A map showing important specimen-producing mines in the Alston Moor area of Cumbria, and East Allendale in Northumberland. Map by Peter Briscoe.

Allenheads (Beaumont) Mine

The Allenheads mine was historically the most productive mine in Allendale and worked a series of interconnected veins at the head of the East Allen River valley. The earliest workings in the area probably date to the sixteenth century and were located to the west of the village of Allenheads. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the mine was operated by the Beaumont Company, which produced an estimated 260,000 tons of lead concentrates (Dunham 1990). Early work focused on the Old vein, which was largely mined out by the beginning of the nineteenth century. Toward the end of the eighteenth century the Diana vein was discovered at the western end of the Old vein and yielded ore from a productive section of flats. In 1822 a crosscut driven south from the Diana vein encountered the Coronation vein, which contained extensive flats spanning both the Middle and High Flats horizons of the Great Limestone. These deposits were worked until 1840.

A photo of the mine floor at Allenheads taken late 19th century. In the background are the ore separation stalls (known as "bousesteems"), which were used by mining teams to keep their ore separate from each other. In the foreground are washing screens, which were operated by boys under 16 years, who were too young to work underground. Photo courtesy of the Beamish Museum Archive.

Mining began on Henry's vein in 1825 and during the latter part of the nineteenth century accounted for the majority of the ore production from the mine. The vein was accessed by an underground shaft and more than 2.5 kilometers of vein was worked, largely in the Great Limestone. The mine was closed by Beaumont in 1896 because of depressed lead prices on the world market.

A cluster of pale lavender twinned fluorite crystals, sphalerite and ankerite, 10 cm across, from the Diana Vein. Recovered ca. 1970.

With the rise in demand for fluorspar, the dumps were reworked in the 1940s. In 1969 British Steel Corporation reopened the mine as the Beaumont mine, hoping to find fluorite that had been left behind - either in place or as backfill by previous lead mining operations. Several new declines and levels were driven to access both the Diana and Henry's veins, but the hoped-for quantities of fluorspar were never found. The mine was closed in 1981 and is now completely flooded. Specimens were recovered from both veins during this period, however. Of particular interest were superb specimens of lustrous, pale lavender fluorite crystals, many of which were associated with sphalerite and siderite from what remained of the flats surrounding the Diana vein. Most of these specimens were acquired by a British dealer and sold at the annual Munich mineral show. As a result, few found their way into British or American collections.

A cluster of purple, untwinned fluorite crystals with associated siderite and galena from Henry's Vein. Recovered during the 1970's.

St. Peter's Mine, East Allendale, Northumberland

The St. Peter's Mine, developed on the St. Peter's Vein, is located along the road between Allenheads and Allendale Town, near the hamlet of Spartylea in Northumberland. The current entrance is a vertical shaft of almost 100 meters (>300 feet) which accesses both vein and flats at the High Flat Horizon of the Great Limestone. According to Dunham (1990) the St. Peter's Vein was first discovered during the construction of the Blackett level, an adit originating at Allendale Town and driven 7.5 km southward toward Allenheads in order to explore and provide drainage for mine workings in East Allendale. Work began on the level in 1855 and was discontinued in 1903 at a point not far south of the St. Peter's Vein.

The now overgrown entrance to the Blackett Level in Allendale Town, Northumberland.

The mine was worked for lead in the late 19th century by the Beaumont Company, who drove a level below the Great Limestone from the East Allen Wash, with a rise reaching the flats. During the first half of the 20th century the mine was operated by the Weardale Lead Company for fluorspar from both vein and flats in the Great Limestone. The was closed in 1946 when the Great Limestone (and ore-bearing veins and flats) were found to be truncated to the west by glacial sediments filling the East Allen valley.

A cluster of lustrous, amber, untwinned fluorite crystals, up to 4 cm, with minor overgrowths of quartz. Collected from the St. Peter's Mine in 1996.

Mineralogically, the St. Peter's Mine is best known for producing some very good quality specimens of bright apple-green fluorite during the 1930's. Most of this find was acquired by noted English collector Sir Arthur Russell, and was donated to the British Museum of Natural History, where it remains today. During the mid 1990s a group of English collectors and cavers leased the rights to work the mine (using hand tools only) for specimens. Some attractive specimens of lustrous, untwinned purplish-gray and amber fluorite with siderite overgrowths have been recovered, but the location of the legendary green fluorite remained ellusive.

A large cluster of green fluorite crystals from the St. Peter's Mine. The specimen was collected by Sir Arthur Russell in 1937 and is now in the British Museum of Natural History.

Sipton Mine, East Allendale, Northumberland

A minor lead mine, located on the Sipton Vein, approximately 1 km north of the St. Peter's Mine in Sparty Lea. The vein was discovered during the driving of the Blackett Level in the 1850s. A shaft was sunk on the vein from surface to facilitate work on the level, which was being driven from Allendale Town south toward Allenheads in hopes of providing drainage for the lower levels of the Allenheads Mine. The Sipton Vein was worked for lead in the form of galena by W.H. Beaumont Company during the early to mid 1860s, and again in the 1920s by the Weardale Lead Company. The Sipton Shaft was also used to access Esp's Vein, which was exposed along the Blackett Level just under 1 km north of the shaft. Mining continued until 1946, with the shaft employing the last hydraulic hoist engine used in the North Pennines.

A cluster of amber fluorite crystals with associated calcite, 8 cm across, from the Sipton Mine. The specimen was collected by Sir Arthur Russell in 1925.

Fallowfields and Settlingstones Mines

A bit of a novelty for the North Pennines are the Fallowfields and Settlingstones mines, both located near the town of Hexham on the northern perimeter of the orefield in Northumberland. While both were originaly developed for lead, they are best known for being perhaps the only mines in the world that have been worked commercially for witherite as an ore of barium. Work on both sites can be traced back to the early 17th century. With the collapse of the world lead market in the later 19th century both mines transitioned to the production of witherite. The Fallowfields mine ceased production around the time of the First World War, while the Settlingstones mine remained in production until 1970. While fluorite is absent from the ores found at these mines, both produced excellent quality specimens of witherite, often associated with alstonite, and those from the Fallowfields are among the best known for the species. Both sites have been completely reclaimed and little evidence of the workings now survive.

Witherite is also known from a number of other North Pennines mines, including the Murton mine in Scordale and the Nentsburry Haggs mine in Nenthead, Alston Moor. At the latter, witherite specimens are often found pseudomorphed to varying degrees by barite.

A group of witherite crystals up to 3 cm tall on alstonite from the Fallowfields Mine, near Hexham, Northumberland. Specimen was recovered ca. 1890.