Chancellor’s Farm occupies an eighty four acre site north of Priddy. The area is run by the Somerset Wildlife Trust in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, and Natural England who fund the permanent resident warden. It is a working farm where conservation is the driving aim. Yoxter Ranges (MOD), incorporates the area where the highest concentration of mining rakes remain, a very well preserved, dense and impressive area of opencast lead mine workings. The rakes are formed in linear groups of pits, showing where the seams of lead were followed, trending NNW to SSE. The pits range in size between four by three meters and one hundred and thirty eight by twenty six meters. There are several areas of dressing waste, unusual because dressing was usually carried out at the mineries.
Mining activity seems to have been conducted from medieval times to early eighteenth century. 1669 was considered the ‘Lead Rush’. The extent of the pits suggests the veins of lead, which were commonly located by dowsers, were intensively exploited by many individuals. To stake out his claim, the miner had to stand up to the waist in a groove and throw his mining tool in both directions along the line of the vein. The distance he achieved determined the length of ground he was able to mine. In the case of an accident, his body was entitled to be recovered and receive a Christian burial. Theft of another man’s lead was punished very severely; the miner was forced into his house with all his tools, which was then set alight. He usually escaped, but was banished from Mendip forever.
As early as 1670, gunpowder was used to aid the blasting of the rocks. Strangely it was the Mendip miners who passed this method on to the more experienced Cornish miners, who previously used fire. Often women and children would help reduce the ore to small manageable lumps, ready for dressing, to the detriment of their health. Smelting was done using charcoal and “young ‘Oaken-gadds’, blown with Bellows by Mens treading on them. And after the fire is lighted, and the fireplace hot, they throw their Lead-Ore upon the wood, which melts down into the furnace, and then with an Iron-Handle they take it out, and upon sand cast it into what form they please” Joseph Glanvil, seventeenth century vicar of Frome.
The surviving landscape scarred by pits echoes the bomb craters of a battlefield. It embodies the evolution of nature, forever adaptable to this poisonous ground. There is no open access to Chancellor’s Farm and visits are by permit or open days only.
Historical reference: ‘The Mendip Hills, A Threatened Landscape’, Shirley Toulson – Victor Gollancz 1984 and ‘The Mines of Mendip’, J.W.Gough – David and Charles 1967