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Hebden Trial Level - The Story of a Yorkshire Dales Lead Mine

The Owners

The adventurers who took the original three year lease for the mineral rights in the Hebden Liberty in 1853 were William Sigston Winn from Havarah Park, near Otley, and Joseph Osborne, of Otley, who were partners in a wool merchant business, and in various lead mining ventures.

Winn was born in Leeds in 1810, and he had made his money in Leeds as a wool merchant, owning a house in Burley Terrace and a warehouse in Bilham's Court in 1841. However, by the time of the 1851 census he had moved to Haverah Park where he described himself as a miner and a farmer of 310 acres, employing ten labourers. He married twice, and had seven children.

Extract from the Hebden 1881 census returns

1851 Census extract for Haverah Park showing William Winn's entry

Joseph Osborne was born in Northowram in 1818, but had moved to Leeds by 1839 where he entered the wool trade. He married in that year, and had four children. He was a wool dealer, initially in partnership with a Thomas Watson until 1846, and then with William Winn. He too, found success in the wool trade, and branched out into investing in the lead mining industry. Woolstapling, however, remained his main interest.

Winn's and Osborne's first known venture into the lead mining industry was in 1847 when they formed a partnership with four others to exploit Old Providence Mine, near Kettlewell. In July 1857, they floated the Old Providence Lead and Coal Field Company, with Winn taking 52% of the shares, and Osborne a more prudent 10%. All did not go well, however, and the company was liquidated in 1860. The two also formed the North Mossdale Mining Company in 1853, sharing the mining agent with their Hebden mines. Winn had sold his interest by 1857, when Osborne owned 36% of the company. By 1862 Osborne had also sold his share.

Almost immediately after taking the lease on the Hebden Liberty mineral rights, Winn and Osborne formed a partnership called the "Hebden Mining Company" with four other adventurers: George Crossland, a merchant from Huddersfield; William Shaw, a wool merchant also from Huddersfield; and George Cook from London and Joseph Thomas from Liverpool (later of St. Albans in Hertfordshire), who were joint partners in a London wool broking company. These were all men successful in their own fields who wished to cash in on the opportunities offered by the Yorkshire lead mining industry. The formation of the company was not without its difficulties, as the validity of the original lease was disputed, and the Duke of Devonshire's mining agent brought an action in Chancery Court, although the matter was settled out of court. William Winn seemed to have had a bit of a reputation, as James Eddy, the then mining agent for the Duke of Devonshire wrote to Winn, describing him as "more informed, and excuse the insinuation, pardon the flattery, more cute" than his co-directors. Subsequent events did not bear this out... The wool merchant business owned by Joseph Osborne and William Winn was dissolved in May 1855, presumably in order to allow Winn to concentrate on his mining interests.

When the initial lease lapsed, a 21 year lease was granted in August 1856 to the new company, with Winn and Osborne each being granted 10,000 fully paid 1 shares for their interests. It is likely that Winn used his to pay for his interests in the Kettlewell venture, which collapsed in 1860. What is certain is that although he was still living at Havarah Park in 1861, he was declared bankrupt in 1864 with debts of 1,458 and assets of one gold watch valued at 3.10s. In 1866 he was recorded as being the mining agent at Virgin Mine near Castle Bolton, but he soon moved back to the Otley area, where he was mining agent / manager of the Blubberhouses mine at Kex Gill from 1868 to 1877 living with his family at Hardisty Hill, some four kilometres from the mine. He died in 1877.

Joseph Osborne used his money more wisely. In 1862 he emigrated with his family to Auckland, New Zealand, sailing from Gravesend on the 11 September aboard the clipper Cairngorm, and arriving on the 7th January 1863. Once there, he soon established a successful woolstapling and broking company, and in 1875 he was described as "probably the most experienced stapler in the Colony". He died in Auckland in 1894.

The Workers

When John Wilkinson and friend visited the mine in 1879, they were told by their 'intelligent young guide' that 'the shaft is about 7 feet by 6, and only two men can work at once; they are relieved every eight hours, and so the work is carried on day and night'. On the other hand we learn from the 1879 mineral statistics that the Hebden Moor Mining Company employed twelve underground workers and one other. How are the two figures reconcilable,and who were these men?

Year 1877 1878 1879 1880-1881 1882
Underground workers 12 14 12 12 16
Other workers 2 4 1 2 2

Hebden Moor Mining Company Employment Figures 1877 to 1882

The answer to the first question must be based largely on conjecture, but it is likely that Wilkinson's guide was speaking only of those people working at the face. At the time the level was '600 fathoms' long, and any material from the face need to be loaded into trucks and transported to the entrance on rails, and tipped over the spoil heap. In addition, the water wheel and the air compressor would need attention. It is likely that each shift consisted of three or four men. The non-underground worker would be the mining agent, William Hill, who would also act as overseer.

We can learn a little about the workers themselves by inspecting the 1881 Census material. Thirty six of the men in the village indicated that they worked in the mining industry: 27 were miners, five of whom were unemployed; there were three lead ore dressers; four lead ore smelters; and a mining agent and mining agent's assistant.

At this time, Hebden Mining Company were not extracting lead, so had no need for ore smelters and and dressers, but were actually employing eleven underground workers, the mining agent, and his assistant. Eleven of the registered miners would have been working on the level. Of these people, we can be reasonably sure of the identity of the mining agent, his assistant, and two of the underground workers.

William Hill, Mining Agent

The first is probably the most interesting - William Hill. According to the Mining Statistics Hill had been the mining agent / foreman for the company since 1868, and he remained with the company until the project was closed. A Mining Agent was the company's representative on the ground, and in the case of smaller mines would also have been the foreman, directing the work. By delving through parish records, census returns, and Mineral Statistics it is possible to establish quite a lot about him.

Extract from the Hebden 1881 census returns

1881 Census extract for Hebden showing William Hill's entry

The records indicate that he must have been hard-working and competent at his job, and willing to move around the country for work. He married a girl from his home village, and together they raised eight children.

William Hill was born in 1825 in St. Just, Cornwall, one of ten children of Nicholas Hill who worked in the tin mining industry, and Honor. In 1841 William was still living with his family in St. Just, but he then moved up to Caldbeck in Cumberland with his brother, where in 1849 he married Eliza Eddy. It was the mines below the northern slopes of Skiddaw that had brought the three some 550 kilometres from their home town. William and his brother John were both employed as lead ore washers. This was now well and truly into the golden age of the railway, and travel had become much easier.

William and his wife moved to several different mining areas in Cumberland and Northumberland during the next ten years, and by 1861 he had risen through the ranks to become a Mining Agent living in Thornthwaite, near Keswick, with five children. In 1868 he became the Mining Agent of the Hebden Moor Mining, at a time when output from the mine was rapidly declining.

He must have had a reasonable reputation in the industry for in 1881 his name appears as a reference in an advertisement for stock in a company exploiting the minerals at Rimington, near Gisburn: Captain William Hill of Hebden Moor Mines says:- "I formed an opinion that it was a mining field of more than ordinary importance" (the title 'Captain' was the Cornish terminology for 'Mining Agent').

William stayed with the company for twenty years until work in the Hebden Horse Level ceased in 1888. In 1891 he was still living in Hebden and claiming to be a mining agent, but he and his wife later moved to Grassington where in the 1901 census he was recorded as being a jobbing gardener. He died in 1907 at the age of 82. Eliza went to live with their son, William, who was then a coal miner in Thornhill, and died in the same year.

The Workers - Keeping Nepotism in the Family

It will be seen from the 1881 census extract above that William Hill had a sixteen year old son, Nicholas, whose occupation was recorded as 'assistant mining agent', so it looks as if William had found a role for his lad. His 20 year old son William is also registered as living in the village and working as a lead miner, so it is likely that he too was working in the Horse Level. In 1891, two years after the Horse Level had closed, this younger William was recorded as living in Thornhill as a coal miner. Nicholas doesn't reappear in the records until 1901 when he is recorded as being the Workhouse Master at Skipton Union Workhouse, living there with his wife and child.

Of the other 22 employed miners in the village, William Rowe almost certainly worked in the Horse Level as he was William Hill's nephew. His family also originated from St. Just in Cornwall, and his father John and William Hill married daughters from the same family. William Rowe was born in Caldbeck, Cumbria where his father and William Hill were both working at the time. He married his cousin, William Hill's daughter Jane, in 1879, and his sister Mary married her cousin, the younger William Hill, two years later. Like his brother-in-law he moved to Thornhill to work in one of the collieries when work in the Horse Level ceased.

It isn't known who of the other miners recorded in the census worked under William Hill, although it is likely that the majority did. The rest were probably working in the remaining mines on Grassington Moor which were to close in the following year.