The big reveal, facilitated by the North Pennines AONB in the Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership, funded by the Heritage Lottery (2013-2018), opened up the remains of the old smelt mill so that the place became re-imbued with a kind of sense of the industrial scale of the lead smelting there until the turn of the 20th century.
Most of the smelt mill workings had been torn down in the 1960s, and then the Handcock transport empire took up residency there for several decades. By the time the derelict site was acquired at the beginning of the 21st century, for regeneration into a tourist sort of enterprise, there really wasn’t much of the lead workings left. Except for the big bings on the side, for the lead ore, and the ancient entrance to the extensive flue system leading on to the chimneys (the next stop on our free Saturday series). And now, fortunately for us and enquiring families eager to learn about the history of this patch, an incredibly informative explanation board.
The story of the East Allen Valley is all wrapped up in lead mining at Allenheads and above, with the ore brought down early on by pony and cart to the smelting centres at Allendale and Langley. Allendale Smelt Mill especially harvested more than just lead from the crude ore, by the simple expedient of creating long and extensive flues where silver and other precious metals dropped out of the vapour exhausts emanating from the coal-fired furnaces before being drawn to the upper atmosphere at the tops of the chimneys sited on high moors above Allendale.
So Allen Mill was a crucial, central component of the industry. The ancient monument of bingsteads and flue entrances, as well as an empty room or two, are open for careful exploration, but the overall site is still in the middle of its renovation. One of the next steps will be to recreate a water wheel feature in the middle of the site, with further explanation boards to show how the overslung water course provided energy to the mill for the ore crushers and other heavy machinery. But that’s in long term development plans, and the wheel race is cordoned off as an ongoing building site.
If you’re making a walk from say, above the Chemist and around Trinity Methodist at the big bend, to head off down the Peth, one of the first buildings you’ll observe is the toll house bungalow which paid for the eventual tarmacadam metallising of the road from Allenheads. You could walk on down the Peth to the second toll house just beyond the lovely bridge, before retracing your steps to the River Path. From that toll house, of course, the road goes on towards Five Lane Ends where the hauliers would have turned towards Allen Mill to deliver their load of ore. I suppose they must have paid each way, hence two toll houses?
There used to be a lovely café at Allen Mill, which is fondly remembered by many of our friends, but now the Spice Mill, a brilliant Indian restaurant, specialising in take-away, occupies part of the premises that once housed the smelt mill offices and joiners workshops. Unfortunately the restaurant is not open for lunchtimes. Still, Allen Mill itself is a great place for a picnic, and after your River Walk, you can immerse yourself in the history of the site, diving deeply into the explanatory board positioned strategically overlooking the monumental works.
Don’t worry: although it’s said that the force of the draft from the chimney draw through the flue opening at the Mill would trap a man on the metalwork grid until his colleagues could rescue him, today the flue is closed off with heavy gabions filled with stone. Maybe someday the flue system might be revealed in all its Victorian glory, as the ingenuity of the ore engineers is finally re-displayed for public consumption. Until then, we’ll make do with a really magnificent explanation board!
And, of course, a lovely place for a ruminative rest, while the young ‘uns safely explore a little of the ruins which have been made good by an intrepid band of volunteers, known appropriately as the Allen Mill Volunteers.
[Or so it was until a few weeks ago, when a wooden fence and padlocked gate was erected, that now keeps the scheduled monument safe except for tours booked by appointment: email@example.com]