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Medieval Miners

The lead miners of Minera in the Middle Ages were a distinct community. Both English and Welsh men came to work the mines at Minera. The medieval miner was usually a farmer. He did his mining in the early summer in that quiet time before harvest. Mining stopped during harvest and over winter.

Mining: 16th century methods, 1536
© Georgius Agricola & Carl Parry

The miners had rules on how to mine. Whenever a new vein of lead was found, the miners elected a bermaster. The bermaster ensured the new find was divided up fairly. The miners either dug a series of shafts or followed the vein by digging a huge groove in the ground.

Miners dressing the lead ore in a buddle, 1536
© Georgius Agricola & Carl Parry

The miners did all the jobs: mining the ore, separating the valuable metals from the waste, and smelting the lead. The miners had to pay the landowners a fee, known as 'loot' or 'lot', on all lead sold. Breaking the rules could result in harsh punishment:

.If he be attainted of carrying away ore a third time, his right hand shall be pierced by a knife through his palm and pinned to a windlass (1) up to the handle of said knife. There he shall remain until he be dead or shall have freed his hand from the aforesaid knife. And he shall forswear his franchise of the mine and if he have a meer (2) in the mine it shall be forfeit to the lord.

Mining Laws, 1391

It was a tough job and if they did not make any money the miners went back to their farms.


(1) a windlass was the wooden structure at the top of a mine shaft for winding up the ore.

(2) A meer was the section of a mine that was worked by each miner.