South of Whitehaven (Cumbria) is the town of Egremont and Florence Haematite mine (NGR: NY 0170 1025) - the last haematite mine to work in Europe.
Sunk in 1914, it was worked with the Ullcoats mine from 1917, until it finally closed on 13th September 1968, following nationalisation.
Beckermet Mines (part of the British Steel Corporation) took it over in 1969, pumped out the water and linked it to Beckermet Mine. They drew ore up Beckermet shaft for Workington steel works. However as part of a rationalisation process, the British Steel Corporation closed the mine on October 3rd 1980.
A number of redundant workers from the mine, invested their redundancy payments in the pit and re-opened part of the underground workings - as the Egremont Mining Co. to make the pit the last deep working iron ore mine in Europe.
Although the demand for iron ore has fallen, it's still an important component in the manufacture of pigments for paints, dyes and cosmetics. Unfortunately Florence was finally forced to closed in 2007 due to the cost of pumping.
Along side the mining operation the West Cumbria Mines Research Group (WCMRG) opened a Heritage Centre in 1992, run by volunteers. In the late 1990s visitors to the Centre were able to take both surface and underground tours, however due to weird rules over funding, because the trips were into a working mine they weren't able to get any grants to help with the preservation work!
The Tour (1998)
The Health and Safety people banned the use of the electric winder on the No.2 shaft, due to problems with the winder gear box, so all materials and visitors entered via a surface drift down to the 300ft. level. (Right: View to shaft from top of drift)
The tour went along the main roadway at this level, with battery operated locos used to move ore from the workings to the drift bottom (where they were then hauled to surface).
The mine has effectively been worked on the 'Pillar and Stall' method, although a lot of pillar robbing has occurred in places, but the miners appeared to be working a stope in 1998.
It was a relatively 'easy' tour, and you didn't get too mucky - so not much chance of imitating the "Red Men of Cumbria" - the name given to the local iron miners due to the colouring effect of the iron ore (although it took several years for the red iron stains to disappear from my wellies!).
The underground tour took in the rescue station, a landing on the No.1 shaft with a nearby ore chute (still used), plus some nice speckled haematite and kidney ore samples. You had to pay a nominal fee for any samples that you wanted - which was only fair.
Occasional samples of Kidney ore can be found but the bulk of the ore in the mine is speckled haematite.
The working area (in 1998) was about 30ft. above the main roadway near to the old Shaft No.1. Ore was loaded with an Atlas CopCo machine into the ore chute on the level below.
Descending a short incline from near to the working area took you down to an underground fan house, complete with fan and a couple of tubs.
The fan house is actually at the top of another incline to deeper workings, but this is flooded - the water level was near the top of this incline. At the time of the visit the mine was de-watered by the Sellafield Nuclear Power plant (BNFL), they needed millions of gallons of water a day for cooling purposes. However, by 2006 BNFL no longer needed the water and stopped paying for pumping. It is estimated that pumping costs amounted to about £2,000 per week, a cost that the mine was not able to cover by selling iron ore, despite looking at alternative power sources (wind turbines) and the possibility of using the mine to store nuclear waste, it closed in 2007. WCMRG reluctantly closed their visitor centre and put their exhibits into storage prior to the closure of the mine.
Credits, thanks to:
Report & some pictures: Kelvin Lake