Hebden Township Historical Data

The Duke's Level


The Duke's Level is an adit built to drain the mines of Grassington Moor. Its entrance is in the Hebden township, on the west bank of Hebden Gill, about 800 metres from the Hole Bottom gate, and 200 metres above the Mossy Moor Reservoir outlet. Its most obvious feature when walking up the the miners' track is an outlet from a small stone and concrete water management tank cascading into the beck. It was named on the first edition of the 6" map (published 1853).

Google Earth showing the area around the Duke's Level, Hebden Gill
Google Earth shewing the area around the Duke's Level. North is to the right
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Its Construction

The productivity of the Grassington Moor Mines fell by half between the 1760s and the 1790s, largely because many of them had reached the water table, and drainage became too much of a problem for the relatively small-scale operators to overcome. The Duke of Devonshire (then William Cavendish, the 5th Duke) received a sixth share of the output of the mines, and his revenue was also declining. By the mid-1790s it became clear that something needed to be done to ensure the future of his revenue. After a number of options were considered, the site in Hebden Gill was chosen to be the outlet of a drainage sough that would drain the mines of both Yarnbury and Grassington Moor.

About 13.8 hecatares of unenclosed land with their mineral rights were purchased from the Trust Lords of the Hebden Township in 1796, probably for about £360 which was distributed amongst the Trust Lords. This triangular area was enclosed by the Langholme Laithe wall to the south, Tinker's Lane to the west and north, and Hebden Beck to the east.

A view of the Duke Level shewing the portal and the tip area
A view of the Duke Level shewing the portal and the tip area
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Cornelius Flint, the Duke of Devonshire's Mineral Agent, was responsible for the project. Originally he intended that the level should not just drain the mines, but should also be used to transport ore from the mines on small boats. With this in mind, the tunnel was to be nine feet high, and six feet wide with walkways on either side. These are the dimensions seen in the first 30 metre-long walled section, and those for the rest of the currently accessible level are never less.

Thomas Bowdin was selected to oversee the operation. He was a successful mining agent in the Duke's Ecton Mines in Staffordshire. The Duke bought Hole Bottom and the land associated with it, in particular the land that stretched up the west side of Hebden Gill to the boundary with the manorial land just purchased. In doing so, he also procured 3.6% of the Manorial Rights, thus gaining a foothold in the township that the current duke still has today. Thomas Bowdin and family moved into Hole Bottom in August 1796. The Bowdins were to play a major role in the village for the next 100 years.

Excavation of the adit started in the same month, but progress proved to be slow through the hard rock. Cockbur was not reached until 1811. In 1818 John Taylor, the sixth Duke's newly appointed Mineral Agent reviewed the project with Thomas Bowdin. At this stage the level was 1520 metres long. It was realised that shipping ore through the level on boats, only for it to be hauled back up the hill to be processed, was not a viable proposition, so the decision was made to reduce its size to four foot wide by six and a half feet high, thus lowering the cost of construction considerably as well as speeding up the operation. It was also decided to sink an air shaft at Cupola Corner, which was just ahead of the end of the level, to provide ventilation and a shorter route to remove excavated material. Until then, ventilation was from a water-blast shaft 100 metres inside the portal, the water for which was carried by a leat extracted from Eller Beck about 50 metres above where it passes under Tinker's Lane.

Approximate course of the leat supplying water to the water-blast shaft in Duke's Level
Approximate course of the leat supplying water to the water-blast shaft in Duke's Level. North to the right.
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Bowdin's Shaft on Yarnbury was reached by a branch passage called Black Drift by 1820, which was then driven forward to drain the whole area. The main adit eventually reached Coalgrovebeck Engine Shaft on Grassington Moor in 1830, at a depth of 72 fathoms. The construction had taken 34 years at a cost of getting on for £23,000. Over the next twenty years it was extended, mainly via a series of cross-cuts, to drain most of the other mines on the moor.

Approximate course of Duke's Level
Approximate course of Duke's Level to Coalgrovebeck Engine Shaft
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The Grassington Moor mines had all closed by 1882, and the Duke's Level was no longer required. In 1886 the seventh Duke sold Hole Bottom farm, including the land in which the Duke's Level lies, to David and Richard Joy. He did, however, retain all the associated mineral and manorial rights.

When Grassington Hospital was built in 1919, its water was supplied from the Duke's Level, pumped up to a concrete reservoir above the hospital and just below Edge Lane. Michael Lee of Chapel Lane, who died in 1982 at the age of 95, recalled how he helped dig the trenches up the hill. The water from the adit has a very high level of heavy metal contaminants, so the wisdom of using it as a water supply was questionable. The water was also used to augment the village water supply in times of drought in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Adit today

The portal and dock area are enclosed in a fence erected by the water board. Outside the fence is a waste tip where the excavated material was dumped. It extends 160 metres to the north and 50 metres to the south, between the hill flank and the beck. Its width is typically about 30 metres, and covers an area of 0.55 hectares. Within this waste, about 30 metres from the portal, is what appears to be the remains of a bouse team and an area of crushings, implying that some ore processing took place. It is likely that the adit intercepted the Cockbur veins, and some ore was extracted and processed.

The level was inspected and recorded in 1937 and 1941 by the British Speleological Association, and there has been no significant change since then, although the entrance was blocked by Yorkshire Water in 1997, ponding the water to a depth of about 2 metres, with the outflow being just below the roof. This resulted in over a metre of silt accumulating on the floor, hiding the walkways. The water now emerges at the base of the entrance walling, but progress within the adit is difficult wading through the accumulated silt.

The entrance is at the end of a 16 metre-long walled trench. This was originally intended as the dock area where the boats were to be unloaded, and slots in the wall at the south end probably mark the location of a sluice. The docking area is now divided into three sections by two brick walls, which from photographic evidence were built between 1937 and 1972. At the end of the third section, a 12"-diameter salt-glazed ceramic pipe can be seen, which was probably the water intake for Grassington Hospital feeding the water management tank by the beck. Two lengths of ugly blue plastic pipe are a reminder of when water from the adit was used to supply the village in times of shortage.

The level's portal is an impressive structure of dressed stone, but unfortunately the top part of its arch was in-filled by the Craven Water Board some time before 1972. Behind the portal, the nine-foot high, six-foot wide adit is walled for the first thirty metres with large dressed blocks, many of which are adorned with a mason's mark. This whole section was originally dug as a continuation of the open air trench, and then walled over and back-filled. Once the hill had been penetrated, the walls and roof were left as bare rock.

The base of the walled-off water-blast shaft may be seen in the true left wall about 100 metres from the portal. It was probably blocked off to prevent any collapse from spilling into the water course when it was made redundant by the construction of the Cupola Corner air shaft. The adit was cut in a straight line for a little more than 500 metres from the portal, passing out of Hebden into Grassington below Tinker's Lane. Daylight is still discernible at the end of this section.

From here the adit veers towards the north, and continues in the same direction for just over 300 metres to where there is a step up into a side level on the left. This leads to a flooded shaft after five metres, with climbing stemples in situ. This was the connection with a drift driven in about 1860 metres from Beever's Mine, some 10 fathoms lower. The probable reason for the step up is that it was excavated from the Beever end, and they got the levels a little wrong.

Back in the main tunnel, the tunnel is walled for the next 60 metres, with one section reinforced with metal hooping supported on wall blocks. The passage then veers to the north-east, and enters an unstable flaggy sandstone area with frequent roof falls, until a total blockage is encountered after a further 50 metres. Map evidence indicates that this point is about 200 metres east of Beever's Shaft, a little more than 900 metres from the entrance and about 720 metres from the Cupola Corner air shaft. It is about 100 metres short of the junction with the Black Drift adit, which starts at Cockbur.

Survey of Duke's Level

This survey of Duke's Level was produced by members of the British Speleological Association in June 1941. It also shews its course relative to the surface features. The distance measurements were paced, and map evidence indicates that they were overestimated.

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Sources of Information

  • Gill, M.C., British Mining No. 46. The Grassington Mines, (Northern Mine Research Society, Keighley, 1993), pp. 33-34, 49 & 58
  • Gill, M.C., British Mining No. 43. The Duke's Level, Grassington. A Comment on John Taylor's Views, (Northern Mine Research Society, Keighley, 1983), pp. 58-60
  • Raistrick, A., Lead Mining in the Mid-Penines, (D. Bradford Barton, Truro, 1973), p. 111
  • British Speleological Association records