In years gone by, miners believed in a variety of myths and superstitions relating to many things such as the location of lead veins or warnings of collapse. In some instances, these beliefs whilst unscientific, protected the miners from harm even though they might not have known the real reasons for these phenomena. Contained below is a list of these legends told by Yorkshire lead miners as well as a few other interesting tales.
The Fog Tunnel
Some believed that during foggy days on the moor, tunnels or arches could be observed cutting through the fog indicating the presence of a lead vein where the miner should dig. There seems to be no other references to this belief other than what is written within the British Speleological Association’s records entitled 206Y-D 43, and comes from information provided by H.J.L Bruff in May 1942. There is no scientific evidence which supports this assumption and it would seem that any lead ore found was purely coincidental.
The Metal Ferret
Like drug sniffing dogs, some ferrets were once thought to be able to detect veins of ore, and were referred to as “metal ferrets”. Again, there seems to be no other references to this than a paragraph by H.J.L Bruff within the British Speleological Records where he mentions a man by the name of Whitelock. Apparently Whitelock paid 10 shillings for a “metal ferret” and set out on a foggy night in search of a rich vein of ore. As a result, he did indeed find a large deposit and this led to many other miners purchasing so called “metal ferrets” although none of them had any success. It seems that it was purely luck the ferret came across a vein of ore, and given the amount of rabbit holes found in many moorland areas the ferret probably ran down a hole in search of its next meal.
Witch Stones Ghost Holes and Knockers
Many miners believed in the presence of supernatural creatures that existed within the shafts, levels and adits commonly referred to as “knockers”. These supernatural beings were thought to be similar to fairies or elves and apparently could be heard tapping or knocking on the walls of the mine. These entities were thought to be mischievous in nature, hiding tools and candles, though there are varying opinions on their intentions when tapping sounds could be heard on the walls of the mine. Some miners thought the “knockers” were warning them of collapse, and they would refuse to continue working unless special measures were put in place. Others thought of “knockers” as something to be feared and that they would purposefully attempt to collapse sections of the mine or cause fires. These beliefs were so entrenched that they carried over to the USA by miners during the 19th century, with the creatures being referred to as “tommy knockers”. Obviously, there is no proof of the existence of “knockers” and more than likely the sound of knocking heard by miners, was the movement of rock following that section of mine being excavated. No doubt this fear of “knockers” had a beneficial impact on the miners, as they would refuse to work in a certain area due to the knocking sound heard throughout the passage. More than likely, this passage would experience a collapse due to the movement of rock and the fact that the miners refused to work there probably saved them from serious injury or death.
Following closure of the mines, the many shafts that littered Grassington Moor were referred to as Ghost Holes owing to the strange sounds heard by those who walked near the openings. Local shepherds said it was the ghostly pick tapping’s of miners who had died trapped in the workings, though the most likely cause of these sounds were levels collapsing due to deterioration of the wooden supports.
After the mines closed, there is mention of witch stones being placed at the shaft entrances in order to ward off evil spirits. A witch stone is one which has a natural hole through it and they have been referred to by many names such as hag stones, adder stones and holy stones. These holes are formed through water erosion and because it is thought that magic cannot work on moving water, then the stones must retain some magic resistant properties.
Depiction of the Knockers
A Witch Stone
Hungry Laugh Hill
The road that runs North East out of Grassington towards the Yarnbury is named Moor Lane, and as you pass the town hall, the road encounters a steep incline just before reaching Grassington Bunk Barn. This section of road does not contain any signage or references to Grassington’s mining history, however it was once the main highway for transporting lead from the mines as well as coal and chop wood up to the smelt mills. Locally this part of Moor Lane was once known as Hungry Laugh Hill owing to the returning miners who were said to give a great hungry laugh on smelling their dinners cooking in the valley below. It must have been a welcome sight reaching the top of the hill after walking upwards of two and a half miles before reaching the outskirts of the town.
The Grassington Pix
A Pix or Pyx is a small container used to carry the consecrated host to the sick or those otherwise unable to come to a church in order to receive Holy Communion. The word is derived from the Greek language and means box or receptable. An article in the Craven Herald from the 10th of January 1936 mentions a lead vessel in possession of a Grassington man called the Grassington Pix and had been in the possession of one family for over 300 years. The vessel was held under the obligation that if a miner was taken ill in the Grassington mines, he should receive a drink of wine from the Pix which had to be provided by the holders of the vessel. According to the article “the vessel fashioned from lead which contained a large proportion of silver, was probably the actual Pix of Bolton Priory from which miners, in monastic days received the sacrament. It was probable that on the dissolution of the monasteries the vessel was obtained by the miners, who entrusted it to one of their number”.
Within the newspaper archives of the Yorkshire Evening Post is a tale from the Greenhow Mines located only a couple of miles from Grassington. The date of this event is unknown, but apparently two children whilst playing in a local stream bed discovered a large piece of lead ore. The boys returned home and told their respective families of the find prompting both of their fathers to rush down to Pateley Bridge in order to speak to the land owner. One of the men chose to rush straight down, whilst the other donned a suit and tie. Thanks to the first mans blatant disregard for convention, he was able to pocket £8000 by getting to the land owner first, whilst the second man lost out on the bid thinking that his attire was more important than the speed at which he purchased the mining rights.
Another newspaper article describes how a miner working within Merryfield Hole made a rich strike and in celebration he spent the night in Grassington. Apparently, he bought every drop of liquor in sight and even paid the bass band to play as he walked home!