Coniston community and volunteers work to save historic artefacts

A 400 year-old copper mine bolstered by Queen Elizabeth I and a lynchpin in establishing industries of the Empire has galvanised a Lake District community into action.
At risk of continuing decline and dereliction, Coniston copper mines were thrown a half million pound lifeline from the Heritage Lottery Fund to repair and stabilise important industrial heritage.

This week Lake District National Park (LDNP) volunteers have been at Tilberthwaite as part of the two-year mission to survey spoil heaps, buildings, mine workings, wheel pits and processing areas.

At the same time, Heritage Consolidation Ltd, experts in conserving ancient structures, are carrying out essential work in a bid to get sites off the Heritage at Risk register.

LDNP archaeologistEleanor Kingston, said the project had seen huge interest, enthusiasm and commitment to help from the people of Coniston and beyond.

She explained: “All our work days are fully subscribed to and during the current three-week phase we will see 120 days of volunteering. Village schools are on board too and we are delighted by the levels of support.

“We have been repairing processing mills at Upper Bonsor and Penny Rigg. Buildings and waterwheels here were used to power stamp mills, where ore was crushed, as well as jigs, which separated ore and waste stone.

“Also being repaired is a launder tower in the Red Dell valley, built to support water moving operations.

“Without this work, we would lose nationally significant archaeological remains and fail in our targets of getting the copper mines off the At Risk register. Although the site is protected as a scheduled monument, it is at risk and has been slowly degrading.”

Volunteer, Geoffrey Cowell, said it was a compelling challenge to unravel the layers of history at a very important site.

He added: “Working in some of the harsh weather conditions experienced by miners, it is very satisfying preserving this heritage for future generations.”

Another volunteer and industrial archaeology enthusiast, Bob Mayow said it was giving something back to the Lake District he loved.

He explained: “It’s an evocative place to be and easy to imagine the hardships endured by those who worked here. The lives of those men who carved out this incredible landscape were harsh and unrelenting in every way.”

Eleanor paid tribute to the unstinting commitment of volunteers and said a results day would be organised to share their successes. All information will go on to the Historic Environment Record where it can be viewed by the public.

A special mining day gets underway at Coniston Boating Centre on Friday 14 July. Further information about the project on www.conistoncopper.co.uk Picture shows volunteers at Tilberthwaite working to preserve the nationally important industrial heritage.