From medieval times, the North Pennines became one of Britain’s most important lead mining areas.
Mining was on a relatively small scale until the mid-18th century, but from this time until the early 20th century much of the area was dominated by lead mining and the landscape was transformed. Levels were driven miles underground to exploit the lead veins and the ground surface became stubbed with mine complexes, dressing floors and smelt mills. The hills were crisscrossed with leats providing water power to various sites, flues taking noxious gases away from the smelt mill to chimneys high up on the hills, and tracks and railways providing access to all the different sites. Aside from lead iron, coal and later fluorspar were also mined here. Elsewhere quarrymen extracted limestone, sandstone and whinstone from the ground.
After these industries went into decline in the late 19th and early 20th century these mines and quarries were closed, often leaving all their buildings and structures and equipment in situ. As a result the North Pennines has been left with a rich industrial heritage which is best appreciated at sites like Killhope Lead Mining Museum, Shildon Engine House and Ashes Quarry.