So what is Micaceous Hematite?

Just outside the village of Lustleigh as you drive on the A382 between Moretonhampstead and Bovey Tracey there is a small grass covered layby and near by a gateway by the side of a nondescript building, with an orange cone outside.

You could drive past it a thousand times and never give it a thought. But beyond the gate, as you climb up into the woods, you step back over a hundred years to an age when Kelly Mine was at its height producing ‘Devon Sand’, the mineral Micaceous Hematite which has excellent rust resisting properties and is used in paint.

As you walk up through the woods you find small rail tracks crisscrossing and the odd truck used to transport the sand from one process to another. There is an old building with strange looking machinery for crushing the ore known as ‘Black Lead’, a form of oxide of iron.

Kelly Mine was open in 1877 and men would dig out the Micaceous Hematite mineral from the hillside or dig into the hill itself to extract the oxide using only candlelight or oil lamps to see.

While the men dug women and children were employed to wash and clean the mineral. The rust resistant paint produced was used by the Royal Navy on their ships and by the Great Western Railway.

It was shipped to Australia to paint the newly opened Sydney Harbour Bridge. At its peak in 1907 the mine was producing 202 tonnes in one year. The mine closed in 1944, probably due to the shortage of labour during the Second World War. Due to a legal dispute the mine was almost reclaimed by the woodland. But the unique site was saved in 1984 when the Kelly Mine Preservation Society was formed and set about saving the historic site.

So on a Sunday morning if you see a few cars parked in a grassy layby near Lustleigh you will know that members of the preservation society are saving a bit of the mining history of Dartmoor.

There is only one other place in the world where Micaceous Hematite was mined and that was in Austria.

Kelly Mine Open Day is at the beginning of September.

Stuart Clarke

Author: Stuart Clarke

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