On March 1st Rockingham’s history group undertook a fascinating (and slightly soggy) visit to Claude Smith’s Collyweston Slate Mine.
Collweston slate, a heavy, limestone slate, has been supplied locally for hundreds of years (slates were certainly sent to Rockingham Castle in 1375 and 1390).
We discovered from Nigel Smith, who led the tour, that mining stopped in the 1970s. Since then, no ‘slating’ has taken place but rather the mine works in trading reclaimed Collweston slate, used exclusively for listed buildings and heritage areas.
We went down the mine via a 34 ft shaft and waded through a foot of water (avoiding bats) to look at the sandy caverns and to hear more about the mining process. It involves digging out vast quantities of sand, building supportive walls and then levering large slate ‘logs’ down from the stone ceiling. These ‘logs’ would then be hauled to the surface, kept wet and frozen over 2-3 winters until they split naturally into stone sheets.
Nigel then demonstrated the craftsmanship of hand “dressing” (edging the stone slate using special tools) which is still used today.
Before departing, he told us there’s a chance mining could be resumed in the not-too-distant future. There’s a BBC article about that here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23878627
A huge thanks to Nigel and Claude for their introduction to Collweston slate mining and the history of the area.
After departing the mine, we concluded our visit to Collyweston village with a short exploration of the Royal Palace site (demolished 1640). It houses a large and impressive sun dial; once a feature of the palace’s ornamental garden.