Geology / History / Lead Mining / Woollens / History & Culture
Towards the end of the last ice age the Stainmore glacier broke through into Swaledale at Telfit, near Marske grinding out the deep channels of Marske beck. As the ice age ended the Glacier slowly melted and the deep hollow known as Telfit became a lake.
A further lake bed is visible near Grinton. The moraine of boulder clay now a grass covered ridge stretching across the dale was deposited as the glacier receded. The moraine formed a dam that trapped the melt waters. The lake covered Grinton and the lower slopes in the vicinity of Reeth.
Telfit is visible in the map below. The glaciated channel can be seen running towards Marske (bottom right):
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Swaledale has not always been the idyllic farming country that it is today for it was once the centre of a thriving lead mining industry that had its origins in the Roman era.
There is little record of prehistoric man although the area was most certainly inhabited. An unusual earthwork exists called Maiden Castle on Harkerside. Almost buried in heather it is of uncertain age. The remains of a Dyke at Fremington may also be seen. The Dyke believed to have been constructed by the Brigantes is thought to have been as a defence against the Roman legions who advanced from the South around 70 AD.
The Romans began or furthered lead mining at Hurst. A pig of lead inscribed with the name of the Emperor Hadrian (of Hadrian's Wall fame 117-138 AD) was found in the heather in the 19th Century. The long straight roads of the area are indicative of Roman occupation.
The Roman legions withdrew as the empire contracted and several centuries later (around 870 AD) the region played host to the Viking hordes who swarmed into Swaledale from the east. A Norse invasion followed shortly after. The Norse used the fells for summer grazing on small farm areas which they called "saetrs". The word changed by use to "seat", "side" or "sett" still survives in various place names such as Lunersett, Gunnerside and Ravenseat.
Following the Norman Conquest the lead industry grown to the point where the metal was exported. The malleable, durable metal was used to roof Alan Rufus's new castle at Richmond and the abbeys of Jervaulx and Easby. In the 14th Century the town walls of Richmond were restored as a defence against marauding Scots. To pay for the restoration a toll of twopence a load was imposed on the merchants who carried lead from the smelting mills on pack horses to Richmond. The town was at this time a thriving stronghold in the midst of a large area laid waste by numerous invaders.
The abbeys of Ellerton and Marrick were established in 1150. The church at Grinton preceded the abbeys however and continued to be the only outpost for the Christian faithful in the dale. The Corpse Way which runs from Keld to Grinton, by way of Ivelet Bridge and Gunnerside is named after the bodies of deceased Christians that were taken along this route to be buried in Grinton's graveyard.
Lead mining reached its peak in the 19th Century. By this time Reeth with a population of 1460 had become the centre. Companies such as Hurst Mining Co. and the Old Gang were prominent. In the 1880's however foreign lead was imported at lower prices and the industry fell into decline. Within a few decades the area returned to farming. Hurst Mining Co did however attempt to re-open a mine in the 1950s but their venture was
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Swaledale's Last Lead Miner
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The earliest mention of a textile worker in Richmond is of Richard son of Gunnild. A tailor or shearman (shearmen crop the nap off cloth after it has been teased with teasels). He acquired half a carucate of land in Tunstall in the late 12th Century. It seems that at this time the industry was becoming established. Peter the Fuller was cited in an assize roll during the reign of King John (1199 to 1215). Henry the Fuller held land in Richmond in 1247 whilst in 1280 Geoffrey the Fuller committed a felony for which he was required to surrender his house in Bargate.
(Fulling causes the fibres to felt together by a process of shrinking and beating with wooden hammers or clubs in order to make the cloth firm and strong. Water mills mechanised the process in the 12th Century).
Swaledale in the 18th century was famous for its home knitted woollens particularly stockings, gloves and sailor caps. Knitting was for many a way of supplementing family income. This "cottage" industry declined with mechanisation and changing fashion as men began to wear long trousers in favour of breeches and stockings.
The Bishop Blaize Inn (located in Richmond's market square) took its name from the patron saint of Armenia who in between curing sore throats invented the technique of combing wool (actually this accreditation is unlikely the connection with wool combing is somewhat more grisly. Follow this link to Saint Blaise for further information). The Inn was the centre of Richmond's knitting industry. It is said that the first pair of stockings to be knitted there were given to Queen Elizabeth (I) in 1560. (See also Rebellion in the North)
Located on Frenchgate is the Grove, the former home of Caleb Readshaw a wealthy wool merchant. The stockings, gloves and cap knitted in the town's "cottage" industry were typically exported, primarily to the Netherlands.
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