This article came from Chronicle published March 1981. Page: 4


Thoughts on a Talk

Author: Arthur Denner


I much enjoyed Mr.Hawtin’s talk to the Society on March 6th about the old lead mining works on the Mendips. The slides so well illustrated the evidence of Roman and later mining, also the more technical and industrialized activity of the mid-19th century. A great deal of information has been collected about the latter period, and there are many industrial remains to back it up, as many of our members saw when the Society walked the area under the guidance of Mr.Gilson in the Summer of 1979•

On reflection, however, it surprises me that. there seeds to be so little trace left of the habitations of the workers who were employed between 1860 and 1880 on what must, have been quite a labour-intensive operation. No doubt some unskilled labour was found locally, as agricultural depression of that time would have made many farm workers unemployed, but we are told that quite a number of the skilled men came from Cornwall. If they came in any number one would expect to find evidence of permanent housing near the refining plant, and some tradition of intermarriage with local families. Surely there must be people still living in the district who have heard their grandparents speak of ‘goings-on’ with the Cornishmen at the Miners Arms on pay-day? ‘Folk-memory’ can often help put flesh on the dry bones of historical fact. How interesting it would be if someone in Cornwall could find some letters written home by one of the workers, describing his work and life among the foreigners in Somerset

Inevitably, when it was no longer profitable to continue refining the waste slag, the works were abandoned and the workers drifted away, probably a gradual process. The same thing happened to the iron ore mines on the Brendon Hills, which the Society visited a few years ago, but on that site there is still a lot of evidence of a workers’ settlement.

These thoughts lead me nearer home to wonder if some time in the next century a younger edition of Mr Hawtin will be seen with a band of school-children scratching about on the banks of the stream between Hendford and Pen Mill looking for traces of Yeovil’s oldest industry. Half a century ago there were at least a dozen busy factories between Newton Road and Hendford. I wonder how many readers can name them ? – no prizes offered!