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From slate and ore in Cumbria and the Isle of Man, to the coal in Lancashire, and the salt of Cheshire, minerals and mining have shaped the landscape and influenced the growth of towns in North West England. Gas has also played a part as Preston in Lancashire was the first town in the UK outside London to be lit by gas in 1816 and gas from offshore fields in the Irish Sea comes ashore at the Morecambe Bay terminal.

Cumbria And Its Ores

A variety of minerals and ores have been mined in the area now called Cumbria, a region which covers the pre-1974 counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, and the Furness district, which used to be in Lancashire.To give some examples:

  • lead and gypsum came from Greenside, Alston, Nenthead and the Eden Valley

  • copper came from the Lake District and Coniston

  • gold was found at Black Combe near Barrow

  • nickel & platinum came from Carrock Fell in the Lake District

  • iron was mined in West Cumbria and Furness

  • graphite (for making pencils) came from the Borrowdale area near Keswick

  • coal has been mined in the Whitehaven and West Cumberland area

Here are a few links to allow you to find out more about mining and minerals in Cumbria:

Alston Moor lead mines

Cumbria Amenity Trust Mining History Society

Jane Pit, Workington

Haig Colliery Mining Museum

Keswick Museum geology collection

Cumberland Pencil Museum

Honister Slate Mine

Florence Mine

Nenthead Mines

Cumbria industries - coal

Cumbria industries and mining

Lancashire And Coal

The main mineral resource in Lancashire was coal. The need to get coal from the Lancashire coalfields to cities such as Manchester and Liverpool where the demand for coal increased with the population, led to the building of canals from the mid-18th century onwards and more general transport improvements. Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, funded the building of the Bridgewater Canal, which linked his coalmines at Worsley to the west of Manchester, with Salford, Manchester and then Liverpool via Runcorn. It opened in 1761 and the main engineer was James Brindley. The canal was seen as a major piece of engineering, especially because a lot of the canal was underground.

Coal dominated certain areas in the county, such as Wigan, until very recently. As elsewhere in the United Kingdom, there are very few reminders of collieries, but a few examples remain.

Coal played an important part in the creation of other materials as it was used to produce town gas and coke. Although coal was the main material mined in Lancashire, other minerals were present too. For example salt was produced at Fleetwood on the coast to the north of Blackpool.

Men at the pithead, Astley Green Colliery, Lancashire in 1916

Men at Astley Green Colliery.

Here are some links to explore to find out more about coal in Lancashire and the North West of England:

Haig Pit

Coal in Cumbria

Jane Pit


Astley Green Colliery Museum

Wet Earth Colliery

Jack Nadin’s coal mining history page

Coal Mining in North East Lancashire

Maypole Colliery disaster 1908

Coal mining in Tydesley

Coal, mining and the Bridgewater Canal

Cheshire And Salt

Salt is the main mineral of Cheshire and the need to get it moved from where it was produced in the Cheshire Plain to where it was needed and to the nearby ports led to better transport links and developments such as alterations to the River Weaver to make it more navigable. This also led to innovations such as the Anderton Boat Canal.

The areas where salt has been produced and mined in Cheshire since Roman times can be identified because they have ‘wich’ in the name, for example Northwich, Nantwich and Middlewich.

Salt was made in two ways. It was either produced from drying out brine in salt pans or it was mined like a rock, especially when salt rock was discovered during attempts to find coal seams. The salt in your food probably comes from Salt Union's rock salt mine at Winsford. This salt is also used to grit roads in icy weather. One of the problems left by old disused salt mines is subsidence and it has been known for buildings to suddenly collapse in the 'wich' areas of Cheshire as the ground has given away beneath them.

The salt mine can also be used for other things. Because it has the right temperature and humidity condition for the storage of documents organisations such as Cheshire & Chester Archives And Local Studies uses the location to store some records, as do other organisations which look after archives.

Other minerals to be found in the east of the county included copper at Alderley Edge and coal at Poynton. There was also a colliery on the Wirral peninsula in the north-west of the county.

Here are a few links to explore to find out more about salt and mining in Cheshire:

Salt Museum, Northwich

Information on salt from the Salt Manufacturers’ Association

Lion Salt Works, Northwich

Anderton Boat Lift

Poynton Collieries

Alderley Edge Mines

Salt Union Ltd deep storage facilities at Winsford

The Irish Sea And The Isle Of Man

Natural gas was found in the Irish Sea and the Mersey Basin in the 1960s. One of the gas terminals for natural gas found offshore is at Morecambe Bay.

The National Gas Archive, which is based in the North-West, has more details on the history of gas, as does the BP Archive, which is housed at the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University.

Although the Isle of Man is a self-governing dependency of the British Crown and not a part of the United Kingdom it has close links with the North-West of England, because of its location in the Irish Sea between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It has the oldest continuous parliament in the world, known as the ¨Tynwald¨. After being ¨ruled¨ by Vikings, the Scots and the English, the island was in the control of the Stanley/Derby family and whoever was the Earl of Derby was known as Lord of Mann.

Copper has been mined here since the Bronze Age and was mixed with imported tin to produce bronze. Locally mined lead, found at Bradda and Foxdale may also have been used to produce bronze. Iron ore was also found on the island. The first underground mines probably started in the 12th century and mining took place under the royal warrant of the king of Man.

The most successful mine was Great Laxey which lasted for over 150 years until it closed in 1929. The peak of production came in the 1870s when 2,500 tons of lead and silver; 9,000 tons of zinc and an average of 500 tons of copper were being mined every year. The Isle of Man once produced 20% of the zinc and 5% of the lead mined in the British Isles. The last mine closed in the 1930s but reminders of the industry can still be seen today. The links below lead to further information:

Black limestone

Laxey Mines Research Group

Manx Geological Survey

More pictures can be seen on our North West Image Gallery page.

sponsored by: The Coal Authority
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