In July members heard an interesting talk by Colin Vosper on Kelly Mine, a little known restored micaceous haematite mine located near Lustleigh. As a follow-up to the talk our Chairman arranged for Forum members to tour the mine site – an event that took place on September 7th. Although the mine abuts the A382 Bovey Tracey-Moretonhampstead road, from a drive past one would not be aware of its existence. Facilities within the mine are basic, and conditions underfoot are uneven and quite difficult. Since also parking nearby is very limited, there is therefore no prospect of the mine being opened more widely as a tourist attraction, so the opportunity to take a tour around it was something quite special.
Mining here started in the late 18th century when it was very much a one-man operation owned by the adjacent farmer and run to supplement his farming income. Kelly was one of a number of similar small mines located in the valley of the Wray Brook and nearby. The micaceous haematite (originally known locally as “shiny ore”) had a number of uses, as “pounce” - a dry powder used to dry ink on paper before blotting paper came about; as a constituent of “black lead” polish for cast-iron grates and stoves; and most importantly, as a constituent of anti-corrosion paints, being much used in railway maintenance and in warship paint - as “battleship grey”.
Kelly Mine was restored and is now maintained by the Kelly Mine Preservation Society. The Society was formed in 1984 when local enthusiasts realised the mine's historical importance. In 1986 restoration work started in earnest with the rebuilding of the washing plant, the processing mill and the drying shed. Now the processing part of the site is presented much as it would have been when the mine was working. In addition the head-works of the surviving mine shaft have been stabilised and a replica head-frame has been constructed complete with a winding house and a winch for hoisting.
Our tour took us from the barely-visible entrance at the road edge first down a section of 18 inch gauge tub railway line to the entrance of one of the original adits. Here we gained a small sense of mining conditions by walking into the adit for a short distance. Then we climbed uphill alongside an inclined tub track towards the processing area. First, however, we diverted along another length of track to the site of an old mineshaft, over which the rebuilt head frame and winding house were sited. Retracing our steps we next visited the washing area where we received a demonstration of the laborious method of washing the ore to start the separation of the haematite from its host rock, the haematite flakes gradually sinking to the lower levels of the washing cascade. The haematite is then moved on to settling tanks. We saw the jigger, a means of separating gravel containing ore from lighter, barren gravel, before we moved into the processing shed.
Here, to win as much of the haematite as possible, the haematite-bearing gravel was crushed in mechanical stamps, themselves marvels of Victorian engineering, the haematite finally being fully separated after time in large settling tanks. The ore was then transported to the drying shed where it was spread on metal plates which were heated from below by a coal-fired furnace. Finally the haematite was packed into barrels for transporting to customers via Lustleigh station.
We were also shown the restored miners “dry” - where the men could have their breaks and where they could leave their mining clothes overnight to dry ready for use the following day.
This was a fascinating visit. One must marvel at the dedication of the volunteers who brought this relic of past times back close to the way it was when the mne was operational. Now it forms a valuable historical resource.