This morning I was reading about Mongolia, and it reminded me of Coniston. Why? Because the news report was about the world’s largest still-undeveloped deposit of copper, and the Coniston copper mines were once an important source of that vitally important metal.
Today, of course, the world’s known reserves of copper are vastly greater than anything that was understood in the days of Elizabeth I. Mines in Chile, Peru, USA and Canada are massive, as are those in Indonesia and Australia, but 450 years ago those lands were scarcely on the map so far as Europeans were concerned.
The Romans had mined much of their copper in Cyprus (from which eventually came the Cu symbol for the chemical element). When they arrived in Britain they found significant deposits in Cornwall, and there is evidence of Roman mining in Cumbria. It was the sixteenth century, though, in the days of Elizabeth the First, before copper mining was developed at Keswick and Coniston by the Company of Mines Royal. Early mining is known to have taken place on a significant scale in areas around Borrowdale, the Newlands Valley, Buttermere and the Caldbeck fells as well as on Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam. In places mining continued into the 20th century.
The Coniston copper mines had what can only be described as fluctuating success over the three hundred years from the Elizabethan age, becoming substantial producers only in the nineteenth century. They then became nationally significant for some decades, and brought a generation or two of prosperity to the area, but with steadily increasing discoveries internationally of larger and easier deposits they could not compete. By the end of the nineteenth century they were doomed.
More on Coniston Copper + mines elsewhere in the Lake District
On one of my other sites I wrote more on the history of Coppermines at Coniston a year or so ago. Others far more knowledgeable than I have written much more extensively, for example:
- Peter Fleming, on his excellent Cumbrian Industry website, Copper.
- Eric Holland, Coniston Copper: A History – Over 300 pages of authoritative content.
- Eric Holland, Coniston Copper Mines: A Field Guide to the Mines in the Copper Ore Field at Coniston in the English Lake District.
- Goldscope and the Mines of Derwent Fells (copper and lead).
- Seathwaite Wad And The Mines Of The Borrowdale Valley (graphite and copper).
The links above take you to Amazon.co.uk. If only expensively priced secondhand copies are available there (or if you don’t find any at all) try doing a search here for the title or author. Ian Tyler, for example, has written many others most of which are now out of print but may be available 2nd hand.