Little Salkeld – Long Meg Signal Box – and the anhydrite mines
Location : Little Salkeld
Ordnance Survey – NY 562375
Surface quarrying for gypsum in this area of the Eden Valley was first recorded in 1870, with the first commercial enterprise started in 1879. The only way of geting the material from the mine site was by cart track. In 1880 the Long Meg Plaster Company was set up, and a small underground drift was driven in what is known as Cave Wood valley.
Underground operations started in 1895, and during 1896 a standard guage track was laid from the main Settle to Carlisle Railway to the mill building – some 400 yards, controlled by a signal box of original Midland Railway design. After a change of ownership, and with a serious financial situation, the mine closed in 1915, along with the original signal box that controlled the sidings.
The mine was not closed for long, for the chemical industry had found a use for anhydrite, which had been ignored by the original miners. The mine reopened in 1922 for anhydrite, and was known as the Long Meg Plaster and Mineral Co. Ltd. The company was purchased in 1939 by British Plaster Board Ltd., later to become British Gypsum.
The mine’s anhydrite (gypsum without water) was mainly used in the manufacture of sulphuric acid and ammonium compounds for fertilizers. In 1961 the 1,000,000th ton of anhydryte was loaded for dispatch to Widnes – a great day for the mine personnel and for British Rail.
The mine closed on 31st January 1976, having produced over 5 million tons, from an area of some 1.3 million square yards.
The replacement modern design signal box which opened in July 1955, was taken out of use in 1983, and has subsequently fallen into disrepair.
The mine had it own small steam engines which would shunt trucks laden with gypsum to the near-by plaster mill, or onto the Settle to Carlisle line for transport to the chemical works at Billingham, Teeside.
The last Saddle Tank Engine from the mine can be seen working at Bowes Railway, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.
Although there is now little to see of the mines, railway sidings and plaster mill, the walk along the footpath from Little Salkeld to Lacy Caves is very pleasant, with views of The River Eden, Long Meg Signal Box, Settle to Carlisle Railway, Long Meg Viaduct and Eden Lacy.
An extended and circuitous walk can include Long Meg and Daughters and the flour mill at Little Salkeld.
An extensive history of Long meg mine, and other mines in Cumbria producing gypsum and anhydrite, can be found in “Gypsum in Cumbria” by Ian Tyler, ISBN 0952302845, published by the author 2000.
Photos of Long meg Signal box July 1990 by Ingy the Wingy. Cycle through the sequence for more pictures.
Eden Council has demolished the signal box in January 2013.
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