Iron at Georgeham; Spreacombe and the Cleveland Mine.

Notes on the mining of iron in the parish of Georgeham, and the adjoining parish of Mortehoe, Devon. Compiled after attention was drawn to a group of documents found in the North Devon Athenaeum, Barnstaple.

The number and location of mines active in the Georgeham / Morthoe area in 1872 - 75 has always been unclear. The documents, North Devon Athenaeum (NDA) Box 35, do at least clarify the location of the Cleveland Mine but I'm not sure that they throw a clear light on the location of other workings in the area.

It is unfortunate that we have to largely rely on newspaper accounts for information. Not the most accurate of sources.

The North Buckland Mine was probably the earliest to be worked for iron ore. It was active from at least 1858 producing unspecified amounts of ore, there was a fatal accident there in 1861 when at least five miners were employed. By 1872 it was being worked by William Noel Baghott, with Stanhope Byrne as agent, in conjunction with a mine at Viveham, and at least 50 tons of ore was raised. Baghott did claim that 200 tons per week were being raised from North Buckland (referred to as the North Buckland Red Haematite Mine) alone. Comments by Townsend Hall to 'large quantities of reniform haematite' do appear to confirm that the mine as more than just a trial (North Devon Athenaeum (NDA) Box 35.)

Baghott was evidently in partnership with one or more adventurers. Two names, Blair and Pender, were cited in subsequent court cases for non-payment of wages. (NDJ 6 Jun., 7 Nov., 21 Nov., 28 Nov., 19 Dec., 26 Dec., 1872; 16 Jan. and 17 July 1873; four petitions to the Court of the Vice Warden of the Stannaries, dated 28 Oct. 1873 in author's possession.)

The Mining Journal, April 2nd., 1870 reported that a company with a capital of 50,000 was being formed to work Riddell's Spreacombe estate (lying wholly within Morthoe parish.) That company or its successor was possibly the Mr Ellis with whom Townsend Hall was corresponding, about iron on the estate, in 1872 (NDA Box 35.)

That part, of what was later known as Spreacombe Mine, south of the lane to Oxford Cross is within Georgeham parish and referred to by Hall as the Cleveland Mine. In July 1872 a correspondent of the Ilfracombe Chronicle (Ilf. Chron. 20 July 1872) visited what appears, from the description, to be that site and referred to it as the 'Spreacombe Mine .... formerly the property of J. R. Riddell Esq. but now in the hands of the Yniscedwyn Iron, Steel and Coal Co., near Swansea.' So, unless there had been a change of ownership for the land south of the lane (owned by Robert Chichester in 1839 - Georgeham Tithe Award,) that company was also working the ground to the north on the Spreacombe estate.

The Ilfracombe Chronicle account also mentions two other iron mines at work in the locality, Mr Bagot's at Buckland and Mr Ellis's at Georgeham. Bagot (Baghott or Bagshott) was working the North Buckland Mine and is known to have held a lease of minerals under some Fortescue land in Georgeham parish, probably Pickwell Wood adjacent to the North Buckland Mine (a licence on the remainder, principally around Pickwell Down was drawn up in favour of Robert Smith in 1872 - Devon Record Office (DRO) 1262M/E25/7.) But where was Mr Ellis's mine ?

By 1874 the Spreacombe Mine, worked by the Ynyscedwyn Co. was making returns to the Mining Records Office (Mineral Statistics 1874 to 1877.) In 1875 the four mines within the parish of Georgeham were assessed for rates as follows - Buckland Mines, gross 43, rateable 40, owner Mr Hende and agent Mr George Boyles (which indicates that the mine referred to was that part of Spreacombe Mine south of the lane worked by the Ynyscedwyn Co. - see Mineral Statistics) and the other Buckland Mine, gross 20, rateable 19. Mr Smith's mine and Earl Fortescue's mine were to be dealt with accordingly (Georgeham Vestry Minute Book, 1865-93, 13 Apr. 1875.)

At this period, 1874, a Buckland Mine (probably the mine generally referred to as the North Buckland Mine) is list in the Reports of HM Inspector of Mines (Home Office) as being worked by D. Cameron Park. The mining agent Joseph Pope did carry out some prospecting for Park on Earl Fortescue's land about that time (North Devon Journal, 21 Jan. 1875) and subsequently took a licence to search for minerals under Fortescue's land in the parish of Georgeham (DRO 1262M/E25/7.) By this time Baghott, the former lessee of the North Buckland Mine, had worked in some capacity for the Ynyscedwyn Co. for he, George Boyles and other miners took the company to court for non-payment of money for services rendered (NDJ 16 Nov. 1976.)

The papers in NDA Box 35 detail a fairly extensive trial on the Spreacombe estate north of the workings normally associated with the Spreacombe Mine. An examination of the field marked 16 on the map should find evidence for the 34 foot deep shaft. Those workings (adits) to the east of Roadway Farm were clearly intended to pick up a northwards extension of the iron bearing crosscourse which Hall identifies as the Cleveland Lode but I don't think they are the northern part of that lode referred to in the report March 7, 1872. Evidence suggests that the Roadway workings were in different ownership and the subject of investigations by William Toy who subsequently sold the mineral rights to Maitland and Montgomery (NDJ 17 Dec. 1874; both fields, the site of the adits and the shaft near the road junction, were in the same ownership in 1840 - Mortehoe Tithe Award.) By 'northern workings' Hall would have meant those adjoining the parish boundary. His mention of manganese ties in with the site being later worked for that mineral.

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Peter Claughton / Dept. of Economic and Social History
Last modified 1 September 1997