Map of Search Results
Keswick - Lake District
Copyright Marcus Roberts (with additional material by Dr Yaakov Wise (also with special thanks to Ian Tyler for his expertise on local mining history)

Places of interest

Bookmark this page |  E-mail this page to a friend

Gaunse's Mines - Goldscope and the Newlands Valley
Vicar's Island and Lead Prospecting Sites - Derwent Water
Site of Joachim Gaunse's Smeters - Forge Lane, Brigham, Keswicl
Cumberland Pencil Museum - Carding Mill Lane
George Inn - St John's Street, Keswick
Moot Hall - Keswick
Former Wad Mines at Seathwaite

1. Gaunse's Mines - Goldscope and the Newlands Valley

The most exciting a remote remains, for the more intrepid visitor, are however to be found on the other side of the Cats Bells Ridge, in the Newlands valley. There are remains of the German mines, at Dalehead, Castlenook, St Thomas' Work and Longwork, as well as the famous Gold Scope Mine.

This is a remote and exceptionally beautiful spot, even today, and is accessed by a drive on small roads to Little Town and then to Newlands Church (leaving one's car just before, at Chapel Bridge). From the road and the chapel there is a beautiful view, southwards, across to Scope End, and the site of the Gold Scope mine. From here one may explore on foot from Newland Church, taking the permissive footway opposite, along a farm access road, to the farm at Low Snab, to get into the most southerly extension of Newlands valley, where Goldscope and the other mines may be found.

The properly equipped walker, can then take an exceptional walk, all the way up the valley, up to Castle Nook, and Longwork and as far as the foot of Miners Crag. The way is not strenuous for the moderately fit, but is in wild country. The Dale Head Copper mine, lies beyond, tucked just under the top of the mountain at 2,000 feet, up a very steep trail and is only for the fit and keen.

Again, all the way up the valley numerous mine tailings can be seen, on the left-hand (i.e. eastern) side of the valley, as well as the excavation of open veins of copper ore across the valley higher up (opposite Miner's Crag). What is remarkable, is the precarious location of some of the trials, high up on crags and essentially only accessible to rock-climbers or competent rock-scramblers, with a head for heights and confident foot work, as well as good insurance. How the 'old men' reached these remote eyries, with their hob-nailed boots, heavy tools, and how they hauled out leather satchels of ore at the end of the day ,in adverse weather, which out calamity, is a mystery. Their toughness is beyond doubt, especially if one toils up to the remains of one of the surviving Elizabethan miner's huts, off a pack-horse track, clinging to a terrace just short of the summit of Dale Head at 2,000 feet and close to the Dale Head workings under the brow of the mountain.

The high-light of a visit to Newlands, is to the surviving Gold Scope mine itself, which is at the entrance to this part of the valley, just off Scope End, about a 1,000 feet up, above the farm at Low Snab. There is a steep short climb needed to get up to the mines entrance alongside the loose spoil heaps. It is clearly visible because of its spoil heaps (the greenish heap is the ancient copper spoil and the grayish heap is the later lead ore spoil). The main mine entrance, at the top of the main spoil heap, is that of the ancient St George's level. The mine at this point goes level, right through the mountain ridge. It is technically possible to walk through the mountain, via the carefully hand-cut galleries, called 'coffin-levels', as the galleries are cut in a shape of a coffin standing on its end.

At points along the gallery there is 'strope work', which is where deposits of ore have been chiseled out, leaving larger shafts and chambers over-head, braced by beams, which may now be more ornamental than useful, in their task of shoring up the chamber. At the centre of the mine is a unique 16th century wheel pit, which still contains the remains of a water wheel, used to drain the mine, and which was driven by water channeled through an adit, taken from a high-up dam, over half a mile away, in the head of neighbouring Little Dale.
It goes almost without saying that exploring inside the mine is a potentially dangerous and should be only be undertaken with the right equipment and expert guiding, though the experience is most exciting if undertaken and quite unlike any other Jewish heritage experience in this country! Would be explorers should be aware that historically there has been a major rock collapse in the mine and there are also a number of unexpected deep shafts within the net work of shafts and tunnels.

After a visit to the entrance of St George's level, it is possible to traverse around Scope End, on a lower path, into the even more remote Little Dale, which reveals the other side of the Gold Scope workings. Here there are other mine entrances, dressing floors for breaking up and preparing excavated ore, as well as the ruin of a 16th century mine building, half hidden behind a wall. It is this building that draws attention; as here we have a house, and centre of mining operations, that would have been visited by Gaunse and Israel Waltz, and which would have provided shelter and accommodation - a hitherto unrealized medieval Jew's house. Finally, a walk up the valley goes up to a 16th century dam also constructed by the awesome muscle of the German miners.
All of these mines and sites have been designated by English Heritage as being of Major national or international important site, and as a priority for protection, in 1995.


2. Vicar's Island and Lead Prospecting Sites - Derwent Water

Away from Keswick, the visitor can head for Derwent Water. A drive around the northern-eastern end of the lake will yield views of Derwent Island and former Vicar's Island, the original headquarters for the German miners (and the site of their brew house) as well as views of Copper Heap Bay, where a relict pile of Elizabethan Copper ore still stands, on the north-west shore of the lake, both of which are private access only, though the island has now been acquired by the National Trust and it is possible some access will be available in the future.

All along the western side of the Lake, as far down as Grange southwards, are to be found the distinctive scars of some of the earliest German prospecting, which can be seen on the flanks of Skelgill Bank, Cats Bells, Trap Knotts and Maiden Moor, exploiting the same mineral veins (the Manesty Vein and the Copperplate Vein) which run across into Newlands and Goldscope. While the eye may imagine that some of the rock scars of early mining are natural, they are not and can be seen by the 'tail' of spoil coming out of a mine entrance, or out of a open scar.

The most accessible of these early working, is at the south end of the lake, near to Manesty and Brandlegill. The gill leads down from Catsbells, down into Brandlehow Wood. There were working here as early as 1566 called 'Miner'sputt'. There is also a hand-chiseled adit level showing the the lead bearing Brandlehow Lode was being worked in the 16th/ 17th Centuries. Tyler sates that Minersputt was on Skellgill Bank.

Also in 1596 there was also ore extracted from Fechtenbach's nick, by the German miner Fectenbach. But there is some confusion as to whether Brandlegil as of Fechtenbach's nick refers to Brandy Gill at Caldbeck instead.

As always, exercise great care if visiting mining sites, as they are often dangerous or inaccessible and should be visited with the right equipment and expert guidance.


3. Site of Joachim Gaunse's Smeters - Forge Lane, Brigham, Keswicl

The site of the Keswick smelters and the scene of Gaunse's work can be readily seen, around the 'Riverside Workshop', which is at the end of Forge Lane, off the Penrith Road (A527), in the Brigham area of Keswick.

Here, next to the deep rushing waters of the river Greta, along a public foot-path, up-stream from the Riverside Workshop, there is a remarkable survival of a 16th century weir of stone, built by the ever industrious German miners, into the river, to divert water direct to the smelters. It leads to a stone-lined leat (small canal), also fashioned by the miners, which shortly goes into the 'Hammer Hole', a short tunnel, which the company records tells us was quarried by the Germans, through the obstruction of a rock bluff, and that the smelters were exactly 220 yards away along the leat from the Hammer Hole. The site of the smelters is almost directly under the modern concrete fly-over for the A66, over the River Greta, though the deep excavations to construct the piers for the fly-over did not reveal any archaeological remains.

While there is much discussion of the 'the' Industrial Revolution, or the 18th and 19th centuries, historians now accept that there was an earlier Elizabethan Industrial Revolution and this site is arguably at its epicentre. The importance of this heritage location for both technology and industry and the economic future of England, cannot be under emphasised.

Here, on this site, British metallurgic history was forged, under Gaunse's direction. This spot was as significant to future of British mining and metallurgy, and the Elizabethan Industrial Revolution, as was Abraham Darby's iron smelter at Coalbrookedale in 1709, to the production of iron and the burgeoning industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Certainly they were on a scale never seen before, as they formed the largest smelter complex in Europe. Close by on the Penrith Road, opposite the petrol station, next to Brigham Row, there is also a group of modern holiday homes, which local sources relate revealed evidence of other smelters, when they were built, but which was swiftly built over.

4. Cumberland Pencil Museum - Carding Mill Lane

Another visit of particular interest is the Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick. Ideal if the weather is not suitable for outdoor pursuits. The revamped museum includes a replica of one of the Wad mines at Seathwaite and a full description of historical pencil making (which is rather more interesting than it sounds), though the former iteration of the museum did not make particular mention of the key Jewish involvement in the foundation of the industry, which is important to provide and which I have identified from my research.

While the pencil may seem an innocuous and ordinary item today, it was until the advent of the biro the only way of writing both portably and reliably on a wide variety of surfaces in wet or dry conditions, as the goose-quill pen, or the later steel, dip-in fountain pen, lacked practical portability and had to be used on a level surface.

It may be recalled that the writing of dispatches on the battlefield was conducted in pencil and the written surface could then be further protected by a layer of casein (milk protein)from scuffs and abrasions. This was the only safe way of writing messages that were unlikely to be erased or rendered illegible.

The discovery of Wad and the origins of the Wad industry and the role of Jews in the origins of pencil making are aptly described by William and Robert Chambers in their educational guide of 1846:

'The discovery of the substance, which took place about two centuries ago, was altogether a matter of chance. After a thunderstorm of more than usual violence, a number of trees were blown down, and the gap made by the tearing up of the roots, exposed a piece of plumbago to view. The value of the article, however, was not as yet known, and for nearly a hundred years it was employed only for marking sheep and polishing steel articles. In the course of time, some Jews in London discovered its utility for drawing, and it was by them first made into crayons, or what we now call black-lead pencils. For a long space of time, the Jews were the sole manufacturers of pencils--a fact we feel some gratification in mentioning, as that unfortunate nation has been too often unjustly accused of being interlopers in a profession of which in reality they were the inventors.'

The Chambers continue:

'What was originally a valueless material, came by the demand for pencils to be one of the most precious minerals; latterly it has risen to the extravagant price of 45s. per pound, and this, to all appearance, is not likely to be its limit The cause of this increase in value is the enlarged demand for pencils, and the growing scarcity of the finer kinds of plumbago. Unlike some common metallic ores, this substance is found in England only in small pieces, and these are becoming daily more rare. At one time, as much as 100,000 pounds is understood to have been realised from the Borrowdale mine in a single year; but these were the palmy days of the mining proprietory, who were contented with opening the mine only once in seven years, and shutting it up again when a sufficient quantity to supply the market at a certain price was obtained. For the last thirty years, however, from the great demand for plumbago, and the difficulty in obtaining it, the mine has been constantly worked.'

Wad was so valuable by the end of the 18th century that the picking of wad from the spoil heaps of the Wad mines became an offence, as was selling it to Jews who came specially to Keswick for their supplies. It was said that in a work of 1852, '... the poorer inhabitants of Keswick subsist chiefly by stealing, or clandestinely buying of those that steal, the black-lead, which they sell to Jews...'. The reason of its value was not just that it could be made into pencils, but because it was a strategic material. Pieces of wad could be shaped into re-usable moulds for producing bullets and ordnance by the military.

Even though it was illegal to buy and trade in Wad, the production and sale of pencils was vital for the economy and income of Jewish pedlars, which is why the trade persisted and doubtless too, the public also needed access to a valuable writing tool. Up to the 1840s at least 20 per cent of bridegrooms at Bevis Marks were recorded as being hawkers and dealers. English Pencils were regarded as the best and it is recorded the 'famous Benjamin' traded in many items in Germany, but most of all in pencils, which he claimed were 'English Pencils' (though actually from Germany) and that 'he asks extravagant prices, but can be beaten down...'.

Originally, slivers of wad, or graphite, were planed and fashioned and held into silver pencil holders, or glued into cedar casings. This was very much the business of Jewish pedlars and pencil makers, who made pencils and then sold them on the street, or from door to door.

The big break through was made when an English Jew, Solomon Cohen (in consultation with Sir Humphrey Davy, after 1803), worked out how to make the modern ceramic-graphite pencil in a wooden casing, where the graphite is ground and mixed with a ceramic, which enables different hardness, or degrees, of pencils to be produced (such as HH, HB, etc.) and graphite pencils which can then be introduced into a wooden casing and easily sharpened. In fact B.S. Cohen patented the first modern pencil sharpener.

Solomon made his fortune through this process and became President of the Hambro Synagogue in London and friends of the Mayor of London, Alderman Venables.

5. George Inn - St John's Street, Keswick

Not far off from the Moot Hall, is the historic George Inn (now George Hotel), which has connections to both the medieval miners, who would pay their dues to the officers of Elizabeth I, as well as to the later 18th century Jewish wad dealers who would buy the precious graphite at the inn, from the locals who had stolen it from the Seathwaite mines, under the noses of the armed guards.

A notice outside of the former Inn notes the following:

'George Hotel. This Hotel is the oldest inn in Keswick it was originally the George and Dragon Inn but the name Dragon was dropped on the accession of George I. Here German miners of lead and silver whose smelting house was at the forge, paid their dues to the officers of Queen Elizabeth I and here also many unscrupulous traders brought the Plumbago Ore stolen from the Mines in Borrowdale.'

6. Moot Hall - Keswick

In the town centre of Keswick itself, the Moot Hall can be visited; it is still the centre piece of the Market Square and was the historic store for the raw copper waiting to be sent to the Tower of London.

7. Former Wad Mines at Seathwaite

The wad mines at two sites at Seathwaite and Stonewaite, have their own particular Jewish connections and importance as the making of pencils by Jews and thier sale by Jewish hawkers was an important trade. An excellent view of the main Seathwaite mines can be had from the road, looking due west from the car-parking along the road, just before Seathwaite itself. Accessing them is another matter, and they are best approached from the top of the workings, well over a thousand feet up, turning off the top of the marked walker's path at Sour Milk Gyll and following the wall, but there are ample opportunities to get lost in bad weather and boggy terrain to negotiate, so this is not a casual trip. The full frontal assault from the bottom of the valley looks easier, but extremely steep and quite dangerous, especially if you try to go back down the way you came. It is advised not to enter the mines at all without an expert guide and equipment as there are vertical shafts along the galleries which represent extreme hazard. However, the remains of the guardhouse and search-rooms at the main entrance of the mines (54.502916, -3.186112) can still be seen, as can the large tailings ejected from the mouths of the shafts and pieces of graphite can be still found in the tailings.

Post a Comment
Submit to this trail