According to a former Chair of English Heritage, the lead mines of Grassington were “one of England’s great mining areas. Helping to safeguard the industrial archaeology of the dales is one of our key priorities in the region”. This was on the occasion of a £50,000 grant being awarded and reported in the Guardian.The Guardian

But for those who are looking to preserve the remains, the first question is “Who owns the moor”. The answer is complicated and brings together a number of interesting threads from across our local history.

Mossdale Scar Cave entrance

Mossdale Scar Cave entrance

In June 1967 the worst caving disaster in the history of British caving happened in Craven. On a fine Saturday ten young men set out to explore the furthest reaches of Mossdale caverns on Conistone Moor, one of the toughest challenges in the Yorkshire Dales. Mossdale is well known for flooding and on this day the weather deteriorated turning Mossdale Beck into a raging torrent, completely flooding the entrance series and much of the caves with tragic results. Four of the cavers took a shorter route and safely exited, but the remaining 6 were not so lucky.

The event was remembered in the Craven Herald and on the Caving Website Darkness Below.

This tragedy contributed towards growing concerns over the stability of mine shafts on Grassington Moor, many of which were then abandoned holes in the ground. Mossdale Scar is less than a mile from the nearest mine shaft on the Bycliffe vein and there was a rumour in the caving fraternity that the miners found another way into the cave systems in this area. To remove temptation, attempts were made to prevent another disaster by covering the shafts with anything to hand, including sleepers, steel roofing sheets and stones from spoil heaps or the walls constructed around horse whims.

Fifty years has now passed and exploring antique mines is an emerging new trend amongst speleologists. Fifty years has also meant that sleepers have rotted, steel has rusted and rocks have become covered in dust and soil, making location of the various shafts difficult to pin down. This creates a challenge for Fell Rescue volunteers as they may get called out to walkers suddenly disappearing down uncharted holes or inexperienced caving enthusiasts getting stuck down unmapped mines.

A new group has been set up to consider how best to understand and therefore preserve the mines : They are the Grassington Mines Appreciation group.

Grassington Mines Appreciation Society

Grassington Mines Appreciation Society

This group has already unearthed a couple of interesting industrial heritage facts:

  • The sleepers used to cover the shaft still have the rail fasteners on them and suggest a narrow gauge railway;
  • The main shaft was used for raising the ore, but the miners may have gone down a much smaller access shaft next to the main shaft.

These access shafts could mean that there are many smaller holes covered with unstable rock which may easily be stepped on when approaching a main shaft with inevitable consequences.

However the biggest problem by far is who owns Grassington Moor.

The owner(s) would need to give permission for any remedial action and may be liable for the costs for making safe this industrial archaeology. The approach to preservation of the mines also needs to take into account that the mines are now scheduled monuments so cannot be disturbed legally without permission from Historic England.

  Members may remember a talk by Jerry Pearlman MBE in 2017 called “Some Environmental Legal Nutcases” in which Jerry invited us to consider if three unusual individuals who used the law and history to secure environmental victories were mavericks or environmental trail blazers.

One of these was Grassington Dentist and former chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park: Keith Lockyer. When confronted with a local land owner wanting to sell the moor, Keith sought to establish ownership as he believed it to reside elsewhere and the case went to a Commons Commission.

According to the Craven Herald, Keith identified a trail of evidence that suggests “The Freeholders” own Grassington Moor , but he was unable to determine who the Freeholders modern descendants are.

A transcript of the Craven Herald report of the case can be found below.

The eventual ruling can be found at the Association of Commons Registration Authorities (ACRAEW) web site         Commons and Greens (acraew)


Reading through these findings: In the section ‘Lordship of the Manor’ (Pg 3), it says that ‘Mr Lockyer’s contention is that in or about the year 1604 the Lord of the Manor divested himself of the freehold of the moor’ and in section ‘The 1604 Conveyances’ (Pg 4), that the Lord at that time was George Earl of Cumberland assisted by his brother Francis Clifford and Sir William Ingilby.

George Clifford Skipton Castle

George Clifford Skipton Castle

A picture of George Clifford can be found at Burton Constable in East Yorkshire (Historic Houses Association)








In Appendix A of the ruling (Pg19) it says that

George, 3rd Earl of Cumberland (1588-1605), whose large estates in Craven included the lordship of Grassington, was a distinguished courtier, the Queen’s champion, and the greatest of the Elizabethan amateur privateers in the war against Spain, 1585-1604. When he became Earl in 1579 he was one of the wealthiest of the Elizabethan nobility.

Because of his extravagance and from 1586 his heavy losses in privateering, on which he spent £100,000, he ran up huge debts. In an effort to clear these debts he raised over £35,000 from his estates between 1602 and 1605 by sales and leases.

Jerry Pearlman suggested that George asked for investment from the miners using their claim as collateral and since he didn’t make it rich, George was forced to sign over the leases to these Freeholders

The Appendices (Pg 18 onwards) contain some fascinating Grassington centred history from Elizabethan times.

As to the question “Who owns the Moor” (Pg 17), the answer seems to be “The Freeholders” or the “Parish of Grassington”.


Keith Parker

Craven Herald

A transcript from November 13 1987

The Battle of Grassington Moor

A battle over the ownership of Grassington Moor which could set a legal precedent was resumed when a Commons Commission began a hearing into the land at Skipton on Tuesday.

Commons Commissioner Mr Martin Roth heard at Craven Council’s office in Granville St that the ownership claims of brothers Anthony and Peter Roberts, their sister Anne and friend Christopher Hindley to the moor were being opposed by County Coun. Keith Lockyer whose Mid-Craven Ward included the moor. 

For the claimants Miss Sheila Cameron, Q.C. said they had got a proper conveyance for approximately 2,000 acres of land when they sought to buy it from the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Estate in 1984. 

She would argue that a document produced by Coun. Lockyer did not convey the land for ever away from the lord of the manor to local farmers. But even if that were found to be the case the Devonshires had exercised the rights of ownership for as long as they had become rightful owners, and so could sell the land to her clients. 

The situation was soon shown to be different to that expected, when Mr Jerry Pearlman said his client Coun. Lockyer had not been able to find a body of people who were the successors to the Freeholder. Such a body would have been the rightful owners, according to Coun. Lockyer. 

The councillor said he thought it would be possible to find such a group, but it would take more time and research. This meant he was not putting up a rival claim to the land after all, but simply opposing that of the current claimants. 

Coun. Lockyer’s basic case was that the cash-starved Earl of Cumberland had first mortgaged his land on the moor then sold it in 1604 to local farmers to finance his privateering adventures. The lord of the manor, later the Dukes of Devonshire, had retained sporting and mineral rights.  

The Devonshires had sold the sporting rights in 1887 to the Blackburn family. from whom Miss Cameron’s clients had bought the rights in 1984 for “hundreds rather tens of thousands of pounds”.  

They had then approached the Chatsworth Estate to buy the land itself. Miss Cameron stressed that the £10,000 they eventually paid for this was not a low figure but rather a high one considering they already shooting rights, grazing rights were vested with local farmers, and the Chatsworth Estate had retained the minerals rights. 

She said that the Devonshires had exercised the rights of owners of the moor by collecting Army compensation for damage and money from I.C.I and the BBC for respectively a pipeline and filming. Even if they had originally been in wrongful occupation of the moor four acts of Parliament had placed limitations so that any original rights of the freeholders had been lost through the passage of time. 

But Mr Pearlman said that the Chatsworth Estate had “quietly” taken over the ownership and done nothing to that was sufficient to give possessory title to it. He had documents from 1604 which recorded the conveyance of the moor to 39 freeholders, though Miss Cameron disputed it meant what Mr Pearlman thought it meant. 

Another document concerned a disputed in 1774 about turf removal by the Duke of Devonshire which Mr Pearlman said showed the Freeholders acting as owners. He said many of the acts carried out by the Devonshires were connected with their mineral rights and they had not had the right to sell to the new claimants, of whom the Roberts family comes from nearby Conistone. 

However, the Bolton Abbey Agent for the Chatsworth Estate, Mr John Sheard, told the commission that he had never heard anyone dispute the estate’s ownership of the moor. He also confirmed some of the actions taken by the estate over the moor when mentioned by Miss Cameron. 

When he opened his evidence, Coun. Lockyer said he had been “shattered’ when he first heard the current claimants say they were the moor’s owners at a hearing in 1984. He had not made any headway with his case then, but had started doing research.  

He had consulted Dales expert Dr Arthur Raistrick and had with him expert witnesses Dr Richard Spence and Mr Michael Gill. 

Much of the argument was on historical or legal detail, the major question being whether the Chatsworth Estate had the right to sell the moor or not. Mr Sheard explained how he had been asked to make a statutory declaration when conveying the moor to the current claimant, because in common with many pieces of manorial law there was not a specific reference to it in any deeds. 

Coun. Lockyer’s case has the financial backing of the Rambler’s Association and the Open Space Society, as it is thought this could be a test case for commoners rights in Britain.

If the commissioner were to decide against the current claimants the moor could end up being put into the care of a local authority, possibly North Yorkshire or Craven Council. A decision is not expected for some weeks.