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Author Common Wood slate mine report, Cumbria

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Joined: 05/03/2012
Location: Carlisle, Cumbria

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Common Wood slate mine report, Cumbria
Posted: 25/11/2013 11:04:00
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I haven't written here for a while. Sure I haven't thought of what to write, so I'll just stop with the introduction and write and see what happens really.

I have been to Common Wood Quarry several times. In Wales, a slate mine like Conglog gets, not nearly as much attention as Cwmorthin or Wrysgan, but it gets a fair bit. Common Wood is a Cumbrian slate mine near Ulpha in Dunnerdale, and despite being larger than Conglog, I was the only person to ever take an interest in it, until two other people heard about it.
Despite playing a major part in employment until the 1930s, no-one has been able to tell me anything whatsoever about it. I learnt its name from the internet, and that the slate band it works is hard and brittle, but nothing more.
I've only been to this mine four times in my life, yet it remains one of my favorites. Each of the Cumbrian valleys involved in slate mining has kept some of its methods to itself, so Commonwood for example, along with a couple of nearby trials, makes large use of packwalls divided by a larger haulage area. Commonwood is in the Duddon Valley, other such slate mines include Caw, Brockbarrow, and the workings higher up of Walna Scar, Stainton Ground, and Stickle Pike, which are arguably in a seperate area, with again, different methods of mining.
The "Hin Ghwathow" as I call them, or "Old Quarries", include Caw, Brockbarrow, Stainton Ground and Sticke Pike. They lie on the low, but very rocky and slate rich mountains to the east of the Duddon River, charictarised by long, well constructed cart tracks traversing the mountainside, the underground chambers tend to be shallow, these are small workings.
Walna Scar lies on the same vein as these quarries but was worked very differently, and for a longer period of time.
Far across the valley outcrops another vein or 'band' of slate, of a much courser sort and thus much harder to rive, or split. This vein was tried in at least three other locations outside of Common Wood, but little slate obtained. The only other working on this band of significance is Goldscope, which lies to the North and on the other side of the mountains from Dunnerdale.

Common Wood is not by any means a safe mine. Not only is exploration halted by the lack of history, or knowledge of it, but the site has suffered a serious, and I mean very serious collapse. It is probable that slate was mined here quite early on, most of the extraction appears to have taken place underground, nearly all of it.

Recently I explored the Low Level, which runs for a fair distance into the hillside. Now, it wasn't called the Low Level, we don't know what its actual name was, but it's the lowest level which goes anywhere so we named it such. After climbing through a collapse, which, could be worse, but I wouldn't want to try again in ten years, the tunnel leads on through water and a small chamber, and into the base of a very large cavern, or what was once. A climb up leads to the large closehead, seperated in parts by different pillars. The chamber follows the relatively gently slope of the slate band, and is largely filled with rubble, waste rock and collapses. The lower level bypasses this by passing within arched tunnels beneath all this waste rock, though it collapsed for the most part though it's not entirely clear in which direction these tunnels went, obviously they joined up in places to allow access to different parts of the closehead, but they could also have gone further along the slate band at this level in a north easterly or south westerly direction. As the chamber rises up you reach a pillar, and beyond it, is a LARGE collapse. The two windows, like giant eyes, each side of the pillar, are choked with car sized (and bigger) slabs of slate, fallen in some large cave in long ago, which probably would have made a very big crash and frightened a lot of local sheep. From here another area of the closehead can be found via a climb back down to a different part of the first level, in a chamber with so much iron on the walls that you'd think it was one of the Furness Iron Mines. From here one can dangerously climb down into a small area of arched tunnel beneath the chamber above, with backfilled areas all around, showing something of the original size.

Back to the skull like eyes, it is possible to do a precarious climb down boulders into a continuation of the low level as it heads deeper into the mountain, and beneath the heart of the collapse, the remains of a chamber, filled with huge rocks slammed and locked against eachother. Essentially this was the result of a blockage from above. Now I have only explained one of the areas of Commonwood, there is a higher level, (blocked) also leading to the same large area of chambering, which would in all likelyhood have been much more extensive before the collapse.
Higher up still is the collapse where it appears on the hillside, and a small amount of surface work has also taken place here. Higher up still one finds a small open chamber and subsequent trial level, and below and to the south is a very long level leading to a small area of chambers which, had it extended much further, would have linked up beneath the open chamber I just mentioned. In here they also were driving a tunnel towards the main workings and where the collapse is.

So far I've explained the Southern Workings. To the North, on the same vein and through 100ft of woodland are other workings (though the workings don't appear to join up, they could do with the Southern Workings). These workings are also quite extensive, consisting of a short trial tunnel at the lowest point, and two levels above. The first is fairly long and leads to a closehead, one smaller chamber and a larger one held up by a pillar. As is typical in this mine the chamber has been driven upwards for some distance, and a nice set of stone stairs has been left in place. It's possible that a tunnel continued beneath the tip to other workings.
The level above this is much longer and more extensive. The entrance is blocked, but it's possible to climb back into the level via a small opened out chamber slightly to the south. One can continue the level here and follow it into a sizeable underground closehead, much of it abandoned and walled off, with various trial tunnels and a blocked tunnel beneath a great tip at the back which could have lead to more workings. Again it was driven upwards.

Please note I don't reccomend anyone visit most of these workings, the Southern workings certainly are in a very bad condition, if anyone wants a look at the safer bits then contact me and I can show you round, at our own risk of course!

Here are some photos!! yayyyy, the excitement.

Let's start at the bottom North workings. Here below is a trial level upon the slate vein here at a lower point, clearly the vein was too narrow or of poorer quality

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higher up, this level leads into the hillside, and to a couple of chambers, one with the stone stairway

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this chamber is worked up a short distance, perhaps with the original idea of connecting it to the level above:

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in a smaller chamber nearby are a couple of these boxes:

(click image to open full size image in new window) anyone any idea what they were used for?

This is a photo of the rather extensive working above here (the chambers which must be climbed into via a small cavern opened to surface:

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and what was in all likelihood an arched tunnel beneath the tips and upper part of the closehead, now walled off:

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If we now have a look at the Southern workings: here are some photos of the lowest level which I described in this post:

large chamber with 'skull eyes' behind which is the collapse:

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remains of wagon beneath the big collapse

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very wide gauge of rail track, the tunnel it lead into has been mostly blocked except for in one small section

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the railway track again in the 'red chamber' looking up towards the collapse.

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Hmm strange, where could all this rock have come from, why is it filling this chamber?

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Oh, that's why... :

(click image to open full size image in new window)

Hope this has been interesting


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