Reprinted from Newsletter 94, dated 2000 February

Mendip mines were main source of lead in the Roman empire

John Brunsdon

A talk by Martin Oliver

Martin Oliver gave a well prepared, informative and most interesting talk illustrated by slides to an audience somewhat reduced by clashing November activities. He concentrated on the lead and associated silver extraction in the Charterhouse, Harptree, Green Ore and Priddy areas.

The region had been of importance from prehistory: traders transported lead as far as the ancient temple at Jerusalem. Mendip was the most important source of lead in the Roman empire. The Romans organized this premier industry with a mining town at Charterhouse complete with fort and amphitheatre, and probably a road to the coastal port at Ubley. Several inscribed “pigs” of lead have been found.

There were periods of greater activity, ending in the 19th century when old slag and alluvial slime was recycled for secondary extraction. Apart from the Charterhouse area, Velvet Bottom settlement beds and the Harptree chimney, there are few other signs apart from low slag heaps and acres of gruffy ground. Mining was never by deep shaft and probably started with surface deposits.