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lead-mining

lead-mining took place in Britain before the Roman invasion and archaeological remains of mining occur in the Mendip Hills in Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, the Pennines, and Wales. Demand for lead grew during the Roman occupation when the metal was used for various purposes including making water-pipes. Lead-mining continued after the Romans left and lead's value was recognized during the Middle Ages when it was used for many purposes such as roofing churches and castles, fixing decorative glass in windows, and in the manufacture of pewterware and paint.

Most lead-mines were located in relatively remote areas which lacked high-value agricultural land. In consequence the value of lead and the skills needed to mine the ores enabled miners to sustain their social independence from the attempts of feudal magnates to control them. Miners secured separate special jurisdictions and regulated their mining activities and social life. These legal privileges remained in being until most of them were superseded by the formation of commercial mining companies during the 16th cent. or later. These organizations became necessary to pay for the equipment needed for extracting ores at greater depths and to meet the costs of installing furnaces making use of water-powered bellows in smelting processes. Capital from outside the lead-mining areas came first during the 16th cent. when lead prices rose as the metal was used more extensively, including for making weapons. Lead-mining intensified during the late 18th cent. as a consequence of increased demand. But mining in Britain became less worthwhile once cheaper supplies of lead from overseas became available and British mining dwindled rapidly in importance after 1850.

Ian John Ernest Keil

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