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Lead mining was a major industry in the mining field between Grassington and Greenhow from at least the middle ages up to about 1900, as indeed it was in parts of Swaledale. However, despite the fact that we know lead was in use in Yorkshire during the Iron Age and both the Roman and Saxon periods, there is no direct evidence of lead mining in Yorkshire before the 12th century. Bayley lists Greenhow in her list of Roman metalworking sites in Yorkshire (Bayley, 2002, p105) based on a Roman attribution by Davies of old slag found at Greenhow (Davies 1935, p.164), but in the author’s opinion it would be wise to treat this attribution with some caution. The only firm evidence that we have for Roman lead mining comes from finds of lead pigs (ingots), three from Nidderdale/Wharfedale and two from Swaledale, although they give no clue as to the precise locations of the Roman mine workings. Bearing in mind the intensive mining in both areas from the 17th to 19th centuries, it is highly likely that any Roman workings have long since been destroyed, but we can live in hope!

The two best known lead ingots were found in 1731 or 1735 (accounts vary) beside an old trackway near the hamlet of Heyshaw (Grainge 1863, p.5,  Raistrick 1960 p.9). One was given to the British Museum and the other remained in the possession of the Ingilby family at Ripley Castle until being sold quite recently; it was sold again in 2007 for a staggering £36,000. They were found by accident, apparently buried upright in the ground, when a countryman’s horse slipped when its foot fell into a hole covered with heather. The ingots are almost identical, measuring about 58.5cm long, by 13.5cm wide, by 10cm deep and weighing 70kg, both bearing the inscription IMP(ERATORE) CAES(ARE) DOMITIANO AUG(USTO) CO(N)S(ULE) VII with BRIG(ANTICUM) inscribed on one side, giving them a date of AD81. A further ingot was reputedly found in 1860 near Nussey Knott “hidden amongst the stones of the moor” (Raistrick 1960, p.9), find spot unknown, approx SE082636 , about 6 kilometres west of Heyshaw. This one was apparently marked “Trajan” (AD98 - AD117), although it is now lost, presumably melted down. According to some accounts it was also marked BRIG EX ARG, indicating it’s origin, and that it had either had silver removed, or that it came from the silver works - take your pick. It is also said to have weighed a mere 88lbs, only half the usual weight, so perhaps it was incomplete.

Neither of the find sites is close to the main mining area of Greenhow, from which we can deduce that the pigs were either stolen and hidden, which seems most likely for the Nussey Knott ingot, or lost in transit. Local folklore has  developed suggesting, because the heyshaw pigs were buried vertically, that they fell from the pannier of a pack horse whilst on route from Greenhow to join the Roman road from Ilkley to Aldborough. However, if you were going from Greenhow to join that road, Heyshaw Bank is quite out of the way, and so if they were “lost” it seems more likely that they were en route to the River Nidd for transportation downstream to Aldborough, York or Brough. Further evidence of Roman activity near Pateley Bridge, and possibly related to mining, came in 1868 when Thomas Jackson found a Roman coin hoard in Tom Taylor’s Cave, Howstean Gorge, near Pateley Bridge (a natural cave, not adjacent to any known mine). Many years later he recounted “I was a small boy when I found a small coin. I took it to the school and was showing it to the other boys, when t’maister calls out “What have you got there, Tom?” So he maks me tak it up to ‘im an’ he taks it away. “Oh”, says he, looking at it. “I’ll tak it to be magnified.” An’ its been magnifying yet.” (Burnley, 2000, p.67). The entire hoard contained 25 denarii plus 4 bronze coins, Nero to Hadrian (Speight 1894, p.432). If this was indeed a major mining area in the Roman Period, one might expect a fortified site of some sort, and yet no Roman sites are known in the area, except possibly for Castlestead a mile or so downstream from Pateley Bridge. The Victorian antiquary William Grainge, a local man, believed that there was a Roman camp which was largely destroyed during the building of a Victorian Mansion; however no Roman artifacts were found during it’s construction or have been since (Grainge, 1863, p.63).

Mike Haken 2014


Bayley, Justine, 2002, “Non-ferrous Metalworking in Roman Yorkshire” in Wilson P & Price J Eds. 2002 “Aspects of Roman Industry in Yorkshire and the North” Oxford: Oxbow Books

Burnley, John, 2000,  “Nidderdale, Walks History & Heritage”, Wilmslow: Sigma Press

Davies, O, 1935,  “Roman Mines in Europe”, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Grainge, William, 1863,  “Nidderdale: or an Historical, Topographical, and Descriptive Sketch Of The Valley of the Nidd” London p.5

Raistrick, A., 1931, “A Pig of Lead, with Roman inscription, in the Craven Museum”, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 30: 181-2.

Raistrick, A  & Jennings, B, 1965, “A History of Lead Mining in the Pennines” London: Longmans

Raistrick A, 1960,“The Romans in Yorkshire”  Clapham: Dalesman Books

Speight, H, 1894. “Nidderdale, and the Garden of the Nidd” - A Yorkshire Rhineland” London

A Small Denarius Hoard from Wakefield, Updated 27/1/11 http://www.forumancientcoins.com/lateromancoin age/wakefield/wfd.html; accessed 1/1/14

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Swaledale Roman Lead Mining
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The two lead pigs (cast AD81) found at Heyshaw Bank in 1731; click on the images to enlarge