The Great Trial
A Swaledale Lead Mining Dispute
In the Court of Exchequer
Edited by Tim Gates
Yorkshire Archaeological Society
The Boydell Press
Not for the casual reader, this is a weighty reference book, which none the less is a treasure of magical discovery and historic exploration. Despite its modern print the ancient dispute with its reference to sacredly preserved parchment maps and ancient rights and memories fair reeks with a foggy distant time of a bygone age, to which these pages will transport you. Like all ancient old plans and records they hold a fascination almost incidental to their purpose. Despite the seriousness of the dispute and the legal precedents and rights it honoured and favoured I am constantly thrown back to images of The Hobbit and The Shires. The plans of East Grinton moors and ancient mines the slumbering villages, could have stepped from the pages of Tolkien.
Would this story essentially of mining claims and counter claim, had taken place in the Wild West, it would have been a tale of claim jumping and probably litigated at the end of a gun barrel. As it is the highly sought mineral here is lead, in the most northerly of the Yorkshire dales. Not that the dispute did not get threatening, with teams of the owners competing miners confronting each other, or the claimants miners refusing legal agents warrants and court orders to desist from mining.
At length the case goes to court, in a celebrated lawsuit, between Thomas Lord Wharton and Reginald Marriott Esq. At issue who has the right to mine for lead within the bounds of the manor of Grinton in the parish town of Swaledale. Marriott the plaintiff claimed the exclusive rights to mine over all the territories and fields of Grinton Whitaside and Harkerside. On the other side is Thomas first Marquess of Wharton, a leading Whig politician and landowner who owned large estates at Swaldale. The case will revolve around who has traditionally mined here and within whose parish and boundary does the ore lie. Key to the decision of the court will be not just the memories of old residents and mineworkers but the revelation of a previously undiscovered map of upper Swaldale. Despite the heady court case, plans, evidence and hundreds of witnesses the disputed mining continued throughout, the miners refusing to desist, making hay while the sun shone had this been on the surface. Over three hundred witnesses are called, and in the process the life of this remote dale at the beginning of the eighteenth century is disclosed. Obscure points of history, like the fact that alongside lead the mines had worked coal; something I for one had not realized was mined in this location, an opening up realms of wonder as to the history of coal work and geology in this region.
The strength of this work will be for specialist legal historians as well as those studying the minutia of Yorkshire dale history. But those who love enquiry into all things old, who allow themselves to be transported back to the days as they were then, to relive the lives of these people and see again this isolated North Yorkshire hamlet as it was then, will also find hours of time travel in this book.