Considering the speed with which they’re clearing the remains of the roadside trees at Redwell Corner, I can’t quite believe that the notified ‘4 week closing’ can be correct. After less than 1 week it’s looking pretty much gone! Meanwhile, the detour takes us on a road we rarely use, past the Langley Smelt Mill complex and then right by the 100 foot tall chimney that caps off the mile-long snaking flue.
Those Victorian smelting engineers knew a thing or two about recovering the last bits of ore from their smelting, all right. The cool stone-clad snaking flue retrieved evaporated ore from the furnace fumes, much like a curving, bow-back river downstream of gold deposits in the hills collects gold nuggets on its facing banks. Well, in the case of molten and then evaporated lead and silver, of course, there’s a process of condensation in between, but the coursing and capture principle is much the same.
The Langley Smelt Mill was among the largest and busiest of the smelters in the North Pennines, and the chimney that caps the flue from the mill is delightfully described on the new interpretative sign put up recently by the North Pennines AONB Landscape Partnership. Just in time, in fact, for the new traffic now detoured by the wood harvesting, to appreciate. Unfortunately, the bumpy muddy track off the tarmacked road toward the chimney has space for only 1 or 2 vehicles, and it’s quite a quick turn in, but the road is so quiet that an easy jaunt up to the chimney, and a browse of the sign, can be accomplished almost before the next vehicle careens around the corner. Do be careful coming back out though!
What I hadn’t known is that the Victorians mined for coal in the nearby Langley Coal Mine, to burn in the Langley Smelt Mill that melted the lead so it could be harvested from the ore. That makes convenient sense, doesn’t it? And so the lead ore was brought from mines up in Sparty Lea, Allenheads and Alston, along to the mills (Langley and Allen) by robust ponies, following the old drovers’ tracks of the Carriers Way across the moorland; later the ponies pulled wheeled carts along the new metallised toll roads. Now 130 years since the Langley Mill closed, the post-industrial landscape is still dominated by the giant chimneys.
Good interpretative signs like the one at Langley can help us understand how this area developed, while preservation of these landmarks (both flues and chimneys) contributes to a sense of ‘Wow’ when you think of the engineering that went into the industry so long ago.