Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Gold in the Glens? Don't Get Your Hopes Up!

Some time ago I stated, not entirely seriously, that there was an infestation of elephants in Glen Esk.  Okay, that was a little far fetched:  there are no evident pachyderms in the glen, but is there gold in (them thar) hills?  It is a matter of dispute about whether or no there are any valuable metal deposits in the Angus glens.  The English antiquarian and topographer William Camden (1551-1623), mentions the activity of mining in the county, or rather it occurs in later editions of his descriptive work Britannia: 'Near the Castle of Innermarkie, there are Lead-mines; and they find great plentie of Iron-ore near the wood of Dalboge.'

   The iron mine at Dalbog, according to the Rev. James Headrick of Dunnichen, was in operation in the early 18th century, but he says that the smelting house erected there later was long abandoned by his time (1813).

William Camden by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6373383)

   If in doubt about the existence of any tradition about Angus (and especially then northern part of Angus), then it is always worth turning to the dependable Andrew Jervise.  There was various entries in his Land of the Lindsays, such as his passing observation on the River Tarf: 'Tarf is quite a mountain stream...and it is believed , from the frequency of the floods, that much, if not all, the precious metal, for which it is said to have been so famous at one time, has been swept away.' (1853 edn., p. 96).  A more complete description of the possible mineral riches in Glen Esk is contained in the second edition (p.99):

Both Sir David [Lindsay] and his brother, Lord Menmuir, were anxious to ascertain the extent of these mineral treasures, and entered so eagerly upon the work, that miners were brought from Germany and other places with the view of working them.  Smelting-houses were erected in various parts of the district, and the work was carried on with much spirit by a German of the pugilistic name of  [Bernard] Fechtenburg...This happened in 1593-4, and it would appear that the work had been remunerative, for on the 12th of October 1602, Sir David let to Hans Ziegler and his companions "all and sundry the mines of gold, silver, quicksilver, copper, tin, and lead, and all other minerals (except iron and marmor) within all the bounds of the barony of Edzell and Glenesk" for the space of twenty-five years, for which they were "thankfully to pay and deliver the fifth part of all and sundry the saide metals of gold, silver, etc., whilk the said Hans and his partners shall happen to dig, holk, work, and win out of the said mines."  From that period down to the close of the seventeenth century the mines were steadily wrought with at least partial success, some portions being found after the lead was extracted, and the metal properly refined, to yield a sixty-fourth part of silver.

   Lord Menmuir had high hopes that the German experts would also uncover alabaster rocks to produce lime, and a large sum of money was expended on speculation and building furnaces.  The German, was highly commended by Menmuir in his letter of 9th March 1593-4 to Sir David:

He can mak charcoal of peats, and will desire na other fuel, either to burn lime or melt copper.  He is perfyt in kenning of ground, and discovering of metals.  He...will learn Andrew Daw and all your folks...He will promise to tarry a year with you, providing he be thankfully payit of three pounds, twelve shillings in the ouk [week]...
   The Lindsay family however did not earn any fortune from the prospecting.  As the author of Lives of the Lindsays wryly comments:  'I cannot say how these speculations turned out, but papers and plans without end relating to them survive in the family repositories.  I suspect, the trees planted by Sir David and Lord Menmuir were more profitable to their descendants than the fruits they sought for under the earth.' 

   The Rev Robert Edwards of Murroes gave further detail about mining in his 'Description of of Angus' in 1678:

As to the metals contained in the bowels of this county, it is affirmed that different kinds of them are to be found in the valley of North Esk.  The great-grandfather of the present proprietor of Edzell [Sir David Lindsay] discovered a mine of iron at the wood of Dalbog, and built a smelting-housing for preparing the metal.  This gentleman's grandson [John Lindsay of Edzell] found some lead ore, near Innermark, which he refined.  The son of this latter [David Lindsay, the penultimate laird] found a very rich mine of lead on the banks of the Mark, about a mile up the valley from the castle of Innermark.  In a mountain of hard rock, where eighteen miners are digging deeper every day, they have come to a large vein of ore, which, when the lead is extracted and properly refined, yields a sixty-fourth part of silver. The vein seems to be inexhaustible. 

   The Rev. Headrick says that there was a lead mines wrought at Gilfianan in Lochlee after the forfeiture of the estates after the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715.  Another was worked at Ardoch, near Millden, on  the Esk.  The former he equates with Edward's account of the mine in the vicinity in 1678.

  Returning to Jervise, he adds (revised edition, p. 99) that mining fell into abeyance in the time of the last Lindsay Laird of Edzell and no further exploration was made until 1728, when the South Sea Company tried to find silver in the mine at Craig Soales:

but the overseer of the work being bribed, as the common tradition runs, the speculation was abandoned as unremunerative, and neither gold, silver, nor mineral of any other sort, save lime, has since been tried for.  According to some accounts, silver is also to be found near the castle of Invermark; and the still more precious metal of gold is said to abound in the Tarf, particularly at Gracie's Linn...where it is reported to have been so plentiful at one time , that a lucky lad, in passing the ford, gathered and filled his pockets with it!

   Remains of the silver and lead workings can still be located on Craig Soales, but the entrance of the mine is now hard to find because it has been disguised by fallen debris.  There are the traces of sixteen surface quarry pits here.  There has been little modern interest in the mine here, until an article by W. Lauder Lindsay raised speculation about the presence of valuable minerals in northern Angus.  He quotes Jervise, but seems to base the possibility of gold in Glen Esk on the basis on minor finds in neighbouring Perthshire, plus the tradition that General Wade found gold while surveying in Glenshee.

   Nineteenth century maps indicate additional possible mines in the following places:  Glen Clova (gold/silver?), Dalbrack near Tarfside (copper), Glamis (lead), and Glen Mark (lead), but there has been no bonanza as yet.  Those discovering valuable deposits are more likely than not to have been disappointed about its value over the centuries.  Thus, Headrick states about the lead in Glamis:  'About thirty years ago, some pieces of lead ore were discovered in the bank of a rivulet near Glammis.  Upon digging into the rock, more was found.  But the quantity being inconsiderable, the trial was abandoned.' (General View of the Agriculture of Angus, p. 43.)

   So, gold there may be in Glen Esk, but good luck finding it!

Some Sources

Camden, William, Britannia (2nd edition, 2 vols., London, 1722).

Headrick, Rev. James, General View of the Agriculture of Angus, or Forfarshire (Edinburgh, 1813).

Jervise, Andrew, The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindsays (1st edn., Edinburgh, 1853; 2nd. edn., 1883.).

Lauder Lindsay, W., 'On The Gold Fields of Forfarshire,' Transactions of the Edinburgh Geological Society, (1874, 27).

Lindsay, A. W. C. (Lord Lindsay), Lives of the Lindsays (1st vol., London, 1849).

Scotland's Places, Ordnance Survey Name Books

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