and mining began in the area.
The Low level had previously been worked by small hand shafts. The middle level was situated higher up the hillside and further to the east, with a road built to link the two. The crushing rollers were on the dressing floor at the portal of the middle level. The large water wheel powered the rollers, with water stored higher up Dowber Gill.
The smelt mill for further processing of the lead ore was lower down the gill. This was in operation in 1699, having been built by the Trust Lords, but also smelting ore from Conistone and Starbotton. To improve efficiency, the mill was enlarged and refitted and a longer flue built up the hillside in 1868, but closed in 1872. The village donated the remaining buildings, in 1942, to the Army for the war effort, who used it to test some new gunpowder by blowing it up.
New Providence Mine
The New Providence Mine was situated on the opposite side of the Wharfe from the village, south south-west of the area marked as “Paradise” on the OS sheet. Beginning as early as the eighteenth century, it was worked in an area of opencast mines and shafts, resulting in small spoil mounds. Around 1820, men from the Old Providence mine started working there, with the first ore sent to Starbotton to be smelted in 1821. By 1859 the ore works and a waterwheel for shaft winding had been built, although crushing machinery is thought to have been removed after the mine’s closure in 1877, because of falling lead prices. The Wharfedale Mining Company had worked it from 1869, it having been renamed the Wharfedale Mine.
An up-to-date description of the exploration of New Providence mine was given by Mr. David Carlisle in an illustrated talk at the Dales countryside Museum. He contrasted the early days of the Earby Mining Research Group – woollies and wellies – with the modern wetsuits and helmets with head torches which kept them warmer, drier and safer. Showing pictures from the previous evening’s activities he contrasted the equipment available to them such as modern lighting and colour photography, with that which they used in the past. His knowledge and enthusiasm made a very entertaining and informative talk.
Old Providence Lead Mine nmrs.org.uk Dickinson, JM 1973
New Providence Mine Historicengland.org.uk listing 1015821