Honister Slate Mine
The Slate Mine in Honister [also known as Honister slate mine] is a mine which produces the famous Westmorland green slate and is now also used as a tourist attraction situated in the Lake District National Park in the north of England. The earliest reference to quarrying at this location is from 1728.
In 1870 underground workings existed under Honister Crag, with intermediate workings on the opposite side of the valley at Yew Crags. There were also smaller-scale underground workings on Dubbs Moor, together with a small opencast quarry — opencast quarrying had been carried on at Honister since the late 17th century. Slate from the Honister workings was at one time dragged on sleds down steep paths that traversed the cliffs to the top of Honister Pass (The Hause), but packhorse teams had been used to remove finished product from the opencasts for a great many years prior to 1830. In 1879 new owners installed self-acting inclines to serve both the Honister and Yew Crags mines; these were remarkable and costly feats of engineering but they enabled far more efficient production. The incline serving the Dubbs Quarry was cleverly designed to lift product up the side of the valley from the quarry, and then lower it down the other valley side to The Hause. The company leased and operated other quarries in Borrowdale. In the mid-1920s, brilliantly engineered aerial ropeways served the Honister and Yew Crags Mines, though the external Yew Crags incline continued to be used until the late 1960s. Connection to the Hause/slate works from both incline and short aerial ropeway was by petrol-driven loco on a railway bridging the Seatoller-Buttermere road. This bridge was removed for scrap in the early 1970s.
By 1891 production had reached 3,000 tons a year and more than 100 men were employed. Dubbs mine was 'smaller metal' (metal being the terminology for slate), in that smaller pieces of slate (thus smaller slates) were obtainable due to geological changes; this did give rise to some instability. Dubbs Quarry ceased production around 1932, largely due to the difficulties and slowness of transporting finished product.
The First World War saw the mines revert to care and maintenance for a while due to labour shortages, but it did not take long to get production recommenced after the cessation of hostilities. By 1926, following a change of management and a new Resident Director, Robin Hoare, the slate works at the Hause had been electrified (powered by two large Ruston 4-cylinder diesel generators), together with considerable modifications undertaken throughout the quarries, and the mine's fortunes began to improve with significantly increased production. At this time the 'new' Kimberley Mine was started from the Road End Level, with a substantial 600-foot (183 m) long 14 ft × 14 ft (4.3 m × 4.3 m) internal electrically powered incline. During the mid-1890s it had been proposed to drive a level through to the Dubbs Quarries, and indeed a start was made and some 100 metres of level driven, but the project was shelved in favour of further developing the more significant workings under Honister Crag. Despite an enforced closure from 1943 to 1945 during the Second World War production continued through the 1950s and 1960s although Yew Crag mine closed in 1966 due to difficult roof conditions.
After poor management for fifteen years or so, in 1981 the Buttermere & Westmorland Green Slate Co.Ltd. and all its quarries was acquired by Mr B.R. Moore and his father, Mr R.D.Moore, and a very significant and valuable programme of improvement and capital investment was undertaken. This included the installation of rail-borne Eimco Rockershovels, battery locomotives, improved rolling stock and increased specialist underground mechanisation and systems (valuably assisted with the extremely capable technical input of the General Manager, Mr Jim Peart, of Weardale mining fame - previously manager of the Burtree Pasture, Rookhope, and Stanhope Burn lead and fluorspar mines - together). This was the first use of such equipment in any underground Lake District quarry (the quarries had operated surface diesel locos from about 1930 to the late 1950s). The Moore family involvement proved the ultimate saving of the Quarries, since otherwise the quarries would have totally ceased to exist in 1980. In 1985 the Company and its quarries were sold to Alfred McAlpine plc, who owned Penrhyn Quarry in Bethesda, North Wales. The latter Company, as a result of earlier planning permission, proceeded to open a new opencast (on the Dubbs side of Honister Crag), on the Honister Vein some 200 metres from the Hopper Opencast (Kimberley Vein) - the Hopper Opencast being filled with waste from the new excavation. McAlpines operated the quarries for some four years until ceasing operations, but they were held on a care and maintenance basis until handed over to the present operators.
Honister slate today
In 1997 the mine was reopened by Mark Weir who developed the mining side of the business as well as turning it into a thriving tourist attraction, with the mine producing small quantities of roofing slate. A 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) narrow gauge industrial railway is presently used to assist in the slate extraction process. The mine boasts Englands first via ferrata, a collection of steel cables that are anchored into the mountain side allowing visitors to traverse the rock face whilst wearing a safety harness. Mark Weir also opened up the mine to tours and also attempted to open a zip wire from the top of the mountain down towards the valley, the application process was the subject of a BBC television program "Tales from the National Park", which followed English Heritage's point of view that the zip wire would be detrimental to the flora and fauna on the mountainside, as opposed by Mr Weir who argued that the park needed a tourist attraction. Mark Weir was killed when the helicopter he was piloting crashed close to the mine on 8 March 2011, before the application was heard. The application was eventually refused even though it was well supported, the explorer Sir Chris Bonington spoke up on behalf of the zip wire.
- Industrial Narrow Gauge Railways - Honister Slate Mine
- "Mark Weir Tributes". honister.com. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
- "Tales from the National Parks". BBC. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- John Adams Mines of the Lake District, Dalesman, 1995, ISBN 0-85206-931-6
- Ian Tyler Honister - The History of a Lakeland slate mine