This mineral, locally called Wad, this pure form of carbon was found near Newhouse Gill at Seathwaite and was worked from the mid sixteenth century when it was used as a marker for sheep. Wad was found in easily removed nodules, which required little further treatment, so it was possible to overload the market when a good find was made. In order to maintain a high price, therefore, the mine would be closed in order to deplete stocks and increase demand.
The first pipe of ore was found on Seatoller Fell, just beyond the moor wall, before 1555. As this and other pipes were worked downwards they were troubled by flooding. So, around 1620, the Old Men’s Stage or level was driven to drain them. This pre-gunpowder level was driven using picks and wedges by some of the German miners who had earlier worked for copper. This process was repeated in 1798 when Gilbert’s Stage was driven into the Grand Pipe, some 60 metres below the old level.
The mines flourished until the late 1820s, but then began to decline. Part of the problem was a lack of new sources of wad, but a Frenchman invented a way of mixing powdered graphite with powdered clay, thereby reducing demand. Nevertheless, the mines limped on until around 1891.Return to previous page