Lead ore in the North Pennines occurs in mineralised veins within the Carboniferous rocks of the area. Until the mid-19th century, exploitation of these ore bodies was mostly confined to surface excavations and vertical shafts. From 1818, mining in the area was controlled by W B Lead Co, a mining company established by the Blacketts, a prominent Newcastle family which had leased mining rights in Weardale from the Bishop of Durham. In 1853, W B Lead began driving the Park Level Mine, which eventually intersected 11 mineral veins. As the mine developed, so also did the surface workings. In 1858 a "mineshop" was built to accommodate the miners; the population density in such a remote area was very low and, until then, miners had been faced with a long daily walk to and from the mine. In 1862, storage bays ("bouse teams") were constructed, to store the raw lead ore (the "bouse"), and washing rakes were installed, in which water was used to separate the lead ore in the bouse from the waste material. In 1878, soon after the mine struck the richest of the veins, the Park Level Mill was brought into operation, to speed up the process of washing the ore. The main feature of the mill was a large waterwheel, the "Killhope Wheel". Not long after the Park Level Mill came into use, the price of lead plummeted, rendering lead-mining in Weardale uneconomic and, in 1883, W B Lead closed all its operations in the district. The Park Level Mine was taken over by another company, Weardale Lead, which continued to operate it until 1910, when production ceased. Between 1818 and 1883, records show that W B Lead extracted over 31,200 tonnes of lead concentrates from the Killhope operations; between 1884 and 1916, Weardale Lead extracted a further 9,000 tonnes. Taking in the period before 1818, for which there are no records, it is thought that total output from Killhope may have exceeded 60,000 tonnes. In addition, 180 tonnes of zinc concentrates were recovered in the 1950s by treatment of some of the waste material.
It must be said that Killhope is a rather depressing name, perhaps why they adopted the alternative North of England Lead Mining Museum. You may go underground on a guided tour. In the largely treeless landscape of the North Pennines the miners did not use wooden supports but dry stone arching to line the tunnel. As you walk through the tunnel the stonework may look recent but, in fact, it is more than 150 years old. In the engine chamber, you will see the 5.5 metre underground waterwheel, which was installed to pump water. This wheel is 36 metres up from the lower levels of the mine and can pump 250 litres of water per minute. Guided tours of the mine take about an hour from kitting up to kitting down. You will be underground for about 45 minutes. Wellingtons are essential as you will be walking through water but we can lend you wellies if you have not brought your own. There is an exhibition showing Life as a Miner. Killhope was one of the most productive lead mines in England in the late 1800s so the exhibition opens with a video exploring minerals and their industrial uses. The Led Here By Lead section also explains why it was the specific geology of the area that led to people choosing to settle at the top end of Weardale. Visitors then make their way into a miner’s kitchen, where items reflecting the everyday life of Victorian miners, who usually combined their work underground with farming, are on display. The mine manager’s drawing room features mineral collections, surveying equipment and scientific treatises, while our country show area offers an insight into the arts and crafts that occupied the miners during their spare time. Killhope’s famous spar box collection is still well represented, with the Eggleston spar box, a two metre tall fantastical display of minerals assembled into a miniature cavern, taking pride of place in the new exhibition. Wheelchair access to the Visitor Centre. Free parking. Designated parking for disabled visitors. Accessible toilets in Visitor Centre and on site. Baby changing facilities are located in the cafe toilet. Trained First Aiders on site Automated Main Doors to the visitor centre. Access to the underground section is limited.
Location : Cowshill, Bishop Auckland, County Durham DL13
Transport: Alston (National Rail) 15 miles. Bishop Auckland (National Rail) then Bus. Weardale Motor Services run a regular bus service through Weardale. Normally this terminates at Cowshill, 2.5 miles east of Killhope, but certain summer services will run to Killhope by request.
Opening Times: Daily 10:30 to 17:00.
Tickets: Adults £8.20. Concessions £7.20. Children (4 - 16) £4.50.
Tel: 01388 537505