Lead mining has taken place on the Mendips since the Iron Age when Roman ingots from AD 49 were discovered and are now in Wells Museum. Mining took place, not only at Velvet Bottom, Charterhouse, but also at Chewton Mendip. The Mendip Hills Mining Company began work in the Charterhouse area in 1844 using the experience of Cornish miners to drive at least 4 mine shafts over 100 meters deep, one of which is the fenced off shaft near where the Cheddar to Charterhouse road crosses the valley. In 1849 slag rich ground around Blackmoor and Ubley Warren was leased. By 1853 over 300 people were employed, with ten tons per month being produced, but due to financial problems and a drop in the price of lead the site was abandoned in 1885.

In 1867 a group of Cornish miners and engineers started to re-smelt the old slag heaps and set up the The East Harptree Lead Works Company, although it closed in 1875 the remains of the buildings, flumes and reservoir can still be seen, and although the buildings were demolished, the grade 2 listed 70 foot Smitham Chimney – the only one in existence in the south west- can still be seen. Although it was renovated in 1914, it again fell into disrepair until the early seventies when the Society with help from many different sources raised enough money for its renovation.

Yet again in 2001/2003 the derelict site was cleared with the help of the Society’s volunteers and the AONB Warden Les Davies, in order that it could be shown where the flumes were. In 2003 we also erected and dedicated a plaque showing how the site would have looked when it was in use on a typical Mendip winters day, in a gale, with horizontal rain. Luckily Les provided hot drinks and donuts from the AONB trailer to unfreeze us before we left! Last year when dog walking I realised that the site was looking distinctly tired and run down, so contacted Andy Mallender who organises the Rangers for the AONB, and together with help from the Forrestry Commission who supplied replacement fencing, on February 26th the Advanced Rangers with Bob the Society’s secretary replaced all the fencing and generally tidied up . As Andy said “The AONB Advanced Young Rangers had a great day learning a new practical skill replacing the fences at Smitham Chimney and discovering the history of this special site”.

Please take a pleasant morning walk around the site, although on sunless days the wiggly path through the woods can be a bit Hansel & Gretel! And then please let us know what you think of the renovations. There are several welcoming hostelries in the area for refreshment afterwards; some are also pleased to see dogs and horses.

Paul Harley


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Smitham chimney young rangers at work 01 Smitham chimney young rangers at work 02