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 Mine sites on Churchill Knowle

By Nick Richards and Nick Harding

South-west of the village of Churchill is a wooded hill where a number of east-west veins have received the attention of miners. In one case a small natural rift was intersected.

Knowle Mine.

Half way down the north-east slope at NGR ST 4386 5928 is a mound bounded by low dry stonewalling. In the centre of the mound is a vertical mineshaft (1.4m by 0.9m in section) descending 6m through loose hillwash into the bedrock.  Here there is a small chamber with galleries leading east and west (at this point ochre deposits can be seen in the walls).

The roomy east gallery extends some 7m to a dead end where pick marks are much in evidence. The passage is over 2m high and 1.5m wide in places.

To the west a 45-degree slope down (for 4m) through a very tight squeeze in collapse debris (note the highly unstable roof) leads to another gallery at a lower level than the first. This passage is about 4m long, 2m high and a metre or so wide. It displays a small stack of ‘deads’ in an alcove and numerous phreatic solution hollows. A calcite vein is particularly prominent in the roof.

The calcite vein can be traced throughout the length of the working and it seems that the miners have followed this in search of ochre or lead; certainly there is plenty of ochre, which occurs as masses associated with the vein fissure.

The landowner told us that the shaft had been explored by the A.C.G. some years ago.

Knowle Cave.

Near the top of the wood at NGR ST 4390 5923 is a large pit some 6m by 4.2m and 1.8m deep at its north-east corner. A small phreatic arch here was dug out in the late 90s with a more concerted effort in 2002. An east-west rift was encountered running under the north wall of the pit. It measures 7m in length, up to 2m high and up to 0.7m wide.

A massive calcite vein follows the rift and quantities of ochre are present. This rift is separated from the pit proper by a thin skin of bedrock which has been breached in two places, evidently by ochre miners, for a couple of boulders were found with shotholes through them.

A dig in the pit itself revealed undisturbed sediments resting on a smooth ochreous bedrock surface funnelling in towards the centre. Therefore, the pit seems to be a wholly natural feature, which has been modified by ochre mining.

30m to the west and down the hillslope from Knowle cave is another pit- Calcite Shaft. It is an old mineshaft dug at the intersection of two massive calcite veins, probably in search of lead ore. The east-west element of the vein is directly in line with the vein seen in the upper pit  (Knowle cave) and minor collapse, animal burrows and calcite debris in the soil mark the line between the two.

The shaft is 2m by 2m in section and 4m deep when found. An excavation in the late 90s through miners spoil proved 6m depth before terminating at a dead end. The miners also followed part of the cross vein to the south for 2m.

The old miners knew that the intersection of two veins is generally a promising environment for ore, but no lead or ochre is present and the affair must have been given up.

At the extreme Southeast corner of the wood at NGR ST 4392 5907 are three or four infilled mineshafts, again aligned east-west and along a strike length of 15m. The westernmost pit is associated with a large spoil heap, which spills over into the adjacent field. Some specks of galena in calcite were found here.

Many thanks to the landowners for allowing us to explore these sites.