riving slate in Westmorland

Following last blog mentioning old slate workings in Langdale I should post about Englands last
working slate mine at Honister, a real good news story. The notes below are taken from their website
 In 1986, after three centuries of near continuous slate mining at Honister, the mine closed down after a protracted period of decline. With it, it seemed, went the last vestiges of traditional extraction and finishing techniques, as well as more than twenty local jobs. For the next ten years, any attempts to revive the industry were vexed by legal and financial issues and there was a real danger that the mine would fall into irreversible decay.

However, in 1996, its fortunes suddenly changed with the arrival on the scene of Bill Taylor and Mark Weir, whose respective father and grandfather had worked at the mine for many years. The two men secured the lease and developed a plan to start up production again under the banner of a heritage enterprise that would combine commercial extraction and tourism. Over the course of the next year, a tremendous amount of work was devoted to restoring the mine workings, repairing the buildings and constructing display areas for visitors. Dormant machinery was brought back into operation and, in December 1997, eleven years after the mine’s closure, slate production began again.

Since then, Honister Slate Mine has become a highly successful enterprise. It is once more producing slate in significant volumes, it is preserving and applying age old skills such as docking, riving and dressing, and it has given rise to an extremely popular visitor attraction. These are all achievements of which Mark Weir is very proud:

“The closure of Honister Slate Mine was like the right arm being missing from the valley,” says Mark.
“Restoring the mine and reviving the local industry has been a very positive and rewarding process. Being born and brought up in Borrowdale, we wanted to create real jobs for local people; people who feel privileged to keep traditional skills alive and be proud of where they came from.”

And if you have never seen slate riven this film showing the old techniques being used today is a joy.

Period footage of the quary in 1926

To my mind this shows how with imagination traditional industries can be revitalised, mixed sympatheticaly with a tourism/heritage package and bring life and work to communities. I guess this one works particularly well having been initiated from people who have family history in the mine and really understand it’s place in Westmorland culture. How wonderful it would be to see this model replicated with cutlery in Sheffield, pottery in Stoke, boatbuilding in Faversham etc.

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