Mining in Weston
Report of a talk by Chris Richards on 10 May 2011
As a former quarryman at Worle Quarry, lifelong caver on Mendip and avid historian of the area Chris Richards is probably the most well-informed person on this subject bar none.
Some knowledge of geology is necessary to an understanding of mining and Chris outlined the main features of Worlebury Hill. It sits on the end of a deep ridge of hard carboniferous limestone. At some point many millions of years ago volcanic activity had resulted in mineral-rich deposits forming in cracks and seams in the limestone. In Spring Cove at the western end of the hill some of the volcanic lava beds are visible, while in Worle Quarry at the eastern end can be seen evidence of the Worle Hill Thrust Fault which turned whole beds of rock upside down.
The first recorded instance of mining occurred in the 1520s. Henry VIII had sought help from the German expert Petrus Filius in his search for a source of calamine, the ore from which zinc is derived. Zinc is necessary for the production of brass, the material from which early cannons were made. Filiuss report of 1528 refers to nine mines being proved at Worle belonging to the Prior of Woodspring.
Galena is the ore from which lead is derived and both galena and calamine are often found in association. They were certainly mined in Worle. When Worle Library was built in the 1970s mining debris was discovered in the area known as the Maltings.
In the 1560s Queen Elizabeth I continued exploration. There was no pre-existing industry of brass production but the German company found calamine in a number of places in Somerset. They took a lease from the Lord of the Manor Henry Wallop and some 20 or 30 tons were raised from a 30 foot vein. In Worle calamine occurred in great masses just below the surface. An experimental brassworks was established at about the same time in Tintern and Chris made the intriguing suggestion that calamine was shipped across the Bristol Channel from a point somewhere in Worle along the River Banwell.
The location of the German calamine mine in Worle is not known.
The last record of mining in the Worle area occurred in 1736 when a James May was recorded as having been killed in a fall in a mine. In the 1830s there is an account of miners from Shipham raiding the mines at Worle on moonlit nights but Chris suspects that they were raiding the spoilheaps for unused ore.
Evidence of mining was found in Worle quarry in 1969 when workers broke into an abandoned gallery where drill-holes from blasting were found along with a pile of calamine.
The veins of ore ran from the quarry as far as Milbury Gardens off Milton Hill. Fields named Minels or Minehills are recorded in Hawthorn Combe and there are numerous pits and trenches accessible from the footpath leading up from Pleshey Close.
At the western end of Worlebury Hill there is evidence of lead-mining with deposits of ore and workings up to 40 feet deep. However all mining appears to have ceased by the 1820s when the woods were planted up by the Lord of the Manor John Hugh Smyth-Piggott.
Some of the workings can still be seen. Above the bus-stop half way along the Kewstoke Toll Road there are a couple of openings, one leading to a natural tunnel whose floor has been artificially deepened and the other a shaft which is now partly blocked and is covered with a metal grille.
In 1843 some Cornish miners were called in to examine the possibility of renewing lead mining on Worlebury. In 1845 Robert Ford established a lead mine in the area of what is now Milton Road Cemetery. Another mine nearby subsequently collapsed and a farmer had the misfortune to lose his prize carthorse down an eight foot square shaft. This is by no means the only occasion when abandoned mine-workings have suddenly reappeared in this area.
The final phase of mining happened in the early part of the twentieth century when mining took place in the area of Hazeldene Road to provide ochre for painting shell cases during the First World War. A contact was awarded for the extraction of ore at the rate of 20 tons per week. The site can still be seen beneath Ashleigh Road.
There is good evidence that the minerals from Worlebury were also valued in prehistoric times. Ochre has been found in burials locally. In Upper Church Road it was placed in burials of the Iron Age period. In Oldmixon a neolithic burial actually included a piece of ochre which fitted exactly into the palate of the buried body.
It follows from this that Worleburys minerals may have had economic as well as ritual value in prehistoric times and been mined as a result. Excavations in the 1980s revealed some deeply weathered pieces of lead ore in the primary infill of the crossditch earthworks of Worlebury Hillfort. It is known from nearby Charterhouse that lead smelting was practised in the Iron Age and a lead slingshot was found in the pits of Worlebury Hillfort when they were excavated in the 1850s.
For a more detailed account of Mining in Weston than it has been possible to include in this short report Chris Richards recommends:
Information Sheet No. 30 “Mining in Weston-super-Mare.
He prepared this when he was employed at North Somerset Museum. Along with a number of other informative leaflets it is still available from The Weston Museum in Burlington Street. Well worth a visit!