In Search of a Hidden Landscape
Artworks at Killhope, the North of England Lead Mining Museum, Upper Weardale, County Durham.
David Walker-Barker and Chris Rawson-Tetley
The Northern Pennine region is an area noted for the spectacular nature of its landscape topography and scenery providing the setting for a convergence of geological and human histories that were embodied in the mining for lead, zinc and fluorspar. It is a landscape fashioned out of human necessity providing a sense of the complexity of geological and human lineages in a compelling and deeply moving way.
In this landscape minerals stretch down from the surface as huge curtains of altered and replaced rock. This natural system was fashioned into a ‘Hidden Landscape’ by generations of miners who chased the veins to ever greater depth in the cold strata leaving behind countless miles of subterranean passageways and cavernous workings procuring a cultural geology of extraordinary dimensions.
Whilst searching for economic minerals they discovered crystals of a remarkable and compelling beauty. This intersection between the miner and the minerals brought together histories separated by hundreds of millions of years revealing transformations through time and scale that linked the micro world of molecular crystallisation to the macro world of the fully formed crystals and hence the living miner who discovered them.
It might be seen that each crystallised mineral specimen is a reminder of an anonymous human presence who discovered it and removed it from the earth bringing it to daylight. It also acts as a reminder of the once living men, women and children who still seem present, though silent, in the landscapes they once occupied.
David Walker Barker
I began writing this short essay a few days before the demolition of the tall and elegant chimney at the redundant Blue Circle Cement Works at Eastgate in Weardale. Prior to this final act of destruction most of the other buildings had been demolished leaving this vestige of a long industrial legacy standing. I did not witness its end although many local people turned out to see its final moments. In a few seconds it was gone. I was saddened by this event, as like many I had grown used to its presence in the dale since my first visits over thirty years ago. In its own way it had come to symbolise the space of the Weardale landscape, providing a sense of scale to the surrounding fells, a means of orientation and identifying ‘place’ in a real and tangible sense. Like the closure of the last remaining fluorspar mines in the region the felling of the chimney seemed like a final act of abandonment and the ultimate displacement of an industrial history that has fashioned this landscape for over two thousand years.
Do we no longer as a society value the scene of industry? It may be that in today’s rural Britain such contemporary reminders of an industrial legacy are out of place. Should we now expect our landscape to be shaped to satisfy a notion of heritage and to offer heritage tourist attractions? Is it no longer to be shaped by the people who live in it and who have hitherto fashioned it as a working landscape? Perhaps this discussion is not within the scope of this essay, but it raises questions as to how to comment on a landscape that is extensive in area, varied in character and complex both in its physical make-up and in terms of its human history. Whatever else, the Northern Pennine landscape has been made by people, a landscape written both large and in detail by countless lives in a relationship that has been in continuum for thousands of years from the earliest times of settlement and deforestation to the present day. It is the human engagement with the underlying geology, the terrain and the climate that provides its quintessential character and its complex and mutable identity. The human history of the last three hundred or so years has scarred and marked the surface of this landscape dramatically and invested the strata beneath with a monumental industrial archaeology fashioned by the hard rock miners, ‘The Old Man’, who searched for minerals in the Carboniferous strata. This “other world” beneath the fells, (there are more roads beneath than on the surface), is in the main inaccessible to most. For the relatively few individuals who explore the old workings in search of this abandoned history its accessibility diminishes yearly and perhaps in a few decades its reality will be remembered only in documents, diagrams and photographs or by a simulated heritage experience. Certainly the working experience and memory of this underground place is now vested in just a few individuals who worked the mines over the last forty or so years and who were the last miners to work the last fluorspar mines in the dales.
I have known this landscape for over thirty years, albeit as an outsider and not as someone living with it each and everyday, nor earning my living working its surface or its under-earth. I am approaching it as an “artistic creator” and to a degree as a collector of its minerals, although my fascination for it is an extended aspect of my fascination for landscapes generally. Beyond the bounds of this particular environment a question I continually ask is, “What are Landscapes? What constitutes them at their deepest level and how might they be understood, conceptualised and modelled? More importantly how can my own interaction with them be articulated?” a question that above all has formed the nexus for the exhibited images.
The idea for this exhibition started when Ian and Pam Forbes asked me if I would contribute an artwork for an exhibition of spar boxes to be held at the Killhope Museum. The exhibition opened in June 2001 and included historical and contemporary examples. Subsequently the historical spar boxes now form a major collection of these rare survivors at the museum itself, together with a collection of crystallised minerals from the North Pennines that forms the Sir Kingsley Dunham collection.
I was delighted by the request as a welcome opportunity to take part in an event at Killhope. In response I produced a construction that combined the form of a spar box with that of a reliquary and dedicated it to the closure of the last fluorspar mines at Frazer’s Hush and Groverake in the Vale of Rookhope, County Durham. It was aptly titled “The Final Shift.” The invitation to contribute gave a purpose to a construction I had already started and at the time needed a focus. In retrospect it proved to be a more significant development than I could imagine.
It was several weeks later at the Grand Mineralogical Exhibition held at the Institute at Ireshopeburn, sitting outside the hall on a late summer afternoon that Ian Forbes simply said to me, “We ought to do something”. The conversation that followed initiated the thinking that led to the proposal for “The Hidden Landscape” exhibition and the collaboration that has followed since. In a very real sense “The Final Shift” was a seminal work and the resulting association with Killhope Museum has added a special dimension to my longstanding association with the place, my practice as an artist and to my relationship with the North Pennine Landscape.
Landscape As Studio: a place of transformation
Landscapes, their diversity and detail have acted as a studio for me over many years, certainly since the summer of 1970 when I visited St David’s in Pembrokeshire on a Scholarship whilst at the Royal College of Art. They are the first places though not the only ones I visit in seeking directions and themes for the art works that I produce. In this context I annotate my investigations and responses using visual notebooks, drawings and images made on location, together with written notes. Then there is the collecting, an obsessive fascination for the residue and detritus of the histories places contain. Sometimes seemingly inconsequential objects, at other times significant artefacts and specimens have accrued into a substantial archive of material.
It was crystallised minerals that brought me to the North Pennines in 1973 when I first began to explore the area. Since then its extraordinary dimensions have provided a sense of the complexity of geological and human lineages that no other environment has achieved in such a compelling and deeply satisfying way. It is a place for fieldwork, for contemplation and for collecting all manner of residual material. It does not reveal its secrets readily nor easily, provoking a fascination for the seemingly invisible and inaccessible places. On entering these locations I seek ways to articulate the combinations of physical history and layers of meaning located there, representations that encapsulate the human resonance with its physical fabric. These insights, however tentative, are brought back to my studio in South Yorkshire and there begins another version of the process of assimilation and transformation.
Studio As Landscape: ‘A description and reflection upon another place of transformation’
The South Yorkshire studio is more often than not crowded and cluttered, almost every surface is a repository for materials, fragments and odd remains that may find their place into one or another of the constructions underway. Completed objects are propped next to half made or barely begun images that have yet to attain an identity or even a purpose. They appear lost and rather bereft.
There are shelves of jars containing brightly coloured pigments or subtle and dull earth colours. Then there are less conventional powders and sediments collected from locations visited. Here is iron oxide from the site of the old Boltsburn Mine, scooped up from the bank of Rookhope Burn. Another flask contains ochre earth from a cavity lined with fluorspar crystals discovered in Heights Quarry several years ago. Close by in a collectors cabinet are the fluorspar crystals themselves and in other drawers all manner of odd fragments. Two old earthenware jars contain powdered alum-shale recovered from the desolate and long abandoned quarries perched high above the North Sea on Boulby Cliff on the Cleveland coast. Remnants of the geology of favoured landscapes inhabit the studio. Then there are the artefacts.
There are vials and bottles made up with mixtures of balsams and oils, blood and mercury, varied sediments, chemicals and bones, hair and teeth. These may be fabricated to appear as if from another time, seeking to claim a kind of authenticity whilst remaining a fiction. They act as equivalents or analogues to lost objects that could never be found. Old vellums and documents hide in a box tucked away on a shelf in an alcove. A cardboard box contains Neolithic flints and a stone axe head. A vitrine standing atop a set of specimen drawers from the Natural History Museum tells the story of quartz through two dozen or so crystal specimens including a polished flint pebble that looks for the life like a miniature Braque painting.
The large space is busy. Images and constructions take their final form here after being shunted backwards and forwards between the studio and the workshop some eighty feet away across the yard. At the north end of the studio is a smaller space used for making works on paper, small panels and for visual notebooks. Beneath a large work surface, boxes, neatly stacked, contain more objects and specimens. Above a bank of specimen drawers stands another cabinet filled with large groups of crystals, metalliferous and silicate and not unexpectedly fluorine rich. The south end of the studio has turned into a small library cum museum. Cabinets and shelves inhabit this small place that at one time was nothing other than a storage area. It needed a better life and now you can squeeze in and look at books stacked on modern shelves and bits of Earth’s history in old cabinets.
Material is both prosaic and extraordinary, often mute until used and yet containing its own inner narratives and qualities. The “stuff of it” fascinates me, perhaps a reminder of a childhood spent collecting odd and trivial things including samples of soil and clay, shale and crushed bricks. Nor is this material just pigment alone but is extended to embrace a range of residual traces as well as objects of interest. In this context material is as much conceptual as it is physical and bridges that often awkward gap between the external world and the constructions of the mind.
The process of making and the engagement with this material is the central province of the studio and the adjacent workshop. It is the territory where the practical, conceptual and personal seek amalgamation. The resulting works reflect specific places, a topographical signature, without being obviously representational of a particular location. The landscape site itself becomes a metaphor for a range of associations that resonate beyond its literal status and history, therefore having wider universal connotations whilst retaining a sense of its unique position. The location, the materials, the applied processes of both making and thinking and the resulting artworks seek to establish a set of relationships that encounter meaning and resonance and evolve through the dialogue between the artist, the landscape and the procedures of making. When entering landscapes, revisiting often familiar places, new territories are frequently discovered, fresh realisations surfacing as something previously unseen is unexpectedly illuminated. A kind of expanded text emerges that is neither exclusively written, drawn, thought nor imagined but which identifies ‘Place’ as a primary inspirational force.
The North Penine Landscape:
And thence to the local and a seemingly familiar landscape, to the start of a journey in the North Pennines. It is a journey that leads from the surface to the under-earth, to the scope of crystals and mineralisation. Human and geological histories on one level, transformations through substance and scale on another, agents of reactions and dissolutions, the alchemy of the mineralogical process and the intersection with the miner and the subsequent processes of industrial transformation.
My first encounter with the Northern Pennines occurred in 1969 when I was studying at the Royal College of Art in London. I was looking at groups of crystallised minerals displayed in glass cases in the Geology Museum at South Kensington. In one case dedicated to the mineral Fluorspar were two specimens. One was labelled “Deep Green Fluorite, Heights Mine, Weardale, County Durham”, the other “Fluorite, County Durham”. Both specimens represented geometrical perfection embodied in cubic forms of extraordinary colour and transparency. Later on the same day and just around the corner in the Natural History Museum I discovered the mineral gallery, yet more examples of Pennine fluorspar and the legendary name of “Boltsburn Mine” in Rookhope Vale. I was enthralled by the crystals and have been chasing and collecting them ever since.
Ironically it would be several years before I came to visit the North Pennine landscape for real and begin to form a relationship with its remarkable and complex geological and human history. My initial focus was on mineralisation and crystals and the then working fluorspar mines in the region, and on some of the derelict and long abandoned lead and fluorspar mines that were then still relatively accessible. Heights Mine near Westgate, from which the Geology Museum specimen had been collected in late Victorian times, was one of the first locations visited in the spring of 1973. This inaugural visit included an exploration of the underground workings still partially accessible, a dramatic and claustrophobic introduction to the reality of a “hidden landscape”, the deep-time contexts that it embodies and to the underground places fashioned by the miner.
The cyclothemic character of the geological deposits and their disruption in places by igneous intrusions and faulting have given rise to a complex landscape in respect of its geological and biological diversity, influencing patterns of settlement intricately connected to how this landscape has been and still is used. It is a matter of a geological arrangement leading to certain environmental conditions. In the raw north, the shales, gritstones and coal seams together with the limestones created a difficult, almost impossible challenge. The discovery of metal ores must have been a kind of saviour
The mineral deposits exist as a latticework of vertical or near vertical vein structures with significant mineralised lateral extensions often of great richness. This has provided a significant economic resource that was exploited some 250 million years or more after its initial formation, creating the nexus for a remarkable convergence of histories providing a compelling human narrative. Hard won gains meant hard lives for the many who toiled in the mining and quarrying industries yet the landscapes that set the stage for this human drama now reveal little of it.
A landscape reflects its history as a sort of extended document in which some of the text has been erased and re-written many times, obscuring or abrading away what was beneath, leaving fragments of the earlier texts visible. This sense of layering is a characteristic of physical landscapes some of which are relatively simple and others incredibly complex. This sequential, though not necessarily orderly dynamic provides the material fabric that embeds geological and human histories and is a reminder that landscapes, no matter how permanent they appear are never static.
A narrative emerges that engages with deep time and the minerals that were laid down hundreds of millions of years before we came on the scene. These were progenitors of the human story encompassing a wide range of cultural developments, not only those that benefited the mine owner, shareholder and other more fortunate benefactors, but the largely forgotten miners, their families and their traditions. Metalliferous mining embraced technological developments that were central to the industrial revolution, to subsequent mineral exploitation and the wealth of a nation. The miners uncovered minerals of exquisite beauty; exceptional crystallised forms, many of which were placed in the great museum collections of the world or in the cabinets of the private collector. So were uncovered aspects of the earth’s history that expanded the appreciation of the aesthetic of natural processes and acted as a foil to the development of the geological sciences. At the same time they provided ore for the more prosaic world of extracting and smelting and the transformation of minerals into industrial materials. In the course of this they transformed landscapes that still bear, however faintly, the signatures of this legacy on their surfaces and beneath the ground in a hidden landscape comprising countless miles of passageways and cavernous mineral workings.
The area, noted for the spectacular nature of its scenery, was described by Thomas Sopwith in his publication of 1833, “An Account of the Mining District of Alston Moor, Weardale and Teesdale”.
“The lead mines are situated in the midst of magnificent scenery, so that in the north of England the mineral districts may be considered the most interesting and romantic portion of the island. It may be seen that, considered as mineral districts, they not only afford most interesting subjects of attention for their mines and subterranean treasures, but also lead the tourist in those directions where nature assumes her wildest and most romantic forms – to lofty mountain and expansive view. Its antiquarian and various other attractions are comparatively unknown, and thousands have passed either side of the mining districts on their way to the mountains and lakes of Scotland, unconscious that nature, science, and art have combined to invest with peculiar interest the neglected but grand and interesting scenery of the mining dales of the north of England.”
Significantly he includes the industrial legacy as an important aspect of the character of the area rather than seeing it at odds with the natural scenery, a recognition of a working landscape. In other chapters of his book he also acknowledges it as a tourist area in which the lead mines offer an important and fascinating attraction to numerous visitors who were taken undergound into the mines and given guided tours by the miners themselves; in praise of industry rather than in scorn of it.
What Is Landscape? – An expanding view:
“When I look at a landscape it is not the hills, rivers and woodlands that I see, nor the ‘industrial-scape’ or urban sprawl, but layers of time stretching back to the beginning of the universe”
“It was never enough just to look; touching the surface of things was barely satisfactory. I have always had to turn over the stone, to look beneath the surface, to elaborate upon the constituents of the complex phenomena we call, however unsatisfactorily, landscape.”
A conceptual and perceptual shift takes a broader and ultimately microcosmic view of landscape as a dynamic process in and through time constituting complex relationships, through a range of scale, between the chemistry of geological and biological phenomena. This dynamic continuum had its origins in deep time, driven by plate tectonics, the interaction between the atmosphere and the sun and the orbit of the Earth around that sun. Landscapes provide a portal into a series of relationships that interweave geology, biology and chemistry with social and cultural histories; an entrance into layers of time and sequences of scale that simultaneously co-exist. Ultimately we cannot separate the local and macrocosmic domain from either the microcosmic or universal realm. At the level of ‘Implicate Order’ all of reality is enfolded in its parts, nothing exists in isolation.
Landscape is a portal into an infinite web of interconnections that inhabits a sphere 7918 miles in diameter, a sphere that circumnavigates a minor star in an outer arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The galaxy is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the Universe, and this earth may be one of trillions of living planets that occupy those galaxies, conversely it may be one of very few. This landscape is both tenacious and fragile. Its tenacity in part depends upon the chemistry of geology and the chemistry of life, a force that extends over the surface of the planet and which emerged some 3800 million years ago at a possibly unique moment when complex chemistry became living matter. This biochemical phenomenon is described as “Autopoiesis”. It refers to life’s continuous production of itself; life as a flow passing through countless variations, maintaining itself, replicating itself and devising countless ever evolving forms. The human body, as numerous other bodies across an enormous range of living beings, concentrates order.
From bacterium to the wider biosphere is a living patina of evolving organisms encircling the Earth in a layer 20 kilometres deep. The top of this is the uppermost layer of the atmosphere, its base the continental rocks beneath which lies the mantle. Taking a microscopic view, living bacterial tissue inhabits countless contexts within this broader realm including geological territory to a depth of over a dozen kilometres. This bio-geological realm is an extraordinary arrangement that for most of the time has worked and at other times has failed because of the very complicated history that put it all together.
We enter a realm of transformations, dynamic processes encompassing macro and micro realms that constitute the physical world at both visible and non-manifest levels and that link the present moment with the deep time history of our own evolution as a species, the evolution of life and the evolution of the Earth.
Thus as Richard Fortey states in his publication ‘The Earth’:
“All the intimate details of landscape and culture are rooted in geology. The true measure of the earth could be that slow overturning of the mantle that calibrates the march of the tectonic plates. The record of the rocks on earth is consistent with plate activity over some four billion years. During that time the planet has changed from barren to prolific. Earth and life became progressively interlinked. And during all this slow transformation the motor of the earth reshuffled the continents and oceans, a leisurely procession to which life had no choice but to respond. Were it not for a thousand connections made through the web of time, the outcome might have been different, and there may have been no observer to marvel and understand. We are all blessed with minds that can find beauty in explanation, yet revel in the richness of our irreducibly complex world, geology and all”
These interconnections are barely graspable, in great part mostly invisible yet paradoxically inherent within our own physical frame. The cellular, neurological, molecular, atomic and sub-atomic levels of that physical frame dissolve into a broader realm of living matter, a biological and ecological fabric, into the deep eco-geological realm of the Earth’s body and ultimately into a cosmic dimension.
Bones And Stones.
Images of “Place” in the works of David Walker Barker.
What is it that makes some landscapes special to us as individuals?
Why do we speak of some people as being “rooted in the landscape”?
What do we mean by, “roots”?
These are three of the questions I found myself having to address in the writing of this essay on the concept of place in the works of David Walker Barker, and, initially, in approaching them I thought that perhaps I should begin by detailing the circumstances that led to its writing. Or, in an echo of Tristram Shandy, start with the circumstances that led to my meeting David Walker Barker and include all the things that, in retrospect, made that meeting and this outcome inevitable. But to do so, as with Tristram Shandy, would ensure that this essay never reached its goal and would eventually founder in a morass of detail and conjecture.
The above thoughts did, however, engender the approach and, incidentally, an alternative means of considering human relationships with landscape.
(‘A portal into an infinite web of interconnections’)
This essay is concerned with concepts of place in the work of David Walker Barker and, in particular, works created for the exhibition at Killhope Lead Mining Museum for which this book is intended as an independent textual and visual accompaniment. We live, as always, in a time of change. With reference to the apocryphal Chinese curse, these are “interesting times”. The traditional industries that sustained many communities have gone and what to replace them with is a constant question and problem. Labelling the problem, and thereby hopefully identifying it, is usually the beginning of the process. But labels, by their very nature, are generic and rarely take into account historically created localized cultural values.
The area of upper Weardale in the Northern Peninnes is a landscape designated as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” and part of an “International Geopark”. I put these terms in inverted commas as they are not necessarily initiatives originating with the local culture but are generally the impositions of national government. The area is outstanding, and is, in its own way, beautiful, but it is not generally “natural”, neither on the surface nor beneath it.
Mining and quarrying have shaped this landscape over centuries. The surface has been dug, tunnelled, scraped, blasted and rearranged in the pursuit of its geological potential, ironstone, lead and spars. Spoil heaps, ancient and modern, are everywhere, creating miniature mountainous terrains with their own infant vales and dales. Secreted among a few of these artificial mounds may be found the stone faced entrances to old mines. These were the man made thresholds to hidden landscapes formed by ancient and cataclysmic chemistries, where minerals and metalliferous rocks awaited those with the determination and tools to discover and exploit them. Dr William Buckland’s early 19th century assertion that geology was, “the knowledge of the rich ingredients with which God has stored the earth beforehand, when He created it for the then future use and comfort of man”, makes no mention of the great store of geological knowledge earned in hardship and discomfort by the miners of these “rich ingredients”. No mystical or theological considerations drove those who followed the veins of ore at a “bargain” rate contracted with the mine owners. Mining and mineral extraction may have gone but the connection between the landscape and the people who inhabit it still exists. There is more to the relationship than the past exploited potential of geological riches.
What is the “chain that binds” someone to this place? It isn’t a “natural beauty”, that has already been discounted. The area has been designated an A.O.N.B., but while it may declare that distinction it can’t claim the warm intimacy of Swaledale, or the expansive charm of Wensleydale, nor does it have a dramatic spectacle like High Force in neighbouring Teesdale. But cross the threshold of one of the many old mine entrances and you may gain an idea of what could form such a bond as you enter another world and time, connected to our world but apart from it. Here are the bones, veins and sinews of strata, flats and minerals that give shape and form to the outward body. Here the primeval engine that laid down the “rich ingredients”, that provoked a revolution of human industrial exploitation, endures even as the industries it motivated have not. Here lies a clue to the union, a body burrowed and intimately excavated for its riches can lay a subliminal claim on those who enter or those who are associated with such an entry.
David Walker Barker, whose personal engagement with this landscape precedes this essay, has been “claimed” as have I. I too have been “down the mine”, even with a predisposition to claustrophobia which limits the time I can comfortably stay, and marvelled at the tenacity and determination of the miners who drove these tunnels with picks, shovels and explosives. Perhaps a claustrophobic tendency contributes to an awareness of not just the weight of the earth and rock above, but also time and the short span of life that we enjoy in comparison with a geology that enfolds with an embrace that hints at eternity.
W.H. Auden, who has a fair claim to the nomination of Poet Laureate of the Northern Pennines, wrote,
“In Rookhope I was first aware
Of Self and Not-Self, Death and Dread:
Adits were entrances which led
Down to the Outlawed, to the Others,
The Terrible, the Merciful, the Mothers;” (1)
The quotation refers to an incident in Auden’s early life when, at the age of fifteen, he dropped some pebbles down an open shaft at Bolts Law above Rookhope. The sound of them splashing far below had a profound effect upon a young and impressionable Auden,the memory of the emotions raised by the act staying with him all his life. This vision of another world, of a Tartarus peopled by the mythic and archetypal, harks back to ancient and dark fears of a world not under human control, an awareness of mortality and a fear of the unknown and hence unknowable.
The modern world is one that is very concerned with the surface of things, the knowable. How things appear; how we appear to others; how others appear to us. Concern for surface appearances can run counter to the reality of a world experienced in four-dimensions. Reflexive knowledge of the spatial dimensions we occupy enables us to interpret, in personal terms, our “place” within the world. And when that knowledge includes an awareness of the depth beneath our feet, in the real terms of a reliance on the very earth upon which we stand, then the sense of “placeness” is re-inforced.
I began by questioning the implications of the word “roots” or “rootedness”, and in one sense the last paragraph has approached a definition of the term. However, “rootedness” implies much more than personal spatial awareness, as stated previously, such knowledge only re-inforces the sense of placeness and hence the concept. The relationship includes other things that contribute to an individual sense of belonging, or “connectedness”.
Working within and with the landscape is, and has been, the focus of many artists. John Constable is perhaps one of the most well known within, what might be termed, the English tradition of landscape painting. His intimate connection with what was, at the time, an unremarkable corner of Suffolk produced images of landscape that have become almost portable icons within the public consciousness, and in turn have provoked much politically based academic debate concerning the responsibility (or not) of the artist to a depiction of the truth of their time. Discussion of art as polemic, i.e. as the visual expression of an ideology, is not the purpose here, I am concerned with the means by which the artist approaches and engages with a landscape with which they have a sympathetic attachment. In John Constable’s case the landscape was the agricultural one of his birthplace, and his chosen method of engagement was that of painting. The Stour Valley, of course, was not the only landscape that he painted, but it is the only one that remained with him to the end, long after he had physically left it behind him. W.H. Auden kept a particular map of the Northern Pennines on the wall of his study in America, the language of this landscape continuing to appear in his work as a metaphor that encompassed many of his poetic concerns. Some places may continue to exercise the imagination long after we may have exorcised them in the real world.
David Walker Barker, elsewhere in this book, recounts the relationship of the miners of Weardale with the landscape they tunnelled, and, via their own voices transcribed, communicates the history and, most importantly, the responsiveness to place that permeates their reminiscences. He too has an affiliation with this landscape that has grown from a personal and artistic engagement over a thirty year period, an engagement that transcends the merely aesthetic. In a sense he is also “rooted”, the relationship he has with the area being realised in works manufactured as a response to all that he both knows and feels of this “place”. Sensitivity to place is an important part of the equation, a sensitivity that grows from sympathy and knowledge, both the intuited and the learned. The sensitivity to place in the work in part grows from a similar response to that of the miners whose voices are transcribed, an appreciation of the truly natural beauty of the minerals to be found in this hidden landscape. Both the artist and the miners became collectors of minerals almost as an acknowledgment and tribute to the landscape which provided the source of their different workconcerns. A sense of connectedness to place manifested through collecting in some form is a long and very human tradition, and the given reasons for it are as varied as both the people who collect and the collections themselves.
Artist as Collector.
In his essay David Walker Barker refers to his habit of collecting:
“Then there is the collecting, an obsessive fascination for the residue and detritus of the histories places contain. Sometimes seemingly inconsequential
objects, at other times significant artefacts and specimens have accrued into a substantial archive of material.”
The above quotation hints at an eclectic approach to collecting. This is far from the case as anyone who has ever visited his studio and home can testify. Yes, there are strange objects that hint at forgotten histories but, importantly, there are also very definite, specific, substantial and well catalogued collections of minerals, fossils, bottles and historic glassware. His knowledge of their histories and their place within that history is both profound and astonishing in its breadth and humanity. These are not the collections of a connoisseur in the 18/19th c. traditional sense of a Richard Payne Knight where the collection is the intended outward manifestation of the owner’s social position and superior intellect. These collections are expressions of a personal journey as well as an artistic resource, but they are above all a continuing and unassuming appreciation of both the world we inhabit and the historic resourcefulness of humanity.
In a telling phrase David Walker Barker, referring to the basic composition of the materials he uses says,
“In this context material is as much conceptual as it is physical and bridges that often awkward gap between the external world and the constructions
of the mind.”
Part of a conversation we had one day in the studio may point to the essential difference between the artist as collector and the traditional view of the collector.
David was putting together one of his constructions, vials, bottles and small stained linen bags surrounded the piece as it lay flat waiting for its component parts to be inserted. He picked up one of the many filled, mineral stained linen bags and, handling it like a rare object, said, “I really like making these, you know. I might even start collecting them.” The statement was made jokingly but half serious as well. Some of the drawers in the studio contain strange objects that appear redolent with unknown history but which are in fact items manufactured from the “detritus” he has collected. They sit in the drawers waiting for the right moment to appear in a work. He is his own curator in the sense that each piece made becomes in its own way the sum of everything that has contributed to its making. The manufactured items and the original coming together in an iconography that reflects the collections, which in turn mirror the landscape concerns which motivate him. The cyclical nature of the action both feeds and informs everything he does. The works grow like a stone thrown into a pond, the widening ripples from the initial concept gradually encompassing the whole so that it becomes difficult to say which contributed to what. In this manner the nature of the artist’s connectedness to place both becomes, and is, the collections which are also its outward manifestation.
Bones and Stones.
The collecting of fossils and minerals are directly inter-related. Fossils are the footprints in time of the living things that once inhabited this planet. Geology is a record of the dynamics of the planets continuing formation. All things mutate, becoming other things in a constant kaleidescope of action, inter-action and reaction. Living forms die, sink into the earth, and are enfolded and absorbed in the slow and continual geological process of becoming. Soft tissues are replaced by the harder materials of the earth which in turn are modified by the chemicals released in the process. Bone becomes stone, stone becomes bone.
In the studio is a cabinet containing a fossilised nautilus; sliced and polished it demonstrates the sublime nature of the changes it underwent, the individual chambers mineralised in a petrified delicacy that defies aesthetic classification. And perhaps it is only right that aesthetics should be so challenged in this context. Aesthetics is a derivation of a scientific and quasi-scientific discipline of categorisation that sought to reduce everything to mere formulae; a taxonomy that pursued an intellectually discredited ideal designed to reduce the awesome reality of our existence to that of a politically advantageous demonstration of an ordered actuality. But, traditional and political concepts of time and place become unsatisfactory as a means of engaging with the landscape when faced with the enormity of the realisation that we too are a part of that ongoing record.
The 3.5 million year old record of human footprints discovered at Laeotoli in Tanzania by the Leakey’s, the cave-paintings at Lascaux and the simple carvings by miners of initials and dates in the rock walls of the lead mines of Weardale and elsewhere, are a contribution to the ever increasing record of this planet’s history. Everything, everywhere and “everywhen” is locked in a continuing and universal cycle of becoming. To quote from my father’s favourite poem;
“The Moving Finger writes; and having writ
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a word of it.”
A sense of place, as a site specific and particular concept, becomes insignificant when confronted with both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic nature of our existence. That is not intended to deride the concept, but it does place it poetically in the realm of William Blake;
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.” (3)
Perhaps it is no co-incidence that there are two engravings by William Blake on the wall of David Walker Barker’s studio, either side of a large copy of William Smith’s early 19th c. geological map of Great Britain.
- W.H. Auden, “New Year Letter”, 1940.
- “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám of Naishápúr”, Edward Fitzgerald. (1809 -1883)
- “Auguries of Innocence”, William Blake. (1757-1827)
The Minerals And The Miner
David Walker Barker
A by-product of the mining for industrial minerals in the Northern Pennines has been the discovery of spectacular groups ofcrystallised minerals during mining operations. These
crystallisations were found in cavities and loughs that invested the ore body in the mineral veins themselves but more often in the lateral extensions of the veins called flats. Sir Kingsley Dunham, the geologist most notably associated with the mines of the North Pennine Orefield, reminisced later in his life about a visit he made to the Boltsburn Mine at Rookhope as a young man in 1929. At the time Boltsburn mine was one of the largest in the area and renowned for the extensive mineralised flats that were discovered there in 1892. Such was their extent that they kept the mine in operation until the early 1930’s.
“Tom Maddison the mine manager received us and we descended the shaft. On Watts Level we climbed into mine cars and travelled nearly two miles to No 3 underground shaft where we descended 138 feet to the bottom working level of the mine. Here we saw the vein, only about three feet wide but passing through a crosscut in altered limestone we came to the workings in the replacement flats for which this mine is famous. Fluorite, galena, quartz and siderite had taken the place of the limestone and where there were extensive open cavities a wonderful show of crystal faces of all these minerals was displayed.”
Boltsburn Mine was famous for the exceptional crystallised minerals discovered there but was not alone in the region. Many of the mines uncovered such deposits during the centuries of mining, though few were as extensive as those at Boltsburn. Smaller discoveries were made with groups of crystals having a characteristic signature associated with specific mines and the deposits they worked.
Fluorite as a mineral in its crystallised form may be found in an extraordinary range of colour, transparency, exceptional crystal forms and in combination with other minerals. For me it is the symbolic mineral of the Northern Pennines an area that has furnished exceptional variations of the mineral.
In the twentieth century crystals of fluorite, characterised by the most beautiful and delicate colour zoning were found at Rodderhope Fell mine near Alston whilst from Hilton mine in Scordale working beneath the Cross Fell range came fluorite crystals of the most intense and transparent golden amber colour.
During the final decades of the twentieth century other discoveries were made. The Diana Flats in the Beaumont Mine at Allenheads yielded exceptional specimens of fluorite, sphalerite and ankerite crystals deposited in the ironstone. From Blackdene Mine at Ireshopeburn came fluorite and galena crystals associated with quartz and calcite, whilst the discovery of the Zinc Flats in the lower workings of Cambokeels Mine produced magnificent crystallisations of fluorite, calcite, quartz in association with iron pyrite and unusual examples of the mineral Pyrrhotine. In the Vale of Rookhope in the mid to late 1990’s crystals of purple fluorite displaying the most remarkable transparency were found together with lustrous silvery galena, quartz and calcite at Frazer’s Hush mine. The mines of Alston Moor and Nenthead have also added to the great catalogue of minerals recovered over the centuries of exploitation thus establishing the reputation of the North Pennines for crystallised mineral specimens of an extraordinary and compelling beauty.
Crystallised mineral specimens collected by the miners became an integral part of the hard rock mining tradition in the North Pennines. Miners collected them when they could, to supplement their often meagre wages by selling them to mineral dealers or collectors, a tradition that continued to the very end of mining. Many of the miners had considerable knowledge of the geological and mineralogical aspects of the mines they worked and were astutely aware of the mineral specimens they discovered. Many became knowledgeable collectors in their own right whilst some of the miners used them to construct decorative spar boxes or spar cases, a visual form that has had a significant influence on the works that are exhibited in this exhibition. The Spar Box is an imagined space; some examples are like grottoes or the cavities lined with crystals discovered whilst mining, acting as an analogue to the miners’ experience of the hidden landscape which they themselves created underground. Others are similar to cabinets of curiosity or a form of reliquary whilst some depict street scenes. All are worlds in miniature, beautifully fashioned and painstakingly fabricated. The Spar Box tradition has been revived in recent years, a re-kindling of the interest and craft initiated by the Killhope Museum through the annual “Grand Mineralogical Exhibition” reestablished by the centre in 1992. In true dales fashion many of the new makers were fluorspar miners before the final closure of the mines in the area.
“T’owd Man”- Every lead or fluorspar miner, bar the very first, at some time or another would have met him. The Old Man is everywhere in the northern fells, on top and underneath. New passageways and levels often met old ones, sometimes to the detriment of the new. “He’s been here before and left nowt”, except his architecture and old tubs, the odd pair of clogs and some tools. Now and again he left something behind that proved useful, he didn’t want it at the time but the future did. The lives of those forgotten people who worked the mines both on the surface and underground are unremembered in any great detail although the ‘Graham Letters’ (1) provide a brief insight into the lives of people in the mining dales. For the most part their lives were unremittingly hard with poverty and uncertainty close at hand as the economics of metalliferous and spar mining in the Pennines proved time and again, even to the very end.
Uncertainty was a defining characteristic whether in search of workable ground or a sustained market. Wages were often poor as recorded in an account of Labour disputes in the Teesdale Mines: (Strikes without a Union: Labour relations in the Teesdale mines 1872-1892: Dr. R. P. Hastings )
“By the 1870’s the system of agreeing bargains, traditionally favoured by the miner because of the independence it gave, rarely worked in their favour. When the value of ore extracted by a miner did not exceed the monies received for subsistence and the cost of other items the debt was carried over into the following year. Many a miner died owing the mining companies or shopkeepers substantial amounts of money. One Coldberry miner worked for ten years with nothing but his ‘lent money’ and went to a premature grave leaving his family of six to manage as best they could. Joseph Tallentyre who came to Teesdale from Scotland took seven years to clear an £80 debt and after 19 years in the mines was ’emaciated and nearly done’ at the age of thirty-eight. “Conditions underground were often wet, cold and dangerous and whilst not having to contend with ‘fire damp’, which caused so many terrible explosions and great loss of life in the coal mines of this country, the lead miner had to deal with ‘choke damp’ released from certain strata. Fumes from the explosives used and continual exposure to dust from the mining activities caused respiratory diseases, the “miners’ asthma” which was prevalent in the region. This together with the generally poor living conditions meant that many lead miners were broken men by the age of fifty.
“In Alston Moor, Allendale, Weardale and Teesdale the average age of death of a lead miner between 1837 and 1841 was just over 47 years.”
Whilst accidents underground were by no means as frequent as in the coalmines, nor inflicting such high numbers of casualties, they did happen as is illustrated in the following brief accounts. Green Laws Mine at Daddry Shield, Weardale, seems to have had its fair share:
26th June 1895: Joseph Jacob aged 13 years. This young boy worked as an ore dresser in the crushing mill and was dragged between the rollers and crushed
21st November 1881: Joseph Robinson aged 38 years. Joseph was climbing in the quarry level rise and was overcome and suffocated by poisonous gases
despite having been advised by a fellow miner not to venture any further into the workings. In a usually well ventilated mine gases had escaped from the strata
during falling barometric pressure.
29th May 1896: John Natrass aged 57 years. Whilst he was filling ore into a hopper a fall of rock from the hanging wall killed him instantly.
The report from the Mines inspector R. D. Bain comments:
“The sides of the vein were bad, and as he and another man were filling ore away they should put a prop or two as stays, but they neglected to do this, and a fall of stone occurred and killed this man. As a rule, and I am glad to say, lead miners are careful men, and this accident shows how necessary it is that they should be. Men should never work where the stone is not safe, without setting timber or removing stone, and had this man and the one working with him done this, I should not have had his death to report.”
The last report in particular is echoed in more recent times by Jimmy Craggs and his reflections upon the mines later in this essay.
(1) In 1852 two young lead miners, Joseph Graham of Killhope and John Peart of Swinhope emigrated to America to fulfil their ambition of becoming farmers. The twenty-six “Graham Letters” represent the sole surviving correspondence that was exchanged between the families in the two countries. The intimate record gives some small insight into the lives of people in the dales from conversations about the price of food to accounts of illness and death in a mining family. It is a brief, rare and moving account of lives that are little recorded.
Cabinets, Spar-Boxes, Reliquaries
North Pennines: high, rain-glimmering roads, precipitous valleys, gritstone chimneys and shafts abandoned among the cotton-grass of the moors. Washing-floors and waterwheels by upland streams, stone portals of the lead-mines in the flanks of the hills. The landscape of the poet Auden’s earliest poetry, the landscape of his heart throughout his life:
Head-gears gaunt on grass-grown pit-banks, seams abandoned years ago;
Drop a stone and listen for its splash in flooded dark below. .
The veins of lead below the moors are rich in prismatic minerals as well as in metalliferous ore: in all the world, only the mines of Brazil are richer or more diverse. Although by the 1930’s the lead-mines were in decline (ghosts of industry in remote country) in the nineteenth century, lead extraction and the attendant trade in spar had flourished in Weardale and on Alston Moor as part of mining activity which then stretched across the north of England from County Durham and Northumberland, to West Cumberland and the Isle of Man.
Even now, anywhere in the world, any museum of geology will inevitably show Weardale specimens, so that it is possible to stand by the cases and read, on the labels of specimen after specimen, a sequence of Pennine names which lead the memory to austere slopes of bracken above the tree-line, quick upland streams driving water-wheels, wild orchids in profusion along the steep track above Garrigill. As long as there has been mining in the Pennines, Pennine mineral specimens have been prized and circulated. In the seventeenth century, prismatic minerals were only one wonder amongst the many gemstones, antiquities and monsters of the cabinets of curiosities and chambers of marvels. Minerals were represented in that microcosm of the world, that greatest of earlymodern museums, the Kirchneriana in the Collegio Romano at Rome. The founder of that museum, the polymath Athanasius Kircher, devoted one of his magnificently-illustrated folio volumes to the world under the earth, his Mundus Subterraneus of 1665 which chronicles stones as marvels, the meraviglie at the heart of seventeenth-century aesthetics. It is an extraordinary anthology of the darkness under the earth: voices of earth-spirits below the lowest mine-galleries; stones which split to reveal landscapes or sacred likenesses; spar and rock-crystal formed of snow-water aeons ago.
As well as cabinets of curiosities, the baroque world displayed minerals in grottoes. The first Italian grottoes, built for the Medici in Florence, or for the ‘black nobility’ in the villa gardens around Rome, are highly stylised versions of the naturally occuring ‘loughs’ or geodes of the lead mines, with spars and crystals arranged in a wild discipline to form a roughly-glittering version of the architecture of antiquity. These grottoes are emphatically élite art: playing with costly treasures to produce a subterranean environment with aspects of both the mines of the new world (which financed so many of these constructions) and also of the enchanters’ caverns of chivalric romances. The grotto developed as it spread throughout Europe, becoming a craze in England and Ireland: fortunes were expended on shells and corals, the miners could barely keep up with the demand for spar. The essential aesthetic of the grotto is that of the baroque theatre: glimmering candlelight caught and multiplied by mirrors and breaking in spangles, crystals, fragments of ore. Later grottoes aspire to naturalism, mimicking a real mine by the ‘scientific’ arrangement of flints and rock-strata.
The great reliquaries of the churches of southern Europe were lavish with rock crystal and gold to house the bones of those who the church would wish to remember, of those by whom the church would wish to be remembered. Tinsel, quilled paper and little artificial gemstones adorned humbler reliquaries, made in modest convents and in private houses,enshrining minute fragments of sacred bodytissue or even torn cloth from the clothes of the saints. These little compositions, in glass-fronted boxes, are geographically remote from northern England (for all that there is a fine collection of them at Stonyhurst College on the edge of the Lancashire moors) but they combine as popular art, arte povera, something of the aesthetics of both catacomb reliquary and aristocratic grotto. Two centuries later, the miners of the Pennines began to evolve their own use for the ‘bonny bits’ from the mines in the making of spar-boxes. These are glass-fronted cases filled with assemblages of the minerals found among the veins of ore, sometimes an abstract arrangement reminiscent of the grottoes of the eighteenth century, sometimes street scenes or fantastical parks or caverns of crystals and shards of coloured minerals. Sometimes a free-standing arrangement of minerals is made to stand under a glass dome: an arch of specularite and quartz; a glittering tree of fluorspar and crystal needles. A spar box of some two thousand mineral specimens, cemented together by a miner, Isaac Robinson of Nenthead , was shown in the Great Exhibition of 1851.
There is little on record about the makers of the spar-boxes and spar-columns: it might be assumed that the majority were the miners of Man, Cumberland and the North Pennines, who had access to the minerals and slack periods to make the arrangements. This would be wholly consistent with the culture of the northernmost counties of England, with their long traditions of bold designs and technical perfection in many crafts, particularly in the making of quilts and rugs.
At first sight the spar boxes appear simply to be instances of arte povera, a cheap art as specific to place and conditions as is arctic carving on reindeer-bone or walrus-ivory. Fluorspar, quartz and galena are found in the Pennine mines, hematite and smoky quartz in the mines of west Cumberland. The northern mines are often situated in remote country and high on the moors (thus creating the juxtaposition of the gritstone buildings of small-scale industry with rough country which haunted Auden’s imagination). In adverse weather it was often impossible to reach the high entrances of the mines. The assumption therefore is that the Weardale spar-boxes are the simple product of this enforced leisure: a craft of expediency practised in the sparse and irregular leisure of the miners. These assemblages of spar from the mines, coincidentally prolonged into the twentieth century something of the appearance of the spar and crystal grottoes of the eighteenth century. (But no such grotto seems to survive within a day’s journey of the mining counties.) There are significant reports, in this context, of a nineteenth century sparbox unequivocally continuing the grotto taste: shells and coral as well as minerals formed the decoration.
The chief development of the Victorian heyday of the Spar-box was the construction of street scenes or scenes of fantasy which seem in appearance to combine the grotto-aesthetic with something of the transformational magic of the early-Victorian theatre, the ‘radiant revolving realms’ in which the Victorian pantomimes ended. The peepshow, popular in the nineteenth century as a fairground diversion, often contained street perspectives, and may also have been a decisive influence on the formation of the more ambitious representational spar boxes.
The other source which may be safely conjectured for the spar boxes is the appearance of the mineral-bearing cavities themselves: John Postlethwaite’s “Mines and Mining in the English Lake District, 1913”, describes this exactly.
“Cavities, called “loughs”, lined with crystalline quartz and other minerals, are frequently met with in veins, some of them not larger than a nut, and others sufficiently capacious to admit several men. The interior of some of the larger loughs, when first broken into, form a spectacle of unrivalled splendour, The walls of the cavity formed of crystallised quartz, aragonite, dolomite, fluor spar, iron pyrites, blende, galena, and other minerals, arranged in the most grotesque order and reflecting the light in a variety of colours from thousands of prisms, produces an effect that cannot be described.”
Nature here offers spontaneously the glimmering refractions which the grottoes of the aristocrats had contrived with such skill and expense.
So far we are uncertain that spar-boxes were exclusively local arte povera and it is established beyond doubt that Weardale boxes usually contain some minerals bought-in from the mines in the west of Cumberland. The population of skilled mining communities is axiomatically fluid: as there are samples of Pennine fluorite in virtually every mineral museum in the world, so it was said in the nineteenth century that it was likely that there would be a Weardale miner in any mining community in Europe. This movement of people might possibly explain the existence of spar boxes from as far away as Bohemia and Russia.
The spar-boxes now at Killhope are themselves the nearest thing there is to a national collection. The Egglestone Spar Box is the grandest in the collection: a substantial Victorian cabinet with two glass-fronted boxes one above the other. It was made by Joseph Egglestone of Huntshieldford, near St. John’s Chapel in Weardale, in the first years of the twentieth century. In the upper case is an assemblage of natural wonders, eloquent of its period, with stuffed birds and mosses arranged behind a proscenium of mineral crystals: this is very much in the tradition of the cabinet of curiosities.
The lower cabinet is a superb representational spar-box, with a street scene all made of glimmering fragments of minerals multiplied into an infinite boulevard by judiciously-placed corner mirrors.This both a grotto, a theatre or masque scene and a transformation of reality into an alternative world. There is a grotto-roof of spar and crystals. Little lamps stand amongst pyramids of translucent and reflective minerals.
Nearby is the beautifully-restored spar box made by Robert Ridley at Allenheads in 1896. This is a work of the highest fantasy, with magnifying lenses let into the upper part of a magnificent case, to give peepholes into a cave of quartz, aragonite and fluorite. The main window in the lower part of the case shows a mirrored street-scene, with two Victorian bow-fronted villas, with lace curtains, facing each other across a shimmering yard. The scene is so organised that you catch a glimpse of your own face framed amongst the transformed villas and paths and pyramids of spar. Originally, the case had provision that the villa windows could be lit by candles placed inside the structures
The Killhope collection has also, under glass domes, cones and arches of spar. There is a pair of rotundas of three spar columns with a circular roof, like the Temple of Vesta in translucent metamorphosis, all made of green fluorspar and white quartz. There is a vast pyramid of purple fluorite, galena and needle-crystals. There is an extraordinary stylised pine-tree made up entirely of refracting and translucent minerals. This is a work of art of such strangeness, such confidence and assurance in its use of materials, that it echoes not so much the eighteenth-century tradition of fluorite grottoes as the prodigious objects, the meraviglie, of the Renaissance. What is prodigious in David Walker Barker’s current exhibition is that he observes and continues all these traditions, while adding, in his turn, a careful layer of reflection on the landscape and history of the northernmost Pennines, on traditions of the collection and display of Pennine minerals, and on the larger tradition of the perpetuation of memory and the preservation of relics.
His work is not simply an arrangement of reality: the transformations implied by the finest spar boxes are also present. And yet the cases which he has contrived are transformations of the early-modern ‘cabinets of amythest and frost’ which caught Geoffrey Hill’s poetic imagination. They add to the mineral-cabinet aspects of the reliquary to honour the humblest traces of the lives lived amongst the mines on the high moors. In a few of his panel pieces, azure and gold (traditionally the finest materials available to a European artist) are laid subtly together in such a way as to evoke the dappled appearance of the Pennine slopes and allude to the mineral riches lying in the dark under the hills. Altogether, the work is a rich reflection of what a museum could be and what a museum, ideally could do: offer multiple and simultaneous ways into the past through the memory and through the imagination.
Peter Davidson is Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Aberdeen.
The Last Miners of Weardale and Rookhope Vale
David Walker Barker
In February 2006 I had the privilege of talking to Jimmy Craggs and Joe Forster both of whom have spent most of their working lives in the North Pennine mines. Their accounts were detailed, sometimes humorous, and always thoughtful portraying a personal relationship both with the mines and the dales that was insightful and knowledgeable. They had their own unique engagement with the mines, always attentive, watching and listening, a sense of knowing gained through close contact with the strata, the minerals and the job to be done in those dark underground places. They also became fascinated each in their own way with the minerals, Jimmy as a contemporary maker of the Spar Box and Joe as a collector of crystallised minerals. Both have a particular and unique sensibility that has grown out of their lives underground.
Jimmy Craggs showed me two spar boxes that he had made, one a delightful narrative of miners underground, a world in miniature fashioned using hundreds of crystals of green fluorite. The other is best described as “An Anthology of Northern Pennine Fluorite” and contains crystals of every colour of fluorspar acting as an analogue of one of the many loughs lined with crystals that Jimmy must have seen underground.
Joe Forster has an extraordinary eye for crystallised minerals and for selecting examples that have an unsurpassed aesthetic quality. I was able to spend time with him and his collection and view examples from the mines he has worked in. His description of the discovery of the Zinc Flats in Cambokeels mine was particularly engrossing as he was one of the first miners to enter these remarkable deposits.
The following is an abridged account of their comments taken from a longer transcript.
Well looking back there’s a lot to remember, things have gone, things have changed, the dale’s changed since I started down the mines. First mine I worked in was Stanhope Burn before I worked in the cement works. Father wanted us to get a trade, fitting and turning like him, but I hated it. I didn’t enjoy it at all and was cheeky and I got the sack. I didn’t want to go underground but the only job I could get was at Stanhope Burn Mine and that was it, that’s how I started at 18. After a couple of weeks nothing seemed to be a problem, it was fine, bit of an adventure, didn’t seem to be too hard. I was three years at Stanhope. It was OK – hard graft, just a shovel, there was no machinery, just a loco. When you’re young the work doesn’t seem to matter, it doesn’t seem to matter you getting wet either. Old fellows tell you you’ll rue it, you think what a load of rubbish but they’re always right! I’ve heard myself saying it.
I went to the cement works after that, and when that job finished I went looking for a job at Stotsfieldburn Mine at Rookhope. When I went for the job I didn’t arrange an interview I just went to see the boss Mr Green on a Saturday morning. There were no buses to Rookhope only Eastgate, so I walked from Eastgate, got a lift on the way. Consequently I was knocking on his door about eight in the morning. The window opened and he said, “What the hell do you want?” I says, “I’m after a job”. “You can have a job, quite possibly, but bugger off and come back in an hour and a half’s time. It’s Saturday morning and I’m not getting out of bed again.” Anyway I got a job, he was all right, worked at ‘Stot’s about 10 weeks.
Now Mr Green set up Redburn Mine, they had great hopes of it being number one metalliferous mine in the UK but it didn’t work out. ICI took it over and kept the same gaffers and everything. We all wondered what was going to happen and believe it or not we all got a 25% wage rise. I eventually left there and went to Blackdene. I was there near 14 years. I left when there was a steel strike in 1980 and went to work at Hope Level down at Stanhope. I’d been there only a few weeks when they closed Blackdene. If I’d have stayed on I’d have gotten some redundancy, but that’s how it goes.
Blackdene and Hope level were interesting places though some unpleasant things happened at both. Hope level had been worked for ironstone at one time. We were up in some old levels and I had discovered a great pillar of fluorspar the old miners had left in having taken the ironstone from either side of it. They had put stone arches beneath it and tracking, leaving a column of spar either side of the arching. It was spotless and dry, the tail ropes and wheels in the wooden boxes would still turn though the wood was rotten. It was possibly from the 1920’s and we came across it in the 1980’s. I said to the gaffer we just found you ten thousand ton of spar and he didn’t believe us at the time.
Anyway we were up in the workings and you could see a watermark along the wall about 8 feet up. It was bone dry at the time and clean as if someone had brushed it out. It must have been full of water at some point. I didn’t know anything about it but an old chap who lived next door had two early books by the Stanhope Field Society with all sorts of things about the mine. As far as anybody could find there was no connection between Hope Level and what they called Crawley Mine further up the bank. There was no explanation for the sudden inrushes of water which were estimated to be up to half a million gallons at a time. When it happened it was devastating, took all the timber and everything but they could never find out where it came from.
We were in the far end and must have been directly under the Crawley Spar rake. Me and my mate were putting timbers in trying to make holes for firing when it came in. The inrush was terrific we didn’t know what it was. When the water rushed in it was carrying spar and stones with it like a slurry. We were off sharpish and saw it pushing the Eimco (a compressed air powered mechanical digger) until it wedged it against the props. It gave some time to get half way down the ladder before the slurry came over the top. We didn’t realise at the time that it was coming down the hopper beside us. The weight of this stuff had pushed a big stone and wedged it on top of the ladder and diverted the torrent. If that hadn’t have happened it would have been the end of it. Talk about being lucky, we learned our lesson that day!
Hope level was hazardous in other ways having very high concentrations of Radon gas, some of the highest this chap had ever recorded. We ended up putting in air doors and a couple of fans though there were never more than 4 of us in there at any one time, mostly just 2. All we knew at the time was this gas could affect the ability to father children. I wasn’t particularly bothered but now it’s known to have other implications. When the inspector came, he was only a little bloke about 40, and I wondered what he was like. There was always that much water running down the top of the track, just like a little stream coming out of there. The inspector says, “I see you’ve got your track well drained.” “Oh aye, there’s never any debris on the track.”
“There won’t be!” he says. He said it was fine. I don’t think they would have bothered coming until we got the little loco; before that you had to take the tubs half a mile in. You went in on a morning with a couple of tubs, filled them, did some work, brought them out, had your bait, tipped them, took them back in again. It wasn’t feasible to be in and out of there 10 or 20 times a day. I mean I’d only be 4ft.6ins.now!
Blackdene was all right. I worked there 14 years. Gaffer was Tommy Allen. Some would say he was ‘far owwer soft’ but he’d work with you. If you’d be trying to squeeze a little bit more money for the job, “You’re reight” he’d say, “but enough’s enough – you’ve got to leave me room to breathe!”
There were bad spots to work. We were deep down in the whinstone. You normally think of whinstone as being very solid but this whinstone was faulted in some way like sheets. You could stick holes in it anywhere and when you came back it had just come in, a heap of stone. It should have been arched but they couldn’t afford the arches, said we’d have to roof bolt it. If there’d been another mine down the road I’d have been off, but I said, “We’ll do it canny”. I set some boards up and drilled through the boards. It just kept coming away, small stuff, it wouldn’t hold together at all. I managed to get them all drilled, get the bolts up and get some timbering in. That’s when my mate Chris got hurt. He was lucky in a way I suppose, had it been in one piece it would have killed him, he wouldn’t have stood a chance. The fact is it broke up small when it hit him but it smashed his face into the heap. My mate says, “He’ll be all right. He’s just cut his nose, his cheek, his lip and his ear”, but I said ‘Look at his face man, it’s a different shape like.” He was in a bad way so I got him out the mine straightaway. Couldn’t wait to get a party down so I put him in the cab of one of the little locos, laid on top and held him by the shoulders and got him to top that way and off to hospital. He had a fractured skull and cheekbones. He got compensation but he never worked underground again. I went back down afterwards and the safety representative was there.
“I’ve come to see if it’s all right.”
“It’s not all right.”
“It looks all right now.”
“Oh, right” I said. “I’ll tell thee summat – if anybody else is hurt in here and it’s not arched, I’m gan as far as I can gan, because it’s not correct.”
And they did arch it after, they come up with the arches and it was arched.
I had a workmate killed at Whiteheaps. I’d been working at Whiteheaps and they pulled me back to Blackdene. I’d only been back a few days when a lad came up and said this chap had got himself killed. He’d gone down the hopper, he thought the top was solid but it was just a crust. He come down the ladder, jumped onto this crust and went straight through it. Once you broke that top everything would come in on you. He wouldn’t have stood a chance, I wondered what must have gone through his mind those last seconds. A similar thing nearly happened to me at Stanhope Burn. They were taking stuff out of the hoppers. We were on the high level and I come off. This fellow grabbed me by the collar, a shirt collar not a jacket mind, and he just held me and stopped me going down with it. He had his legs really straight on the side and he just held on to me. He turned out to be my future wife’s uncle. The crystals were wonderful, coming across them. I never started collecting minerals till I left Blackdene, I used to bring ’em out and sell ’em like. Then I thought how many millions have gone out of this dale and I haven’t got a collection so I started collecting, then I sold most of them. There were some pieces of spar; it took two men to carry one piece. We were putting a level in and hit some cavities, one you could walk into it like a room. There were millions of small cubes of fluorspar. The rock was all twisted and covered in them, and a hollow ball of lead, all cubes. The foreman was there and the manager. Taking stuff was mentioned. I says, “Would I do a thing like that?” “Why” he says, “I’ll tell thee what lad, if I’d a been thou, I’d a done t’same!”
I’d called at Doreen Egglestone’s with the lad I was working with. She had the big spar box that’s at Killhope now and she showed us it. I don’t know, it all stayed in my mind. I’d tons of spar, so I decided to make a spar box. The first was a disaster so I decided to make a better job of the next. I’d always liked the colour green so I collected green cubes. The two you’ve seen took a long time, too long, got my patience. The one with all colours of spar in it, well there’s about 18 different locations for the minerals, something out of every quarry round here even if it’s just one crystal of quartz. It took a long time to make. The big spar box when I put the lights in, my daughter said it looked like a Christmas tree. Those enormous loughs we found at Blackdene, though, when you shone your light in there’s all sorts of colours coming back at you from the different angles. It’s like a prism.
The last mines I worked were the small coalmines. I worked in several before I retired and there were some fantastic formations found there. There was dolomite, calcite, barites and one wall that was covered in what looked like the biggest spiders web you could ever imagine. It was gypsum and so delicate it was just falling to pieces. One time we were linking two pits up by cutting a drive. I got some amazing black barites. A seam of coal was there, it went a way in, then you’d just come to compacted sand. Barites crystals were in the sand. We just stood and cut them out. There were cracks up in the sand lined with calcite crystals that looked like snakeskin.
In mining you got things that were difficult, but they were a challenge to be overcome. If it’s possible most men will find a way to do it. Everyone’s got their own niche whether it’s the right one or the wrong one I don’t know. It’s what you’re stuck with sometimes and it’s a bit of a bonus if you enjoy it. Well a lot of it is enjoying the money! Money isn’t everything unless you’ve got none and then it is everything. I’ve never been totally without but a couple of times I’ve been, well, nothing left like. It’s not easy, not a nice feeling.
One of the last mines I worked at was Greenhead, just above Haltwhistle. Castle Drift they call it. It was a small coalmine. The last year and a half in the pits I was struggling with arthritis. If you’d have known what you know now a lot of us wouldn’t tread the same path. I enjoyed the mining, I enjoyed being down there. It was OK. Some jobs were better than others, some jobs is better at making your bonus than others, but that’s just part of life. But it was hard. It was funny having to go back to Blackdene when you’d helped build it and start taking it to bits, taking it down, it gave you a funny feeling.
Jimmy Craggs February 2006
The mines, on the whole I’ve enjoyed the mines. You worked by yourselves, nobody bothered you, there’d be just you and your mate working together all day. You could be your own person. The boss would come in, he’d have a look and say, “Do you want to do this or do that?” You could do it as you wanted. Once they’d got out of the road we just did it. You were there to make money; it was just piecework, either on tonnage, or metreage or footage. We used to make bargains like the old lead miners used to, not so much at the end, but you could still make bargains. If we were going through a lot of old ground, the Old Man’s workings, you couldn’t work it on metreage so you had to barter and get it at “difficult rate”. You could argue special conditions, say you were having to do this or that, you know. It was pretty similar to the Old Man’s way… doing tonnage, doing the “long haul”… something like that.
Up at Frazers it was a different atmosphere for a mine. You worked in shifts, you were up and down. There were diesel machines underneath the ground and lots of fumes…
Cambo had a different atmosphere altogether; it was better to work, even though it was harder ground, it had a different feel about it.
I spent a lot of time in the stopes, (workings) I knew all the stopes. You’d be paid by the cubic metre, they called them “canches”. You’d maybe have 3 or 4 faces going all at one time to make your cubic metre, unless you had a big face. In Cambo, one I was working was 11 metres wide and 9 metres high. You’d fire it, bring it all down; that was a good way of making money but it was rough, very dangerous, big, like a cathedral. Sometimes it used to drop out, everything was full of smoke. You could hear this rumbling, you couldn’t understand where it was coming from. We were looking at each other, then this thing about 20 feet long by about 6 feet wide and 6 feet deep slips, settling down in the heap. One day there was like a knocking and there’s this bloody great block on its side coming over. A couple of times I experienced that, once at Greencleugh with Bob Foster. I’ve worked some dangerous places.
I’ve not seen anything really bad happen though, I’ve missed them really. I was never near where there was anybody killed. There was a lad killed at Whiteheaps and a couple of accidents further round. I helped carry them out. There was one lad broke his back and the other badly injured his neck. He’s still alive today. That was down at Firestone level in the ’70’s at Grove Rake. That decline was put down about ’71 or ’72. Maybe ’73. I started at Grove Rake in 1969. British Steel took it over and they also developed Blackdene and they later put money into Grove Rake. They put a new shaft down. Sinkers put the shaft down and when they’d finished that, they went down the incline, “dib”, and drove that. We were waiting for them to get finished, working on the level while the sinkers were still there, then they slowly went out and that was it. They were doing work we’d normally do…
I didn’t really start collecting till I was at Cambokeels, it was Cambo stuff that triggered it. That was in 1980. I used to fetch just the odd little bit home, then I met Eddie Lee, John Lee’s brother, he lives up here. He collects calcite, he’s got a very good collection of calcite, into micro-mounts at the moment… He used to come down the mine at bait time, go collecting and then go back out, because he used to work off site. So I started giving him mounts, then when I went to his house (he’s a mason, a stonemason, he used to do a lot of work for us) he gave me some. That’s how I got started, he more or less got us interested. So I began collecting myself.
I’d quite a good time at Frazers. We didn’t find the really good stuff because we were on the higher levels. They’d got the really beautiful glassy purple fluorite just before we went there. I was at Cambo then. They shut Cambo down and we went up there (to Frazers) for a year, that was the tail end of the good specimens, then we went back to Cambo. When we were up there I saw what they were getting and the places they were getting them.
The Zinc Flats
In the zinc flats the specimens were spectacular. The flats were maybe fifty to sixty feet long with crystals all over. You could have calcite in one hole and sphalerite in another. You had pale grey fluorite and you had the pyrrhotines, there was a spectacular one that went to Manchester Museum. They were from the bottom level at Cambo. That was down below the Whin Sill and the deepest we went, the next major bed down was the granite. We were down on the 340 level. It was hot, dark and wet. We had to push the tubs by hand down to the pit bottom. There wasn’t any power there, so we sunk a dip down to that level, drifted off and put the side heading and we got a ropeway down, it made it easier.
It was very wet and the water was warmish, tepid. If you got it in your eye it felt as if your eye was burnt out. We used to use alkathene pipes down there as the water used to rot the metal ones away. On the 240 level if you got a cut or something, it used to come up and fester. It took ages before it healed up. The water stank, you know; it had like a froth on it and stank. It was terrible stuff.
It’s hard to explain to you what it was like finding crystals. When we went in there were loads of lough holes, there’d be big ones that you could get up into. All those purple fluorites came from a hole like that. Calcites came out of the same area. People go on about floaters… everything was a floater there, lumps this big… Here you’d see all sorts. You’d find a hole, could see the pyrite in it, you’d stick your finger in it and your finger would be covered in pyrite gold, like liquid pyrite.
Some specimens were covered in iridescence; they were some of the best. This flat was being worked after we left. We’d gone a level lower down. You’d start drilling and only get so far, you’d hit a hole and the drill would gag, you’d drill another hole and that would gag, so you’d know you were into a space. It wasn’t much good for you if you were working on metreage because you weren’t making any money drilling empty spaces. I fired a charge one day and opened up a hole. I poked my head up through it and there’s all these crystals with a gold crusting on. That was a sight when you put a light on them. I got some nice lumps out of there especially the calcites coated in iridescent pyrite, all different colours. I showed Jimmy when I got them and he thought I’d been at them with a paintbrush. He said, “You’re a pretty good painter if you can do that!”
Cambo finally closed in September 1989. I was one of the last away.
The Last Days
As for the mines closing, you could see it coming nearly 10 years ago. When Cambo closed down I was lucky to get taken on by Sherburn Stone.
When they were winding down, in a way you were struggling to keep the job going. We were getting narrowed down with only six months left. There were plans we could maybe last another three or four months if we went down this other level, but it just didn’t happen. It was slowly creeping up and in the end you were accepting it. Once you’d moved from one mine you knew it was limited to that area and you just tried to make the job last. One day we were told that was it, it was finished, and that was the end of it.
Closing week was just a big shock – you didn’t know what you were going to do. All I’d done for the last 31 years was mine see, that’s it… I was more or less on the dole. The other finishing came on the last day when we received our notices and then we took it all down, people drifted away and there was only two of us left up there. The quarry opened and we went there. I don’t miss it now. There’s still a vacuum, bound to be, thirty odd years it’s a good part of your life. I’m working in the quarry now, at first everything was different. You were working outside and you’d feel the cold, you know what I mean?
It’s the same firm, I’ve never really left you know. It was ’91 when they took it over. It’s kept us in work, kept us going. The quarry’s owned by the same as own Grove rake, Sherburn Stone. Now the area’s been re-designated it’s getting harder to get planning permission. In the quarry we’re in now, we’re down to like 6 months work. We’re getting planning permission for phase 2 and phase 3.
They say it’s an area of outstanding beauty – it’s outstanding beauty in part because of the quarries, because the vegetation grows around the quarries. You see some of these quarries especially around Frosterley, all the trees have come in because of the quarries, growing on the spoil. It’s all natural now. They must have been pretty old those quarries because there’s some big trees in there.
Joe Forster February 2006
Cabinets and Curiosities
Chris Rawson-Tetley with David Walker Barker
When commencing the critical and historical assessment of a creative work there is always the dilemma of the identification of the probable origin or inspiration for its genesis. The similarities it may have to other works by the artist is potentially one starting point, as is the probability of an outside influence that may have prompted the making of previous works. Questioning the artist as to possible influences can be revealing, as much for what may be said as for what may be unsaid. But when you are personally acquainted with a particular piece, having followed its making from inception to completion, it becomes difficult to discuss its creation, possible influences and position within the canon of the artist’s work, without being subjective. With this in mind I approach this essay in a spirit of hopeful objectivity and apologise in advance to the reader for the probably subjective consequence.
The centrepiece for the exhibition at the Killhope Lead Mining Museum is a large freestanding cabinet which occupies centre stage in the museum’s minerals and spar box collection room. As of the writing of this piece it does not have a title, unlike other works in the exhibition, a fact that in someway expresses the distinctive position it deserves in any catalogue and has in the mind of its maker, David Walker Barker.
All pieces are unique being the actualization of previous creative experiences that have been particularly expressed. Some, however, while being that are also something else, either a new direction or, significantly, a summation and expression in a new form of everything that the artist is, has done and aspires to do. When the latter occurs what is produced refuses to be categorized in any previous manner and, while being a part of an ongoing process, stands inimitably alone.
The difficulties inherent in attempting to rationalize the origins of a piece of creative work are demonstrated in these edited extracts from a conversation with the artist that took place on Tuesday the 11th April, 2006.
I began by asking where the idea for the work came from;
DWB – The idea for the large cabinet came from a conversation I had with Ian Forbes a while ago. We were talking about spar boxes and the conversation progressed on to cabinets, cabinets of curiosities and the manner in which objects might be presented. As you know I live surrounded by cabinets and collections of objects so am particularly fascinated by this issue. In a sense it was the conversation with Ian that fixed an idea in my head that the cabinet would be an interesting form to use in making a work and particularly for the room at Killhope that contains the spar boxes and the minerals.
So the genesis of the idea started with that conversation, and I think I referred to it in the diary extracts, where the thought, the idea, the scribble to the working drawing took, I don’t know , a day or a week? I actually made the scribbly drawing for it one day when I was up in the Killhope archive with you. That’s where it took off as something substantial and potentially coherent. I’d decided then, unconsciously, that, “Yes, I’m going to make this for this space, and it’s going to be an important work”. I wanted it to reflect something of the spar box or case without it being either of those forms, to have something of a weight and darkness to it, I mean darkness in colour not darkness in mood or meaning.
It was not to be a spar box but to acknowledge some quality or aspect of them. I also had dozens of objects I had collected or that I had fabricated myself since October. Relic flasks, jars filled with odd specimens and detritus, a wealth of material and these had nowhere to live, yet they were a kind of inventory that in some way or another related to the project and the landscape of the North Pennines. The end product was the idea for a tri-partite cabinet to house them. Material that was both content and concept.
CRT – You say you haven’t come up with a title for this … I mean … where do you start? It’s a large cabinet, sitting there. It’s the centrepiece of an exhibition …
DWB – Perhaps that should be the title … I like that “A Cabinet…sitting there as the centrepiece for an exhibition”! Where do I start? I don’t want to make this of great import because I’m not sure it is. Sometimes a work is quite clear in terms of how I might title it from day one such as the piece up there. I made that from start to finish dedicated to the old Heights Mine near Westgate. The mine had worked an offshoot of Slitt Vein where Heights Quarry is now working. It’s been the same with some other works but quite often the title is not fixed until a specific work is well under way or I’ve finished it altogether and seen it collectively in the context of the other art works. The two works in progress that I’ve shown you this morning; I decided from the outset that one was to be dedicated to Wolfcleugh, the cottages at Wolfcleugh. The other is to Cambokeels or Cammock Isles Mine near Eastgate. Both of them contain or are fabricated from materials recovered from the respective sites. They are about and literally from the places. Their titles will reflect this.
I guess with the large cabinet, which is now completed even down to the details of what it will contain, that I should have already coined a title. I am still considering this however. Because it’s a large work and because I made it very specifically as a centrepiece – I don’t want to come up with a title that is sort of too overt. I want to coin something that leaves an aspect of its interpretation open and also allows it to resonate with the spar cases and minerals that will surround it. I know it will do this simply by the fact it is there amongst them but there are connections that I have engineered in part through the objects that it will contain. It is in a very real sense an inventory and also a kind of reliquary. I mean it’s filled with flasks, and bottles, with objects that I’ve made, with objects that I’ve found. With detritus and material from particular sites in the North Pennines, old mine sites, quarries, homesteads, bits and pieces that in themselves are seemingly quite inconsequential or insignificant. They don’t stand for anything specifically once removed from their original context, they don’t say this is a specimen from here, that’s a specimen from there, nor are they identified as such. That would have made them mineral or archaeological specimens and that would be too obvious, too much within a given convention of classification and would deny it and the forms it takes a wider potential. Rather than describing what it contains as such, something that might trigger a particular response to its contents, the cabinet provokes a resonance that isn’t explicit but which is nonetheless focused within a specific territory.
The objects, like those that I’ve put in the work to Cambokeels or Wolcleugh, are inconsequential, they are things that could be so easily overlooked having been discarded, abandoned like so much has been forgotten relating to ordinary lives and toil. The fact that you recover something like that and give it import, it becomes almost like a talisman, it becomes emblematic, a kind of redemption. Some of them are fictions fabricated to stand in for things that could never be found, acting as analogues to underlying processes. In this sense the cabinet is very much a reliquary to a plethora of histories.
CRT – Emblematic?
DWB – Emblematic! Trace of history, histories that are hidden and ambiguous, human and otherwise, biological – mineral – industrial.
David picks up an object from the table.
What does this matter to anybody? It’s an old forged and corroded nail that I found on the site of the Boltsburn mine. I recovered it when I was examining the material from the old mine dumps exposed by recent landscaping. It was one of the nails that held the rails to the sleepers of the narrow gauge mineral railway that trundled between Boltsburn and Groverake mine. But if you labelled it would it make it much more significant as an object? Possibly it would to me in a purely subjective sense but given a richer context it may well resonate in a more profound and deeper way.
Concerning the Items in the Cabinet
DWB – Made objects – found objects – objects selected because they have no obvious value yet which are from and of the North Pennine area. If I had filled the cabinet with the finest crystallized mineral specimens I have collected from the region over the years no doubt it would have presented a splendid sight but somehow would have missed the point. So I selected things that were in themselves almost mute hoping they would speak when they came into the company of others and of course fabricated or concocted things that represent enigmatic or invisible elements.
I’ve tried to bring the focus, with all the stuff I will put in it, to say in some sort of way, this cabinet is about the North Pennines, about an experience and investigation of aspects of it that offer a metaphorical extension to that experience. It’s not a literal representation however. That requirement was the start of a process of thinking rather than the end product. It started off as a kind of repository for the objects. They were originally stored in a Victorian cabinet and it was that old cabinet that played a part in how the new ones have been conceived, mirror backs and all. The mirror reflects the viewer, you will see yourself living with those items and all around you the old spar boxes and minerals. That is important, a means of allowing the spar box to enter the work and yet remain detached from
it at the same time.
You wouldn’t come along and find an item like the little steel ball collected from Cambokeels Mine or the rusty nails from Sedling labelled as such. They, like the other objects, are not defined in that way. In the same way the spar boxes need not be read literally even though some of them represent street scenes. They take you beyond what they are, what they started off as or were meant to be. Even those street scenes, although there’s a very clear narrative, they are not what they seem. They intimate another world that is half sensed or imagined that exists in inaccessible spaces or at the periphery of the imagination. In the North Pennines it exists beneath your feet and in the memory of traces drawn across this huge landscape and its intimate details.
The cabinet is not a representation of that landscape, of the mines, of this, of that, or the other, it works as those spar cases work or the extraordinary mineral specimens. It stands for other aspects of this world, a portal that allows you to enter some of its other dimensions. I think, if anything, the connection between the cabinet and the other artworks, the spar cases and minerals on display, is the landscape outside and the journeys one makes between them all. That for each and everyone is a complicated journey. Often you are not aware that you are making one at all, not until later, perhaps years later.
I began by commenting on the difficulties inherent in the identification of the inspirational origins of a particular piece. The necessity for such identification lies, I feel, only within the field of academic classification. Appreciation of, and identification with, a work is another matter entirely, and one of an essentially personal and private nature. Equally the reasons for a work’s existence and display are not necessarily to be found within either the title given or any third party evaluation of its possible value. Approaches to what may be considered “art” are as varied and individual as engagements with concepts of place or, in the context of this book, landscape. Certain landscapes, or places, have a particular resonance for some people and elicit responses that are a product both of their experiences and, specifically, their creativity. Such responses when created honestly, committedly and offered for inspection are deserving of the measured and thoughtful opinion that comes from within, an opinion formed by a recognition of one’s own association with like places.
Occasionally a piece of work appears that defies classification, in that to designate it only as “art” is to do it a disservice. Metaphor and quotation are equally inaccurate as descriptions. The “thing” is itself and at the same time, more. It is the summation of its parts, the epitome of its making and a potentially dynamic commentary upon its reason for existence. Hyperbole aside it is quite simply a doorway, a portal into an infinite number of possibilities.
Concerning Minerals and Sites – From the Diary
David Walker Barker
Friday 4th November 2005:
The weather is very bad. The fells are drenched. They overspill torrentially from every orifice and niche. Little wonder the mines used water power to such an extent. Crossing over from Nenthead to Killhope cloud was heaving over the summit.
I was considering the minerals in the archive, the Dunham and the David and Liz Hacker collection on display there, their brilliance and colour. Crystals born in the dark having no reason to be colourful except as a property of their chemistry and their genesis. No intentional colour spilling out into the wet landscape but somehow it did. I took it with me when I left, a contrast with the dense and dark fells. How best to represent this sensual narrative in a construction or a painted image?
Dunham and Hacker together provide a revelation that transmits itself to thoughts of my own collection of crystal specimens. What inspires is the mineral fluorspar. Undergirding the diversity of North Pennine material is fluorite in a wonderful range of colours, speckled and spangled with other minerals that contrast with its weight and transparency. North Pennine fluorite is incomparable when crystallised in its most perfect and transparent forms. It compels light to interact with it,
holding light with a limpid deep toned resonance. It seems so sensitive to light that its colour changes with the smallest variation in the light it receives. The colour range is uncountable; the colour quality is breathtaking.
Killhope Archive: Scanning photographs
A wealth of photographic images. There is a trio of photographs taken of Sedling Mine at Cowshill, detailed and topographical with fixtures and buildings and people. The images are so intimate and open that you might walk into them, step back and be there on the same sunny day when they were taken. The old gaffer stands proudly wearing his bowler hat. In the back ground a mineworker dutifully poses holding his shovel, on a pile of fine spoil three lads lark about like lads always do.
On a better day than today I shall go down to the site. There is not much left now, the army blew up those fine old buildings some time in the 1950’s, but you can still make out where things were. The exposed limestone face on the east side of the track has changed little. The two shafts remain fenced off with wooden stakes and barbed wire; the shaft covers rotting away. Stone foundations and old adits exist further eastwards along Sedling vein whilst the surface workings look today very much as they did in one of the old photographs. A few hundred yards to the north is the entrance to Burtree Pasture Mine, fallen in and piled high with rubbish.
A picture of Groverake Mine depicts a group of miners posing in a very formal arrangement. All the details of the place are open to you. An overturned ore tub, a blurred figure amongst the group, writing on an old door and in the distance a worker looks casually out of an old hut towards the photographer.. Then there is a picture of the ‘train men’ and the little narrow gauge loco with its rake of wagons taken somewhere between Lintzgarth and Groverake. It is a beautiful image with the loco makers plate discernable, the photographer’s case by the fence and the ‘train men’ as if about to speak to you once the picture has been taken.
Above all these for its sense of place is the detailed picture of Boltsburn village, Rookhope as it is called now. A fascinating and intimate image in which you can pick out the smallest detail. In this faded picture you are on the cusp of entering a landscape that still today retains some of those details and features. You may still find bits of equipment rusting back into the earth and the occasional old tool lying about in a gully or stream bed. A couple of years ago a local farmer found a pig of lead sticking out of the fell side. It must have weighed at least a hundredweight and was graced with the most beautiful patination having lain buried for over a century and a half. As the farmer said ‘ there can’t be many of these laying about’.
Walk around the back lanes and gardens at Rookhope and patios and porches still display specimens out of Boltsburn Mine. In a niche built into a wall groups of white quartz crystals of perfect form and in a garden clusters of fluorspar crystals bedecked with calcite, quartz and galena. Old timers from the great mineralised flats now corroded by the weather yet on a wet day brilliantly coloured.
Friday 3rd March 2006
Underground in Smallcleugh Mine, Nenthead, Cumbria. An extraordinary bright morning, brittle and intensely cold in a biting wind. Walked to the Nenthead site and up the valley. The dereliction of this place is well delineated by the snow and ice cover. The landscape was frozen solid, waterwheels ice coated, the burn ice clothed. Higher up the track is the adit to Smallcleugh. The portal to the mine is neat and tidy and seemingly small. I entered clumsily getting used to the restricted height and continually grazing my helmet on the roof of the passageway. A cold and wet entrance splashing through water draining out the mine. As the journey unfolded the extent of the labour in making these underground spaces became clear. Stone arching is beautifully preserved leading deeper into the mine and into the worked out flats, extensive chambers once lead and zinc filled. Here is that strange junction between recent and ancient time. It is barely sensed but slowly emerges from the calligraphy of mineralisation left on the walls and the dead rock carefully stacked. The Old Man touched ‘Vast Time’ in earning his pittance and it is scarcely believable what he left behind beneath the fells. The silence and stillness is overwhelming if you take time to concentrate on it and still yourself for a while. Better even to turn off your light and experience no light at all. Then the weight of time seems at its most comprehensible.
Rookhope Vale: Residual lives in a mutable and transforming landscape.
David Walker Barker
The first and the last, Rookhope Vale is steeped in mining history, its fabric rich in associations as well as spoil-heaps. Frazer’s Hushes, some of the earliest hushes in the ore field, raked its flanks and gave their name to the last but one mine that worked here. Along its course from its convergence with Weardale at Eastgate mines and workings have animated its surface, its under-earth and its flanks. Brandon Walls, Stotfield and the legendary Boltsburn, Rispey Sike and Wolfcleugh Mines,Thorney Slitt and Tailrace level. Higher up the valley Frazers Hush, Greencleugh and Groverake, their remains still visible, are the abandoned reminders of a once busy place. This valley embodies the nature of the changing topography of the northern fells. The transition from the pasture rich and fertile landscape of its lower reaches to desolate and bleak upper regions is an encompassing characteristic of what was once called the “Penine Alps” and is with changing details repeated in numerous locations across the North Pennines.
At its lowest altitude cultivation skirts the sides of the river and the road that branches towards Rookhope village at Eastgate. The fells rise on either side. Once beyond Rookhope the hills assume a massive scale with a prospect that is savagely bleak eliciting a sense of wildness that in certain weather conditions is palpable. The road climbs from Rookhope towards Allenhead skirting a mountain stream and the still visible track bed of a narrow gauge railway that linked Groverake Mine to Rookhope, rattling trucks carting ore to the dressing floors of Boltsburn.
The winding road passes through what was in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries an extensive and heavily worked industrial landscape. Much of this industry was going on hundreds of feet beneath the valley floor and under the fells, but surface features still indicate the extent and gravity of the changes wrought on this landscape by the mines, quarries and smelt mills that were at work along the length of the valley to its highest points. At the summit, a large stone cairn marks the boundary between Northumberland and County Durham, ‘Land of the Prince Bishops’. Once the summit is crested you descend towards Allenheads village and Allendale itself, surrounded by the expansive moorland and fells stretching into an all embracing distance, giving a sense of scale and grandeur to the layered and textured history visible on its surfaces. It is here that the most indelible impression is gained of the complexity of this physical landscape, truly a palimpsest of extraordinary proportions.
At the side of a mountain stream in the Vale of Rookhope stands a row of abandoned and ruinous cottages. I discovered them several years ago and have sadly watched their further decline as the roofs fall in and walls splay outwards. Two more winters may see their demise. You could not imagine a more forlorn place seated at the edge of the fells called ‘Wolfcleugh’. These dwellings were marked on the first large scale Ordnance Survey maps of 1865 as ‘ Wolfcleugh’ and had been there perhaps fifty years by that date. They were inhabited by lead miners who worked the mines close by at Thorney Slitt Vein and continued to be occupied into the 1970’s.
When I first visited them I was surprised by the sense of well being that was nested in the place. Its location on the south bank of Rookhope Burn is not at all oppressive in a landscape that by virtue of its all encompassing bleakness purveys a savage and ruthless physicality in the adverse weather the high Pennine landscape generates. Here however by the burn and despite the dereliction and solitude is a place of peace.
In the one cottage that retains its roof a room downstairs still has its old cast iron range and a painted over mantel, simple in its design, and used this last year by a family of swallows or house martens who built their nest on the mantel shelf. They must have returned here for many consecutive years as part of their migratory pattern, for these tiny birds have a remarkable memory enabling them to navigate almost half way across the world to return each early summer to where they were born. They seem to symbolise the resoluteness of this place almost as if they are the caretakers of its continued existence.
On my first visit on an autumn afternoon I sat close by the dwellings and made notes in a notebook I always carry with me together with some small drawings. The drawings were like plans or maps, trying to encompass the whole layout, annotate the rooms and what remained in them. The bedroom of one cottage still contained an old bed, a chair and an Edwardian dressing table. The light in this upper room was soft and embracing, illuminating tiny specks of dust that coursed in the slowly moving atmosphere of the building. The old cottage was breathing still.
I have just re-read the notes I made on that day and how telling they are. I had recorded a sense of people still there going about their daily business, and children, the sound of children. It seemed a happy and wholesome place, ‘ Full of Busy’, despite its tumble down character.
This was some years ago in the September of 2003. In November this last year I happened to speak to a local woman who was born in the vale and remembers the cottages from years ago. Without any prompting she recollected how as a child she visited regularly, how the homestead had its own small Sunday School, was practically self sufficient due to a particularly fertile area of land on the otherwise bleak Wolfcleugh Fell. She remembers it as a happy place and a happy place it still is.
The Last Mines
Two sites currently lie abandoned and derelict yet clearly disclose their 19th and 20th century histories. Their abandonment is total and they might appear as just another wasted industrial site that despoils an otherwise attractive rural or natural landscape. The sites of Cambokeels and Groverake Mines, although substantially depleted and derelict, still possess a physical reminder of their function and recent history and are significant as the last remaining aspects of the long historical heritage of lead mining and the final phases of fluorspar mining in the area. Both of the sites retain 19th century Horse Levels and 20th century declines (Dibs) with the Groverake site displaying the only surviving head gear to its main shaft.
Cambokeels Mine, Weardale, County Durham.
Grid Ref : NY 93500 38300
The site occupied by the remains of Cambokeels Mine is an area of land wedged between the A689 road on the north and the River Wear to the south. It has been seated in this constricted position on the valley floor, amidst a pastoral landscape at least since the 1840’s as is testified by the date-stone over the entrance to the south facing old Horse Level. It shows the inscription “TWB 1847” representing Thomas Wentworth Beaumont, the owner of the mine which at that time was known as ‘Cammock Isles’. Fluorspar mining ceased here in the late 1980’s when the mine was producing substantial tonnages each week and only some ten years after the new decline had been sunk in the 1970’s. Both the decline, flooded to the roof, and the original Horse Level are still visible and one would hope that measures might be taken to conserve these two portals and some other aspects of the site as a reminder and a testimony to a lost legacy and history.
Groverake Mine, Rookhope Vale, County Durham.
Groverake Horse Level, Grid Ref: NY 89660 44120
Firestone Dib (decline) Grid Ref: NY 89650 44050
Groverake Mine closed in July 1999 after almost two hundred years of active life and considerable exploitation of the mineral veins of upper Rookhope Vale. The mine sits in a most desolate and isolated position beside Rookhope Burn. Despite its industrial nature and dereliction it remains a poignant and dramatic reminder of the special legacy of this unique valley. It was originally a lead mine but like most of the mines that continued operating in the area it changed to the mining of fluorspar. In its final years it was physically and operationally linked to Frazer’s Hush Mine, accessed via Frazer’s decline about a half mile further up the valley and was latterly known as Frazer’s Grove. The final days of its working life were experienced by Joe Forster one of the last miners to work the final shift at Frazer’s Hush Mine and at Groverake. He recalls the last day at Groverake in the summer of 1999:
“The first two weeks of August was the holiday. It was a hot day that last day, we were stood about outside. That’s when the mine finished altogether. They kept us hanging around all day that day because it was the holidays you know, the start of the holidays, the break up. We were waiting for word to say whether we were coming back or not, whether we were supposed to finish that day or come back after the holidays. We’d had our redundancy notices -got a letter saying our redundancy didn’t finish till September 16th. I think we all decided to go at three o’clock, that was about it so we all just went. Only one lad took his redundancy and left, got a job during the holidays and never came back. The rest of us all came back and then… they pulled the plug. They came on our last day and said that was it. We started knocking it down that day, got all the gear out of the mine, got everything out. Firestones left us as we left it, we fetched the gear out but everything else was left in there, the pipes, the cable that was left in. Even the loco was left on the top, it was just rotting away, but I think it’s been preserved though it’ll not be going back underground. A lot of the gear was taken away. It was all going for scrap basically. I worked down the processing plant for a while and now I’m with the same firm but at the quarry.”
Whilst the site of Frazer’s Hush is almost totally destroyed, Groverake still retains some of its buildings. The main headgear survives, although the smaller example has been cut up for scrap. The original portal of the Horse Level remains, an impressive architectural feature with an associated inscribed stone showing the date AD1878, whilst the remains of the Firestone decline are still largely intact representing the final stages of working this site. These adit-entrances are deserving of conservation, as indeed is the entire site. Will the Cambokeels and Groverake locations ever be seen as places of important industrial archaeology or will they like so many disappear, remembered only by photographs, technical records, archived material or by the last miners who worked them?
The Blue Circle Cement works had brought over 400 jobs to the Weardale valley some forty years ago, and together with the resurgence in fluorspar mining during the following three decades, admitted a greater economic prosperity to the dale. As Jimmy Craggs commented:
“Now there’s a shortage of work in the dale since the mines went. I know mining isn’t everything in the world, but it was a big thing up here. The lads could make a fair decent wage, they could set their families up, buy themselves a house. Doesn’t seem much to ask really. To do that now they have to travel or leave the dale completely. There’s not very much, its almost impossible for the youngsters to stay especially now that housing is so expensive and no jobs like.
The chimney’s gone, well I helped build that works. I worked for Mitchell Construction, a group of Irish lads, we used pre-cast concrete. It was good work, good crack whilst it was there. The chimney coming down personally didn’t bother me, but it did a lot of people. People had worked there twenty or thirty years, the works had brought good money to the dale like the mines had. Now it’s very different with people retiring here and more reliance on tourism. A lot of folk don’t see that as proper jobs, not enough to set themselves up”.
In its place a proposed eco village, promising abundant employment, and requiring nearly half a million visitors each year to justify its existence. A brave scheme or a folly? Meanwhile the reminders of those industries that made this special area a special place are eradicated or allowed by design or default to decay into oblivion. The cement works chimney no longer dominates the scene and the following comment from the ‘Weardale Gazette’ December 2005, edition no. 239, epitomises its loss.
“What will now lead the wanderers home? The skyline of our home was dominated by the chimney we came to love; it welcomed us when we returned from our travels; we knew we were back where we belonged”.
Who will ever come to love Cambokeels or Groverake, despoiled as they are, or the numerous old adits slowly falling into ruin? Will they be redeemed as sheepfolds in the Pennines have been and act as a tribute to the history they symbolise? Will they succumb to neglect because no one can see their value or cares enough about what they signify?
Or will they, unlike the chimney, become, as those limestone moors that contain them “Symbols of us All”?
And what of the lead miner and quarryman and their wives, and the lads and lasses
on the dressing floors?
For the most part they remain un-remembered and un-named.
They lived their lives often enduring great hardship and privation, for the most part
quietly and in good faith.
There is no memorial to them except here and there in the underground workings
initials cut in the hard rock, or chased on some old door.
Those deep workings are their only cenotaph.
In the last decades of the twentieth century the fluorspar miner had a better deal than
the earlier lead miner but their work was still hard and dangerous and who in fifty
years time will remember them?
Who remembers them now, the miners of Blackdene, Burtree and Cambokeels. Of
Beaumont, Whiteheaps, Frazer’s Hush and the last of Groverake?
Hogarth and Gilchrist. Robson, Beadle, Craggs and Allinson. The Forster’s and
Brown’s, Hodgson’s and Armstrong’s and the few dozen more who worked the last
mines, and the very last mine in Rookhope Vale.
We have in someway benefited from their labour but few remember their good work.
This exhibition reflects a landscape and the people who made it, a landscape that I
hold in the deepest affection.
David Walker Barker April 2006.
Notes on the Author and Contributors:
David Walker Barker, DipAD, ATD, MA(RCA), is a practising artist with a deep and abiding interest in landscape. He is a lecturer in the Department of Contemporary Art Practice in the School of Design at the University of Leeds, and exhibits both nationally and internationally. His work is in public and private collections at home and abroad. He is a member of LAND2 a network of artists working in higher education concerned with contemporary landscape issues.
Chris Rawson-Tetley, BA(Hons), MA, PhD, is a practising artist, writer and photographer, concerned with landscape. This is his second published collaboration with David Walker Barker. He is also a member of LAND2.
Peter Davidson is Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Aberdeen and Honorary Keeper of the University’s Collections. He has published widely on early-modern art and literature. His most recent book was a history of “The Idea of North” (Reaktion Books), forthcoming is “The Universal Baroque” from Manchester University Press.