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Last Saturday was the first decent day we have had for months (or so it seemed) and wanting some sun on my back I decided to grab my camera bag and go for a walk. I didn’t have as long as I would have liked as I had to be back for a birthday meal out (mine) which was planned. Beautiful Nidderdale is one of my favourite locations and it is also home to a lot of old lead mine workings. I decided to head for Merryfield – a not often visited area of the Dale near the village of Pateley Bridge.

 As it is only about 12 miles or so from my house I was there in good time and had soon parked the car and was walking along a superb track by the side of Ashfoldside Beck, a beautiful reddish-brown stream stained with old minerals, which winds through valleys and woods. Eventually I arrive at a small bridge which spanned the beck and I saw an old ruined building on the left. This is the site of the Prosperous Smeltmill – nothing much left now except an arch and a wall. The mill was built around 1815 and contained 2 ore hearths and a roasting hearth. A flue from the mill runs up the hillside to a chimney but this is now ruined. It was abandoned in 1889 when the company which owned it closed.

Beside the smelt mill is a shaft dating from around 1817, and this has an iron cog wheel on an axel sticking out of it. This connected to a system of underground water wheels which were mainly used to pump water out of the lower workings. The wheel below the smelt mill powered a shaft to the surface which initially worked the smelt mill bellows. Later it powered a nearby dressing mill.

I wandered around the massive spoil heaps and found my way to the ruined Providence Engine House which pumped water from the deepest workings around 1802. A nearby deep shaft was fenced off but you could throw a stone down it and it was a long time until I heard the ‘boom’ out of the depths. I wondered what lay below.

I spent quite awhile looking around these old ruins and I marvelled at the tenacity and courage of these old miners who with little more than a pick & shovel, a few candles and the odd stick of dynamite eked out a meagre living from the hard cold rock. It must have been a hard life indeed.

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