THE AYLE BURN ‘TRIAL’
(Issue No.79, Winter 2011/2012)
The family of Jacob Walton, of monument fame, kept a large number of documents that are very informative about the local lead industry and demonstrate that not all of their enterprises were successful. The following story happened at a time when the financial worth of lead mines of the north Pennines was teetering on collapse. All the known veins had been explored and worked for many decades if not centuries, cheap Spanish ore was being imported, and on Alston Moor there was an air almost of desperation to find new sources of ore in old workings, or in veins previously untried because they were thought to be too poor.
On the 26th June 1869 the Ayle Burn Mining Company was formed, consisting of Utrick Bainbridge, solicitor, of Loaning House, John Pears Walton, son of Jacob Walton, lead mine owner and surveyor, of Greenends near Nenthead, and John Taylor, of Earsdon in Northumberland. Mr. Bainbridge took a half share and the others a quarter each. The area around the Ayle Burn on the county boundary with Northumberland had been tried earlier in the nineteenth century but without much success. Perhaps the new partnership believed that because not much had been done, there might be lead to be found. It was worth a try.
When the meeting took place, work in the mine must have already started along the Ayle Burn vein, because the commencement of the company was backdated to 1st January that year.
The company of three held its first meeting in August 1869 at the Golden Lion Inn, Alston (which used to stand opposite Alston House), when the partners resolved that the number of pickmen should be increased to six and that two calls of £50 each per quarter share (making a total of £400), should be made to meet expenses already incurred and running costs.
The next half yearly meeting was held in February 1870 at Mr. Bainbridge’s office in Alston, when John Taylor was absent. The number of pickmen was increased to eight and another call of £50 per quarter share (i.e. £200), was made. The results of this mining trial must have been promising because an application was made to the Admiralty, who were the Lords of the Manor, to take a lease on the mine that had formerly been held on a ‘take note’.
A third meeting was held in the following August and again John Taylor was absent.
The pickmen driving the level were now beneath the south east side of the Ayle Burn. The lead vein had been explored upwards and downwards but without success in finding ore. Another call of £50 per quarter share was made (another £200).
As far as records go, things went quiet for two and a half years and the next recorded meeting was not until an Annual Meeting in January 1873, by which time Utrick Bainbridge had died and his brother Robert was acting in his stead. At this meeting a bank balance of £87.15s.1d. was recorded and another call of £50 was made, payable to the Alston Branch of the Carlisle and Cumberland Banking Company on Front Street, that later became Barclays Bank. The mine was regarded as a trial and not as a paying venture, the unnamed mine agent was to be paid £30 a year and the accountant £10 a year.
Two years later, at a company meeting in February 1875, when John Taylor was absent yet again, the accounts from December 1873 to December 1874 were submitted with a balance of only £9.15s.11d.
Another two and a half years passed until a meeting at the Blue Bell Inn, Alston, on 16th November 1877, when the partnership included John Pears Walton’s brother, Jacob Walton of Glenwood House, Alston, thirteen years his junior and the youngest child of Jacob of the monument. In the mine by this time a sump had been sunk by the pickmen to a flat in a recently discovered cross vein. From this point the men were instructed to drive in every direction, horizontally and vertically, in the hope of finding ore.
Unfortunately this effort did not lead to success and at a meeting held on 27th November 1878 at the Turks Head Inn in Newcastle – not Alston – the partners, who were now John Taylor, John Pears Walton and Jacob Walton, junior, resolved that “the affairs of the Company be wound up forthwith”. So, after nine years and a great deal of expenditure, no lead had been found. The gamble of prospecting for lead, in this case as in so many others, had not paid off.
(The Walton/Milne Collection of Walton Family Mining Papers is in the Alston Moor Historical Society’s Archive.)