Tindale Spelter Plans

Proposal for Spelter Works 1845, Howard of Naworth Papers C134/1

Tarn Beck 'The Jack'

The valley of Tarn Beck, known locally as ‘The Jack’

Eastgate Roman Altar
Original Location: Tindale
Current Location:
Original plans held at Cumbria Records Office Theme: Industrial

What is it?
Plan for a nineteenth century zinc spelter works.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
The site was acquired in 1845 by James Henry Attwood who negotiated a 50-year lease from the Earl of Carlisle for an annual rent of £20.   The spelter used zinc ores which were a by-product of the lead mines of Alston Moor, coal from the Bishop Hill drift mine and water power from a dam at Tindale Tarn. The retorts into which the zinc was condensed had only a short life and were probably made on site using clay extracted from local mines.

Despite the economic benefits created by the works, there were environmental and social costs. The main waste product was sulphur dioxide and, by 1882, the Nenthead and Tynedale Lead and Zinc Company Ltd which then had the lease was paying £65 a year in compensation for damage to local land.  Living conditions for the workers and their families were also poor.  When the lease came up for renewal in 1895, local tenants complained and the spelter closed.

Various attempts have since been made to use the site.  In 1928 a rotary kiln was installed to ‘fume’ zinc oxide from waste residues for use as a paint pigment but coal contamination created problems. Later, the kiln was re-commissioned to extract cadmium from residues brought in from other smelters but it operated for only 87 days before the lining failed and the plant was scrapped.

Why is it important?
Demand for zinc increased rapidly during the nineteenth century as new uses were invented such as galvanising to protect iron and later steel.  However zinc is a difficult metal to smelt as it has a relatively low boiling point so more efficient spelters had to be developed. The spelter at Tindale Fell was the only such works in the North of England. 

The Tindale Fell spelter used a patented process and was considered superior to any other in the country. A local resident, H Moses, wrote in his memoir that, when it was being erected, no one was allowed to see the works as the process was said to be a secret one known only to the managers and workmen. It has been estimated that the spelter produced approximately 40,000 tons of zinc from 200,000 tons of ore and approximately the same quantity of coal during it lifetime.

Further Information

    External Links:
  • Cumbria Records Office
  • English Heritage List Entry
  • Cumbria Industrial History Society

Other Information that might be useful

  • Mines of the West Pennines, Richard Smith & Sam Murphy, Monograph of the Northern Mine Research Society, March 2011
  • Tindale Zinc Smelter, Graham Brooks, CIHS Newsletter, December 1991
  • Zinc Production at Tindale Fell, Cumbria, JK Almond, Journal of the Historical Metallurgy Society, Volume 11/1, 1977

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