30 July 2011

Snailbeach - Work

Snailbeach was Shropshire's largest lead mine, and reputed to have the highest per acre yield of any lead mine in Europe. In addition to galena were mined barytes, calcite, fluorspar, and zinc. Its oldest parts are Roman - a 193lb Roman ingot was found in 1796 - but large scale mining commenced in the 18th-century.

The Snailbeach Company was formed in 1783. A colliery was operated between nearby Pontesford and Pontesbury, and fed a smelt mill in Pontesford that processed the galena. There are substantial surface remains, many of them clustered around George's Shaft (which descended 750 feet) at the mine site, including a blacksmith's (below).

The workings down to 336 feet were drained by an adit driven from the Hope Valley. Those below, and they eventually reached 1,650 feet, were pumped out to adit level, from 1858 by a Bolton and Watt beam engine - as much as 5,000 gallons of water per hour. Pumping ceased in 1911, and the mine is flooded up to the 112 yard level.

In 1863 the original smelt works was abandoned. A new works was built nearer the mine, a flue running up to the chimney at Resting House. Condensed lead fumes were counted as stock. A good indication of the degree of pollution at the time: in 1872 35 tons of lead were estimated to be in the flue.

Black Tom Shaft, 120 feet, was sunk in the 1820s. The ropes from the winding gear to the headgear scored the shutters of the winding gear's shed (above). A compressor house (top and below) was built near George's Shaft in 1881, enabling the use of powered rock drills.

The new smelting mill was closed in 1895. From about 1900 the spoil tips and upper levels were worked by various companies for barytes, used in paint and barium meals. Underground working finished in 1955. However, when the reactor at Windscale (now Sellafield) caught fire in 1957, Snailbeach was investigated as a source for barytes, the high density of which provides radiation shielding.

Snailbeach - Home

Mining companies generally didn't provide accommodation for miners and their families. However, the landowners, in this case the Marquis of Bath and the Earl of Tankerville, encouraged 'squatting' on their land, as they could then, without the expense of building, secure rent from their workers.

Traditionally, if a stone chimney could be built between sunrise and sunset and be in use before nightfall, then the cottage could be completed. Most were sited in small enclosures, by springs that rose above the level of the mine workings. These, at Blakemoorgate (originally Bleakmoorgate) have been rebuilt by English Nature.

Nearby Lordshill Baptist Chapel was built in the 1870s. The Marquis would not allow a non-conformist chapel on his land, so this was built just over the 'border', on the Earl's. The adjoining house was occupied until recently by a lady in her 90s, unharmed by lack of all the services nowadays taken for granted.

23 July 2011

Headless Dowser

Winifred was raised to sainthood as a result of two supposed miracles, both arising from the adverse reaction to her chastity of her suitor, Caradog. He decapitated her, and a spring of magic qualities appeared at the spot her head rolled to a halt. Her uncle reunited head and body, and Winifred went on to be a nun and abbess.

That first spring, St Winefride's Well, is in Holywell, Flintshire, and is a destination for pilgrims. St Winifred died circa 660. In 1138 she was dug up and transferred to, and enshrined at, Shrewsbury Abbey. Henry VIII destroyed the shrine in 1540.

En route to Shrewsbury, Winifred's train halted at Woolston, near Oswestry, where another healing spring legendarily sprung. This is covered by a 15th-century well chapel, later used as a cottage, and now in the care of the Landmark Trust. There are steps down into two stone troughs, presumably used for bathing in the waters, which empty into a lovely stream.

16 July 2011

Suburban Shrewsbury

In Oakfield Road is the above Art Deco-esque detached. Across the road, behind the college, are various Shropshire Council buildings, including these offices, possibly of the 1930s.

14 July 2011


The little town of Aberdovey sits on the north side of the Dyfi, at the point the river meets Cardigan Bay. Within Snowdonia National Park, it is centred around a harbour. Shipbuilding was once important here. Tourism is now the key trade, but Aberdovey has not succumbed to tat - some of the shops retain their original frontages.

The Aberdovey Literary Institute, housed in a former bath house and Plymouth Brethren meeting place - presumably not contemporaneous with each other - was founded in 1882 as, from the deeds, "a non-sectarian, non-political place of recreation, education and social intercourse including ... reading rooms, writing rooms, library, billiard rooms, concert rooms ..."

11 July 2011

Blasted Telephones

It's one thing to manually remove, with the aid of paint-stripper, three layers of paint from the interior of an aluminium-skinned trailer (see YMGW passim re. Silver Streak Clipper). Alclad is soft and easily damaged, so the only way is the patient way.

It's a different proposition to strip in the same fashion 75 years' worth of thick paint from a pair of K6 telephone kiosks. Media blasting, in this case with glass beads, is the solution. What would otherwise be weeks of work is done in a day. The revealed cast iron is of exceptional quality.