If you are not a full member of the society and have not logged in for 6 months, your registration may have been removed.. Such registrations can not be restored and you will have to sign up again if you wish to continue using the forum. Full society members are never removed.

Saturday 05 Oct 1822 - Black-lead Mine in Borrowdale
Read 132 times
* March 11, 2023, 09:38:45 AM
 Saturday 05 Oct 1822   (p. 4, col. 3-4)
(From the Lonsdale Magazine.)

The substance from which black-lead pencils are manufactured, has successively taken the several names of wad, black-cawke, black-lead, plumbago, and graphite. In the progress of chemistry, as connected with mineralogy, the original term wad, was probably abandoned, because the Germans had applied the same name to a substance something resembling this in appearance, but of another nature, viz. an oxide of manganese; black-cawke might be subject to a similar objection, the term cawke being used by mariners for a sulphate of barytes; the names of plumbago and black-lead, although retained in common use, tend to convey an erroneous idea, as lead forms no part of its composition, it bring principally carbon combined with small iron; and graphite, perhaps the least objectionable term, has yet scarcely obtained currency.
This mineral occurs in various parts of the world, and in rocks of different formation. In this island it has been discovered in Inverness-shire, in gneiss, which is considered as one of the primitive rocks; there it appears to be intermixed with a micaceous substance and other hard mineral bodies, which render it unfit for pencils. In the borders of Ayrshire, it is found in the neighourhood [sic] of Coal, to which it seems too nearly allied; but in no place has it been met with equal in purity to that produced from Borrowdale, in Cumberland, where it lies in a rock of intermediate formation.
We have no account of the first discovery, or opening of this mine, but from a grant made in the beginning of the seventeenth century, it appears to have been known before that time. The manor of Borrowdale is said to have belonged to the Abbey of Furness, and having at the dissolution of that monastery, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, fallen to the Crown, it was by James the First granted to William WHITMORE, and Jonas VERDON, including and particularizing among other things, "the wadholes, and wad, commonly called black-cawke, within the commons of Seatallor, or elsewhere within any of the wastes or commons of the said manor, now or late in the tenure or occupation of Roger ROBINSON, or his assigns, by the particulars thereof mentioned, to be of the yearly rent or value of fifteen shillings and fourpence." By a deed bearing date the Twenty-Eighth day of November, 1614, the said William WHITMORE, and Jonas VERDON, sold, and conveyed unto Sir Wilfred LAWSON, of Isel, Knight, and several others therein named, to the number of thirty-six, chiefly inhabitants of Borrowdale, "all the said manor of Borrowdale, with the appurtenances of what nature or kind soever, excepted and reserved unto the said William WHITMORE, and Jonas VERDON, their heirs, and assigns, all those wadholes, and wad, commonly called black-cawke, within the commons of Seatallor, or elsewhere within the commons and wastes of the manor of Borrowdale aforesaid, with liberty to dig, work, and carry the same, and other of their appurtenances whatsoever." In consequence of which reservation, the wad, or black-lead mine, has been ever since held distinct from other royalties of the said manor, one moiety thereof now belonging to Henry BANKS, Esq. M. P. the other half being subdivided into several shares.
This mine is situated about nine miles from Keswick, near the head of the valley of Borrowdale, in the steep side of a mountain, facing towards the south-east, and has been opened at different places where the wad had probably appeared on the surface; the rock in which it occurs is called by Mr. BAKEWELL, a grey felspar porphyry; near the mine it becomes of a darker colour, as containing more iron, the joints being lined with a ferruginous clayey matter; it is intersected in various directions by strings, or small rake veins, containing in some places a little calcareous spar, and other vein stuff, and sometimes a superficial glazing of black-lead without the substance, but the wad is only found in sops, or bellies, which appear generally to be discovered by the intersection, or crossing of the veins, and are often at considerable distances from each other, and found with difficulty.
Formerly this mine was worked only at intervals, and when a sufficient quantity had been produced to supply the demand for a few years, it was strongly closed up until the stock was reduced; but of late, it has been procured less plentifully, and the demand being greater, the working has been continued for several years together.

[to be continued]

Reproduced with kind permission of British Newspaper Archives


* March 12, 2023, 09:58:40 AM
Bishop NICHOLSON, who visited the mine in 1710, says, in a letter to Dr. WOODWARD, that, "on opening the old level in that year great discouragements appeared for no search having been made in thirty-two years, they found that some pilfering interlopers had carried it on till they had lost it in the rock; but after a few days trial a new belly was happily discovered before the forehead of the Old Man, which proved so rich, that in less than twenty-four hours they had filled several sacks with fine and clean washed mineral." An old level, which was re-opened in 1769, was found to have been driven through this very hard rock, without the help of gunpowder, and a kind of pipe vein which had produced a great quantity of wad, having been pursued to the depth of one hundred yards and upwards, much inconvenience was experienced in working it; to obviate which, in 1798, an adit, or level, was begun in the side of the hill, which at the length of 220 yards communicates with the bottom of the former sinking, since which time the workings have been carried on internally thro' various ramifications; a survey of which has lately been made by Mr. FAREY. Through this principal level the water now passes off, and the produce and rubbish is brought out upon a rail way in a small waggon; and over its mouth a house is built, where, when the mine is open, the overseers dwell, and the workmen are undressed and examined as they pass through it on leaving their work.
The great value of this mineral, and the facilities afforded for disposing of it in the state in which it is taken from the mine, being strong temptations to thieving, great precaution is taken to keep the workmen from pilfering, which has sometimes been scarcely sufficient; and even those appointed to overlook them have not always escaped suspicion; yet, it is but justice to the present manager, Mr. Wm. DIXON, to state, that for upwards of fifty years that he has been employed, he has always sustained an unimpeachable character.
To prevent the depredations of intruders, it has sometimes been necessary to keep a strong guard upon the place; and for its better protection, an Act of Parliament was passed, 25th Geo. 2d. cap. 10th, by which an unlawful entering of any mine, or wadhole of wad, or black-cawke, commonly called black-lead, or unlawfully taking, or carrying away any wad, &c. from thence, as also the buying or receiving the same, knowing it to be unlawfully taken, is made felony. In the preamble to this Act, it is stated to be "necessary for divers useful purposes, and more particularly in the casting of bomb shells, round shot, and cannon balls;" however, its use in cleaning and glossing cast iron work, such as stoves, grates, &c. is now well known to every housemaid.
Being capable of enduring a great heat without fusing, or cracking, it is used in the manufacture of crucibles; and its excellence in diminishing friction in wooden screws, and other machinery, makes it become an ingredient in several anti-attrition compositions; but effects have been formerly attributed to it in dying and medicine which were perhaps only imaginary. Yet its principal use is in pencils, for which Keswick has long been famed; and in their manufactory great improvements have lately been made; but, though in the vicinity of the mine, the pencil-makers are obliged to purchase all their black-lead in London, as the proprietors will not permit any to be sold until it has first been lodged in their own warehouse. It has generally been used without any previous preparation, being only cut with a saw to the scantlings required, and thus enclosed in a suitable casing of cedar wood; but as it varies greatly in quality, both as to purity and hardness, considerable skill is requisite in the choosing and assorting it, according to the different purposes for which the pencil is intended; and being generally too soft for some purposes, a method of hardening it had long been a desideratum, and this has at length been accomplished, by which means it may be enabled to bear a much finer and more durable point, but its colour will be somewhat deteriorated.
Great quantities of pencils are now made of a composition, formed of the saw dust and pieces of black-lead, too small to be used in the common way, which being ground to an impalpable powder, is then mixed with something to cause it to co-here; for this purpose different substances are employed, some of them make a very inferior kind of pencil; but others under proper management, and being consolidated by a strong pressure, make a pencil to answer for some purposes (especially when the writing is intended to be permanent) full as well as the best black-lead.
The specific gravity of the best wad, or black-lead, is, to that of water, as two to one nearly: the coarser kind is heavier in proportion, as it contains more stony matter. It comes from the mine in pieces of irregular form, and of various sizes, requiring no process to prepare it for the market, further than freeing the pieces from any stoney or extraneous matter which may adhere to them; it is then assorted according to the different degrees of purity and size, and thus packed in casks to be sent off to the warehouse in London, where it is exposed to sale only on the first Monday in every month.
In the year 1803, after a tedious search, one of the largest bellies was fallen in with, which produced five hundred casks, weighing about one hundred and a quarter each, and worth thirty shillings a pound, or upwards; besides a greater quantity of inferior sorts; and since that time several smaller sops have been met with, but at present it is very unproductive.
By an account published in 1804, the stock then on hand was valued at £54,000; and the annual consumption was stated to be about £3500; since that time the consumption must have greatly increased; and this mine, which 200 years ago was valued at fifteen shillings and four-pence, was, during the operation of the late property tax, estimated at £2,500 a-year.—Keswick, July 23, 1822.           JONA. OTLEY
Reproduced with kind permission of British Newspaper Archives