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Lead Mines

Waldergrave map of Mendip of the MendipsThe Waldegrave map of the Mendip Mining Forest  on the left is taken from the Women’s Institute history of Chewton Mendip. It is a copy of an even earlier map.Priddy village is circled in red, Chewton Mendip in blue. The mining areas for each village are identified with the same colours. The dark green spot identifies Green Ore which is completely in the wrong place because it is next to East  Harptree. The purple spot identifies  Emborough and Biniger in roughly the right location. The yellow spot identifies Charterhouse and Haydons farm. The light green spots mark the approximate location of the Saxon hunting  forest. Most of the mining areas are not show in the 1794 map.
Mining on the Mendips  predates the written history  but the first documentary evidence for mining activity was discovered in 1956 by D A Thompson who  was a farmer at Rookery Farm in Green Ore. He was ploughing a field when he  discovered Roman ingots or ‘pigs’ of lead on his farm. The pigs were marked with  the name of the Emperor  Vespasian who ruled from 69 AD to 79 AD. The pigs also carried marks showing the silver had been removed and the probable source was identified as the mines at Charterhouse (Wells Journal 2013).
The lack of Saxon lead artefacts and the absence of a reference to mining  or Priddy  village  in the Doomsday book  has been interpreted as evidence the mines had ceased production by 1087. Priddy village was a significant place in the Bronze Age but it may have been eclipsed by the Roman settlement at Charterhouse and abandoned during the Roman or Saxon periods.
The Saxon’s may not have needed to mine lead ore because they could strip lead from the Roman buildings  and perhaps their prospecting and mining methods were not sophisticated so the known reserves had been exhausted.  Another issue that counts against lead mining by the Saxons is that silver is a by product of lead mining so it is reasonable to assume that silver coins would have been produced from the Mendip mines. However, apart from a few coins mined at Axbridge, there is no evidence of a regular supply of silver coins produced by the Saxons in the Mendips.
Another possible explanation is that the lead miners always had their own  laws and customs so were exempt from any taxes in the Saxon period. The Saxons were skilled metalworkers and finds from that period confirm they were present in the area. The Royal Hunting Forest  was established in the Saxon period and subsequent reworking of the old workings may have destroyed and specific evidence of Saxon mining. The medieval laws defined the rights of individual miners to work small plots so any mining that was conducted was on a very small scale.
 A charter of Henry II granted land at Charterhouse to the Carthusians of Witham Friary in 1172 and it is probable that the reason for allocating his land was because of the lead mines which means mining had resumed,  if there had been a break in production. The Knights Templar may have been allocated mining rights at about the same time. It is highly probable that the land was given to the Carthusians because they could introduce the skills required to resume lead mining and had the need for lead. Unlike the Saxons who built in wood and used thatch roofs sod little need for lead, the Normans built in stone and used lead in the roofs, windows and pipe work so they needed lead in large amounts.
One dispute between the Prior of Green Ore, who operated  a sheep farm,  and the Miners of Chewton Mendip is frequently quoted. The date is not specified beyond the rule of Edward IV who ruled  from he 4 March 1461 until 3 October 1470 and again from 11 April 1471 until his death in 1483. His accession to power and the break in his reign were both due to the machinations of the Wars of the Roses.
The dispute probably occurred at the beginning of Edward’s first reign because Sir William Bonville was described as the Lord of the Manor of Chewton Mendip but he was killed at the  second Battle of St Albans on 18 February 1461. The discrepancy of dates may be explained by the time it taken by the legal process taken to define the solution to the quarrel.  Lord Chief Justice  Choke was sent to investigate and he is credited with producing  a map and a code of laws. It is reputed that a map was drawn of the Mendips showing the four mining areas. This map was copied many times despite obvious inaccuracies. The map shown is one such copy.
 The restrictions on the use of land in the Royal Forest created conflict with the occupiers of the land. Roughly one-third of the land was owned by the church, one third was Royal Forest and the remaining third was owned by about 30 families who were interconnected by marriage. The disputes about Royal Forest became such an issue that a review was conducted at the end of the 13th century and a significant percentage of the land was released from the hunting restrictions in 1298.
The four Lords Royal of the Mendips in 1461 were listed as the Bishop of Bath & Wells, Abbot of Glastonbury, Lord Bonville of Chewton
and the Lord of Richmond but that probably referred to Richmont Castle which was originally the home of the de Gurney family.  Each Lord had his own ‘ mindery’ or mining centre where the ore dug by the miners was processed. It is not clear if the ‘mindery’ defined the whole territory controlled by the lord or just the industrial centre.
The last remaining lead mines were near the site of what is commonly known as Priddy Pool but is actual called Waldegrave Pool near Stock Hill and this is are is the one marked on the maps and is well documented.
There are signs of mining at Eakers Hill and the old name of the road there, Reeves Lane, suggests there was mining activity there although this area is rarely mentioned. The Sacrafield properties were close by so there may have been a mining link to that mysteries tax.
 The 1740 map and associated ledgers describe a number of miners living in Tor Hole. his was in the West End tithing but the Middlesex was on the other side of the road. This area is also rarely mentioned in published sources but the physical signs and documentary evidence is clear. There was mining there and the mine was known as ‘Bishops’ and there were miners living there in the 18th century
Ten thousand people were supposed to  have attended the meeting but that was the estimated population of Bristol which was the second or third largest city in Britain at the time so that must have been an exaggeration.
Lead mining continued in the 17th and 18th centuries the 1640  shows groups of houses on the site of the mindery areas . The Dean and Chapter of Wells granted rights to search for lead in 1635 reserving one seventh of the metal as owners of the land in addition to their tenth due to them as one of the Lords Royal of Mendip.
The Mining Forest  laws were applied to the mining of calamine, manganese and ochre in 1773, there were Calamine mines a Red Hill ,which was in the East End.
The  area concerned by the  Forest laws extended to   Shooters Bottom but  the laws were repealed in 1795 when the Mendips were enclosed by an act of Parliament and the land was incorporated into several farms.
 Mining  on the Mendips appears to have ceased by the end of the 18th century but mining was resumed in the mid to late 19th century when the slag from previous working was re-smelted. Most of the ruins  seen in various parts of the Mendips are from this period.
The following are some of the websites hat provide information about the lead mining on the Mendips.,_Somerset
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