On the western edge of the Stiperstones north east of Shelve village and to the south of the County town of Shrewsbury, Tankerville was once one of the most productive Lead Mines in the area. The mine was worked for Baryte, Lead, Silver and Zinc between 1865 and 1925.
The mine had 4 shafts (Lewis's, Old or Ovenpipe, Watson's and New shafts), at least 2 engine houses with chimneys, ancillary buildings plus an extensive dressing floor. In December 1996 the site of Tankerville Mine (NGR SO 355 995) was transferred to the Shropshire Mines Trust (SMT). The site controlled by the SMT consists of two areas, separated by a track, with the smaller area including the engine house and chimney of Old or Ovenpipe Shaft and the larger area includes Watsons Engine House, Shaft and chimney.
Please note: only Trustees and members of the Trust have the right to cross over the track to pass from one area to the other and not members of the general public. Until such time as this changes, members of the public must be content with only visiting the main area of the site, which is accessible by public footpath from the main road to Pennerley and the Bog.
If you visit the area: DO NOT enter any workings or tunnels without permission and please DO NOT trespass on neighbouring properties.
The mine started in a small way in the early 1800's working a pipe vein which out-cropped in the valley here. The mine consisted of a shaft and cross-cut from the Boat Level (a long distance drainage level built in the 1790's), at this time it was known as Ovenpipe Mine.
In the 1830's the mine was leased by Walker, Cross & Co who used a horse powered gin on Ovenpipe shaft, but the mine was not very productive.
1860s - Heighway Jones
Local man Heighway Jones took over the site in the 1860s and appointed Captain Arthur Waters to improve the mine.
In 1870 Waters installed a small 16 H.P. steam winding and pumping engine in a wooden shaft top building, he also deepened Ovenpipe shaft 74 fathoms below the Boat Level and drove exploration cross-cuts to find new veins.
42 fathoms below the adit a cross-cut discovered the tip of an ore pipe dipping 40 degrees to the vertical south westerly. This was the richest pipe vein discovered in Shropshire in the nineteenth century.
Despite the rich vein, the method of raising the ore - along the cross-cut then up the old shaft, proved very slow and cumbersome. In 1870, the Tankerville Mining Company was formed to exploit the mine and sink a new shaft (now known as Watson's Shaft).
Watson's Engine Shaft hit a large quantity of lead ore, about 500ft (154m), it was then carried on down following the vein. Ore extracted from the shaft more than paid for the sinking costs.
In late 1870 a 25 H.P. engine was installed for winding from all the shafts, with additional engines of 6 H.P and 60 H.P. being installled in 1871.
Watson's Engine Shaft eventually became the deepest shaft in the orefield, with a final depth of 1,700ft (523m). Where the shaft 'doglegged' at 500ft (154m), to follow the vein the vertical motion of the pump rods had to be converted to angular motion. This proved very difficult and caused a lot of wear on the pitwork.
By the end of 1871, Lewis's Shaft had been timbered down to the Boat Level and plunger pumps installed. Old Engine shaft had also been timbered with new ladders and pitwork installed. In addition a high pressure Fowler steam engine had been installed underground with 190 fathoms (351m) of wrought iron chimney being built in the shaft to remove fumes from the underground boiler - this was used while work was taking place on Watson's Shaft and before the first engine (a 32" pumping and winding engine) was installed on Watson's Shaft. The 32" engine proved unable to cope with the inflow of water at depth, so was replaced by a 40" Cornish style Beam engine in 1877.
Beginning of the End
Development costs proved too much in 1878 and the Tankerville Mining Company went into liquidation, the mine becoming part of a new firm called Tankerville Great Consols, which owned the nearby mines of Potters Pit, Pennerley and the Bog. The main partner of this new firm was Peter Watson (a director of Devon Great Consols Copper Mine, Devon) - it was during his ownership that Watson's Shaft was sunk to its final depth, in search of better ore bodies.
In 1882, compressed air boring machine were used at Tankerville - believed to be the first of their kind in Shropshire.
In May 1884, pumping was stopped and the main period of lead mining ended, some mining of baryte continued in the upper levels above the drainage level. The mine was finally abandoned in 1925.
A letter to the Mining Journal in 1872 gives some idea of the costs involved in sinking the Shafts:
A gang of 12 men was employed - each man earning £1 per week.
In a month, £12 of drill steel, powder, fuse, candles etc.. was used.
Total cost for the sinking gang: £ 60
If the gang were paid on a contract of £20 per fathom sunk, they would need to sink 3 fathoms per month to cover costs.
In a 12ft x 9 ft (3.69m x 2.77m) shaft this would involve removing 9 cubic fathoms of ore, at 20 tons per fathom, giving a yield of 180 tons per months. Lead ore was selling at £13 per ton at that time.
Note: 1 fathom = 6 feet = 1.85m
Lewis's Shaft was filled-in and landscaped in the late 1970's and early 1980's.
Part of a stone built boiler & engine house (with external drum), and chinmey survive in the undergrowth and are presumed to be the remains of an engine house which served Ovenpipe (Old) Shaft. These will soon be preserved by The Shropshire Mines Trust. The actual shaft was in the middle of the farmyard and has been filled - it has not been transferred to the SMT.
New Shaft is still visible on the right of the road to Bog. The path
to the shaft crosses what was once the dam of the mine reservoir (now
in the care of the SMT).
The most substantial and interesting remains are those of Watson's Shaft, which are now looked after by the SMT. For many years this was a very dangerous shaft, with a huge unstable collar slowly 'devouring' the surrounding buildings.
However, recent work by Shropshire County Council and the Shropshire Mines Trust has stabilised and conserved the site, so that it is now possible approach it safely. Watsons Shaft has been capped but there is access via the balance bob pit, which is locked for safety.
Watson's Engine house last contained a 40" Cornish engine from Harveys of Hayle, which was used for winding only. The immediate area around the shaft was surrounded by a wide stone platform. On the east-side of the engine house are the remains of 6 ore bins - the bases of which are level with the shaft collar. A large flat area in-front of the bins may have been a possible dressing floor.
On the west-side of the engine house at the end of the stone shaft top collar, is the intact boiler chimney, although only the rear walls of the boiler house survive.
On the north-side of the shaft (opposite the engine house) in a stone tunnel is the balance bob pit. The balance bob was used to counteract the weight of the pump rods. In the outer retaining wall of the balance bob pit, are fragments of other buildings including what was possible part of the miners changing room.
The Mine Office also survives and is now used as a house.
Since the stabilisation of Watson's Shaft, the Club and the Shropshire Mines Trust have started to explore the underground remains at Tankerville. It is hoped eventually to gain access to the Boat Level once again, but at the moment the shaft is blocked about 50m down where a cross-cut leads towards Old Engine (or Ovenpipe) Shaft.
The shaft top is grilled with a close net grid on RSJ’s and a timber platform set about 6 metres below - on a level with the balance bob pit. A small section of the timber has been cut out the corner of the platform to allow access for the MineCam and for the bosons' chair powered by the Club winch - which has to be situated out of sight on the surface.
For a manual descent, the top grill provides a suitable belay, but the gauge of fencing is too close to tie knots, so its necessary to have a bowline loop down to the platform level.
Once below the platform the descent is an easy abseil to a landing on a rubble pile some 45 metres below.
From here a level goes out towards Ovenpipe Shaft and an ever deepening pool of cowsh slurry. A few metres in, a second level heads out for about 70 metres towards what we assume to be New Shaft. There is an obvious draught towards Watsons Shaft which appears to find its way over stowed backfill at the end of the level.
Along the level there are a few rusting cans, some small calcite and limonite stal and two sections of a wall mounted wooden leat.
Photographs taken on first Club Winch Trip at Watson's Shaft
Left: Descending the Shaft on the Bosun's chair
Right: View along level toward Ovenpipe Shaft from Watson's Shaft landing
Above, left: 'Flooded' section of level near Old or Ovenpipe Shaft. Center: Level leading towards New Shaft with remains of wooden launder. Right: Back-filled end of level
Most of the Tankerville Mine site has now been officially scheduled as a Historic Monument.
The Shropshire Mines Trust would like to reinstate the lower reservoir to hold water and encourage wildlife like frogs and newts back to the site. A small metal headgear has been built by a Trust Member and placed over Watsons Shaft so it can be used with the SCMC winch for descents.
More details about the Shropshire Mines Trust can be obtain from their web site: shropshiremines.org.uk
The Trust are always in need of certain materials on site. If you are able to donate any of the following they would be gratefully received:
- Fencing poles and fencing wire
- Timber of all sorts
- Wooden railway sleepers
- Young trees or natural shrubs
- Wild flower seeds
- Seats/picnic tables
Report - Historical background: Terry Davies and Dr.J.A.Heathcote
Underground exploration is dangerous if you do not have the right equipment and skills. This is why you should consider joining a well established Club, who can train you and lend you equipment for your first few trips. Have a look at our Links page to find links to other underground exploration groups, both in Britain and around the world.