Killhope Water Wheel after restoration

Killhope Water Wheel after restoration, by permission of The North of England Lead Mining Museum, Killhope

Killhope Water Wheel after restoration

View of the Water Wheel before restoration by permission of The North of England Lead Mining Museum, Killhope

Killhope Water Wheel after restoration

‘Victorian Day’ at The North of England Lead Mining Museum, Killhope


Kilhope Wheel
Original Location: Allendale, Northumberland
Current Location: Killhope Lead Mining Museum, Weardale
Theme: Industrial
Period: Post Medieval
Date: 1850s

What is it?
A waterwheel originally from W.B. Lead’s Bracken Hill site in Allendale which was transferred to Park Level Mine at Killhope and used in the crushing plant from around 1870.  It was threatened with demolition in 1959 but was saved due to the efforts of local enthusiasts and finally restored in the 1990s.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
Like the Armstrong Hydraulic Engine at Allenheads, the Killhope Wheel was built for use in the extensive lead mining area of Allendale. In 1855, W.B.Lead started an ambitious scheme under the guidance of their chief mining agent Thomas Sopwith to drive a level from Allenheads to Allendale - a distance of seven miles - with four shafts along its length.  However at the deepest shaft, Bracken Hill, problems occurred due to water ingress and work was abandoned. The waterwheel from this site was transferred to Park Level Mine at Killhope, one of the mines being worked by W.B.Lead, where it was installed to drive a crushing roller, elevator, trommels and jigs.

The waterwheel at Killhope remained in use until the early part of the 20th century when the mine was abandoned.  In 1959 Durham County Council (DCC) classified the mine site as an eyesore and invited tenders for the demolition of the ore dressing mill but due to its remote location nobody was prepared to demolish it. However a group of people in the North East, including Frank Atkinson the founder of Beamish Open Air Museum, were raising public awareness of the need to preserve relics of the North East’s industrial past and the campaign resulted in the eyesore classification being removed.  In the late 1960s, DCC leased some adjoining land and created a picnic site at Park Level Mine and Killhope Wheel was painted by volunteers. During the next twenty years the site was developed into the North of England Lead Mining Museum which has received numerous awards and attracts many visitors every year – over 15,000 in 2015.

Why is it important?
There were scores of waterwheels associated with the lead mining industry, for which water was the main source of power and Killhope Wheel is probably the only working waterwheel from that industry remaining in the North of England. Most were cut up for the war efforts but there are a significant number of wheels which remain at their original underground locations. In addition, Killhope Wheel demonstrates the importance of the work of local enthusiasts in preserving the history of the North Pennines.  A volunteer group, The Friends of Killhope was formed in 1984 and in 1990 began a campaign to raise £30,000 towards the cost of restoring the wheel; eventually, over £42,000 was handed over to DCC. The Friends of Killhope continues today, dedicated to assisting Killhope, The North of England Lead Mining Museum and other lead mining sites in the North Pennines.

Further Information
    Text References:
  • Stronger Than A Hundred Men A History of the Vertical Water Wheel by J H Reynolds. Published by The John Hopkins University Press, 701 West 40th Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 1983
  • Lead Manufacturing In Britain A History by D J Rowe. Published by Croom Healm Ltd,  Provident House, Burrell Row, Beckersham, Kent, BR3 1AT 1983

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