Sopwith Geological Models

Sopwith Models in Presentation Box
Source: Killhope Museum
Copyright: Killhope, North of England Lead Mining Museum

Sopwith Geological Models

Sopwith Models
Source: Killhope Museum
Copyright: Killhope, North of England Lead Mining Museum

Thomas Sopwith with models

Thomas Sopwith with models, Natural History Museum

Eastgate Roman Altar
Original Location: Widely distributed
Current Location: Killhope, North of England Lead Mining Museum Theme: Industrial
Period: Post-medieval
Date: c.1841

What is it?
Examples of the wooden models representing geological strata produced by Thomas Sopwith. They illustrated common underground structures and were used as a training aid in the mining industry. Ranging in size from 3 inches (75mm) to 4 inches (100mm) square, the models were released in sets of six or twelve in a specially made case designed to resemble a book and were accompanied by a comprehensive explanatory text. Widely distributed, price varied from £2 to £5 depending on the number and size of the models purchased. First produced in 1841, the models were re-released in 1875.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
Thomas Sopwith (1803-1879) started work as an apprentice to his cabinet maker father but became a mining surveyor, civil engineer and geologist, working extensively in the North Pennines. He published An Account of the Mining District of Alston Moor, Weardale, and Teesdale describing the scenery, antiquities, geology and mining operations in the North Pennines in 1833. His Treatise on Isometrical Drawing of 1834 described a means of visualising on paper geological and mining plans in three dimensions. However the limitations of two-dimensional plans, even drawn in isometric projection, led him to develop these highly regarded three-dimensional geological, which were constructed in the family cabinet-making works.

Why is it important?
These models are important as a symbol of Sopwith’s influence on the science of geology throughout the 19th century and as a proxy for his role in North Pennines lead mining industry when it was the largest in the world. In 1845 after election to the Royal Society he became chief agent to the W. B. Lead Company, owned by the Blackett/Beaumont family centred at Allenheads. As agent at Allenheads Sopwith developed the mines and introduced a rigorous system of mine surveying and plan production, producing some of the earliest detailed mine plans. His approach to the community was paternalistic he built schools, libraries, and chapels; improved cottages; and encouraged mutual improvement and benefit societies for the workers and their families. But a stickler for time-keeping he revealed the other side of Victorian capitalism by breaking the Allenheads strike of 1849, when some miners led by local Primitive Methodists, refused to accept time-clauses in their ‘bargains’. In a time of labour surplus many of these men were denied further work resulting in some families emigrating to North America.

Further Information

    Text References :
  • Oxford Dictonary of National Biography, Stafford M linsley
  • Natural History Museum, Library & Archives, Item of the Month (March 2014) a model career: Thomas Sopwith
  • Thomas Sopwith, An Account of the Mining District of Alston Moor, Weardale and Tesdale (Newcastle, 1833 reprinted 1984 & 1989)

  • External Links:

Other Information that might be useful

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