The village of Greenhow, standing at 1300 feet above sea level, is one of the highest in England and was developed by Stephen Proctor in the early seventeenth century. Scattered amongst the heather and bracken strewn moors are remnants of lost dwellings and hamlets where people once lived in this close-knit community. The history of the earliest settlement having been lost under centuries of waste from the local lead workings.
There is little evidence left of the earliest workers, but it may be that that the Brigantes were forced into slave labour by the Romans to mine lead, a useful metal that could be easily moulded into pipes or used to seal roofs. Evidence of Roman mining comes from three ingots of lead found near Greenhow, two at Heyshaw, near Dacre and one at Nussey Knot.
Evidence of Saxons and Vikings in the area lies in the place names they left us, such as Coldstones, the original name being the Norse, “Kaldestaines”. This served as a simple reminder of the nature of the place, where the cold, strong winds lead to a climate several degrees colder than the market town of Pateley Bridge, three miles to the east.
It was the Cistercian monasteries of Fountains and Byland Abbeys who really exploited the area. These ‘millionaire monks’ ensured that Roger de Mowbray gave them valuable mineral rights and in return generously allowed him to continue to use the Chase of Nidderdale for hunting forays. Lead was such a valuable asset that the two abbeys frequently disputed their boundaries and their right to mine the various minerals which lay within these.
Some areas were, it seems, worked fairly amicably by the two abbeys as there is evidence of an agreement
In 1226 that a groove on Kaldestaines, previously worked in common, should continue to be worked in the same way until exhausted. If any lay brother or monk of either Byland or Fountains Abbey was convicted of breaking the agreement they must go on foot to the other abbey to apologise and then have only bread and water on a Friday for a year.
The life of the ordinary people would have been hard in such as isolated place. The Black Death of 1349 probably killed much of Greenhow’s population although documents of the Archbishop of York at the time suggest that there was still a thriving industry as workers paid tithes individually.
In 1351 the inhabitants of Bewerley are described as:
“living in a certain Beastlie manner to the peril of there soles … which do till and sowe lands and bread cattell, and by there worke do get manie things and manifold of the ground, that is to saye, of iron digging, lead digging and stones digging…”
Lead was used locally as well as being transported to Windsor and abbeys in Northern France.
In 1365 the King ordered lead for Windsor:
“Two wagons, each with 10 oxen, carrying 24 fothers of the said lead from Coldstones in Nidderdale in the county of York, by high and rocky mountains and muddy roads to Boroughbridge.”
Local stone was also valuable and used for building monastic granges and lodges at Bewerley, Hardcastle, Coldstonesfold, and Moorhouses. and Kell House.
Fountains Abbey must have made enormous profits from its sale of lead, iron and stone and held power and influence for at least two centuries.
In 1502, the York Guild of Merchant Adventurers chastised the then Abbot of Fountains, Marmaduke Huby, (who built the delightful chapel at Bewerley whose windows and walls are adorned by his initials):
“…we understand that you occupy buying and selling lead and other merchandise as a free merchant, contrary to God’s laws and man’s, you being a spiritual man and of religion, and so your occupying is great damage and hurt to us merchants in these parts.”
Even in the sixteenth-century lead mining attracted many workers and Bolton Priory also claimed rights to work the mines in the western area around Mungo Gill. Disputes over ownership attracted much attention and 500 miners are recorded as having assembled in 1530 near Craven Keld accusing the Bolton Priory men of sinking shafts within the Forest of Knaresborough boundaries.
It is not known how many of these people actually lived on the hill; it is thought most of the workers walked in from outlying areas. The earliest known settlements belonged to Fountains Abbey. Monastic farms were recorded at Coldstonesfold and Hardcastle and it is thought two monks lived in a cottage, the original Kell House, thought to have been built around 1526-1530. The ruins of this cottage still stood in the garden of the present-day Keld House in the 1920s. The job of the monks who lived here, being both to guard the mines and look after the monastic sheep. The monastic grange of Bewerley and lodge at Moorhouses lay on slightly more hospitable, lower-lying land.
With the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the power of the church was to end and the ownership passed to the rich mineral lords. Sir Stephen Proctor bought the Manor of Bewerley, including the mineral rights in 1597. He was one of the nouveau riche but also a staunch Protestant, frequently in dispute with his Roman Catholic neighbours. His father, Thomas, had patented a new process of lead smelting, accumulating much wealth into the bargain.
Stephen Proctor was also responsible, as part of a settlement with John Armitage over disputed land, in the founding of the actual village of Greenhow as prior to this date the only settlement recorded on the hill itself was the monks at Kell House.
In 1613 an agreement also sought to protect the Greenhow miners’ rights:
“…there may be cottages erected for the miners and mineral workmen upon the said waste … and also for the keeping of draught oxen and horses for the maintenance of the mines, always leaving the tenants sufficient common”.
Most of the monastic smelting was done in bales which were basically wooden bonfires strategically placed on hillsides to catch the wind. There are still several evident in the Greenhow area including the one at nearby Bale Bank. Stephen Proctor built the first recorded smelt mill at Greenhow, probably on Brandstone Beck around 1606 and also installed an”engen” to drain the mines. Little is known about the mining methods of this time but the next hundred years are thought to have seen extensive exploration in the area.