Two hundred years ago, the English Midlands county of Shropshire contained some of the most heavily industrialised areas in the world.
Now the county is the image of a peaceful rural English shire but the importance of its past contribution to world civilisation is internationally recognised. Many industrial archaeology sites remain as witness to this past.
Snailbeach was once considered "the richest mine per acre of ground in Europe", and was one of the most famous lead mines of Britain. The Romans probably mined the lead ore Galena on this site first and they were certainly busy at nearby mines in the upland country of the Stiperstones around 120AD.
After the Romans left, there seems to have been little mining until the late 18th century when Snailbeach and other Shropshire mines enjoyed a bonanza lasting around 150 years.
Snailbeach was worked for lead until 1911 when the reserves of ore were almost exhausted and the lower levels below the drainage adit were allowed to flood. Lesser Shropshire lead mines had had to close 15 years earlier due to falling ore prices.
Barite was mined from the upper levels until the 1950's and some prospecting was done in the 1960's but today the prospect for Snailbeach is as a national heritage site.
Many of the buildings dating from the years of prosperity are still standing and experienced cavers can still explore the awesome cavernous workings deep underground.
I.A.Recordings have visited Snailbeach regularly since 1978 and we have produced several video programmes with the help of the SCMC, the Shropshire Caving and Mining Club.
The production "Snailbeach" is a history of the mine and uses present-day footage recorded above and below ground together with historic photographs and animated diagrams. The short production "Visiting Snailbeach" was made especially for the visitor centre at the mine.
National Grid Reference: SJ 3747 0214
Landowner: Marquis of Bath.
1676: Earliest recorded mention of the mine, when miners from Derbyshire started working here.
1761: Leased by Thomas Powys (local man) for 5 years, extended for a further 6 years in 1766.
1782: Leased by Thomas Lovett of Chirk for 21 years - mine's fame dates from this period.
1783 Dec.: Lovett signs Deed of Partnership with 7 others, to form the Snailbeach Co. - worked mine until 1911.
1784: Lovett leases Nags Head coal mine, Pontesbury.
1797: Mine 180yds deep, beam engine erected to pump up to 112yd. level. Adit 1,200 yards long from Hope Brook driven for 31ft. (9m) waterwheel to aid pumping via flat rods.
1820s: Black Tom shaft sunk 40 yards on parallel vein 160 yards North of main vein.
1850s: Peak output of 3,500 tonnes ore mined annually, smelted at local mill.
1857 - 1858: Stephen Eddy, from Skipton, Yorkshire becomes the Mine Agent. Paid £100 per annum + 5% of profits up to £4,000 and 7½ % above that.
c1858: James Ray Eddy (Stephen's son) takes over, and completely refits the mine, resulting in ten fold increase in profits.
He remodels the dressing floor, replaces the flat-rod drainage with a 61" (1.55m) dia. cylinder Cornish beam pump on Lordshill.
1859: Chapel Shaft sunk by neighbouring landowner (Earl of Tankerville) to try and exploit the vein - without success. Chapel shaft collar 62m above George's shaft.
1862: New Smelt Mill built. Horizontal winder (former ships capstan) installed at Chapel Shaft.
1863: Old Smelt Mill at Pontesford abandoned, new reverberatory mill completed, closer to the mine.
1870: James Ray Eddy resigns as agent, Henry Dennis takes over - spends over £10,000 refurbishing mine and buildings - 8 new jigs, 4 buddles in a large shed (1872) and reservoir, fed by leat. Most of the buildings seen on the site today date from the 1870's.
1872: Horizontal winder installed at George's (Old) shaft, shaft deepened to 252 yards & widened for man riding.
1873: Crushing engine rebuilt and connected to jiggers in 1876.
1877: Snailbeach District Railways constructed, unusual gauge of 2ft. 4" (71cm), from Minsterley to the mine along route surveyed by Dennis in 1873. Coal wagons winched up incline to Lordshill engine house.
1881: Another period of major developments. Up to this point all main operations were manual - miners used picks and hammers, hand drill rods and gunpowder. Ore was raised in underground winzes by hand winch. Compressor house & chimney built to provide power for pneumatic drills & winches.
Ore hauled from Lordshill shaft in kibbles, (wrought iron barrels) - this shaft was over 462 yards deep, but hauled from the main tramming level at 432 yards.
Underground a large shaft was sunk from 342 yard level to 552 yard level.
Small steam engine in wooden building installed at Black Tom.
1884: Lead prices plummeted & company made first financial loss. Liquidated and reformed in a smaller way.
1895: All underground exploration stopped. Miners worked ground already laid open by Dennis. Smelt Mill closed & partly demolished.
1900: Halvans Co. formed to work for baryte. Use Black Tom shaft (1820) and one of the old dressing plants.
1911: Lordshill pump stopped, workings flood to 112 yard adit level, 102m below George's shaft collar.
Upper parts of mine continue to be worked for baryte (used for oil rig drilling mud, barium meals, whitening agent and filler in toothpaste and paints)
1955: Underground working finally stops (last working area was Perkins/Roberts' level).
1960s-70s: Waste tips worked for spar - used as pebble-dash and adding to tarmac to create white spots in driveways.
1990-1: Shropshire Council undertake work to stabilise the mine site and buildings. Restoration and preservation of the mine begins.
1993: Headframe & sheave wheel re-erected over George's (Old) shaft.
Several compilations are also available or are in preparation.