Sunday, 18 December 2016

Groverake Mine, Weardale, County Durham

Welcome to another blog entry at

A few months ago I found out about an abandoned mine on the outskirts of County Durham. I asked my friend Wikipedia for a brief insight to Groverake and this is what he came back with ...

The Groverake mine site is pretty much located at the convergence of three major veins, Greencleugh, Groverake and Red. The Burtree Pasture vein also continues to this point.
Mining at Groverake probably started in the 18th century, but it was the Beaumont Company who first developed major mining operations at the site at the end of the 1810's and they continued working the mine until the early 1880's. They drove adits and the two major shafts on the site that reached the Great Limestone. At their time they where mining for lead ore, but this was not that successful in terms of output. When the Weardale Lead Company took over the mine in the mid 1880's they had more success with mining for lead and they also mined for fluorspar. The spar operations had problems in the removal of silica and this limited its success. The mine changed hands a number of times until the 1940's.

It was not until the Second World War when the Blanchland Fluor Mines Ltd took over operations and eventually British Steel Corporation that the production of fluorspar ramped up with improved treatment techniques. These companies took Groverake to being the leading fluorspar producer in the ore field. British Steel drove a new level and extended the existing shafts. The Rake level was re-driven to give access to the upper levels of the veins and the Firestone level driven for access to the lower levels. The Drawing Shaft was sunk further into the Great Limestone to a depth of 91m. The Whimsey Shaft was sunk to the Three Year Limestone to a total depth of 165m.

In the late 1980's the Weardale Minerals and Processing Company acquired the mine, but in 1991 its parent company went into receivership resulting in another change of hands. The mine was then operated by Sherburn Minerals and worked until 1999. At the time of its final closure, Groverake was the last commercial fluorspar mine operating in the North Pennines.

The site is approximately a one hour drive from my home, through the heart of County Durham and into the sticks that is the countryside of Weardale. There is still remnants of our mining heritage scattered around the county today, and the route to Groverake exposed quite a few ruins and reminders of yesteryear, which was fascinating to see. This was my first visit into Weardale with the camera, so I was quite excited to make some pictures of the area, especially Groverake Mine, which was the focal point of this visit. I drove through Stanley, Annfield Plain and Tow Law, before closing in on Frosterley, Eastgate and Rookhope. From here it was only a short drive to the mine, passing the ruins of Wolf Cleugh Farm, along the valley. We parked at the top of the valley that overlooks the site, which is dominated by the remaining winding gear, which was a rusting hulk of structure that had withstood the test of time.

As the site is public access, it was a simple case of undoing the latch on  the gate before walking down the bank and into an olde worlde existence, despite its desolation. You could almost hear a pin drop. I stood for a moment to reflect. I almost felt like I'd been transported back through the decades to a time when this place was thriving. I could almost hear the noise of workers and the smell of industry, the operation in full flow, just as it would have been. Horses and carts, bellowing chimneys on the nearby stone houses. Then I reminded myself for a split second ... of the death that happened in 1989, and my work was not done. It was almost a pilgrimage of sorts, a visit to understand what went on here and why it no longer operates. A sign of the times, let there be no doubt. Time stops for no man.

I explored the site for an hour or so, often sitting down and simply looking at what lay before me. I could here the loose corrugated metal rattling every time the wind got up, which added to the feeling that was quite sad in a way. The workers quarters stood to my left, minus a roof, plus a set of lockers. On closer inspection I noticed reminders of the past, including an old pair of steel capped boots, cigarette boxes, clocking in cards and a bash hat. Rafters above my head threatened to collapse at any given moment - that was obvious. Not wanting to become a victim, I got out of there and continued to explore. This place was going take more than one or even two visits to get around properly, so I took a few shots and made my way back to the car. It was indeed an eye-opener, a fascinating place steeped in mining history. I must return and return soon. Unfinished business!