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Lead and Coal Mining in Upper Wharfedale

Lead and coal have been mined in Wharfedale since medieval times.

The lead was deposited as veins in fissures in the rocks by hot percolating mineral solutions. In early times these veins were worked, often by small groups of miners, as open works or via shallow shafts. Miners operated under the ‘meer’ system, groups of miners were granted mining rights to work an area of ground along a vein (measured in meers, typically 30 yards). The mineral lord took a share of the lead produced. The meer system was eventually replaced by a system of bargaining where miners were paid to undertake specific work. The 19th centuries saw the development of larger mining companies; deeper shafts were sunk and levels driven for drainage or haulage. By the end of the 19th century, faced with increased competition from cheaper lead imports, the industry came to a close.

Thin seams of coal are found within the Yoredale and the Millstone Grit Groups of rocks. The coal is of poor quality. It was mined from shallow mines and used locally. In the early 20th century mining on a more industrial scale saw the development of a colliery at Threshfield by local entrepreneur John Delaney to supply coal for his lime kilns. This venture was short-lived and coal mining at Threshfield ceased in 1905.

Today semi-grassed spoil heaps, a line of filled shafts, or a ruined stone structure may provide the only indication of former mining activity. These historic sites are at risk as the features gradually fade back into the landscape. The purpose of this Lead and Coal Mining Survey is to record the principal features of some of the less well documented sites in their landscape settings.



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Line of shallow shafts along the South Cocklake Vein on Conistone Moor.


The survey team began work in 2018 and the work is ongoing. We are pleased to receive support from the Northern Mine Research Society, Olicana Historical Society and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. 

Copies of all the survey reports may be found in the Project Reports section.

All old mine workings are potentially dangerous and caution is needed at all times. There are still open shafts, some unfenced or covered by heaps of stones. Care should be taken not to damage the sites which are historically important; some are scheduled ancient monuments.

William Varley

May 2020

Sadly, Will Varley died in summer 2021 after a short but acute illness. He was the driving force for the Lead and Coal mining project in its early days and his expertise and enthusiasm will be greatly missed by the team.


Will’s geological expertise was invaluable and his family background in mining had fuelled and added to his interest in mining for many years. This, and his connections with mining historians at NMRS, made him an ideal person to lead the team.

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