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  Express & Star, 4th April 1959

A FLICKERING pinpoint of naked flame leads the way through the low and narrow passage: dank and pitch black, where the smell of candle grease mingles with that of freshly turned earth and slimy rock.

Suddenly, there it is; a thin greyish streak running horizontally through the Stiperstones rock. An anticlimax to the man in the street who has painfully struggled the length of the 100-yard shaft to catch a glimpse of a lead seam. But to Norman Evans and Tom Rowson, who between them work Burgam Lead Mine, between Snailbeach and The Bog, south-west of Shrewsbury, this seam means bread and butter and something else. It means that their six year search for renewed prosperity in the last remaining mine in the Stiperstones can continue.

Should the seam suddenly end there would be, in that primitively hewn hole in the ground, two miserable men. For both Tom and Norman are working with the confidence that there is lead aplenty hidden down here in the bowels of the earth.

Burgam Mine looks for all the world as though it is a Godly creation, brought about by some divine power not, as it really is hewn out by the sweat and toil of weakly humans. But the strength of this grim mountain range has been matched, and to some extent beaten, by these two men who know little of modern mine working.

The mine, if indeed, it can be called such, opens into the mountain like an enlarged fox lair into which any unsuspecting walker might fall. From the opening it stumbles a further 90 yards into the strata before taking a sharp right angled turn and coming to a halt. And there, at the end is the substance which has made all this effort necessary.

When Tom and Norman get to work on this thin streak there is no reverberating clatter of machine drills and no muffled explosions and smell of cordite. Only the clanking of a heavy and slightly rusty hand drill, the flickering light of a candle and the glow of a cigarette in the corner of Tom’s mouth. The puffs of smoke come more frequently from Tom as the drill bites deeper into the rock, and suddenly, as Tom puts it, “Clonk, out she comes” - a piece of rock containing the grey seam. The process is repeated until an old and slightly rusty, wheelbarrow is filled. It is then wheeled out of the cavern into the bright Shropshire sunshine and the fresh breeze which sweeps over the mine, but seldom enters it to give a change of air.

The ore is dumped outside the mine entrance, and occasionally a lorry collects it and conveys it to - as far as Tom and Norman are concerned -some unknown part of the country. In six years Tom and Norman have tunnelled over 100 yards into the Stiperstones and in all that time they have mined only 7cwt. of lead ore, which, at today’s price, is worth jus: over £450. The effort, nevertheless, is maintained, and the result, however trivial at the moment, is attained with an eye to the future. Tom and Norman have views, which are shared by many of their fellow Stiperstones dwellers, that the hills are rich in mineral deposits, including lead. Soon, they feel, they will strike it rich with a big lead seam.

If they do, it won’t produce a rush to the hills as would gold. It will produce merely an influx into the territory of a few more men to share the work in which Tom and Norman have been happily engaged these past years. Sitting in the sunshine eating their sandwich lunches in the good, clean air, there seemed a lot to be said for the kind of life Tom and Norman lead. But back in the dark mine, where one has to have cat-like eyes and be for ever on the listen for the warning sound of creaking pit props. I thought: Leave it to the tough men!


Submitted by Ivor Brown

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