Vernon, R.W., Beyond Huelva: Other British Mining Legacies in Andalucia, Spain
Beyond Huelva: Other British Mining Legacies
in Andalucia, Spain.
Robert W. Vernon
78, Oakenshaw Lane,
Walton, Wakefield WF2 6NH. UK
(Welsh Mines Society)
Numerous British companies, for example the Rio Tinto and Tharsis companies have exploited the
pyrites deposits in Huelva, the western most Province of Andulucia, Southern Spain. However the
remaining Provinces of Andalucia, particularly Jaen and Almeria, were also extensively mined by
British companies. This paper outlines the progression of the British mining entrepreneur through
eastern Andalucia and demonstrates that their endeavours were just as widespread on parts of
mainland Europe as the British colonies. The legacy they left is still prominent today.
The pyrites mines in the Andalucian Province of Huelva,
Spain are famous. The operations of the British Rio Tinto
and Tharsis companies are well documented thanks to a
good distribution of archival material in both Britain and
Spain1,2. However, the remainder of Andalucia is also rich
in minerals, and other British companies exploited them.
Iron was worked near Marbella on the south coast and to
the east in Almeria Province at Alquife, Gergal, Alhamilla,
Bedar and Seron. After minimal processing, the ore was
transported to the coast, mainly by rail, for shipment to
Britain. One major undertaking, the Great Southern of
Spain Railway, had a virtual monopoly on mineral
movement3. Two very fine loading piers at Almeria and
Aguilas, both constructed by the British companies, date
from this period.
The companies that worked the copper deposits to the
north of Cordova, at Cerro Muriano eventually evolved into
the Indian Copper Corporation in the 1920s4.
Lead has been intensely worked principally in the
Linares, La Carolina and El Centenillo areas of the Sierra
Morena, a mountain range that runs through Jaen province
and continues westward into Portugal. Elsewhere, smaller
lead deposits have been worked in the Cordoba area, and
more significantly in the Sierra Almagrera, Almeria for the
high silver content of the ore. British mining companies
have worked all those areas and there are ample surface
remains to testify to their endeavours.
Figure 1 shows the geographical relationship of the
Andalucian provinces and identifies the main metal mining
areas covered by this paper.
The Mining Areas
Compared with other parts of Andalucia in the 19th century,
British companies were late arriving in Huelva. This did not
mean that the British were unfamiliar with those deposits.
In 1732, Lady Maria Teresa Herbert for example, the
daughter of the Duke of Powis, a British peer, appears to
have had financial interests in the Guadalcanal silver mines
in Sevilla. Eventually by Spanish Royal Charter, Lady
Herbert was given possession of a number of mines in
western Andalucia that included those at Rio Tinto5.
Eventually, 140 years later the Tharsis and Rio Tinto
Companies (Figure 2) were formed in 1866 and 1873,
respectively, and started to extensively develop the Huelva
region, by working the mines and constructing railways and
harbour installations. Earlier during the 1850s, British
mining companies, fuelled by successful flotations in
London, began to invest heavily in developing Andalucian
mines, not for pyrites, but for lead. One of the first area to
be developed was Linares / La Carolina in the extreme
north of Jaen Province.
Jaen: Linares / La Carolina.
John Taylor and Co., and Thomas Sopwith jnr established a
number of profitable companies at Linares (Figure 3). The
success of these companies attracted other British investors
to the area. The Centenillo Silver Lead Mines (established
in 1886) near La Carolina is just one other example.
It was Duncan Shaw, who was involved with the
Guadalcanal silver mines in Sevilla, who first brought the
Linares area to the attention of John Taylor and Company6.
Figure 1. Spain: The eight provinces of Andalucia.
Figure 2. Rio Tinto (San Dionisio) about 1900.
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The Taylors initially established three companies, Linares
Lead (formed 1851), La Fortuna (1855) and Alamillos
(1862). Regular reports in the mining press helped to give
this trio of companies publicity and enhance their
reputations as well run profitable companies. They were
probably some of the Taylor’s most successful foreign
endeavours nearly always paying a dividend to the
investors. The three companies enjoyed a successful run
into the early 1900s when all three companies were
The trio of companies worked various mining setts, or
pertenencias, not necessarily adjacent to each other. The
Alamillos company operations, for example were located
between the two Lead Company mines (Pozo Ancho
(Figure 4) and Los Quinientos). So when the Alamillos
Company became the first of the companies to be wound up
in 1909, most of the Company’s assets were transferred to
the Linares Lead Company. The Linares Lead Company
survived the longest (1851 to 1917).
The Fortuna Company had its own lead smelter at
Linares. The ore from the other two Taylor’s companies
however was sent by rail to the Linares Lead Company’s
smelter at Cordoba, closer to fuel supplies. Duncan Shaw
who managed the smelter tried unsuccessfully to float
several companies in the Bailen area (1873 and 1875), in
the extreme south-west of the ore field.
Two other Taylor’s companies at Linares, the Buena
Ventura (1878) and Spanish Mining Properties (1900) were
not as successful.
Thomas Sopwith jnr.. established The Spanish Lead
Company in 1864. Financially supported by his father (who
famously managed mines in the Alston area of northern
England) and the Beaumont Blackett family, the mines and
smelter at La Tortilla (Figure 5) became one of the most
successful Linares operations. In 1880 the financial tethers
of the Beaumont Blackett’s were severed and the company
was re-floated as T. Sopwith and Company. Despite
Thomas Sopwith jnr’s accidental death in 1898 the
company continued until 1907 when it was reconstructed
and floated in France as the Sociéte des Anciens
Établissements Sopwith. During his stay at Linares,
Sopwith floated two Gitana companies (1871 and 1876)
and was also the British Vice-Consulate.
All the Sopwith mine buildings have distinct architecture
(well-dressed stonework with curved roof apexes for
corrugated iron roofing) and the ‘La Tortilla’ smelter was
worked until the 1950s, still known as ‘Sopwiths’. Figure 6
shows the La Tortilla smelter in 1908. The parallel
condensing flues can be seen in the distance leading
eventually to the two tall chimneys on the horizon. An olive
oil processing plant now occupies part of the site but most
of the buildings survive, including the shot tower.
To the north-west of Linares there are several distinct
east-west lodes between La Carolina and El Centenillo.
Figure 4. Linares: Two ‘Cornish’ type engines houses on the Linares Lead
Company’s Pozo Ancho mine.
La Gitana Alamillos
Linares Lead (Los Quinientos)
Linares Lead (Pozo Ancho)
Taylor’s mine. Sopwith’s mine.
Figure 3. Linares: Taylor’s and Sopwith’s mining interests.
Figure 5. Linares: View looking north along the Sopwith workings on the
Lord Derby sett toward La Tortilla smelter. The two chimneys and the
shorter shot tower can be seen in the distance.
Figure 6. Linares: La Tortilla Smelter about 1907.
Most British operations were located on the western end
and supported a succession of British Companies.
Centenillo Silver Lead Mines (1886), followed by the New
Centenillo Silver Lead Mines (1898). The principal
instigator of these companies, Henry Haselden, primarily
concerned himself with mines in the La Carolina area and
tried to promoted several other ventures including the
Sierra Morena Mining Company (1885) that was replaced
by the Andalusian Silver Mining Company (1887 & 1892).
The Linares area supports a wealth of mining remains
many constructed by British companies. What is
outstanding about the area are the numerous remains of
pumping and winding engine houses, one of the largest
clusters of ‘Cornish’ type engine houses outside Cornwall
(Figures 4 & 5). However in the last 20 years the mining
landscape around Linares has been changed considerably
by agriculture replacing mining as the main industry. Olive
oil production has become the principal industry and olive
trees are being planted everywhere. Mine dumps have been
removed leaving engine houses as solitary monuments
without any mining context and now many buildings are
under threat. The Arrayanes Project was formed several
years ago in Linares to record and protect the areas mining
heritage. Their work is now coming into fruition with the
opening shortly of a mining museum in the town.
Cordoba: Cerro Muriano
The Sierra Morena to the north and west of the City of
Cordoba is heavily mineralised. The largest concentration
of mining was around the town of Penarroya dominated by
its lead smelting industry. British mining involvement in
the area was relatively small during most of the 19th century.
However the formation of the Cordova Exploration
Company in 1897 brought significant British involvement
into the area. The Company was primarily formed to
explore a lead prospect, Minas Mayo Segundo, but as it
happened they discovered copper ores. The principal
shareholders were all from north-east England, Donaldson
Cruddas and Andrew Noble, ordnance makers from the
Elswick Works, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Walter Scott
and Richard Esholt Carr, of the Bede Metal and Chemical
Company, Hebburn, County Durham. By 1903 a new
company had been formed, Cerro Muriano Mines Ltd, to
take over the prospect. Carr was a director along with
Messrs. Alfred Fellows, William Frecheville and John
Taylor. The Taylor’s family sensing a good venture held
nearly 4% of the share issue. John Power, the manager of
Sopwith’s at Linares, also bought 1000 shares in the
A short-lived attempt was made in 1906 to draw further
capital into the area with the formation of the North Cerro
Muriano Mines, Ltd. to work setts adjacent to Cerro
Muriano. The Taylor’s and Carr, who by this time was
British Vice-Consulate, were directors of the new company
that was wound up in 1911.
At the Cerro Muriano mine there was substantial
investment with the purchase of a new pumping engine
from Hathorn Davey of Leeds in 1905. By August 1908
however, both Muriano companies were amalgamated as
the Cordoba Copper Company (Figure 7) and still under the
Taylor’s management and Carr’s directorship. After selling
the mines to a Spanish mining company in 1919, the
released capital was used to purchase several copper mines
in India and the company was restructured as the Indian
Copper Corporation in July 1924.
Despite other companies being attracted to the area, for
example the Espiel Antimony Mines (1907), none achieved
the relative stability of the Cordoba Copper Company.
Several British companies have worked the magnetite
deposits located six kilometres north of Marbella, but only
the Marbella Iron Ore Company (1871) was consistently
successful in their endeavours. The mine was connected to
a pier at Marbella by a short railway operated in 1884 by
three locomotives and 225 hopper wagons. In July 1923 a
resolution was passed to wind up the company. A visit to
the mine site today reveals very little information about this
extensive operation. The railway route is traceable in places.
Almeria and Granada.
Deposits of iron occur throughout much of Almeria, the
easternmost Province of Andalucia. Along with
predominantly Spanish and French companies, British
companies worked those deposits in the late 19th and early
20th century. Figure 8 shows the locations of the main
deposits and the points where they were exported by sea.
Two main railway lines dominated the area, the Granada
line running to Almeria, and the Baza to Aguilas line, the
Great Southern of Spain Railway Company. In addition
there were independent loading facilities at Casa Fuerte,
Figure 7. Cordova: Cordoba Copper Company Share Certificate
bearing the signature of R. E. Carr, Director.
Railway, Aerial Ropeway.
Figure 8. Almeria. Main mining areas and mineral transport.
A=Sierra Almagrera. B=Bedar. C=Seron / Bacares. D=Alquife. E=Beires.
F=Gergal. G=Alhamilla. H=Lucainena.
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Agua Amarga, Garrucha and Villaricos. However Aguilas
(Hornillo) and Almeria still have substantial loading piers
built by British companies. The Almeria pier (Figure 9) is
probably the most complex and is currently undergoing
The Alquife haematite deposits in Granada Province
were first worked about 1900 by a consortium of the
Coltness Iron Company and the Millom and Askam Iron
Ore Company. The main railway connecting the mine with
the pier is about 100kms long. The last 12km is a branch
line to the mine built by the Alquife Mines and Railway
Company. The railway runs to the loading pier from
Almeria Station and there were no ore storage facilities. To
overcome this, the pier was constructed with ore hoppers
capable of storing 10,000 tons. It was constructed between
Autumn 1902 and June 1904 by Alexander Findley and
Company. The Alquife mine finally closed in the 1990s.
Elsewhere in Almeria, the majority of mines were
Spanish concerns with occasional British company activity,
frequently sharing transportation with the other companies.
British examples include the Herrerias Mines (1892),
Almeria Iron Ore Company (1893), Almeria Mines (1896),
Bacares Iron Ore Mines (1899), Gergal Railway and Mines
Company (1901) and the Alhamilla Mining Company
In the northwest of Almeria Province, the rich silver lead
mines of the Sierra Almagrera attracted some British
interest. The Sierra Almagrera Mining Company (1872)
may have been responsible for importing a horizontal
winding engine into the area. It was manufactured by the
Reading Ironworks, England, and is still in situ high in the
mountains (Figure 10).
Other British Companies were formed to operate the lead
smelting plants, for example, the Villaricos Silver Lead
Mining and Smelting Company (1884) and the Vera
Smelting Company (1891). The Aguilas Smelting Company
(1886) was formed to re-smelt the silver rich slag from
Roman smelting operations. However all these companies
were short lived.
Based on the amount of ore produced by Spanish mines, the
period from the 1860s to the 1900s has been described as
Spain’s ‘golden age’ of mining7. This can also be verified
by the amount of foreign investment put into Spanish
mining, and its infrastructure, for a similar period. The
British Companies that invested in Huelva with its rich
pyrites deposits and extensive mining remains and archival
material tend to gain prominence. However as Figure 11
shows other Andalucian provinces also attracted British
mining companies. A search of Board of Trade files at the
Public Record Office, Kew, London and contemporary
mining press, has identified 162 mining companies that
operated, or may have operated, in Andalucia between 1850
and 1930. The list of companies is probably not complete,
but it does give an indication of the potential investment.
The large number of mines in the ‘Unknown’ category is
due to the difficulty of geographically locating those
companies with the prefix Ibero, Iberian or Anglo-Spanish,
into the Provinces where they operated. On the ground this
degree of investment is borne out by the numerous surface
remains that can be attributed to British mining companies.
Their legacy is evident in the Andalusian landscape.
1.Harvey, C.E. 1981. The Rio Tinto Company: An
Economic History of a Leading International Mining
Concern. 1873-1954. Alison Hodge, Cornwall.
2.Checkland, S.G. 1967. The Mines of Tharsis: Roman,
French and British Enterprise in Spain. George Allen &
Unwin Ltd., London.
3. Martinez, J.G. 2000. The Great Southern of Spain
Railway Company Ltd. 1887-1936. Asociacion Cultural
Amigos del Ferrocarril, Aguilas, Murcia, Spain.
4. Skinner, W.E. 1932. The Mining Year Book. Financial
Times, London. p236.
5. Nash, W.G. 1904. The Rio Tinto Mine: Its History and
Romance. Butler and Tanner, London. p98-99.
6.Guzman, F.G. 1999. Las Minas de Linares: Apuntes
Historicos. Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros Tecnicos de
Minas de Linares (Jaen, Granada y Malaga). p40.
7. Gonzalez, R.D. 2001. A glimpse of Spanish mining’s
‘Golden Age’ from an economic history viewpoint. British
Mining 69. Northern Mine Research Society. 90-116
Figure 11. Andalucia: British Mining Companies registered between
1850 and 1930
Figure 9. Almeria: Alquife loading pier about 1910.
Figure 10. Almeria: Horizontal winding engine in the Sierra Almagrera.