of mine workings can be seen across much of central and western Mendip,
especially around Shipham, Charterhouse, Priddy and Stockhill Forest.
Iron, lead, zinc and ochre have all been mined at various times and
places across Mendip. The old mine workings are often characterised
by areas of 'gruffy' ground, a local name for uneven hummocky landscape
created during mining operations. On eastern Mendip, coal mining
was more important.
The ore was dug out from mineral veins known as rakes, which can
be seen as lines of pits and spoil heaps or small rocky ravines around
Charterhouse, Stockhill Forest, Lamb Leer and Shipham, although many
have now been infilled. Locally deeper shafts were sunk to try and
exploit the ore at depth. Around some of these shafts are flat circular
areas of ground marking the position of the horse driven gin (or
winch) used to wind the ore up to the surface.
Once the ore was brought to the surface, it had to be processed before
being smelted. First it was washed and concentrated in circular pits
known as buddles. These small stone-lined convex circular pits once
contained rotating brushes which enabled the ore to be concentrated
by washing the lighter impurities off with water and leaving the
heavy lead ore behind.
Because of the demand for water, the buddles had to be near a reliable
water supply, which is why the ore processing plants were located
at Charterhouse, Smitham Hill and the area around Stockhill Forest.
Here the local geology permits surface drainage. The miners dammed
up these streams and fed the water via leats or culverts to the washing
sites. The concentrated ore was taken to be smelted while the waste
material (known as gangue) such as calcite ended up on the spoil
tip. The waste water was diverted into the nearest convenient swallet
Once the ore was washed and processed, it was smelted, either on
site or elsewhere. However, early smelting techniques were primitive
and much lead was left behind in the slag. In the 18th century, much
better technology was used to re-smelt the old lead rich waste. This
they did using a stream-driven fan which forced hot air over the
slag. The vapourised lead condensed in a series of long horizontal
stone flues where it was removed by hand, a particularly unpleasant
and dangerous job! The remains of the flues, and the accompanying
black glassy slag heaps can be seen at Charterhouse, Priddy and on
Smitham Hill, where the last remaining chimney still stands.
Today, the landscape still bears the scars of mining, but the old
mine workings are now important nature reserves and are of special
historic and scientific interest.