Projects: Lead and silver in the North Pennines

Recording the siteIn 2013, North Pennines Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership secured funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Landscape Partnership programme for a scheme in the Allen Valleys of Northumberland. The scheme, known as The Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership aims to develop a number of programmes for heritage conservation and access (among other things) centred on four specific sites: Allen Smelt Mill (Allen Mill), Allenheads lead ore works, associated structures and powder house, Barney Craig mineshop at Carrshield and Ninebanks Hearse House.

Recording the siteIn 2013 Vindomora Solutions Ltd, in partnership with Alan Williams Archaeology produced a basic archaeological assessment of Allen Smelt Mill, Allendale Town and the bingsteads at Allenheads in order to identify the works needed to bring the two sites back into the public eye.

Since then, Vindomora Solutions Ltd have been actively involved in the works at Allendale Smelt Mill, which have included a scheme of rectified/photogrammetric photography prior to consolidations works beginning, archaeological monitoring of the consolidation scheme and provision of a workshop providing volunteers guidance on archaeological recording techniques.

A little about Allen Smelt Mill

Recording the siteThe site holds a number of designations: it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a Listed Building and it lies within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which was also awarded Geopark status in 2003.

Allen Smelt Mill lies on the valley floor on the south side of the River East Allen which runs north from its source at Allenheads to join the West Allen near Cupola Bridge. The external flues of the Smeltmill run south-westerly from the site and terminate at 3.5km away at Flow Moss, utilising a stone-built chimney. The site itself included an ore hearth smelt mill and reverberatory smelt mill.

A smelt mill is recorded on the present site in AD 1692, belonging to the Bacon family. During the 18th century, Lancelot Algood then leased the site from Sir William Blackett and used the mill to smelt ore from his mines on Alston Moor. Ownership of the mill passed to the Beaumont Company in 1786, which continued to expand and improve on the mill site. In 1847, Thomas Bewick produced a sketch of the mill site showing two reverberatory furnaces, two calcining furnaces, five roasting furnaces, two reducing furnaces, one refining furnace, eight ore hearths, a slag hearth and an eighteen-pot separating house, as well as a number of ore bingsteads on the southern edge of the site, slag bingsteads on the southeast edge of the site, as well as stores and flues associated with the furnaces. The primary purpose of the flues was to condense deposits containing lead and silver from the fumes produced by the furnaces, and then remove the noxious gases for deposition into the atmosphere away from settled areas.

The vast majority of the site was levelled in the late 20th century, leaving the remains of the stable block to the north, the garage to the west and partial remains of bingsteads still standing 5m high with buttresses forming individual bays and surrounding buildings to the south, revetted into the slope, including the remains of a flue entrance and remains of a condensing chamber. The scheduled area covers the area south of the current open car park where building remains are thought to be most extensive. These buildings are known to include the part remains of ore hearth and reverberatory smelting technology.

The old stableblock has been converted to retail and service units, and the western garage now houses a print shop and micro-brewery. The central area which originally housed the main furnace areas of the smelt mill is now a car park, though some building remains can be seen at the car park’s eastern extent, and the old wheel pit has been re-opened.

In 2013, the archaeological remains to the south and east of the site were heavily overgrown and in poor state of repair. The remains of the flues still formed prominent features in the landscape to the southwest of the site, visible as linear earthworks up to 8m wide and 2m high. Internally, where the flues hadn’t collapsed, they were observed to be constructed of square stone blocks in an arched structure.

The Consolidation Project

Consolidation works have been underway since 2015, concentrating on revealing the bingsteads to the east of the site as well as revealing and consolidating the remaining main structures of the smelt mill. The consolidation has been led by Heritage Consolidation Ltd and Doonan Architects with Vindomora Solutions Ltd acting as professional archaeological support.

 

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