The rapid decline of the Swaledale lead-mining industry in the late 1800s was said at the time by some observers to be partly down to fierce competition from cheap Spanish imports. One such was the travel writer Arthur Harwood Brierley who, in the Leeds Mercury newspaper in 1897, criticised those who said the problem was that the Swaledale mines had been worked out.
In a lengthy article on the upper-dale village of Muker, one of a series headed Leaves of a Yorkshire Itinerary, he expressed the opinion that Spanish imports had degraded the English lead industry in the same way that they had the Whitby jet industry. He was convinced that the problem in Swaledale was not an absence of lead ore, but simply the impossibility of getting the lead to market at a competitive and profitable price. He raised the challenge that ‘fresh borings would soon be a means of settling the question that there is another rich harvest of minerals waiting to be gathered.’
No doubt the several desperate attempts to save what little remained of the lead mining in Swaledale after 1897, and the futile attempts by a handful of fortune-seekers to reopen abandoned mines over the following couple of decades, indicate that Brierley was not alone in his feint optimism. In the meantime he described a sorry scene of depleted communities in upper Swaledale, and of market towns reduced to villages after the miners and their families had left the area in their thousands to find work in the large industrial towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Brierley’s account of the state of the Swaledale lead mines, together with his comments on Muker’s market, fair and show, can be read in full here: Muker in 1897. Begin at the sub-heading THE MUKER MARKET AND SHOW to read what is the latest part to be uploaded of a planned full transcription of his article.