The Combe martin mines were heavily worked for silver-lead and iron from 1796 to 1802. A new lode of silver-lead was worked from 1813 to 1815 but abandoned, due to problems with flooding. The Combe Martin and North Devon Mining Company was formed in September 1835 to go "30 to 70 fathoms" deeper than ever before and exploit the 700 fathoms (a fathom is six feet) of existing tunnels. They were recovering lead ore by mid 1836, in 1837 a steam engine was installed at Mine Tenement to pump William's shaft, in 1841 a second boiler was added and in 1843 a pump was installed in Vivian's shaft. Despite some initial success the mines closed in 1848 and the steam engines were dismantled. This detail of a print (left) shows Mine Tenement soon after the engine had been installed (1).
In 1862 the North Devon Silver-Lead Mining Company was formed to exploit Nap Down, but although the newspapers reported that "employment would be available for hundreds of years to come" it had indifferent success. In 1864 the New Combmartin Silver-Lead Mining Company explored the West Challacombe and Lester Cliff areas (2). In 1876 work was begun on Harris’ mine, which was worked for four years, during which time the North Devon Journal carried a fascinating account of a visit down the mine when the 27 and 37 fathom levels were both yielding ore. Harris’ mine was abandoned in 1880 and filled up (3).
Around 1988 a group of mine enthusiasts started to excavate at Mine Tenement. By 1991 they had revealed the foundations of the engine house and had cleared Williams shaft to a depth of 21 fathoms. They had hoped to reach the Deep Adit, a few fathoms further down, but the shaft became flooded and excavations were halted. After exploring the area around the shaft they moved their attention to Harris' shaft (further up the hill and less liable to flood) which they had cleared to a depth of 23 fathoms by 2001. This cuts through several old tunnels, including an inclined shaft, at 6 fathoms, believed to be early medieval, and a trial adit at 15 fathoms from the late 1870’s. They bought Harris' shaft from the Gussin family and in 2001 formed the Combe Martin Silver Mine Research and Preservation Society (CMSMRPS) to raise funds to preserve and purchase Mine Tenement. You can visit the fascinating Mine Tenement, and William's and Harris' shafts, by becoming a Member of the Society (4).
It is usually believed that silver-lead was only to be found to the east of the main road through Combe Martin, on the edge of the Ilfracombe Slates. But there are thought to have been several silver-lead workings around Berrynarbor, the oldest near the Iron Age hillfort on Newberry Hill. There very probably was a small silver-lead mine near Hele: on the north east side of Rillage Point, a zigzag path blasted out of the cliffs, leads down to a cave on the beach, called Tom Norman’s Hole. An outcrop of limestone on the beach seems to have been ignored and the only obvious mineralisation is a small vein of quartz above the cave entrance, suggesting that it may have originally been mined for silver-lead. Very significantly, there was a local silver-lead miner called Tom Norman, who was born in Combe Martin in 1838 and worked at Knap Down mine in the 1860’s and Fileigh Tunnel in the 1870’s. Perhaps he worked at Rillage in the 1880’s (5).
Whilst quarrying for limestone at Napps, near Berrynarbor, in the early 1900's, the quarrymen broke into a natural pothole leading into a system of caves and tunnels, said to be "the longest and most finely decorated cave in the district". About 250m of passages have so far been explored. It is said to contain large crystal clusters of aragonite, a rare stalactite formed mostly from shell material. The quarry closed in 1912 but between the wars, specimens from the cave were sold to visiting tourists. This photograph (above right) shows, from left to right, Jock the Barber, "Big" Jack Draper and Corney Burgess. In 1977-1978 the entrance was gated to conserve the cave formations and protect a colony of Greater Horseshoe bats (6).
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(1) Re-opening of Combe Martin mines
"For six years from 1796 a renewed period of heavy activity took place. Iron as well as silver was mined and over 9,000 tons of ore was sent to South Wales for smelting. The silver mines were reopened between 1813 and 1815 and worked for three years by a company initiated in Bere Alston, during which time 208 tons were shipped to Bristol. Flooding and the consequent high cost of production resulted in closure. Tributers working on their own account continued to try their luck without the benefit of a pumping engine and in a sudden influx of water barely escaped with their lives. In 1835 the Combmartin & N Devon Mining Company was formed with a capital of £30,000" (Stuckey 1965 p 11)
"In 1813, a company, initiating in Beer Alston...started, but it were a misuse of words to say 'worked these mines'. They were not only, as De la Beche has it, 'most unskilfully managed', but a reckless affair, unworthy of serious attention towards forming an estimate of its merits." (Dr Kingdon TDA vol2 1868 p 196)
"In the north and south parallel are four or five other ore-producing lodes, the most southern of which is the one before-named as probably associated with Adrian Gilbert's working. Hereon twelve tons of ore, of high silver produce, were raised by working tributers on their own account since the last company worked, which is now as good a few feet below the day level, they being unable to pursue it deeper, as the steam-engine being long gone, the water was too strong. Ore in rocks of 11/2cwt. pure, made close to the surface, and had been oversighted by ancient workers, of whose large excavations for ore there was evidence in pillars of ore left to support the works still north.....In 1813, a rich lode was found below this level, and probably an extension in depth of its ore. There being no appliance to keep out the strong water, the men with difficulty saved their lives." (Dr Kingdon TDA vol2 1868 p 197)
"In 1835, the last Company began on the same site, raised ore from the same works, but afterwards reached eastwards some ancient pumps, about 20 fathoms from the surface, above which the ore had been removed, and immediately on sinking them found its continuance, which eventuated in returning over £60,000, but which amount would have been greatly increased had the tribute ground been properly explored, and which, consequently, is still available to profit. The ore was explored down to 118 fathoms from the surface" (Dr Kingdon TDA vol2 1868 p 196)
"COMBMARTIN LEAD, SILVER AND COPPER MINES It appears, according to the records of the Exchequer, that these celebrated Mines were first opened in the year 1293, by William de Wymondham, through whose mineral skill 370lbs of fine silver were refined the first year (which King Edward 1st gave as a marriage portion with his daughter Eleanor to the Count De Barre) in the following year 512lbs, and 700lbs in the third year, were refined and sent to the Mint. - The Historian further states that the mines were worked by experienced miners from the Peak of Derbyshire and Wales, as to the benefit obtained we are at a loss to determine, but it is supposed to be very great in the reign of Henry Fifth. In the reign of Edward the Third, immense treasures were obtained from these mines, by which he was enabled to accomplish his French conquest. Queen Elizabeth directed the mines to be opened by Adrian Gilbert Esq.; they were afterwards carried on under the superintendence of Sir Bevis Bulmer, Knight, through whose management and mineral skill a great quantity of silver was landed and refined; out of which a very splendid cup was presented to William, Earl of Bath; and a superb piece of plate was sent to Sir Richard Martin, Knight, Lord Mayor of London, weighing 137oz fine, with an appropriate inscription, now legible, and may be seen at the Mansion House, London. The Mines have been opened three times since that period, viz; in the years 1789, 1813 and 1825; - the two former undertakings were abandoned for the want of proper management and a sufficient power of machinery, as the whole of their labours were overwhelmed by the great influx of water, which could not be subdued at a depth of 40 fathoms. The last adventurers only laid out about eight hundred pounds, to explore the ancient workings, by which experiment they found sufficient quantity of rich Ore to remunerate them for all their outlays; but owing to a disagreement between the Directors and shareholders, respecting the plan of proceedings, the whole was abandoned.
From the promiscuous specimens of Ore landed from these Mines, one ton of ore produces 141/2 cwt of lead and from 54oz 7dwts to 100oz of fine silver, to the ton of lead. It is recorded by Camden the historian, that a great number of men were necessary and always employed to clear the water; as they had no other means than a small water wheel and shammels; a depth of working invariably arrived when the expense of manual labour was too great to proceed, the water gradually increased and overwhelmed all their labours, so that a depth of from 40 to 50 fathoms formed their ancient bottoms. It is the intention of the present adventurers to sink from 30 to 70 fathoms deeper than the ancient workings, by which it is sanguinely expected that the Ore will be much richer in quality, and as to quantity, inexhaustible. There are about 700 fathoms of old Adits, and several old shafts which will be available, and can be cleared out at a very trifling expense, this will cause a saving in the first outlays of about five thousand pounds, besides a great deal of time, which is of the greatest importance in all mining concerns.
Taking into consideration the great reduction in the prices of Machinery, timber, Iron Ropes, Coal, Freight, carriage, Mechanisms, and labour of every description; and by including the great experience and improvements in the art of Mining;- a capital of ten is now equal to twenty thousand pounds at former periods. Another great advantage will be obtained at Combmartin, in the saving of building expenses, as sufficient accommodation can be taken on very moderate terms; this will be a further saving of about fifteen hundred pounds.
The intended capital to be thirty thousand pounds, in twelve hundred shares of twenty-five pounds each; and it is fully expected that five pounds per share will be quite sufficient to work the Mines, and on no account shall the whole calls exceed ten pounds per share, without the consent of the major part of the Shareholders. That the call of £2 10s per share shall be paid at the time of subscribing; £2 10s per share at the expiration of three months; and a further sum of £2 10s per share (if necessary) every six months, to be paid into the hands of Messrs. Pyke, Law, Bencraft & Co. Barnstaple; Messrs. Vye & Harris, Ilfracombe; Messrs. Knight, Eton & Stroud, Swansea; and sir R. C. Glynn & Co., London.
The agreements for working those Mines, for a term of twenty-one years, is one fiftieth peck of Ore; a reasonable compensation for all other damages; and all disputes to be settled by arbitration. A great number of Shares have been applied for and been granted, and as soon as four hundred more are taken, the works will be commenced. The steam engines are to be manufactured with all possible dispatch. The Company to be called ‘THE COMBMARTIN AND NORTH DEVON MINING COMPANY’ and the whole concern to be placed under the management of five directors, an auditor and treasurer.
The holders of three shares to have one vote.
Seven ditto.....Two ditto
Ten ditto....Three ditto
Fifteen ditto......Four ditto
Twenty ditto.......Five ditto
The directors and auditor will meet at the Mines half-yearly, or oftener if required.
A Map of Combmartin, with sections of the old Mines and the intended plan of all proceedings, may be seen on application to Mr Thomas, the manager, at the King’s arms, Combmartin; all letters must be post paid.
Combmartin, September 22nd 1835" (CMSMRPS newsletter Issue 2, spring 2002 p 8-9)
"COMBMARTIN LEAD SILVER AND COPPER MINES The celebrated mines which produced such immense revenues for several British Monarchs and ample fortunes to many private individuals were first opened in the year 1293 and have since been worked at four different periods with great success until the year 1789, but all the respective adventurers were under the necessity of abandoning them from want of machinery of sufficient power to subdue the water. Three other attempts have been made down to 1825 but these adventurers shared the same fate as their predecessors. Treasures remain undiscovered in the Old Mines and the immediate neighbourhood is by experienced Miners and Geologists considered inexhaustible. It is resolved by a Company to be called The Combmartin and North Devon Mining Company to enter the same immediately and erect a Steam Engine of sufficient power to clear the water at a depth of from 80-110 fathoms deeper than the ancient bottoms by which trial it is sanguinely expected the present adventurers will reap rich rewards by speculation. The company’s Prospectus may be had at the Kings Arms Combmartin, Ilfracombe, Linton, Barnstaple, Swansea, Neath, Cardiff, Newport, Bath, Bristol, Cheltenham, Mining Journal Office, London, Hayle, Plymouth, Falmouth and Capt. Morcam, East Wheal Friendship mines near Totnes. (NDJ 8th Oct. 1835 - CMSMRPS newsletter Issue 1, winter 2001, p 2, also CMSMRPS Summer 2002 p 5)
1835 - COMBMARTIN AND NORTH DEVON MINING COMPANY The first general meeting of the said Company will be held at the Golden lion, Barnstaple on Thursday 10th December at 11 o’clock in the forenoon when the election of Directors and other officers will take place and all other preliminary arrangements entered into for commencing the works without further delay. J. Thomas secretary. NB Specimens of the ore from 50-100 pounds weight in lumps may be seen at the Golden Lion. NDJ 26th nov 1835 CMSMRPS newsletter Issue 1, winter 2001, p2
1835 -"The first General meeting of the Combmartin Mining company was held at the Golden Lion Inn on Thursday 10th inst. Col. Drake in the chair. The meeting was numerously and most respectfully attended; a candid and fair statement of the probable expenses as well as of the prospect of the Mines was produced; directors were chosen; agents appointed, orders given for the erection of a powerful steam engine and everything put into a train for commencing active operations for the effective working of the mines. So favourable are the reports of the most scientific mining Captains that there are applications for more than 2,6000 shares above the originally intended number of 1,200 which the directors were unavoidably compelled to refuse. NDJ 17th December 1835" CMSMRPS newsletter Issue 1, winter 2001, p2
1835 -"TO MANUFACTURERS OF STEAM ENGINES The Directors of the Combmartin and North Devon Mining Company are ready to receive tenders for a steam engine of 50 inches cylinder with two boilers on the most approved principles. Address to Mr Thomas the agent at Combmartin near Ilfracombe. All letters to be post paid. Combmartin 14th December 1835. NDJ 31st Dec. 1835 " (CMSMRPS newsletter Issue 1, winter 2001, p 2)
1836- "By June the first we have cleared the deep adit level so as to let down the water in the old mine at depth and are driving at the 14th fathom level on the North Lode which is 6 feet big composed of lead ore and white iron. All the lode is of saving work and the men are shooting rock of lead ore. The level is 16 fathoms shallower than deep adit where we hope also to cut it" Captains analysis - I believe at this time North Lode was our Harris’ Lode and that the 14 fathom level corresponds with our 15fl. If the deep adit was supposed to be 16fl deeper it would have been 30 fl from grass, whereas we know it is in actual fact at 40 fl. The difference may be attributed to the possibility that they were driving a stope below the 14fl; it would also be useful to bear in mind that the deep adit at this time merely connected to Harris Lode and not to Harris' shaft" (CMSMRPS autumn 2000 p 6)
1836 - "We are informed that the preliminary arrangements are proceeding rapidly and that the mines will very shortly be set to work. The prospects of success are very flattering, so much so that the shares are selling freely at enormous premiums. We heard that one of our tradesman has realised a handsome sum by selling at £10 each a number of shares he lately purchased for £5. They are now £12. The original price was £1. " (CMSMRPS autumn 2000 p 6)
"About half the capital was expended on machinery including three steam engines, and in sinking new shafts of greater depth (118 fathoms) than hitherto, but very good lodes were eventually reached and some dividends were paid out of profits." (Stuckey 1965 p 12)
"This print by G Rowe [shown here, and in detail above] is the only known illustration that features the engine house at Mine Tenement, at the western end of Bowhay Lane. It should not be confused with the chimney at Nap Down which was built five years later to accommodate a Simms Combine engine, the chimney at Mine Tenement being offset and quite separate from the engine house. The Combmartin and North Devon Silver Lead Mining Company erected the engine between the Old Combmartin Mine to the south and Harris' shaft to the north, so that it could pump both setts.....The engine was first set to work in 1837 and was celebrated with a 'good dinner' at the Kings Arms. The former whim shaft, vertical for 25 fathoms to the deep adit, had to be enlarged to take the substantial pit work necessary for such an engine and was then re-named Williams shaft, after the inspecting engineer for the mines. By 1841 the mine was deeper and the additional load necessitated a second boiler to supplement the first, costing £300. By 1843 when the depth reached 800 ft in the area below the old Tithe Barn, it was necessary to install a 7 inch water pressure engine in the new Vivian's shaft to raise the water to the 87 fathom level whence it was pumped to deep adit by the steam engine. The mines closed in 1848 and the engine on Williams shaft was sold and dismantled for erection on another mine and the stone used for other buildings" (CMLHG 1994 p 8)
1840s - "John Williams, pumping engineer, winds Williams shaft and introduces steam engines to pump out water and extend workings around Mine Tenement." (CMSMRPS newsletter issue 2, spring 2002 p 7)
"Dr Kingdon asserted that between 1835 and 1848 £60,000 was paid out in dividends but later authorities suggest that the total could not have exceeded £7,600 and, in addition, there was a call of £1 per share on the stockholders at one stage to meet unexpected expenses.....By early 1847 investors were becoming restive about the fortunes of the mining company....Many people lost considerable sums of money, and in 1848 when the main lode was displaced in a cross vein, the mines were again close. The smelting house at the mouth of the valley was later used for washing umber (a mineral used as a pigment), another local product" (Stuckey 1965 p 12-13)
1848 - "Queen Victoria purchases items of Combe Martin silver" (IMN 2000 p 9)
(2) Nap Down
"In December 1859, a prospectus was issued by the North Devon Silver Lead Mining Company (Vale of Girt and Nap Down), "This Company is established for the purpose of raising the rich SILVER LEAD ORE, which abounds in this highly mineralised locality, and for which the proposed capital is amply sufficient. A Sett, comprising 1,200 acres, has been granted by Sir Charles Watson for a term of 21 years from November 1859, at the low royalty of 1-15th without sleeping rent of any kind beyond a guinea a year. It adjoins the old Combmartin mine, which in former times yielded so much wealth, and so recently as 1845-6-7, Silver Lead ore of the value of £65,000 was extracted from the same hill, and within gunshot distance of this Company's shaft. .....An adit level has been driven 70 fathoms, and four very kindly Silver Lead lodes have been cut in it, one alone of which has already yielded £1,100 worth of ore; and by shoding on the back another lode, at a depth of only 7' from the surface, a very fine gossan was found, and many tons of solid Silver Lead ore, in blocks of from 1 to 8 cwt each, were raise, some of which can be seen at the office. Various operations have been commenced on the 20, 30 and 40 fathom levels, a good Copper Lode has been discovered and wrought on, and many tons of Copper Ore has been raised.....The shaft is down about 50 fathoms, and an efficient and powerful Steam Engine has been erected in a substantial engine house, together with a 10 ton tubular boiler, pitwork complete to the bottom of the shaft and other requisites for commencing immediate operations....Upwards of £5,000 have been expended thus far developing this desirable property...The Mine with the lease, Steam engine, Machinery etc., will be transferred to the Company, in consideration of £1,500 cash and 1/6 of the shares fully paid up" (Stuckey 1965 p 13 & 15) This included a copy of the paper by Mr Kingdom about the Combe Martin Mines from an address to the Devonshire Association, TDA Vol 2 1867-8
"In 1862, Mr Fidler, Secretary to the company, informed his shareholders that ore has "actually been found in more than 60 different places...the lode being of the enormous value of £500 to £600 per fathom". On 7th July the flag of the North Devon Silver-Lead Mining Co. was hoisted on top of the engine house and a cannon was fired in salute "at intervals through the day"....The Barnstaple papers reported cheerily that employment would be available for hundreds of years to come.... £20,000 was subscribed and the company commenced work but with indifferent success..... In 1864, also, is recorded the formation of the New Combmartin Silver-Lead Mining Co. Ltd., which explored the West Challacombe and Lester Cliff areas" (Stuckey 1965 p 16-17)
(3) Harris’ Shaft
This drawing shows the abandonment plan of Harris' mine from 1880 with the caption "Plan of Combmartin Mine. The Sett occupied an area on both sides of Corner Lane about 300 yards westward from the junction with Ustick Lane. A mine tenement stood in the south of the sett at the end of Bowhay Lane" (Stuckey 1965 p 19)
"1876 - Ancient workings (possibly Fayes mine) reopens as Harris' shaft, for the extraction of zinc. Last mine Captain, John Comer. Mines close 1880" (CMSMRPS newsletter issue 2, spring 2002 p 7)
"During the 19th century this ancient mine site, 500 yards from the parish Church and known as Mine Tenement, became the centre of silver-lead mining in North Devon. In the year 1837, a Cornish Engine House with a 60' chimney, a boiler house and blacksmith's forge, all belching smoke and steam, dominated the hillside. These buildings housed the biggest machines ever seen, locally, this far inland:- a 50 ton boiler, a 50" steam engine driving a 24' iron beam as well as a 30' balance bob beside the 57 fathom shaft, From here drainage adite, flat-rods and piped water went to the other mines down in the village" (CMSMRPS Newsletter Issue 2 Spring 2002 p 5)
"During the 1870s the NDJ published the following account: A VISIT TO THE CELEBRATED COMBMARTIN MINES About five miles from Ilfracombe and snugly sheltered on the one side by lofty cliffs overlooking the Bristol Channel and on the other by the high hills stretching away to the Forest of Exmoor, stands the long straggling village of Combmartin, celebrated in the History of England as having supplied from it’s mines the wherewithal to carry on it’s wars with France and it states in his manuscript that Charles I visited the mine and had a ‘sight of the ore of Cummartin mynes’ which he conceived lyed there in vast proportions. Recently the well known authoress Miss Braddon has honoured Combmartin with a lengthy visit and found it’s history and picturesque surroundings sufficiently romantic that in there lay the scene of the last production of her graphic pen. She writes: ‘Being in the neighbourhood we thought we would run over and see the mines of which we had read and heard so much and now after a lapse of thirty years are being re-opened with all the advantages which time and science have brought to the miners aid. On entering the village from the Ilfracombe end the first object that catches the eye is the old smelting works, in which we learn many tons of the finest silver had been extracted from the ore, which is said to contain the greatest quantity of silver of any mine in the UK. There are two hotels in Combmartin, The King’s Arms, locally called the ‘Pack of cards’ in consequence of it’s peculiar construction, and the Valley Hotel, a well appointed hostelry recently built in anticipation of increasing requirements consequent upon the mines being worked. About half way up the village we turn to the left and ascend a steep, uneven lane, running across which the backs of several lead lodes were pointed out, with streaks of bright silvery ore visible. On arriving about half way up we reached an eminence where a good view of the village and surrounding country is obtained. Passing through a gate we came upon a neatly built house which stands immediately over the shaft called Harris’. Around this spot are heaped thousands of tons of bluish-grey kind of earth largely intermixed with white spar stones and here and there heaps of glittering ore are piled up awaiting the crushers in the course of erection. In answer to our enquiry we were informed by Captain Maunder, the resident agent, that the different heaps varied in quality, it being always necessary to sort the piles previous to crushing and dressing and as we have always understood that combmartin ore contained a great quantity of silver we asked which class contained the greatest proportion and were somewhat surprised to find that what we considered the poorest to be the richest. Naturally expecting the brightest and most glittering to be of the most value, but we were shown that it was the finest grained and dull-grey ore which brought the highest price. A small piece of this was picked out for us, Captain Maunder called it ‘Fahler’s Ore’ and we were informed that it contained at the rate of 300 ozs of pure silver to the ton, much more than the average, which is about 60 to 80 ozs. On entering the house at one end hung several suits of underground clothing. We found ourselves standing over a yawning abyss down which a series of ladders seemed to fade into inky blackness. ‘How deep is this shaft?’ We enquired. ‘Down to the 38 fathom level’. We placed our hands upon the crossbar of the windlass and took another look. Just at this moment a little speck of light appeared, this was caused by a miner ascending with a candle stuck onto his hat with a bit of clay. Several other jets came into view and we were informed that they were to be relieved by the afternoon core. ‘Would you like to go down?’ Asked the Captain with a sarcastic smile, as we looked at the strange individuals covered from head to foot with damp earth. ‘I can provide you with a dress that will keep you dry and clean’. On receiving an assurance that it was perfectly safe, which we could scarcely doubt, looking at the well squared shaft, the massive balks of close-fitted timber and the well secured ladders, we summoned up courage, assented and were soon equipped in such attire that had our poor dear mothers seen us at this moment, they would fail to recognise us. We reached the first platform by a series of ladders and were soon at the bottom of the 27 fathom level. Here a passage, or adit, right and left is driven and it is from this level that most of the ore at the surface is being procured. We found ourselves asking the Captain to allow us to break down with our own hands a memento of our visit. He handed us the picks, we let fly but were quickly brought up by the Captain who said we were taking down too much of the country! We however, broke enough to select some very beautiful specimens and then commenced descending to the 37 fathom level. This was soon reached and we found another set of men clearing the adit to enable them to reach the lode at this greater depth where they expected to find it richer and more plentiful. ‘What is that you are clearing away?’ We asked. ‘These be deads going to grass to square up for stopes’. ‘And do you consider the lode a promising one?’ ‘Brave keenly gozzen sure enough, as pretty a fluccan as ever I stuck a pick into. Just the job for fahlers and blende.’ (CMLHG 1997 p 12-13)
(4) Combe Martin Silver Mine Research & Preservation Society
"Approximately 13 years ago.... five mining enthusiasts travelled to the Great North Combe, and attended a meeting of the Combe Martin Historical Society. Mike Warburton's long time friend, Mike Beaumont, introduced him to the new owner of Rock House Farm, Mr Mike Gussin. So started a long friendship which became known as the three Mikes. The following Sunday the three Mikes joined forces with Roger Burton and Rogan Haddock and turned up at Mine Tenement Fields, armed with picks and shovels." (CMSMRPS Newsletter, Issue 1 2001 p 3)
"By the autumn of 1989 the 9 foot square vertical shaft was roofed over, with a hauling hatch let into the centre....within 18 months of the start of operations Williams Pumping Shaft was cleared to 10 fathoms. Work continued steadily...down to 21 fathoms (126 feet) from the surface. Following a prolonged spell of heavy rain during 1991 the water-table rose, flooding the floor of the shaft; work was abandoned only a few fathoms above the deep adit tunnel they hoped to reach." (CMSMRPS Newsletter, Issue 1 2001 p 3)
"After our disappointments in failing to reach the Deep Adit at William's shaft, we turned out attention to a hollow spot in the hillside.....Leslie Walters....thought there was a lewer just to the rear of the [Blacksmith's] shop...he remembered the term being used by the older folk for a 'level driven into the side of a hill'....we realised we had uncovered the detached chimney of the engine house depicted in Rowes print of 1836 and featured inside the cover of Stuckey's Adventurer's Slopes. The print was made within the first year of the operation of Williams Pumping Shaft." (CMSMRPS Newsletter, Issue 2 Spring 2002 p 10)
"Acting chairman, Mitch Warburton stated the purpose of the meeting, and outlined events leading up to the formation of the Society from his first meeting with the former Mine Tenement owner, Mike Gussin:-
Williams Mine - excavation of engine house, balance bob pit and chimney; clearance of pumping shaft to 21 fathoms, roofing of shaft; re-roofing of blacksmith's shop and powder house.
Harris' Mine - cleared to 23 fathoms and at levels 6 and 15 fathoms." (Report of the inaugural meeting of the Silver Mine Society, 7 Nov 2001, CMSMRPS Newsletter, Issue 1 2001 p 1)
(5) Silver-Lead in the Ilfracombe Slates - Tom Norman’s Hole
"Rillage Point forms the eastern termination of Haggington Beach, though the path leading down to it is now destroyed" Hall 1879 p 281)
"The rocks of this cove [Samson's] are very richly coloured, and a late resident at Ilfracombe, writing on the geology of the cliffs hereabouts, refers to a singular rock, which he names the Curtain Rock "from its fancied resemblance to a richly laced velvet curtain.". "This lace-like dressing", he says, "is due to numerous white quartz veins which intersect it vertically at regular distances, contrasting strongly with the dark rich brown of its furrowed face". There are minerals, too, in these cliffs, for "lead appears to be cropping out under the landslip in a reddish shaly matrix". (Page 1895 p 80)
"It is not difficult to find traces of the various mine workings in the Combe Martin neighbourhood but they are often little more than modest holes in the ground which show little evidence of their former purpose. ...Among the places where operations were undertaken were: the old Combmartin Lode between Watery Lane and Ustick Lane; to the west of the village - south of Newberry Hill above Berry Lane, and also at the junction of Newberry and berry Lanes; the iron vein was penetrated around West Challacombe Farm and there is a blocked adit arched with stone 15' up the cliff face above Wild Pear Beach; the Shacry Shaft drove seawards from Lester Cliff and Gorwell's Lode lay west of the main road off Coneypark Lane. The deepest point reached was apparently Vivian's shaft, 106 fathoms 6 inches" (Stuckey 1995 p 20-21)
"Berry mine, exact location not known, probably identical with Wheal Harmony. At work up to 1809, lead.
Watermouth Mine SS573.471, 563.477 and 565.476. Also known as Great Watermouth (see also Wheal Basset, Wheal Harmony and Berry Mine).
Shaft and adit at Newberry (573471); Shaft at 56364773 north of Napps Quarry and adit at 56544764 Golden Cove. Worked for silver-lead 1859 to about 1866 although Newberry workings are considerably earlier.
Wheal Basset. Exact location not known, probably identical to sett later known as Watermouth Mine. At work for silver-lead 1824-27
Wheal Harmony. Exact location not known, probably workings at Newberry (573471) later part of Watermouth Mine. Lead mine at work up to about 1808
Un-named mine. Ochre/umber, exact location not known although umber deposits are to be found in limestones across the parish. At work 1785-88." (Website by Peter Claughton www.exeter.ac.uk/~pfclaugh/mhinf/contents.htm )
"To the west of Rillage Point is another zigzag donkey path (we instead took the difficult route around the coast from Samson’s - not recommended for the vertiginous!) The path has been blasted and runs right along the cliff face. It finishes about 15’ above the beach but the last part has almost certainly has been eroded away. At the bottom is Tom Norman’s Hole, a straight, deep cave which is by local tradition associated with mining and which may have started as an adit. The surrounding rock is different from the blue limestone at Samson’s (indeed a small outcrop nearby appears to have been ignored) and the only minerals are a narrow seam of quartz running upwards from the top right hand side of the cave entrance. If Tom Norman’s Hole was mined, it was certainly not for lime, but it could have been for silver-lead" (CMSMRPS Newsletter Issue 2 spring 2002 p 18)
Early in 2002 and 2003 the area to the west of Rillage Point was visited by the CMSMRPS. There is a zigzag path blasted out of the cliffs that runs down to within about 15’ of the beach, clearly designed for track animals. The last part has probably eroded away or may have had a wooden structure. On the beach is Tom Norman’s hole, a large cave probably 60-80 yards deep, that appears natural but may have started as an adit, like many caves on Combe Martin beach. Above the cave is a small vein of quartz. Seaward from the cave is a cutting beyond which are a couple of narrow caves, their entrances both have blasting marks. The cave on the left, several feet off the ground, has definitely been mined by blasting, but is full of water. The narrow cave on the right, at beach level, runs for perhaps 50 yards but does not obviously appear to have been worked. The cliffs above it are very fragmented and unstable. About halfway along the narrow tunnel is a small hole to the outside (too small for access), the exterior of which shows signs of blasting. All of this activity wasn’t for limestone, since a small outcrop nearby seems to have been ignored.
There was a local miner called Tom Norman - he was the son of William Norman (a lead miner) and Sussanah, of Combe Martin, and was born in Combe Martin in 1838. He worked as a miner at Knapp Down in the 1860’s and on Fileigh tunnel in the 1870’s. (M Warburton). Perhaps in the 1880’s he was mining below Rillage.
(6) Napps Pothole
"Aragonite. Contains strontium, lead and, more rarely, barium, may substitute for calcium...Orthorhombic...Main component of the shells of many organisms (such as corals and oysters) both fossil and recent, and is the primary calcium carbonate precipitate from sea-water, but it is metastable and its atoms may rearrange to give the calcite structure, given time, under normal temperatures and pressures. Much less common than calcite. ...some stalactites in limestone caves are aragonite" (Woolley 1978 p 138)
"Napp's Cave, North Devon. Between the small coastal resorts of Ilfracombe and Combe Martin in North Devon are a number of sea caves eroded out of the limestone and marine slates. Apart from the show caves at Watermouth most of the coastal sites are difficult to reach and some are only accessible by boat. A short distance inland from Watermouth is Napp's cave, the longest and most finely decorated cave in the district. About 250m of passages have so far been explored. The entrance was discovered by quarrymen at the beginning of this century. "Big" Jack Draper, now in his late 80's has a photograph of himself and two other quarrymen breaking into the cave. In his photograph are huge specimens of flos-ferri (an argonite formation composed of clusters of irregular branch-like crystals) which were found just inside. Since the quarry closed in 1912 the cave has been virtually unvisited and, thus, the beautifully decorated rifts and passages still retain fine examples of argonite clusters and twisting helicites. Nowhere are they better portrayed than in the Pool of Reflections, a 1m high grotto, where the water perfectly mirrors the roof formations. In 1975, Bideford Community College Caving Group undertook a conservation programme aimed at protecting these outstanding formations and a small colony of Greater Horseshoe bats which use the cave for winter hibernation. In 1977-78 the cave was surveyed (grade 3) and a steel gate fitted to its entrance" (Vowler 1980 p 62)
"Napps Cave is a natural pothole opened up by limestone quarrying at North Napps Hill in the Parish of Berrynarbor. Quite close to the surface the excavations sliced through a large cave known as the Outer Kitchen, from which a small natural shaft runs down to a tight horizontal passage which leads into the Inner Kitchen. From here big Jack and his pals used to obtain the tryphysso keenly sought by visitors, no doubt intrigued by tales of the difficulties by which they were brought to the light of day. Directly after such an expedition Jack always swore never to go back, but if times got hard he would return just one more time, even though it must have been a difficult crawl. During the past 40 years at least two men have been stuck fast in the approach to the Inner Kitchen and only released after much difficulty. The bottom portal is now securely gated, which protects the few remaining lime formations and allows the small colony of Horseshoe bats to come and go." (CMLHG 1997 p 32)
Caption to a photograph, shown above "From left to right - Jock the Barber, Jack Draper and Corney Burgess display their haul of stalactites from Napps Cave" (CMLHG 1997 p 32, used by permission of Combe Martin Museum)
In October 2001 I found this pothole with my son Oscar. It is right at the top of the hill in a deep (quarried) gully. There is a quarried cave, similar to Joe Moons on Hillsborough, below which is a gated entrance which is very narrow but leads to a long tunnel.
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