Page last updated 31/05/07











Raymond C. Thompson








I have compiled this small account of the Healeyfield lead mine for several reasons.

Firstly to put into more easily accessible form some of the details of what was a significant and very important local industry for hundreds of years.

Also to highlight aspects of the subject that seem to be overlooked or unknown. For example, although Healeyfield is known as a lead mine, how many realise it also yielded large quantities of silver? In the thirty six years from 1853, 108,336 ozs. of silver were produced! Think of it-- our very own silver mine! At Castleside?...... YES!

Last but not least, to put together some of the stories and memories of local people and stimulate interest and discussion, hopefully among young and old.

Ray Thompson March 1999




Healeyfield Lead Mine was situated at Dene Howl, about half a mile west from the crossroads at Castleside. The mine closed in 1891 after a long history, dating back 800 years according to some records. In any case there is no doubt the mine is very ancient. It has been owned by the Dean and Chapter of Durham and at one time supplied the Durham mint with silver. It also had connections with the ill-fated Earl of Derwentwater who was beheaded in London on the 24th. of February 1716 for his part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

The farmhouse at Dene Howl was built around 1700 by a Mr. Shirley who was one of the party which brought the decapitated body of the Earl of Derwentwater back to Dilston for burial, the party staying overnight at Dene Howl on their journey north. Mr. Shirley bequeathed the house to a Mr. Matthew Eggleston, great-grandfather of Mr. T. C. Elliott, a well known local preacher in the early 1900's. The Elliott family continued to live there until quite recently.

On the road to the mine, near the farm in a little valley, stands an old larch tree planted by Mr. Shirley. John Wesley preached under it to the assembled lead miners on June 1st. 1772. The chair used by John Wesley at the event was in the possession of a Castleside family for many years.

Lead veins do not lie horizontally but run vertically or nearly so, extending perhaps hundreds of feet in depth and up to several miles in distance. The Healeyfield vein, which the mine worked, ran in a roughly north / south direction.

At Dene Howl, the original mine was probably the level (tunnel) which was driven south for a distance of 4,500 feet, following the vein. The entrance was under the road at the sheep pens opposite the farmhouse and was called the 'Horse Level' because ponies drew the tubs of ore in it. It passed under the conifer wood which shelters Healeyfield farm and then continued south to the valley of Charlton Howl where a shaft reached the surface some 200 yards west of the old Healeyfield Bridge, known as the 'Cuckoo Bridge'. Another level was driven north from Dene Howl, for a distance of 800 feet.

In addition to those two levels, there was a mine shaft, called the Whitwell shaft, 60 fathoms deep, (a fathom is 6 feet.) from which various levels were driven north and south at different depths to follow the vein. The Whitwell shaft was 360 feet deep. Compare this depth to the height of Howns Gill viaduct which is 186 feet. The Dene Howl shaft is twice as deep as the height of the Gill bridge!

The shaft was never filled in but was only covered with a concrete 'cap' some years ago. Before that it remained open, with an easily climbed wall around it. As lads I remember we used to drop heavy stones down it and wait to hear the great hollow booming and crashing sounds echoing eerily through the long-abandoned workings seconds later, as the stones plunged into the deep water at the bottom of the shaft. Now my blood runs cold at the thought.

One hundred and ninety feet down the shaft a level was driven north for a distance of 4,000 feet. It emerged under a crag at the side of the River Derwent. This was the 'Derwent Level' but Castlesiders invariably called it the 'Low Level', even extending the name to the attractive stretch of river near the level's opening, once a popular swimming place. (Some Castleside people will remember a suspension footbridge, called the 'Swing Bridge', which crossed the Derwent here. It was built for the woodmen who worked in the area. The Swing Bridge collapsed when a group of Castleside lads over-enthusiastically 'swung' it to destruction------pitching the culprits into the river, all in their 'Sunday best'!)

The Derwent or 'low level' was not the lowest of the mine. At 350 feet down, a level was driven north for 250 feet and south for 1,940 feet. That was the real 'low level', 165 feet below the other one. Others left the shaft at various depths. (See drawing.)

Several stone buildings stood around the shaft but now only the old engine-house remains. It is a square two-storied building with bricked­up arched openings where the ropes from the winding engine passed through to headgear over the shaft. An old photograph shows a high square chimney at the engine house but it must have been demolished years ago.

Sadly, nothing is known of the engine. Who was the maker? What type was it? What happened to it?

The mine buildings were dismantled and the stone was used to build some of the houses in Maudville, in Castleside. A timber bridge carried a tramline over the road and the waste from the mine was taken to a nearby spoil heap, now covered in trees and other vegetation. Just slightly down the road from the bridge was the mine's blacksmith's shop which stood for many years but finally collapsed a few years ago.

The ore from the mine was taken to the washing and dressing plant, about a quarter of a mile down the valley, along the road which runs past the farm. It was tipped into stone hoppers and then taken to be crushed and dressed ready for smelting into lead at the smelt mill at Castleside.

The washing plant was quite extensive but is now in ruins. It is difficult to appreciate the full scale as the remains are obscured by dense undergrowth. The dominant feature of the 'washings' as they were known, was two very large water-wheels which provided the power for the crushing and dressing machines. The water-wheels were unusual in that they were enclosed, probably to protect them from the wind.

The wheels were supplied with water from a pond in the field above the farm, next to a barn which is still in use. The pond, which no longer exists, was fed with water by an aquaduct or leat, from a dam at Horsleyhope Mill on the Stanhope road, over two miles away. This leat can still be followed for most of its course except where it ran underground. Given the apparent lie of the land, it seems impossible that water could flow along the channel. An impressive feat of hydraulic engineering which surely deserves wider recognition.

Just after leaving Horsleyhope the leat passes an arched open level in the hillside, this was a 'trial' level, driven to explore for the vein west of Healeyfield, but apparently without success.

Other ponds which supplied water to the 'washings' can be seen below the farm and these still contain water.

Another very large pond, now drained, was at the side of the track near where the 'black path' from Castleside comes out of the wood and joins the Dene Howl track.

A very interesting feature of the washing plant was a tramline which ran from the 'washings' to the 'low level' at the river Derwent. Two tramlines ran along the hillside, one for full tubs coming up from the low level and one for the empty ones returning. The two lines merge and the single tramline runs along the fields, crossing the Foxholes, Derwent Grange road before continuing down to the river. They can be clearly seen from Castleside, especially from one of the pubs!

The tramline was spectacularly routed along a platform built into the side of a cliff above the river, before curving to the left to enter the mine at the low level. It must have been a very heavy pull for the horses bringing full tubs of lead ore up from the river to the 'washings'.

The low level, which is on private land, is still open, with a stream running from it. To see the entrance is to marvel at the fortitude and endurance of the lead miners who toiled in such places. They truly were a very special breed. An old gentleman who had lived in Castleside all his life once told me that when he was a boy he and his friends would go down to the low level after school to swim and then meet their fathers who would take them through the low level to ride up in the cage at Dene Howl and then home.

After the ore was washed and prepared it was then taken to the mill for smelting. There was a very old mill at Mill Bottom, where Fir Dene cottage is now. This is referred to on old maps as 'New Mill', which certainly indicates another even earlier mill.

The Watergate smelt mill was opened in 1805 by a Mr. T. F. Featherstone, its annual production then being 2,000 'bings' of lead and some silver. (A 'bing' of lead is 8 cwt.) When the Stanhope & Tyne railway opened in 1834 lead ore was brought from other mines for smelting.

It had a very large and complex flue system designed for the recovery of lead and silver residues which were carried away from the furnaces and then deposited on the walls of the flues to be collected later. A very dirty job and one that was very hazardous from the highly poisonous substances also present in the deposits.

A high square brick chimney which was a landmark for miles around, stood in the field above the mill to create the necessary draught to draw the smoke and gases from the furnaces through the flues. (Inquisitive strangers who asked about the large chimney were usually told it was the Castleside Jam Factory! In Consett, jam was sarcastically known as 'Castleside Ham'. But that is another story!) The chimney was demolished just after the second world war and many of the bricks were used to build new houses in Watergate Road, Castleside.

The mill used a water wheel to drive the bellows for the furnaces. The water was stored in the nearby mill pond which was fed from the Watergate Burn by a mill-race which still carries water from a sluice gate up the burn----the 'WATERGATE'!

Watergate has its own bit of history; it was the birthplace of JOHN CARR D.LL. Scholar and translator of 'LUCIEN' from the Greek. He was born at Watergate in 1732. He became headmaster of Hertford Grammar School and was a poet of some repute. He died in Hertford in 1807.

A link with the old lead mining days of Castleside is the pub named the 'Smelter's Arms', originally it was in Front Street in what is now a private house. The name had nothing to do with the Consett Iron Works, as may be supposed, but refers to the lead smelters of the village.

The social character and culture of Castleside during its lead mining days was probably more akin to the Pennine dales and lead­mining communities to the west than to Consett, some of the lead miners and their families originally coming from those other lead­mining areas.

A lovely and fascinating insight into the Healeyfield community can be gleaned from two old newspaper reports of a presentation at the mine to the manager, a Cornishman, Captain John Trelease on May 31st, 1889. (1 understand mine managers were given the title 'Captain' in Cornwall.)

The reports are reproduced on the next two pages. They give the flavour of a unique occasion held one hundred and ten years ago at Dene Howl. As you read them picture the gathering at the scene and try to imagine you were there..............

The article below is re-typed from an old cutting from a local newspaper. The date is thought to be May 31st. 1889. The identity of the newspaper is not known.

THE PRESENTATION AT HEALEYFIELD. Yesterday afternoon, at an open-air gathering held in the dell where the mine is situated, the presentation of a testimonial to Capt. John Trelease, the retiring manager of the Healeyfield Lead Mine was made. Ald. Hindmarsh, Gateshead, one of the directors, presided, and there were present Mr. J. V. Walton, Witton-Ie­Wear, Mr. Reid, Newcastle; Mr. J. W. Davison and Mr. W. Davison, Consett; Mr. Robert Robson, Castleside; Mr. T. J. Muse, Castleside House; the Rev. G. J. Walker, Castleside; several ladies, the workmen of the mine, and others.

Mr. C. W. HARRISON, Newcastle, secretary of the Company, read an interesting history of the mine, stating that it had been worked for 800 years. The present company, he stated, had come into possession in 1882, and had spent in plant and in developing the mine over £25,000.

The CHAIRMAN said the Healeyfield mine was in a beautiful situation, and it was a pleasure to be at an open-air meeting of that kind. He had to congratulate alike the workmen the shareholders, and the directors with the prospect that was before them with reference to that mine. He was assured by Capt. Trelease that the mine had never looked better than it did now. There was an excellent account given of the mine that morning in one of the local papers---the Daily Chronicle - which he was very glad to see. The mine was an old one, and if they went back in its history they would find that a gentleman who once figured in that district as a very important individual used to visit it. He alluded to the unfortunate Earl of Denventwater who was beheaded. The Earl was then the owner of the mine, and when he visited it, he used to dine, he was informed, with a farmer in the neighbourhood. The mine, he was now glad to know, was likely to be a financial success. They had had a great deal to contend with, and had spent a great deal of money to carry on their work so far, but they had now got to the end of their difficulties in that direction. He trusted they would soon be able to raise as much ore as would pay for working the mine, and that afterwards they would be able to have excellent dividends. (Applause.)

They had met that day on both a pleasant and a sad occasion--it was pleasant because they were going to give to Capt. Trelease an acknowledgement of their respect and esteem for his character. He was sure there was not one there or one amongst the shareholders but would speak with the utmost respect and regard of the Captain, and he was certain that he possessed the full confidence of the directors in the management of that mine. (Cheers.) The occasion was sad because Captain Trelease was about to part from them. He was going to a more important and lucrative position in Newfoundland, and he hoped that his future would be bright, prosperous and successful. (Cheers.)

Mr. T. J. MUSE, in a warm-hearted speech, in which he spoke of Captain Trelease's integrity of character, then presented Captain Trelease with a handsome gold watch and albert, subscribed for by a few friends, and the directors and workmen of the mine.

The watch, which was supplied by Messrs. Reid and Sons, Newcastle, bore a suitable inscription. Captain Trelease, who was received with cheers, thanked all who had subscribed for the handsome present. He felt satisfied that his employers and workmen appreciated the manner in which he had done his duty, and he would prize their gift for the sake of those who gave it as it appeared to have a genuine ring about it. He would never forget the kindness which he and his family had received from the workmen, neighbours and friends in that part of the county of Durham. (Cheers.)

Mr. WALTON and Mr. DAVISON having addressed the meeting, Messrs. D. DALKIN and THOS. WILKINSON spoke on behalf of the men and expressed the regret the workmen felt at losing so kind-hearted and so respected a manager.

The Rev. G. J. WALKER presented Mr. Henry Trelease with a gold appendage, subscribed for by the church choir and the young people of Castleside.

The proceedings terminated with votes of thanks.

The report below, is thought to be the account of the mine in the Daily Chronicle which is referred to in the previous newspaper article. The cutting from which it was copied is very difficult to read and some words have therefore had to be guessed' These are printed in italic

AN OLD DURHAM INDUSTRY. THE HEALEYFIELD LEAD MINE. To-day, Captain John Trelease, who has had the entire management of the Healeyfeld Lead Mine for nine years, will practically sever his connection with that place. Two years out of the nine were spent in the service of former proprietors of the mine, and seven years have been spent by him as manager for the Healeyfeld Mining Company, Limited, which has its offices in Newcastle. The captain is a popular man in the Castleside district, and advantage is to be taken of his departure to present him with a testimonial of the regard in which he is held. His obliging son, Mr. Henry Trelease, will also be the recipient of a small testimonial from the members of the neighbouring church choir, and at the interesting proceedings some of the directors and shareholders of the Healeyfield Mining Company are expected to be present.

The mine over which Capt. Trelease has exercised a vigilant control during the past nine years has a great local interest on account of its age, for its history dates back to a period long before the extensive iron works at Consett were dreamt of, and ante-dates many of the other prominent industries to be found at that part of the county of Durham. It is situate in one of the loveliest parts o£ the County Palatine: within a stone's throw of the picturesque valley of Castleside, and distant three or four miles west of Consett, the Healeyfeld Lead Mine is situate almost in the centre of a wood. At any rate, heavily wooded banks are to be found on the south, west, and northern sides of it, and the approach from the east is through a small thicket until the open valley has been reached. Here the timbered huts of the miners, with two larger more substantial dwellings, stand beneath the tall trees of as pretty a district as Durham can boast of, and here the most striking object that meets the gaze is an enormous wheel, rapidly revolving at the end of a gangway, while further on the grey shale of what may be termed the pit heap forms a not unpleasing contrast to the green background nature has formed. How long the old mine has remained in this picturesque spot is a matter largely for conjecture. Some of the best known gazetteers state that the lead mines in Durham were principally begun at the time of Edward VI. But a still greater antiquity is claimed for the Healeyfield Mine, some asserting that its origin as a mine in one form or another must go back as far as eight centuries ago. Be that as it may, it is quite certain that in past times a good deal of ore has been taken from the Royalty, which belongs to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

An interesting fact connected with the old mine lies in the circumstance that it has been entirely worked during the past centuries in the millstone grit, which is the dividing line between the coal measures and the lead measures. The speculation that the Healeyfield Mining Company took in hand, when it was commenced seven years ago, was to sink a shaft 60 fathoms deep and drive underneath the old ore ground, the old ore having been worked out down to the water level. The company have now sunk an engine shaft 60 fathoms deep, and after driving along they have got a continuation of the ore in depth. The ore they have had for the last 30 fathoms in driving is very rich in silver, and they believe that this is the beginning of a long line of ore ground.

The mine is worked at present by both a shaft and a drift from the hillside, and some 30 to 40 men are employed. The ore is removed in tubs to the smelting furnace, the vicinity of which is indicated by a very tall chimney about half a mile away. The Healeyfield Lead Mine, as the remarks above will have shown, is now in a promising state, and the prospect before the company is believed to be much better than ever it has been. How much of this is due to Captain Trelease's exertions it is not for us to say, but it is quite clear from the respect that is being paid to the departing manager that the company value highly his past services and regret deeply the severance that is about to take place.

Captain Trelease leaves the district to take the control and the entire management of the Le Manche Mining Grant of 100 square miles in Newfoundland and in his task of discoverer of minerals there he will go with the warmest wishes for success from his many friends and admirers in the North of England.

Those reports of Captain Trelease's intended departure raise interesting questions, perhaps even some dark suspicions! At the presentation many high hopes and expectations had been expressed for the future of the mine, (after much capital investment) and Captain Trelease himself announced that the mine had never been in better shape.

Yet despite the great optimism at the presentation, the mine closed just over a year later. Cynics might wonder why the good Captain had decided, to leave if the prospects were as bright as he claimed? Had he known something that no one else did ? Such thoughts are unjustified and unworthy. A headstone in Castleside old cemetery gives a sad clue to John Trelease's decision to leave and make a new start. The headstone reads:




 MAY 5th. 1889



DECR. 23rd. 1894



So there we have it. The retirement presentation to John Trelease was held a mere twenty six days after his poor wife's death. There was no reference to his wife in the newspaper reports, which is understandable in the circumstances. Captain Trelease said in his speech that ........... He would never forget the kindness which he and his family had received from the workmen, neighbours and friends in that part of the county of Durham." Perhaps a reference to the support he had received in his sad bereavement?

Captain John Trelease was evidently a very popular and highly respected man as well as being an expert on mining. Did he go to Newfoundland ? If he did, how successful was he in his "..... task of discoverer of minerals there."? Why did he return to Cornwall where he died aged only 53, just four and a half years after leaving Castleside? Has he any descendents still alive? (and what happened to the gold watch!)

The newspaper accounts also say that a Messrs. D. Dalkin and Thos. Wilkinson spoke on behalf of the men. Another headstone in Castleside cemetery reads in part:

WHO DIED AUG. 14th. 1908

It is likely this is the Thos. Wilkinson who spoke on behalf of the men at the presentation. His age and the dates are appropriate. The Wilkinson's are a well-known and respected Castleside family. They were lead miners who came originally from Ramshaw and there are still members of the Wilkinson family living in the village.

I end this short account of Healeyfield Lead Mine on this human note because it provides historical continuity--- linking us today with the lives and achievements of local people many years ago; for there are those in the area whose forefathers worked in the Healeyfield mine and its 'washings' and smelt mills----- though some may not realise it.

These things should not be forgotten. It is sad that the name of Captain John Trelease is unknown now in Castleside, yet in the days of the mine 'the Captain' must have been a legend. Our youngsters no longer swim at the 'Low Level' as we so happily did and they cannot come home through the level and ride up the shaft with their fathers. It seems especially sad that if instead of those real adventures they are now rivetted to fantasy computer games.

Mind you, it's a good job there's no longer an open 360 foot shaft with 165 feet of water in its depths for them to play around!



I gratefully acknowledge the following sources of some of the information in this booklet:

'The Geology of the Northern Pennine Orefield'
K. C. DUNHAM, D.Sc., Ph.D., S.D., M. Inst. M.M.

The writings of Mr. F. WADE.

Thanks are also due to Mr. George Robson and Mr. Stan Wilkinson of Castleside and Mr. Ken Davison, Headmaster, Castleside Primary School.

Published and printed by R. C. Thompson

 'Mown Meadows'
Watergate Road
Consett. DH8 9QS

March 1999


Reproduced by kind permission of Mr R.C. Thompson © Reserved

See also Healeyfield Lead Mine and Smelter by the Northern Mines Research Group