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Park and Stride

You are in: Cumbria > Places > Features > Park and Stride > Park and Stride - Eel Crag from Braithwaite

Park and Stride - Eel Crag from Braithwaite

Take a walk onto of the Cumbrian Fells with Mark Richards' Park and Stride series of walks ...

Introducing the Force Crag Mine

The last mineral mine to be working in the Lake District, Scheduled Ancient Monument, geological SSSI and most unusual of National Trust properties. 
By way of a summary Force Crag was mined for lead, and lead only, from 1839 until 1865, and afterwards for barites and zinc intermittently from 1867, until it was finally abandoned in 1991. 

The mill that we see today was built in 1908-9 and redesigned in 1939-40. The mill contains the ore-refining machinery that was in use during the 1980s and until is closed, along with some earlier equipment. 

In the last ten years or so the site has undergone a remarkable transformation. From a relict mining landscape, which few had heard of, and even fewer cared for.  To one of the North West’s most innovative and celebrated heritage sites. 
In the next hour I am going to be saying something about what makes this site special and pointing out a few interesting sites along the way. You will by no means get the full story as that would take days. Instead I am going to tell you a little about one or two of my favourite things.

The Recent History

It is perhaps worth starting by giving you some information regarding the recent history of Force Crag as background, before we start to delve too deeply into the past. 
The National Trust has had the ownership of this particular valley since 1978. At the time the Trust took ownership of the valley Force Crag Mine was a working enterprise, and it continued to work unaffected by the change in land ownership until 1990.
It might be a surprise to some that Force Crag Mine only ceased work in 1990, after the New Coledale Mining Company decided to pull out after a collapse in Level 0 that proved impossible to clear. The mine was finally declared abandoned by the mining inspectorate in the following year. Since that time the mine has been in the care of the

National Trust. 

It is fair to say that no one was clear on exactly what should be done with Force Crag in the years that followed. There were various voices who expressed an opinion that the mining landscape should be swept away and the valley returned to its natural state. I am glad to say that the National Trust recognised the cultural and historic value of Force Crag very early on and a decision was made to conserve and interpret this fascinating site for visitors. 

The story of Force Crag, the National Trust property, really starts in May 1999, when the Trust invited English Heritage to undertake a detailed survey of the surface remains at Force Crag. The aim of the survey was to identify and record the surface archaeology of the mine in great detail and provide the National Trust with the information it required to recognise what was important about the site and move forward with its management.

The Coledale Horseshoe

The Coledale Horseshoe walk diagram

It was as a result of that survey that Force Crag mine was designated a Scheduled Monument by English Heritage.  This means that it is regarded as being a piece of heritage of national importance and is afforded statutory protection in law. You might be interested to know that it was scheduled on the basis of its intrinsic worth as a piece of industrial archaeology and also for the fact that Force Crag is the only former mineral mining site in the country that has retained its processing equipment in something approaching complete order.

Now back in 1999 the mine and mining landscape was subject to all sorts of abuses. The mill buildings were often vandalised and used as overnight accommodation. The mines were being accessed of an occasional basis by groups and objects and material from inside the mine was being removed on an ad-hoc basis. Obviously all of these issued need to be tackled in turn.

Our first job after the English Heritage survey was complete was to stabilise the site and surrounding landscape. The main issue being the spoil heaps and natural scree slopes that sit above the mill.  These had been cut into for roadstone quarrying in the 1960s and there was a danger that overhanging material could collapse and engulf the mill. To avoid this happening machines were brought onto site in 2000 to stabilise the slopes and create a more sustainable gradient. 

The next job was to undertake repairs on the building itself.  This involved making repairs on the brickwork and structural timbers inside the various levels of the mill building. Windows and doors were either repaired or renewed.  The biggest single task was to replace the roofing sheets on the office and mill.  Given the wind and extreme weather that affects this valley this was no small undertaking. Various phases of building work took place between 2001 and 2004. 

Throughout the various phases of building work every effort was made to complete the repairs causing minimum change to the overall appearance of the site. This was to and retain an air of tatty authenticity that Force Crag has always had. One of our main aims during the project was to retain the sense of place the site possessed before we started work and avoid any needless changes that might give the site the feel of a stuffy museum or sanitised heritage centre. 

Once the mill buildings were weather proof and water tight we could then turn our attention to conserving the equipment inside the buildings. This work was undertaken by a firm of specialist metalwork conservators who set about cleaning, oiling and waxing the machinery, conveyers and moving parts to ensure that it did not rust or corrode as it lay idle in this damp atmosphere. 

In some cases machines had been removed or displaced after the mill ceased operation in 1990. As a result some heavy components had to be lifted and returned to their original positions. While this was ongoing the various machines and components were recorded and labelled and an inventory created to enable the condition of the machinery to be monitored in the future. You might see the inventory labels hanging from the machines as you walk around inside the mill.

The project to record and conserve the machinery and equipment inside the processing mill was truly challenging.  However, the team from Context Engineering, working under the direction of Tim Martin did just that. The approach taken at Force Crag was seen by the conservation industry to be so good that it was nominated for the National Conservation Awards and was eventually awarded first prize at a ceremony held at the British Museum last November!

The final stage of the project was to get in ready for public access. The first task was to make the mill buildings safe for public access.  This involved installing new steps and reinforcing existing gantries and platforms so that people had safe access to all parts of the mill. A new lighting system also needed to be installed so people could move around in safety.

While this was ongoing work started on the interpretation for the site. The interpretation for the site was designed in four parts; a leaflet, the display boards, the flip books and the actual tours themselves. 

The first visitors passed through the door in 2004, although last year was our first year of running at full capacity.  Access to Force Crag Mill is through a booking system with groups of 14 or so being given the tour by our team of wonderful volunteers who have developed a tremendous knowledge of the site. 

There are three tours left to run in the remainder of the year.  8th July, 10th August, 2nd Sept. Bookings can be made by calling the National Trust’s Borrowdale Property Office on 017687 74649. Further details about conservation work at Force Crag can be found on the websites of the National Trust and English Heritage.

last updated: 28/04/2008 at 15:40
created: 22/06/2006

You are in: Cumbria > Places > Features > Park and Stride > Park and Stride - Eel Crag from Braithwaite

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