A project collecting the tales of fluorspar miners
Memories from the men and women who worked in a once-flourishing North Pennine industry are being captured for posterity as part of a heritage project being run by the North Pennines AONB Partnership and the Friends of Killhope.
At its height, fluorspar mining was one of the main employers in Weardale, Allendale and the Rookhope and Derwent Valleys.
Iconic North Pennine mineral
Fluorspar is the commercial name for fluorite, one of the most iconic minerals found in the North Pennines. In the 19th century it was regarded as a waste product of lead mining but by the 20th century it had become valuable for the steel and chemical industries and many old lead mines were reworked for it, while new mines were opened up.
As well as being used in the steel and chemical industries, many people also realised the beauty of the colourful mineral and it became a popular material that was often used to decorate homes and gardens.
While the area’s lead mining heritage has been researched and recorded at Killhope, the North of England Lead Mining Museum, relatively little is known about fluorspar mining.
Keeping mining memories alive
This partnership project is about keeping the memories of fluorspar mining alive, and last year local heritage interpreter Neil Diment was commissioned to start gathering the stories of those involved in the industry.
Throughout the winter, Neil has been recording fascinating interviews with miners, managers, geologists, surface processors, and their families, and has uncovered a wealth of information, photographs and films.
He said: “Hundreds of people were employed in this industry in the North Pennines but there is hardly any written information out there about it. We all know about the area’s lead mining legacy but fluorspar seems to have been largely forgotten about.
“Throughout the project I’ve been lucky enough to hear some fascinating stories from some wonderful people. It’s been a real privilege.”
To mark the completion of the first stage of what is hoped will become a wider celebration of the industry, an evening dedicated to fluorspar mining is being held at St John’s Chapel Town Hall on Friday, May 10.
A chance to see an old mining film
As well as a display of some of the many photographs collected by Neil throughout the project, there will be a rare opportunity to see a 1974 TV documentary ‘New Life in Old Veins’ – about fluorspar mining in Weardale. This is a fascinating glimpse of the dale forty years ago, when mining was booming and its future looked bright. Weardale people will recognise some familiar faces!
The evening will provide a chance to say thank you to those who have already taken part in the project but Neil also hopes other local people with their own fluorspar tales to tell will turn up.
Recordings and photos will be stored at Killhope Museum and Beamish Museum so that they will be accessible to everyone for future generations.
Join us to remember
The film is being shown at 7.30pm and the evening is expected to finish by 9pm. The event is free (with a £2 donation if people want tea and biscuits). No booking is required.
Released: 11 April 2013