The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

The Discovery of Roman pigs of lead in Upper Nidderdale, North Yorkshire.

Roman inscribed lead pig from Greenhow, Upper Nidderdale, North Yorkshire.

NGR: SE 115 648. Back in the 1700s three pigs of lead with Latin inscriptions were dug up at Hayshaw Bank in the Greenhow area of Upper Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, which is just 3 miles southwest of Pateley Bridge. Two of these were made by Roman lead smelters in the late 1st century A.D. On the front side of the two lead pigs is the name of the Roman Emperor DOMITIAN, while on the side of both is inscribed in Latin the shortened form of the name of the local Celtic tribe (at the time). It’s thought the Brigantes tribe were forced into slave labour by the Romans after they were conquered in A.D. 74-75 and then put to work mining lead. The third pig, found in 1860 near Pateley Bridge, was of a slightly later date and in-scribed with the name of the Roman Emperor TRAJAN from the early 2nd century A.D. The three lead pigs were dug up by more recent lead miners who were digging in the rich lead and ore-veined moorland in and around Cockhill, Greenhow Hill, and near Pateley Bridge. The Cockhill & Sunside lead mines and smelt mill situated on Greenhow Hill in Upper Nidderdale was established soon after 1776, but it was not leased until 1781. However, the first recorded lead mine known as ‘Prosperous’ was established in that area about 1606. The two late 1st-century lead pigs eventually found their way to museums, but the early 2nd-century pig was apparently lost.

The Pateley Bridge Local History Tutorial Class writing in 1967 tell us more about Lead and Iron Mining in Upper Nidderdale. They say: “Prominent amongst the natural resources of medieval Nidderdale were lead and iron ores. Thin bands of ironstone in the Millstone Grit series outcrop over a large area of the dale, from Blayshaw Bents, west of Ramsgill, to the vicinity of Knaresborough. There are two main groups of lead-bearing veins, one of which runs in the Millstone Grit, roughly down the line of Ashfold Gill, where the Bycliffe Vein of Grassington Moor is continued in the Stoney Grooves, Merryfield and Providence Vein. The other is found mainly in the limestones on the summit of Greenhow Hill. The thick beds of the Carboniferous Limestone which form the western side of the hill are overlain, around Craven Cross, by the Millstone Grit beds, but come to the surface further east in a series of inliers, in which many veins outcrop. The more prominent of these veins would be noticed by the earliest metal-using peoples of the area. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that the vein outcrops were worked by the local Celtic tribe, the Brigantes, and consequently were known to their Roman conquerors, for within a few years of the Roman victory over the Brigantes at Stanwick in 74 AD., the new rulers were smelting lead on Greenhow.

“Three pigs of lead smelted by the Romans have been found in the Greenhow area. Two almost identical pigs, weighing 155 and 156 Ibs. respectively, were discovered in 1735 in a hole in the ground on Hayshaw Bank. On the base of each is the inscription, in raised letters: IMP. CAES. DOMITIANO AVG. COS. VII an abbreviation of ‘“Imperatore Caesare Domitiano Augusto Consule Septimum”’, meaning Emperor Domitian’s seventh term as consul, ie. 81 A.D. The word ‘“BRIG”’, presumably short for Brigantes, is also cast on the side of each pig. Both of them are preserved, one in the British Museum, the other in Ripley Castle. A third pig, found on Nussey Knot, was subsequently lost and all that is known about it is that the inscription included the name of Trajan, who was emperor from 91 to 117 A.D.” Just to note here: I understand the Roman pig of lead that resided in Ripley Castle was later given to The Craven Museum at Skipton.

I.A.Richmond writing in 1963 discusses the discovery of a lead pig from A.D. 74 in Flintshire, northeast Wales, but then goes on to say: “The next group of lead pigs is the small group from Yorkshire, which also carry the tribal name of the area, in the form Brig, for metallum Briganticum. They are found in the area between Nidderdale and Wharfedale, which was much exploited in later medieval times for lead also. The earliest dated example is of A.D. 81, exactly ten years after the Roman acquisition of the area. Another, of Trajan (A.D. 98-117), is imperfectly recorded from Pateley Bridge. It is probable that this was not the only lead-bearing area worked in Yorkshire. There is a good local tradition of Roman exploitation of the Swaledale lead deposits, in particular the Hurst Mine; it is connected with a pig of Hadrian, unfortunately never recorded in detail.”

“It is very probable that the Roman camp at Bainbridge may have served as a centre for the lead trade in the surrounding dales from which men were sent into Swaledale to mine for lead. Tradition relates that Hurst Mines in Swaledale was one of the Roman penal settlements where convicts were sent to work, and that buildings in Jerusalem and St Peter’s in Rome were roofed with lead obtained from the Hurst Mines. Residents of Hurst can still show us an iron ring, leaded into the rock, to which prisoners were chained for misdemeanour”, according to Edward R. Fawcett’s manuscript. Mr Fawcett died in 1939 but his work was edited & published by Brian Lee in 1985.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Fawcett, Edward R., Lead Mining In Swaledale (Mss. Edt. by Brian Lee), Faust Publications Co. Ltd., Thorneyholme Hall, Roughlee, Burnley, 1985.

Pateley Bridge Local History Tutorial Class, A History of Nidderdale, (Edt. by Bernard Jennings, M.A. University of Leeds), The Advertiser Press Limited, Huddersfield, 1967.

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History of England — Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

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Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2023.


Author: sunbright57

I am interested in holy wells, standing stones and ancient crosses; also anything old, prehistoric, or unusual.

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