10 Abandoned Mines, Quarries and Collieries of Britain

Chatterley-Whitfield-Colliery-abandoned-mine (Image: PentlandPirate; exploring abandoned mines, collieries and quarries)

In a country famous for its landmark industrial ruins, perhaps none are quite so haunting or neglected as Britain’s abandoned mines, collieries and quarries. Remnants of a lost industrial age, they still dot the landscape of England, Scotland and Wales – reminders of a time when coal was king, and metal ores were mined in vast quantities. Not only are their ruins strangely elegiac, the stories behind them are often just as melancholy too.

Abandoned Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Staffordshire (England)

Chatterley-Whitfield-Colliery-abandoned-mine-2 (Image: PentlandPirate)

The story of Chatterley Whitfield is one of a once-proud colliery ground down to dust. Officially opened in 1863, at its height it was producing one million tons of saleable coal a year – the first colliery in the UK to hit such a staggering number. As one of the largest mines in the region, it employed thousands; its gigantic chimney becoming a local icon.

Chatterley-Whitfield-Colliery-abandoned-mine-3 (Image: PentlandPirate)

Today Chatterley Whitfield stands empty; a strangely-pristine reminder of its bygone glory days. Closed in 1977 after it was decided the seam could be mined easier from nearby Wolstanton Colliery, it had a brief half-life as a mining museum. It couldn’t last. By 1993, the place was in ruins. Abandoned to the elements, it seemed a few short winters away from complete collapse.

Chatterley-Whitfield-Colliery-abandoned-mine-4 (Image: PentlandPirate)

Posterity had other ideas. By the 2010s, the colliery was widely-recognised as one of the best-preserved deep mining pits in the UK. It was declared an ancient scheduled monument by English Heritage, and there’s even been talk of it receiving UNESCO protection. Those wishing to experience its gloomy interiors and sense of time gone by can visit on its single open day every September.

Abandoned Barnsley Main Colliery, South Yorkshire (England)

barnsley-main-colliery-abandoned-mine (Image: Rich)

The history of Barnsley Main is steeped in blood and tragedy. One of the many deep coal pits that once swept across the British landscape, it was also the site of one of the biggest mining disasters. On December 12, 1866, a bone-shaking explosion ripped through the pit. Some 361 miners and children were instantly killed. Many more were hideously burned. When survivors tried to help another explosion was triggered, killing the entire rescue team. It was the worst mining accident in recorded history.

barnsley-main-colliery-abandoned-mine-4 (Image: Rich)

At the time, the pit was known as the Oaks colliery. It was infamous for disasters. Only 20 years before the explosion, a separate tragedy claimed 73 lives. As late as the Second World War, accidents were killing scores of men. When the Barnsley Main colliery finally took the place over, it was one of the bloodiest pits in the country.

barnsley-main-colliery-abandoned-mine-2 (Image: Rich)

Not much remains now to mark these neglected tragedies. Only the engine house and a few pithead structures have survived the ravages of time, and now stand broken and graffiti covered. In 2013, they were given Grade II listed status to commemorate their important, deadly past.

Abandoned Magpie Mine, Derbyshire (England)

magpie-mine-abandoned-derbyshire (Image: Craig Wilkinson)

When talking about mining in the UK, most people automatically think of coal or tin. But there was another market which is almost forgotten these days: lead.

magpie-mine-abandoned-derbyshire-2 (Image: steve p2008)

Since Roman times, a small percentage of miners across the country worked night and day to extract lead, often in terrifying conditions. Much of this activity was centred round the Peak District, with Magpie Mine being just one notable example. As examples go, though, it was pretty impressive. Capable of delivering 800 tons of lead a year in the early 19th century, Magpie Mine was also the site of violent disputes which affected its fortunes.

magpie-mine-abandoned-derbyshire-3 (Image: steve p2008)

In 1833, a group of Magpie miners lit an underground fire to smoke out some workers from a competing mine. Three of them died of suffocation, resulting in a mass trial for murder. Although the Magpie miners walked free, the dispute resulted in the mine being closed for four years. Attempts to restart it into the 20th century repeatedly ended in failure.

magpie-mine-abandoned-derbyshire-4 (Image: steve p2008)

These days the mine is a well-preserved ruin; it’s crumbling grey structures by turns creepy, romantic and desolate – depending on your inclination. Walking between its ruins on a foggy day can feel like stepping backwards in time.

Cwt y Bugail Quarry Near Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd (Wales)

Cwt-y-Bugail-abandoned-slate-mine (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

If you like your landscapes breath-taking and desolate, you could do worse than Cwt y Bugail. An old slate mine located in the extreme north of Wales, it looks like nowhere on Earth. The landscape is bleak and rugged, and the moody skies rarely shine brighter than the acres of slate scattered across the ground.

Cwt-y-Bugail-abandoned-slate-mine-2 (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

First worked in 1840, Cwt y Bugail peaked a mere 37 years later, limping along with a dwindling number of employees right into the 1970s. For those who worked it in the last years of its life, it must have been a strange feeling – all alone in such a remote place, tending to a mine on life-support. Nonetheless, Cwt y Bugail has left behind a number of treasures for interested explorers to find.

Cwt-y-Bugail-abandoned-slate-mine-3 (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

Chief among them is the rusted machinery still lurking underground, waiting to be brought back to life. Above surface, too, ruins still dot the harsh, unforgiving landscape. A broken old hut here. A pile of slate there. Interestingly, this may only be a half-death. A mining company bought the rights to mineral extraction at Cwt y Bugail in 1985, and hasn’t yet relinquished them. Maybe one day this broken little pit will leap back to life once more.

Harborough Rocks Lead Mines, Derbyshire (England)

Harborough-Rocks-abandoned-lead-mine (Image: PentlandPirate)

If Magpie Mine feels like a fragment of the past, the remains of Harborough Rocks’ lead mines look more like something from Game of Thrones. Four giant stone pillars keep watch over these ruins, deep in the heart of the countryside. All around, bricks pile up in strange formations and stairs lead up to nowhere. The effect is hugely photogenic, like standing in the ruins of a once-great civilisation that only flourished in Derbyshire. You almost expect to stumble across the head of Ozymandias, poking out of a nearby bog.

Harborough-Rocks-abandoned-lead-mine-2 (Image: Alan Murray-Rust)

The history of the area is as ruined as the miners themselves. It seems lead mining existed at Harborough Rocks from the Roman era onwards, with Daniel Defoe recording a meeting with a miner’s family while in the area. Beyond that, information is pretty scarce – a fitting state of affairs for a ruin so austerely beautiful and seemingly forgotten.

Ystrad Einion Copper Mine, Ceredigion (Wales)

Ystrad-Einion-abandoned-mine-2 (Image: Helen Wilkinson)

Hidden out in one of the remoter corners of Wales is the wreckage of the old Ystrad Einion copper mine. First worked in 1700, it was started up again in 1745, 1853 and 1855, but each time yielded very little copper or profit for its owners. Nonetheless, it reached a respectable size for such a faraway spot. Graphic reconstructions show it dominating the hillside with pulleys, wheels, pits and clanking machinery.

Ystrad-Einion-abandoned-mine (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

This medium-sized mine didn’t last long. By 1901, the mine had closed its pit for the last time. Almost immediately, nature leapt in to reclaim the hillside; cracking through stone and slowly wrapping the mine in its deathly embrace. Visited in 2015, Ystrad is now lost behind tall, looming trees and an explosion of bracken. Yet signs of its previous existence still remain. Those with the nerve to venture underground will find a beautifully rusted old wheel in one of its chambers – a reminder of all the people who once worked this quiet corner of Great Britain.

Moelwyn Manganese and Zinc Mine, Gwynedd (Wales)

Alongside lead, zinc is one of the forgotten cornerstones of British mining. Moelwyn mine near Blaenau Ffestiniog in Snowdonia is a prime example of this phenomenon.

Moelwyn-Manganese-and-Zinc-Mine-abandoned (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

While many old mines have mountains of historic records and are remembered in stories and on devoted websites, Moelwyn zinc mine seems to have been scrubbed from the internet’s collective memory. We know the basic details – it started operation in 1892, also mined lead, and closed down in 1921 – but the personal stories, the anecdotes that breathe life into history? None. Or at least none that have made it onto our radar.

Moelwyn-Manganese-and-Zinc-Mine-abandoned-2 (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

That doesn’t stop Moelwyn from being fascinating though. Recent photographs show old chambers and lines now lost under floodwater, and forgotten rail bridges rusting over shallow pits. The tunnels are as jagged and dramatic as you’re ever likely to see, and the whole mine gives off a seriously haunting vibe.

Pen-y-Bryn Lead Mine/Quarry, Flintshire (Wales)

Pen-y-Bryn-Lead-Mine-abandoned-quarry (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

On seeing photos of Pen-y-Bryn Mine, the first word that likely pops into your head is “bleak.” Situated in the wild Nantlle Valley in north Wales, this former mine and quarry looks like it exists at the edges of the world. Mountains loom over the ruins. A tiny old smithy sits beneath a mountain of slag. It’s a world where time hasn’t so much ravaged the past as picked it up and hurled it screaming into oblivion.

Pen-y-Bryn-Lead-Mine-abandoned-quarry-2 (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

And the past is a heavy part of Pen-y-Bryn’s identity. Originally mined in the 17th century, it bloated to an enormous size during the 19th, powered by the same industrial revolution that made Wales great. Even before the dawn of the 20th century, though, the pit was running low. By the 1970s it was nearly derelict. Operations ceased in 1987, and many of the old buildings were dismantled. Nature returned to the Nantlle Valley, sweeping away the last traces of the mine.

Pen-y-Bryn-Lead-Mine-abandoned-quarry-3 (Image: Iain Robinson – Treasure Maps)

Today a handful of ruins exist, and the tunnels are still walkable. But the traces of this one-great pit are now faint. In another 50 years, they may well be gone altogether.

Levant Tin Mine, Cornwall (England)

levant-mine-cornwall (Image: Paul Buckingham)

Unlike many on our list, Levant tin mine in Cornwall is remarkably well preserved. Owned by the National Trust, it receives visitors all year round – most of whom want to ride the still-operational Beam Engine. The last of its kind in Cornwall, the engine is both a remarkable relic and a memorial. In October 1919, a rod broke just as men were riding the engine to the surface. The resulting crash killed 31 miners, and left scores badly injured.

levant-mine-cornwall-3 (Image: Wusel007)

Despite this, Levant today isn’t a melancholy place. The Boiler House remains in good condition, as does the pumping house. Most-dramatic of all, though, is the stamping house. Left to fall apart over the decades, it now crumbles majestically on the edge of the Cornish coastline, keeping guard over the Atlantic with a solemn dignity. It also recently turned up in the BBC’s Poldark, sparking a minor surge in visitor numbers.

Abandoned Cults Limestone Mine, Fife (Scotland)

cults-limestone-mine-abandoned-scotland (Image: Abandoned Scotland via YouTube)

A collection of dark, gloomy subterranean passages almost invisible from the surface, Cults Limestone Mine near Fife would be an ideal setting for a horror movie. In fact, it nearly became one in 1995, when a group of local kids got lost and had to be rescued from its claustrophobic depths. Today, a length of string allegedly runs through the centre to stop this ever happening again.

cults-limestone-mine-abandoned-scotland-2 (Image: Abandoned Scotland via YouTube)

Although remnants of the mine’s past life still exist, they’re few and far between. Rusted rails here. An old trolley falling to pieces there. A couple of bloggers who have explored the place have even reported a creepy mannequin hidden among its passages, dressed as a miner. Impressively the tunnels themselves still remain intact, despite looking for all the world like they might collapse at any minute.

cults-limestone-mine-abandoned-scotland-3 (Image: Abandoned Scotland via YouTube)

Perhaps the clearest sign of its past comes in a couple of passageways near the surface, where a collection of old trolleys gather around the edge of a lake. Cults’ days as a source of Limestone may well be over, but its legacy certainly lives on.

Related – 10 Amazing Secret Passages, Tunnels & Mysterious Hidden Rooms


About the author: Morris M




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