Book review: Mining for history with Dodd

By Rebecca Muncaster

Mervyn Dodd’s small booklet, Lamplugh Mines, is a much welcomed addition to the existing literature on the history of Cumbrian mining.

West Cumbria had red hematite, an almost pure iron ore, which was a requirement of the Bessemer process from the 1850s.

The booklet explores, as the title implies, the history of mining in Lamplugh.

While the major deposits occurred in other areas, such as Egremont, Cleator Moor, Ennerdale and Frizington, Dodd convincingly illustrates the significance of the Lamplugh mines.

The content is fewer than 30 pages long, but deftly encapsulates a core account of the Lamplugh mines.

It is split into various parts, with each part dedicated to a different cluster of mines; ‘The Lamplugh Mine’, ‘The Kelton, Knockmurton and Kirkland Mines’, ‘The Salter-Winder Mines Group’ and ‘The Eskett Mines’.

The format for each section is similar throughout. Dodd mentions – where possible – the history of ownership, the lifespan of the mine, a physical report of the mines and average productivity, the amount of workers it employed, existing remains of the mines and any fatal accidents of workers.

There is also fleeting emphasis on the hardship workers endured.

There is, for example, information about a five week strike at Salter Hall mine in 1909 when Thomas Dixon, the royalty owner, ‘proposed reducing wages… and lengthening the working week when the mine was in difficulties’ (p. 19).

Although minor in detail, this social information heightens the booklet’s appeal and fleshes out the conditions and challenges workers faced.

The booklet contains maps, censuses and photographs. The inclusion of maps, in particular, gives a visual indication of where the pits once were – for readers unfamiliar with the area.

Photographs range from old and new. This combination shows the mines in active use and their demise.

A strength of the booklet is how Dodd mentions what remnants remain today from each mine. For instance, a photograph depicting the remains of Parkside Winder mine is shown (p. 25).
Detailing the remains of various mines allows readers to visit the sites for their own pleasure.

Dodd’s booklet is most interesting when stories of individuals are told, giving the reader an intense look at the life of ordinary people.

Briefly mentioned is William Hope, a foreman at Knockmurton, who ‘married on a Sunday to avoid losing a day’s pay’ (p. 18).

This was to illustrate the uncertainty of employment.

The booklet, however, is primarily concerned with the mines themselves, not the workers. So these snippets of real-life stories are few, and it would be interesting to see what a social historian might find carrying on from Dodd’s findings.

The reader would have benefited from footnotes for further information on the location of the sources used.

For example, he notes that the lease for Windergill Mine in 1907 is ‘still preserved locally and is in excellent condition’ (p. 21).

From the ‘Acknowledgements’ on the last page (p. 31), it is clear he used Whitehaven Record Office to conduct research but the exclusion of reference numbers is unfortunate and the overall whereabouts of the sources is unclear.

The booklet offers readers a condensed reading of Lamplugh mines, and appeals to both economic and social interests.

Dodd has written a well researched account of a much localised mining history.

It is an important booklet and a wonderful addition to a subject too often studied within much broader perimeters.
It deserves to be read by anyone interested in the history of British mining and will hopefully inspire others to explore similar localised paths.