© Copyright Hugh Mortimer and licensed for
Lead mining and smelting was big business in and around the Pennines in days gone by. There are remnants of the industry scattered far and wide across the landscape of the North-East – from the distant hill-tops down to the staithes on the region’s rivers. ‘Lead roads’ snaked between the smelting mills in the towns and villages of the foothills down to the waiting boats on the Tyne and the Wear – a large, if minority, business which has long since passed into history.
Most conspicuous of all these relics is the distinctive smelting chimney: a giant stone tower sitting atop a lofty prominence on a distant horizon. If you’re out and about in lead mining country you will still see plenty of these around, even if they are usually in a ruinous state. Connecting these chimneys to their often very distant smelting mill there would have been a conducting flue which carried the poisonous fumes up into the hills and belching out into the atmosphere.
One splendid, and quite complete, example of this landmark stands tall and proud just outside the little village of Copley, above the River Gaunless in Co.Durham. It was the exhaust pipe of the Gaunless Valley Lead Mill, and is of sandstone construction with ashlar dressing. The mill operated from 1790 to 1880, though the chimney dates from 1832 and now stands in splendid isolation amidst the delightfully named Gibbsneese Plantation. You can’t miss it.