Christina White’s lead mining photographs

Lead Mining Rake, Circa 1700-1877, Stockhill Forest, Grid Ref ST 551513

Lead Mining Rake, Circa 1700-1877, Stockhill Forest, Grid Ref ST 551513

White: ‘The scars of mining operations now lie under the canopy of the forest, and like coral covering the wreck of a ship, they are blanketed in a thick carpet of moss, a testament to the hard toil, memories and history of the men who shaped it.’

Christina White‘s printed photographs of Mendip and Stockhill and her hand-printed artist’s book on lead mining take as their subject matter the signs of environmental trauma in forests and woodland. White has also written an MA thesis on the topic; futher information on the photos and their slag-rich landscapes is online here.

‘I use multiple exposures in camera and in post processing to create images which reveal the different layers of history together with the narrative of the industrial past. In a landscape of bronze age barrow cemeteries, swallets and the ‘Priddy Circles’, memories of ritual and myth are signified by the faint and vague horizons, which create a feeling of the sublime. This in turn mythologizes the landscape whose mineral riches were excavated by sometimes violent means, indicated by the visible scars born by this human activity. The act of creating each picture taps into my conscious feeling for the liminality of the landscape and, supported by the visible archaeology, has been inspired by 19th century photographers.’

Christina White’s writing on Stockhill Woods:

The Waldegrave Leadworks, also known as Chewton Minery, occupy the area north of St Cuthbert’s Leadworks and Fair Lady Well in Priddy Minery., encompassing the land called Stockhill. The lead was mined by the Romans and prior to 1700 on an informal basis, individual miners were able to eke out a living, enough to make it worthwhile. From the 1850s, the rights to Chewton Minery were held by Messrs Barwell and Wright who extracted lead from slag. The waste had to be sifted and cleansed in running water before it could be smelted in the furnaces. Mendip is not known for surface running water, and due to the contour of the land, the natural course of the water flowed from Chewton Minery to Priddy Minery, later St Cuthbert’s Leadworks. Barwell proceeded to build a reservoir and dig new channels to divert all the water to it, meaning that Priddy Minery ran dry and became valueless. Ennor, owner to the rights of Priddy Minery, cut open the banks to Barwell’s reservoir to allow the water to resume its natural course. This led to regular fights erupting between miners on both sides and long legal proceedings to determine the natural flow of the water. A dispirited Ennor promptly sold his rights.

The Barwell operation never achieved much success. Although other local mineries were attaining hundreds of tons per annum, the Waldegrave Works were fairly stagnant at around one hundred tons, and in 1868 no return was made at all. The same year, Barwell’s lease was acquired by the ‘Waldegrave Lead Smelting Company’, whose registered offices were at St Austel and whose directors were five Cornishmen. A Mr Francis Bray was put in charge as ‘Captain’ of the leadworks, and under his direction output immediately rose. In 1869 Messrs Kinsman and Bray became attracted by the prospect of working fresh ores on Stockhill, especially iron-ore., but also calamine or lead-ore. They formed the ‘Mendip Hematite and Lead Mining Company’ which bought out the property and plant at the Waldegrave Works for eighteen thousand pounds. Shareholders were hoodwinked as prospects for the future were described in glowing terms. The proposal was to continue dressing and smelting the slags and slime which was “inexhaustible”, and would yield profits which were “not a speculation”. There were “great expectations of raising iron-ore, which would bring even larger profits”. The works were modernised and for a short time there was a marked increase in output at eight hundred and four tons in 1874, and as much as one thousand and forty six tons in 1875, but it fell to one hundred and fifty tons in 1876 and no returns in 1877. The company folded, Captain Bray was still hopeful of making a living out of dressing the slag and slimes in the existing buddles (washing pits) and selling it on for smelting, which he did in partnership with James Brock. The smelting furnace was abandoned and the machinery was put up for sale. There are no remains today, except for evidence of a horizontal flue lying beneath a thick layer of brambles.

The once barren landscape of Stockhill underwent afforestation in 1947. The scars of mining operations now lie under the canopy of the forest, and like coral covering the wreck of a ship, they are blanketed in a thick carpet of moss, a testament to the hard toil, memories and history of the men who shaped it.

Historical reference: ‘The Mines of Mendip’, J.W.Gough – David and Charles 1967

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This entry was published on June 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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