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North Devon in 100 Objects: 19. Combe Martin Silver Ore

A large sample of galena or lead sulphide.

This large sample of galena or lead sulphide almost certainly comes from the last successful reworking of the Combe Martin lead mines in 1848.  Combe Martin lead ore has a high silver content, containing up to 168 ounces of silver per ton.

Mining at Combe Martin may have started in Roman times, or even in the Bronze Age (3,000 – 5,000 years ago).  We know that by      1293, the Treasury received 270lb of silver from the Combe Martin mines, which were under Royal control. The periods of activity were often short-lived, starting again each time the Crown needed to mint extra money.    It is said that the battles of Poitiers in 1356, Crecy in 1415 and even Agincourt were won in the shafts of Combe Martin.  In the 1640s      Charles I clothed his civil war army with funds from the ‘Royal mines’ of Combe Martin.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, at least two silver presentation cups were made from Combe Martin silver.  Both were inscribed with verses describing mining at Combe Martin.  One, dated 1593 and weighing 137 ounces, was presented to Sir Richard Martin, then Lord Mayor of London.

The mines of Combe Martin have been worked and abandoned on numerous occasions over the centuries, by different companies, all trying out the newest technology of the time, from opencast pits to steam power.  Since the last unsuccessful attempts of 1875, some remains have been lost but interest still continues, led by the Combe Martin Silver Mine Research and Preservation Society.

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