Over a period of 20 years, Ian Tyler has written a series of books on the metalliferous mining industry of the English Lake District and this has clearly been a significant labour of love for him. Unfortunately, Roughton Gill and the Mines of the Caldbeck Fells is probably his last – the result of the sad loss of his wife and collaborator in this project – but he has now created an extraordinary record of the geological economic activity in this part of the world.
And anyone, who loves a well-written tome with stories to tell, will appreciate this obscure book on such an obscure subject. The reason for this is that, at the same time as relaying huge amounts of information about particular mines in the district, Ian conjures up the lives of the miners, who often laboured under appalling conditions and of the mine owners, together with, of course, the business of the mines themselves. The result is a permanent record of the endeavours of the people involved and of the fascinating history of the geological industry of the area.
More specifically, the book reveals the mining history of the Caldbeck Fells, from the coming of the German miners in about 1564 through to the hard-bitten barite miners of the Potts Gill Mine, which closed in 1966, resulting in a mining history covering a period of over 400 years. The history of all the mines of the Northern Fells, such as the wonderfully named Driggeth, Sandbeds, Silver Gill, Mexico, Ruthwaite and Red Gill, plus many more, is explained in detail, and it is in the day-to-day detail that the charm of this book lies. That is, besides the mining history, the book weaves a tapestry of social and local history, along with many anecdotes, which makes this more than just a mining history.
This is the twelfth book in Ian’s series on mining in Cumbria and, over the years, his books have collected four Lake District ‘Book of the Year’ Awards. I can certainly recommend it. Individual signed copies are available from Keswick Museum shop (£20), or by mail order from Keswick Mining Museum Otley House, Otley Road, Keswick, CA12 5LE. Cheques made payable to ‘Keswick Mining Museum’ (£22.50, inc. postage).
Blue Rock Publishing, (2009). 320 pp., hardback, ISBN: 978-0-9548631-5-9.