The Caverns of Silverband


"In the lowest level are two very large 'shakes' or natural caverns. One of these, I am told, extends for a considerable distance, and takes several hours to explore; unless care is taken to mark the road, one is liable to lose one's way".



Silverband Mines lie at an altitude of about 2,300 ft. on the west side of the ridge of Great Dun Fell, overlooking the Vale of Eden (NGR NY 702 317). In spite of the remote location of the mine, access is comparitively easy by way of a tarmac road from near Knock village which goes to the Ministry of Civil Aviation radar station on the summit of Great Dun Fell: a spur of dry metalled road from a point in Knock Ore Gill contours round to the mines about a mile to the north. The area of the mines lies within the Moor House National Nature Reserve.

The mines, worked originally for lead and later for barite extend mainly in an easterly direction below the summit ridge of the Pennines along an east-west vein complex. The Dun Fell Vein and the most productive ground appears to have been in the Great Limestone. Adequate general accounts of the geology and mine layouts are to be found elsewhere (Dunham, 1948; Johnson & Dunham, 1963).

The original workings on these veins are of unknown date, but the main exploratory development was done by the London Lead Mining Company during the first half of the nineteenth century. This search for lead was not very successful, but large reerves of barite were revealed. The main working period for the mine was from 1939 to 1962 when B.Laporte and Company extracted nearly 200,000 tons of barite.

To the speleologist the outstanding interest of the mine has been the extensive range of natural caverns in the Great Limestone first revealed by the London Lead Company over a century ago. Because detailed surveys of the caverns as such have never been made by the mining company concerned, the full extent of the system will probably never be known. The survey accompanying the present account records the plan of an area of the caverns which was still accessible during the period 1952-54. So far as is known the now disused mine workings are in increasingly dangerous condition, and recent reports (private communication) indicate that the caverns included on this survey are no longer accessible.

Lord's or No. 1 Crosscut

The general layout of the known cavernous sections in the mine with their relationship to the surface is shown in Fig. 1. Access to these areas was from Silverband Low Level at an altitude of 2286 ft.. Lord's Level or No. 1 Crosscut is in fact a continuous natural fissure passage in the Great Limestone, which had been slightly enlarged by mining in order to make exploration possible. There appeared to be no explorable branch passages from this until the northern extremity was reached. Here a small tubular crawl was seen to lead off to the west for some distance, opening into a natural chamber, any outlet from which was obstructred by sand and pebbles. The roof of the main passage of the crosscut in this area hung in large flakes, separated by open joints. The miners had attempted to hold the flakes in place by using wooden wedges.

SHortly beyond the entry to this natural chamber the main crosscut ended in entirely artificial workings on the Swathbeck Vein. A particularly interesting feature of Lord's Crosscut is the occasional preservation of sections of the original floor. The floors of these narrow fissures and tubes carry traces of sand and small gravel. These deposits, together with those of the terminal chamber at the north west end of this passage are the onoy clear traces of the action of vadose water found in any part of the Silverband Caverns during the present investigation. At the time of exploration the amount fo water draining down this passage was very small and would not account for the movement of sand and gravel seen on the floors of the undisturned natural fissures. Drainage her is from north to south and is entering the Silverband - Dun Fell fault trough from a zome outside it where the limestone lies at a slightly higher level.

No. 2 Crosscut

The No. 2 Crosscut running south from the Low Level appears to represent a continuation of the cave seen in Lord's or No. 1 Crosscut, the two being nearly in line. The mine passage here along a fair length is cut in the floor of a gothic arch shaped passage up to four or five feet wide and about twelve to fifteen feet high. One or two solution tubes opened along joints at right angles to the main passage occur near the roof but these have not been inspected in detail. To the south the trace of this cavern is lost in mine workings.

The Caverns east of No. 3 Crosscut

By following the Low Level through Dead Vein to No. 3 Crosscut, the area of Henrake Vein and Slope Vein could be reached. Where No. 3 Crosscut turned along Henrake Vein for 70 ft. or so, the roof of this section showed clear signs of solutional activity, but the connection with the natural cavern indicated on Fig. 14 of Dunham. 1948 had been obstructed with a substantial wall of deads. The 'Post Mineralisation Cavern' shown on this sketch plan indicates some cavern development both north and souht of what is marked as 'Loppy Sike Vein'. In the later version of Johnson and Dunham, 1963 (Fig. 17) the vein concerned is given as Slope Vein and this second version is accepted in the present account. Slope Vein lies along a small fault with a downthrow of 30 ft. to the south on No. 3 Crosscut, but with the throw diminishing to the east. There is therefore some difference in level between the caverns on the two sides of Slope Vein, but only in the order of ten or fifteen feet.

Access to the northern section of caverns was found to be by a short rise from a level in Slope Vein which was reached by a downward incline from No. 3 Crosscut. Turning east from the area at the top of the rise a typical Yoredale type cave was to be seen with highly solution-fretted limestone surfaces, opened joints in roof and walls, and the floor often partly obstructed by fallen roof blocks. The north wall of the cave was intersected by numerous opened joints, many of which could be followed for some distance. The southern wall was in part formed by Slope Vein itself, showing a smooth face of barite. A number of small exploratory crosscuts had been from the cave through the vein, probably in the search for lead by the London Lead Company. The east-trending cave eventually terminated at a T-junction in a north-south passage. The northern end of this ended in a small crawl to probably the edge of Remmington South Vein. Just short of this far north-easterly extremity of the system seen were some neat inscriptions on the wall dated 1849 and including the name of Simpson.

The route through the whole of this cave was fairly well marked and the cave had eveidently been utilised by the miners of the London Lead Company in their prospecting efforts. Some of the fissures in the north wall of the main passage did, however, lead into unmarked passages and it was clear that the smaller sections had not been forced by the old timers.

West of the point of entry from the rise, the cavern was found to extend in similar fashion for some 380 feet after which it closed down to a low crawl.

This continued for a short was beyond all signs of exploration over an undisturbed floor of dried mud partly coverd by calcite ice. On pushing two large stones to one side at the far end the way opened into a large chamber, the Ochre Cavern, where once more the marks of clogs indicated previous visitors. The original access to this cavern was then found to have been from a small remaining section of stone-arched level lying above the incline on Slope Vein. The old miners had left a neat small opening in the walling just big enough to creep through. The roof of the Ochre Cavern showed many broken stumps of stalactite, the only significant area of formation in the whole cave system. Both much of the roof and many of the rocks which sloped up to meet it were strongly ochre stained, and before the entry of the miners this was probably a very beautifully decorated chamber.

The area of caverns south of Slope Vein could not be entered directly from the northern series as might be inferred from Dunham's sketch map (Dunham, 1948). Entry was gained by climbing up about six feet from the level on Slope Vein which ended at this point in 1952. The passage entered to the south was a rift some five or six feet wide and fifteen to twenty feet high. This could be followed with ease for some 170 yards to a point where it dipped down into a part flooded mine level in a barite vein, probably No. 8 Vein (Fig. 17, Johnson & Dunham, 1963). In view of the lack of evidence of the cavern being used as a working route it seemed likely that this level was driven in from somewhere else. As the trend was to the east, this point in the cave system could be of considerable interest, especially as some ventilation from the level was noticeable.

The other rift passages towards the southern end of this part of the cavern were easily accessible by climbig up a few feet. The extreme limit to the south was on a wall of barite; once more, probably No. 8 Vein.

About 60 feet south of the junction with Slope Vein and about five feet above floor level, hands and knees crawl gave access to the main range of caverns surveyed between Slope Vein and No. 8 Vein. The main route through this part of the system was almost unmarked at the time of the survey in 1952. Only a few clog marks were visible together with direction marks scratched on the walls at passage junctions. It seemed likely that this area of the caverns had only previously been explored by one or two parties of miners, possibly during the period referred to by Brammal (Brammal, 1952). No dated inscriptions were found in this series.

Downward percolation of water along the veins have involved both the Great and the Four Fathom in the fully developed cave system. Finally, if the ultimate flow to surface was to the east then further ranges of caverns should exist between the area described and the outcrop of the Great Limestone on the east side of Great Dun Fell.


Brammal V., 1921
'The Mining, Manufacture and Uses of Barytes in the Neighbourhood of Appleby, Westmorland.' Trans. Inst. Mining Eng. Vol. 61 p 42
Dunham K.C., 1948
'Geology of the Northern Pennine Orefield, Vol. 1' Mems. Geol. Surv. Gt. Britain.
Johnson G.A.L. & Dunham K.C., 1963
'The Geology of Moor House'. Nature Conservancy Monograph No. 2, H.M.S.O.
Myers J.O., 1955
'Cavern Formation in the Northern Pennines'. Trans. Cave Research Group, Gt. Britain. Vol. 4, No. 1, pp 31-49.
O.S. Maps of Great Britain
1" sheet 83, Penrith
Geological Survey 6" Westmorland sheet 5 N.E.
1" Sheet 25 ALSTON
Raistrick A., 1953
Caverns the Old Lead Miners First Saw'. Journal C.P.C. Vol. 1, No. 5, pp 241-248

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