Tindale Past and Present
Friends of the Lake District and Natural England awarded small funding grants to groups to highlight some of Cumbria's treasured environment... We chose to focus on Tindale in North Cumbria... it's past and present!
We head out of the City of Carlisle, east in the direction of Newcastle. After passing the market town of Brampton, we turn off the A69 and follow the A689 towards Alston. The villages of Milton and Hallbankgate come into view in between the open countryside dominated, as much of Cumbria is, by sheep. Finally after travelling for fifteen miles or so we see a sign for Tindale! Hooray..We’ve arrived.
Tindale is a small hamlet with a farm or two and a few scattered houses, and yet for a tiny old spot it has had its time in the limelight and seen some unexpected treasures turn up…
First thing’s first, Tindale and the surrounding Tindale Fell are situated in the North Pennines, a wild and rugged part of Cumbria. The area doesn’t quite have the idyllic charm of other parts of the County, yet never the less is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty…
Tindale itself is a place of contrasts. Stone built terrace houses nestle in an area which is largely agricultural. These houses and other buildings give a clue to its past. One is a former Wesleyan Chapel, another was once a school house, one is a former cooperative emporium, another was once a public reading room. Today Tindale is populated by two dozen families or so but would have once housed, educated, employed and serviced hundreds. And it is only a short hop from these homes to a former place of work which has left as a reminder the excavated, blackened, scorched earth of it’s industrial past.
Tindale had seen coal and lime being mined since the early 1700’s. But it was as the Spelter works, firing and purifying zinc that it grew, and at its height in the 1800’s about 600 people lived and worked in the area.
With a ready supply of water diverted from nearby Tindale Tarn and links to the railways enabling coal to be delivered from local drift mines and ore from Alston, the place became an ideal, out of the way furnace of heat and fire.
The process of smelting ores could use either Zinc Blende or ‘Black Jack’. And it is the latter which may explain the area the leads to the site of the former smelter, which is commonly referred to as ‘The Jack’.
The site itself contained 28 furnaces, where approximately 2 kg of zinc was produced every 24 hours –doesn’t sound much does it for all that effort and sweat! Also on site was a warehouse, offices, and a manager’s house.
The main waste product from the process of extracting zinc from ore was sulphur dioxide, which – due to the low chimney – rapidly fell to earth, killing the local vegetation. The effects of this pollution led the site operators the Nenthead and Tynedale Lead and Zinc Company having to pay significant compensation for damage to the land. By 1893, 95 hectares of land surrounding the plant had been destroyed by pollution, and a further 61 hectares were being affected. Bad news for the works…
In the middle of 1895 the smelter closed, and the plant was demolished the following year. During its lifetime the smelter produced approximately 40,000 tons of zinc from 200,000 tons of ore, using about the same quantity of coal. The waste from the smelter occupies a triangular piece of land north of the site, bounded by the railway (which we’ll come to in a moment)
In 1928 the site was opened up again by the Tindale Extracting Company Limited set up to extract white zinc oxide from the residues for sale to the paint industry. However, the zinc oxides produced weren’t up to scratch, and the plant closed in 1931 at a loss of £40,000.
Today only the concrete pillars remain of the 20th century plant, which was built on top of the original smelter. A large amount of the waste was extracted for filling when RAF Spadeadam was built at nearby Gilsland, much of the detritus used as ballast for the launching pad of the ill fated Blue Streak – but that’s another story!
Now back to that railway. As early as 1775 a railway line had been constructed by the Earl of Carlisle between Brampton Coal Staithe and Tindale Fell. It had its origins in wooden waggonways, but subsequently the tracks were realigned to meet up with the main Newcastle & Carlisle Railway at Brampton Junction station. The rails were re-spaced to George Stephenson's 4' 8 1/2¨ gauge, and was worked by steam. The engine used was Stephenson's Rocket, bought for £300. Now a prized possession and major attraction at the National Science Museum in South Kensington, London, The Rocket worked delivering coal from local mines to Tindale between 1836 and 1840. After that, retired out of service, it remained locally, housed for a further twenty years until 1862 when it was donated to the Patent Museum in London by the Thompsons of Milton Hall, near Brampton. The Earl of Carlisle railway lines too are now long gone, some of their path now forms part of the Sustrans National cycle routes.
A major source of power to the Spelter Works was water channelled and diverted from Tindale Tarn, a natural and ancient supply of glacial formed water situated close by. Standing alongside the edge of the Tarn is a farmhouse, built in the Late 15th Century for Humphrey, Lord Dacre, as a pele tower later used as an administrative building for exploiting the Dacre estates, initially for coal and, seemingly, for cheese making in some scale in the 17th Century. The building like many at the time displayed some defence to protect it from any local discontent.(But that’s yet another story)
Today nature has reclaimed much of the land around Tindale. Aided by the efforts of the RSPB who hold much of this land in trust, the area in now a nature reserve – returning perhaps in someway to it’s pre industrial state, but of course not yet completely forgetting its history!
Click on pictures to enlarge...
Thanks to all those who came on the trip. It was good criac and it was hot! I think everybody learned something new about a relatively undiscovered part of the County and enjoyed the day.
Thanks to the funders, Friends of the Lake District and Natural England.
And thanks also to Gordon Swindlehurst of BBC Radio Cumbria who volunteered his voice to tell some of the stories about Tindale Past and Present.
"I really enjoyed today... Thankyou for taking us." Jonathan