Here’s another early painting for my ‘Beginnings’ collection.
The Yorkshire Dales is a magnet for visitors from all over the world who come to admire its incredible beauty and explore its ancient villages. It is now an area to get away from it all and yet not too long ago the Dales were a hive of industrial enterprise. The Dales are dotted with the remains of a vast lead mining industry. Particularly impressive are the workings on Grassington Moor. I first came across them several years ago when Merice and I were on holiday in the Dales staying in a village called Linton. It is famous for its spectacular waterfalls but is also at the hub of numerous delightful walks. We walked on the riverbank into the next village – Hebden - nearly every morning. I recall a very fine bacon sandwich and strong black coffee enjoyed in a friendly café that had been converted from an old chapel. One day we walked on from Hebden on a circular walk over the moor that would end up in Grassington and this is where I first came across the mine workings and the peculiar ‘bell pits’. I found this interesting book that explained the process:
“The earliest mining process was the digging of bell pits. These appear today as circular depressions in the ground occurring at intervals along straight lines, but can often be confused with the natural shake and swallow holes in limestone. Lead ore usually occurs as vertical veins. Miners identified these veins at the surface in flat areas and dug a hole to expose the ore. As they dug deeper they reached a limit when it became difficult to remove the waste by shovel and the walls of the pit became less stable. They dug vertically down into the rocks opening a small shaft and ultimately a bell shaped chamber underground, removing waste by use of a hand winch (a jack roller or windlass) with a bucket (known as a kibble). As they reached the limit of ore or the limits of practical working they would move along the surface following the vein of lead and start new bell pits. Spent bell pits were often sealed off with wood and then back filled to stop sheep falling in but this process has left a dangerous legacy as the wood has rotted” ‘An Introduction to Lead Mining in the Yorkshire Dales’ by Carol Haynes
Of course that does not convey the danger, hardship and sheer hard physical labour that these incredibly tough miners had to endure. I wonder what they would have made of today when people walk across the moors for pleasure! Not far outside Hebden you have to get across the Gill and this lovely old bridge spans the fast flowing waters. I sketched it on the spot and painted it back in the cottage we were staying in while it was still fresh in my mind. I was very pleased to find this record of the early painting as it captures the vitality and exuberance of that day. I deliberately painted quickly and loosely so I could conjure up movement and spontaneity. At the time I was very pleased with it and do you know what…..I still am. Glenn