Not surprisingly perhaps, the buildings, walls, and other man-made infrastructure reflect the diversity of the underlying geology of the rocks in the landscape. The Penrith buildings are made from the local red sandstone, slate buildings are common around Keswick, in Kendal the buildings are made from the underlying Carboniferous limestone, and in Grasmere some of the buildings show traces of hematite staining. The land is pock-marked with local quarries opened up to provide stones for local farm building, walls, bridges and household construction.
Most of the minerals in the rocks were laid down in the Ordovician period (488-440 million years ago) when most of the Lake District was covered by marine waters. Some rocks date back even further to the Precambrian period (4.6 Billion to 540 million years ago). Borrowdale volcanic rocks and Skiddaw slates dominate.
Initial mining was done with hand tools and tended to focus on mineral veins that were visible from the surface. During the time of industrialisation in the 19th century there was a seemingly insatiable demand in urban areas for slates for roofs and rocks for building materials. Explosives were used to blast out quarries. Mining became increasingly sophisticated, with long tunnels – adits and levels - being dug into mountains following the lode-bearing mineral veins. At Greenside 12 miles of tunnels were dug deep into the rock. At the time of its closure there were over 22 levels pierced into the mountain a distance of over a mile, with vertical shafts to a depth of almost 900 metres. Fell walkers strolling over Sheffield Pike towards Greenside will be completely oblivious to the honeycomb of interconnecting channels stretching half a mile beneath their feet.
A visitor to the Lake District today day will see traces of quarry workings and mines wherever they go. They will see the buildings where the miners lived, and the gravestones in the cemeteries where miners and their families were laid to rest, the ages on the headstones telling their own story of the relentlessly tough lives that they had to live, working often in very harsh conditions.
by Tim Clarke
John Postlethwaite: Mines and Mining in the English Lake District (1877)
William Rollinson: The Lake District Landscape Heritage, Edited 1988, notably the chapter on the Industrial Landscape by Andrew Lowe
Alastair Cameron, Liz Withey, Ore Mining in the Lake District (2017)
Samuel Murphy: Grey Gold - Men, Mining and Metallurgy at the Greenside Lead Mine in Cumbria, England 1825 to 1962 (1996)
Ian Tylor, Greenside and the Mines of the Ullswater Valley (1998)
Lancaster University Connected Communities Research Laboratory Report 2018 – Greenside Mine Smart Tourism
Special thanks to Mark Hatton from CATHMS for his editorial help and for allowing us to use his rich photo collection to illustrate our articles