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English miners in Spain during the 19th century - Mineros ingleses en España durante el siglo 19



A few months after the publicity generated by the controversial awarding of the Almadén ’quicksilver contract’ to the Rothchild’s in April 1843, the Linares Copper and Lead Mining Company was formed. It was the first of several English mining companies constituted that decade to work Spanish lead and silver mines. This initial impetus for foreign investment was probably helped by two factors. Firstly, Spanish mining law changed and offered protection to foreign mining operations; secondly, import tariffs on mining machinery were reduced. Mining towns like Linares expanded rapidly with an influx of foreign investment, particularly from Britain, Some of the more significant mines came under the experienced management of John Taylor and Sons, and Thomas Sopwith. In contrast British interest in the Huelva pyrite deposits was slightly later. For example, the Tharsis Company was formed in 1866. Eventually over 600 British mining companies worked Spanish mines, initially for lead and pyrites, but by the end of the 19th century there was significant British interest in iron mining. At the start of the 20th century large quantities of cheap lead had flooded the world market from Australia, for example, and Spanish lead mining was mostly in decline. The Spanish Royal Decree of 1921 requiring mine ownership to be totally Spanish ended most British investment. The presentation will describe the development of some of those British companies and communities, particularly in the Linares area, and will comment on some of the problems they had to overcome to make them profitable concerns.
Keynote Address - 24th June 2016
IX International Symposium on the Historical Mining
and Metallurgy in SW Europe
La Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Minas y Energía de Madrid
English miners in Spain during the 19th century
Robert Vernon
Abstract: A few months after the publicity generated by the controversial awarding
of the Almadén 'quicksilver contract' to the Rothchild's in April 1843, the Linares
Copper and Lead Mining Company was formed. It was the first of several English
mining companies constituted that decade to work Spanish lead and silver mines.
This initial impetus for foreign investment was probably helped by two
factors. Firstly, Spanish mining law changed and offered protection to foreign mining
operations; secondly, import tariffs on mining machinery were reduced.
Mining towns like Linares expanded rapidly with an influx of foreign
investment, particularly from Britain, Some of the more significant mines came under
the experienced management of John Taylor and Sons, and Thomas Sopwith. In
contrast British interest in the Huelva pyrite deposits was slightly later. For example,
the Tharsis Company was formed in 1866.
Eventually over 600 British mining companies worked Spanish mines, initially
for lead and pyrites, but by the end of the 19th century there was significant British
interest in iron mining.
At the start of the 20th century large quantities of cheap lead had flooded the
world market from Australia, for example, and Spanish lead mining was mostly in
decline. The Spanish Royal Decree of 1921 requiring mine ownership to be totally
Spanish ended most British investment.
The presentation will describe the development of some of those British
companies and communities, particularly in the Linares area, and will comment on
some of the problems they had to overcome to make them profitable concerns.
Key words: English miners; Spanish mining; Linares; Rio Tinto; Alquife.
IX Simposio Internacional sobre Minería y
Metalurgia históricas en el SW europeo
Mineros ingleses en España durante el siglo 19
Robert Vernon
Resumen: Unos meses después de la publicidad generada por la polémica
adjudicación del Almadén 'contrato de Quicksilver' a la Rothchild en abril de 1843, se
formó el cobre y el plomo de Linares Mining Company. Fue la primera de varias
empresas mineras en inglés constituyó en la cada de trabajar de plomo y plata
minas españolas.
Este impulso inicial para la inversión extranjera, probablemente fue ayudado
por dos factores. En primer lugar la ley de minería española cambió y ofreció
protección a las operaciones mineras extranjeras; en segundo lugar, se redujeron los
aranceles a la importación de maquinaria para la minería.
Pueblos mineros como Linares se expandieron rápidamente con una afluencia
de inversión extranjera, especialmente de Gran Bretaña, algunas de las minas más
importantes vinieron bajo la dirección del experimentado John Taylor and Sons, y
Thomas Sopwith. En contraste interés británico en los depósitos de pirita de Huelva
era un poco más tarde. Por ejemplo, la Compañía de Tharsis se formó en 1866.
Eventualmente más de 600 empresas mineras británicas trabajaron minas
españolas, en un principio para el plomo y piritas, pero a finales del siglo 19 no fue
significativo interés británico en la minería de hierro.
Al comienzo del siglo 20 grandes cantidades de plomo barata habían inundado
el mercado mundial de Australia, por ejemplo, y la extracción de plomo española era
en su mayoría en declive. El Real Decreto español de 1921 que requiere la propiedad
de la mina para ser totalmente español terminó inversión más británica.
La presentación describirá el desarrollo de algunas de esas empresas británicas
y las comunidades, sobre todo en la zona de Linares, y hará comentarios sobre
algunos de los problemas que tuvieron que superar para que sean rentables
Palabras clave: English miners; Spanish mining; Linares; Rio Tinto; Alquife.
1 In the 19th Centuries there was considerable English, or rather British
investment in Spanish mining. Some of this investment also continued into the 20th
century. I would like to examine the events that led up to this, and also look at the
distribution of British mining investment in Spain, particularly in Andalucia before
citing a few examples.
2 My research has found that between 1841 and 1920 about 670 British
companies were formed, or were under consideration, to work Iberian mineral
deposits. Not surprisingly the greatest number of companies were concentrated in the
mineral rich Provinces of northern and southern Spain.
In Galicia mining was mainly for gold and tin. In the Asturias and Cantabria
the dominant mineral was iron. In the central provinces of Spain, lead deposits,
particularly at Alcudia and Hiendelaencina, attracted British companies. Andalusia
attracted the most British companies working pyrite in the west, lead and occasional
copper centrally, and mainly iron in the east.
3 Examining British company formation in decades it is evident that the
majority of companies were established after 1870. At this time there was a need for
more bulk resources to feed British industry primarily with metals not readily
available, or could not be worked economically, in Britain. Iron, pyrites (primarily for
copper) and lead were the principal minerals being exploited.
This was also a period of expansion in the British navy and munitions that
might explain why there was significant British interest in the sulphur deposits of
Hellin, Murcia.
4 Prior to the 19th century, there was little interest Spanish mining by British
investors. The one exception was Lady Maria Teresa Herbert and her husband. After
becoming involved with mining in northern Spain, she acquired a Royal Licence to
take over the Guadalcanal silver mine that also included Rio Tinto. However, the
licence was revoked in 1746.
It was probably the controversy, and international publicity, surrounding the
awarding of the Almaden Quicksilver Contract to the Rothechilds in March 1843 that
may have brought Spanish minerals to the attention of British investors.
By June 1843 the prospectus for the Linares Copper and Lead Mining
Company, the first known British mining company in Spain,had been published.
5 A year later, a small article in a Cornish newspaper confirmed that a steam
pumping-engine, manufactured to the Sim’s patent, was on its way to Linares. The
Sim’s engine in itself is remarkable as it compounds steam between a high and low-
pressure cylinder. The Linares Copper and Lead Mining Company had ceased
operating by 1845.
6 Other British mining companies followed. The Andalusian Mining
Association was formed of 1845 to work pyrite near Seville but quickly ceased
La Bella Raquel Company formed in 1846, to work mines at Hiendelaencina,
Guadaljara was managed by John Taylor and Sons of London who also introduced
Cornish pumping technology. The company survived into the 1870’s. The large
Constante lead smelter constructed by Taylors continued working after that date.
A Scotsman, Duncan Shaw, who had settled in Córdoba, formed the
Guadalcanal Silver Mining Association in 1847. He brought to Spain 30 Cornish
miners and a 30-inch pumping engine, manufactured by Harvey's of Hayle, Cornwall.
When the Guadalcanal operations failed two years later, Shaw formed the
Linares Lead Mining Association and moved his interests to Linares, Jaén.
7 However, It was during the reign of Queen Isabella II in the 1840s that several
widely reported changes were made to Spanish mining regulations and tariffs that
were positive indicators to British mining investors that Spanish mining was open for
The first was a change to Spanish Mining Law in 1848/49. Stricter mining
procedures gave equal rights to both Spanish and foreign mine operators. The new
laws also gave foreigners some protection from reprisals, in case of war, or its causes.
The second change was in 1849, when Spanish tariffs were reduced on the
importation of machinery into Spain that included steam engines and other mining
8 In addition to Andalucía British companies were taking an interest in other
parts of Spain.
Between 1853 and 1855, a trio of British mining companies were formed to
work in northern Spain. The Peninsula, Iberian and Castilian Mining Companies,
explored copper and lead deposits in the Durango area of Cantabria. They were not
In 1857 the Chairman for all three companies stated - Failure seems to be the
general rule and success the exception!
9 I would now like to look at Andalucía in detail. The majority of British
companies were concentrated in Huelva and Seville working pyrite, but those in Jaén
are principally associated with lead mining, at Linares and La Carolina.
The majority of British mining companies in eastern Andalucia were formed
at end of the 19th century, to worked iron deposits. Some constructed railways and
aerial ropeways to facilitate the transportation of mineral to the coast for export.
Notable British iron mining companies were the Marbella Iron Ore Company,
and the Alquife Company of Granada, that exported magnetite and haematite,
The Cordoba Copper Company at Cerro Muriano, and managed by John
Taylor and Sons, was formed in 1909 was also a significant British mining company.
10 I will now briefly examine five mining areas of Andalucia.
1) The Linares / La Carolina lead mining area.
2) The Rio Tinto Company in Huelva.
3) The Marbella Iron ore Company,
4) British Companies operating in the Posadas-Almodóvar area.
5) The iron mines of Eastern Andalucia.
11 My first example examines the expansion of British mining companies at
Linares, particularly the problems the Linares Lead Mining Company had to
overcome to make their enterprise successful.
Duncan Shaw took up the Descuidada Concessions at Pozo Ancho in 1849 and
formed the Linares Lead Mining Association. Unfortunately his business partners had
very little mining experience. They included Booksellers, Engravers, Solicitors, and
gentlemen and so they employed a Cornish mine manager.
12 The Roman had extensively worked the Linares mines to a depth roughly
equivalent to the water table.
Later owners could only take their mining operation below that depth using
manual techniques to remove water from the mine. For Pozo Ancho, it is recorded
that 192 men carried sacks of water up ladders from a depth of 90 metres to 55
metres. The water bags were then raised to the surface using a malacate worked by 24
The Cornish steam pumping-engine installed at Pozo Ancho mine on the San
Tomás in 1849 made manual methods of mines drainage obsolete, and was the first of
many such engines to be introduced into the area.
13 There can be no doubt that some of the early problems the Linares Lead
Company had was due to mismanagement. Very quickly a major problem quickly
developed. The mine was so rich, that the company were producing more ore than
they could physically handle and store on the surface.
The Company had made an early decision to export ore to London, rather than
receive low prices for the ore from smelters in Linares. But transportation was also a
major issue.
14 The main route to a port was west to Seville. Mining equipment had been
brought in this route, but the poor condition of the road made the journey difficult.
In addition, a further decision had to be made as to whether to use donkeys or
oxcarts to transport the ore. Ox carts could carry more, but the distance travels was
less than that which could be achieved by donkeys. They settled on donkeys.
A route to Malaga was also explored and an ore storage facility was built at
Bailén. But eventually the route to Seville was regarded as the best option.
Shipping of ore from Seville to England was another problem. If a suitable
ship were not contracted, storage charges would be incurred.
But worst of all was the cash flow – it would sometimes take nine months to a
year, after the ore was mined, before the company received any payment for it, and so
a bank loan was acquired to cover cash flow shortfalls.
15 It was a situation that was crippling the company and advice was sought from
John Taylor and Sons. The company had developed a good reputation for
consolidating small groups of mines and bring them into profit. They were already
successfully operating mines at Hiendelaencina in central Spain.
In December 1852, on the strength of rumours about Taylor's involvement
with the Linares Lead Mining Company the share price rose sharply over a nine-
month period from about £4 to £15.
16 In 1853, Taylors acquired more Linares mining concessions but decided to
work them under a new company, Fortuna. This expansion meant the importation of
further steam engines. Further, a decision had been made to smelt ore at both Pozo
Ancho, and at Fortuna mine, as it was more efficient to transport lead ingots instead
of ore.
Fuel supply now became an issue. Steam boilers were fired by brushwood, but
there were restrictions on the cutting of brushwood during summer months, so an
alternative had to be found. Experiments had shown that brushwood was nearly as
efficient as coal, but supplies of it were getting scarce around Linares, partly due to a
restriction on cutting it during summer months. A reliable source of fuel had to found.
17 Eventually it was decided to bring coal from Espiel to Linares. At Córdoba, a
storage facility for coal and lead ingots was built with stabling for mules. It was put
under the management of Duncan Shaw.
In addition better quality coal could be imported from England to Seville and
taken back to Linares.
18 Duncan Shaw experimented with another means of transport – water!
Lead ingots were floated in boxes down the River Guadalquiver to Posadas,
then taken by road to Tocina from where it was taken by barge to Seville – a journey
that eliminated bad sections of road, particularly in the winter. It is apparent that the
experiment was not very successful.
19 In 1853 a proposal had been made to construct a railway from Seville to
Córdoba. The construction of the railway started in 1856 and by 1859 the railway had
reached Córdoba. In addition, a tramway had been constructed from the Espiel
coalfield to Córdoba. Road transport was now only necessary between Linares and
The Linares Lead mining company could now make considerable saving on
transportation costs by concentrating their smelting operations at Cordoba.
20 After initial local concerns were overcome about the risks from lead pollution,
the Linares Lead Mining Company smelting works was built just north of Cordoba,
close to both the railway and tramway lines.
The first phase of the smelter had two reverberatory furnaces, and a long flue
to a chimney. In addition, a small English cemetery was established close by.
21 John Taylors expanded their operations again in 1862. They established the
Alamillos Company to work mines located between Pozo Ancho and Fortuna.
In 1867 the Linares Lead Mining Company leased the Quinientos mine,
immediately north of Fortuna. All the three Taylors mines were consistently
In the 1878 however, Taylors formed a fourth Company, Buena Ventura
located near Guarromán towards the western edge of the mining field. Unfortunately
this Company was not very successful and was wound up in 1890.
During 1898, the Linares Lead Mining Company paid their 100th dividend to
shareholders. As far as I am aware, this was not achieved by any other 19th century
lead mining company.
By the first decade of the 20th century, all three mines were failing, due to
falling lead prices, taxation and depleted reserves.
22. Taylors mines three mines consistently gave good returns. The Linares Lead
Mining Company was producing on average about 4000 tons of lead ore a year.
Production from Pozo Ancho was falling by the 1870s, but rose again with increasing
output from Quinientos. Further increases in output were achieved by exploring Pozo
Ancho at depth and southwards.
Fortuna's two mines of Cañada Incosa and Los Salidos were consistent
producers and output kept pace with the development of new reserves until the end of
the 1890s when the company unsuccessfully explored mines in the Almodóvar area
west of Córdoba.
In contrast the Alamillos mine was quite small, the mineral vein essentially
divided into three by wide fault belts. Outputs were variable.
The combined output of the three companies did reach 16,000 tons in 1885.
By 1900 all European lead mining companies were affect by falling lead
prices due to large quantities of cheap lead coming onto the world market from places
like Broken Hill, Australia, and by 1910 the Alamillo company had merged with
Linares Lead. The latter company, together with Fortuna, moved out of the Linares
area to work mines in Extremadura.
23 Between 1849 and 1921, some thirty registered British companies were
formed in London to work the lead mines of Linares and La Carolina. One of those
companies was undoubtedly responsible for importing this head-frame into the
Linares area. It was manufactured in Cornwall in about 1870.
As well as Taylors, other significant British mine operators in the area were
the Haselden family who worked lead mines at Centenillo, near La Carolina, and
Thomas Sopwith junior at Linares.
24 Thomas Sopwith junior came to Linares in 1864 and established, with his
father and other financial backers, the Spanish Lead Company Limited.
Sopwith took up ownership of the La Tortilla mine to the west of the town and
quickly turned it into a profitable business. During 1880, after the death of his father,
he restructured the Company as T. Sopwith and Company Limited.
25 La Tortilla became a major lead producer, sometimes producing 7000 tons of
lead ore per year. Unfortunately as the company was a private concern accurate
records do not exist. It is only possibly to speculate about the company's history from
the scant information available.
When the Company was re-structured in 1880 the smelting works built in the
1870s was enlarged with the addition of a shot tower, and a factory for producing lead
piping and sheeting. Mining operations ceased about 1904, but the smelting plant was
taken over by the Peñarroya group in 1907 and continued working until the latter half
of the 20th century.
26 At La Tortilla, substantial engine houses still exist on the Santa Annie and San
Federico shafts.
In its most active period the mine had three Cornish pumping engines, which
were replaced in 1897 by underground Worthington-Simpson horizontal triple
expansion engines worked by steam piped from a surface steam generating plant.
Unfortunately, like its rivals the mine was affected by falling lead prices
coupled with underground water problems and closed.
27 Although we do not have accurate output figures, we do have a list of British
personnel at la Tortilla in 1877, recorded in the diary of Thomas Sopwith senior.
The list of duties, and the management structure (surface and underground) is
typical of a lead mine for this period as well as craftsmen skilled in the art of mining.
28 John Taylor and Sons mines would also have been structured in a similar
manner, under, at that time, Charles Tonkins.
Other British mining engineers, like Charles Remfrey, worked worked for
Spanish mining companies.
British residents in Linares included a medical doctor or surgeon paid for
jointly by the Sopwith and the Taylor companies. There was also a Church of England
clergyman appointed by the Bishop of Gibraltar.
The English cemetery was established in 1855 on land bought by the Linares
Lead and the Fortuna Companies and consecrated by the Bishop of Gibraltar in 1866.
Linares was declared a Chaplaincy in 1872 and administered by a clergyman based in
Linares also had a British Vice-consul, a position mainly appointed from
Sopwith mine staff. The first was Thomas Sopwith in 1871. The Vice-consulate was
closed in 1948.
29 Spanish mining companies also installed Cornish pumping machinery. After a
serious flooding incident the Spanish Government owned mine, Arrayanes, bought
three pumping engines from Williams’s Perran Foundry, Cornwall and hired a
Cornish engineer to maintain them.
30 The pyrite deposits of western Andalucía attracted considerable investment
from England. The most significant British companies were the Tharsis Sulphur and
Copper Company formed in 1866 to work the Tharsis and La Zarza mines, and Rio
Tinto formed in 1873. Both companies constructed railways between the mines and
the port of Huelva. There was also another major British company in the areas as
well. Mason and Barry Ltd. worked the San Domingos mine just over the border in
For my second example I will be briefly examining Rio Tinto. By comparison
with Linares, the Rio Tinto mining operation was huge.
31 Prior to 1873, the Rio Tinto mine had been worked by a Spanish Company
extracting the pyrites mainly by underground pillar and stall methods. Some surface
mining had probably also taken place, but underground mining operations were
probably under-invested with limited mechanisation.
At this time the town of Rio Tinto was quite small.
32 In the early phases of operations at Rio Tinto, the company continued with
underground operations, and introduced Cornish pumping engines so that
underground workings could be deepened.
33 However, the underground pillar and stall operations were very inefficient and
large quantities of pyrites were left in the ground, as signified by the mine openings
exposed in the open pit.
Ultimately a decision was reach to go for total extraction using open-pit
34 The pyrites was found in two distinct zones referred to as the north and south
lodes. There were three open-pits on the north lode (Dehasa, Lago and Salomon) and
two on the south lode (Filon Sur and Atalaya).
The Corta Colorado was much later, with the spoil from this operation
covering the Corta Filon Sur.
35 Open-pit operations demanded the introduction of innovative technology.
Percussive drilling rigs were needed to bore the shot holes for explosives used to
break up the pyrites. The fragmented pyrites was then loaded into ore wagons by
steam shovels.
36 The fragmented pyritic ore was then burnt on the surface in specially
constructed heaps known as teleras. This process could last for up to six months.
Not surprisingly, sulphurous fumes heavily polluted the teleras area. This led
to major health issues for the workforce and eventually caused unrest and strikes.
Ultimately, the Spanish Government issued an edict banning the practice of
burning the ore.
37 Housing was required for the ever-increasing British workforce and a British
settlement was established to the west of Rio Tinto at Bella Vista well away from
the teleras area. The Bella Vista settlement still exists with its English church and
In addition the town of Rio Tinto was enlarge with a major housing
development for the Spanish workforce around the Almacen 2 company shop.
The populations of the surrounding towns of Dehesa and Nerva also increased.
38 Accidents were a common occurrence and so medical facilities were required.
When the Rio Tinto Company took over the mine in 1873, there was a small, poorly
equipped, two-room hospital in the town built in 1870.
In 1873 the Rio Tinto Company appointed a Doctor, and four years later he
supervised the construction of a new hospital. In later years the Company also
employed a succession of British doctors and the 1880s saw the arrival of the first
British nurses.
With an ever expending workforce, a new hospital was built in 1927, now the
site of an excellent mining museum.
39 In 1873, the total workforce rose quickly to about 1000 and then increased to
just below12000 for about 10 years. It fluctuated between 9,000 and 11,000 for the
rest of the century.
In the 20th century manpower rose again to reach a peak in 1909 of
nearly 17,000 at about the time Walter Browning was appointed as manager for the
whole operation. This was a time of expansion and Browning made many
improvements to make the Company efficient.
Numbers however gradually declined with one further peak in 1930 of nearly
11,000, before falling to less than 8000 for the period prior to the transfer of the mine
to a Spanish concern in 1953.
40 Probably one of the reasons for the Rio Tinto Company's tremendous success
was its ability to move large tonnages of pyrite very efficiently.
The open-pits were accessed directly by the railway system via tunnels.
Initially the north vein open-pits had railway access via a North Tunnel. As the pits
got deeper they were then connected via a central tunnel to the 11th floor tunnel that
connected the open-pit on the South Vein. The Atalaya open-pit was served by a
deeper tunnel – the 16th Floor Tunnel that surfaced well to the southeast of the
workings at La Naya.
41 This is the deep Atalaya open-pit about 15 years ago. In the year 2000, there
was still a locomotive on the floor that would roughly correspond to the horizon of the
16th Floor tunnel.
42 Once the mined pyrites was loaded into ore wagons it was taken to either on-
site processing or prepared for transportation to Huelva.
The wagons were assembled into ore trains in marshalling yards at the
entrances to the 11th and 16th Floor Tunnel. The pyrite then travelled the 80 kms to
Huelva were it was loaded via a pier onto ships.
The first trains could pull 250 tons of ore, but by 1929 with the purchase of
two heavy-duty Garrett locomotives, loads of 1500 tons were not unusual.
43 At Huelva, full wagons were hauled along the top of the pier and the pyrite
tipped into ships. The pier was quite a unique design as the empty wagons would then
exited the pier down sloping tracks on either side of the pier. The loading pier at
Huelva still survives.
44 Part of the Rio Tinto workforce was based at Huelva, on the pier and railway
operations, as well as in the extensive workshops. The Company even had its own
dredger to keep the pier area free of silt.
The company also bought an old hotel in Huelva, Casa Colón, to use firstly as
a hostel for personnel, and later as offices.
45 The graphs show pyrite output in metric tons (top), and the annual yield of
copper (bottom), between 1873 and 1953.
Pyrite output never exceeded 1.5 million tons per annum until the 1st decade
of the 20th century when it reached 2 million tons. In the 1920s output increased to
2.5 million tons per annum. After 1933 annual production fell gradually to less than 1
million tons per annum. Copper tonnages roughly follow the same trend, but
obviously not precisely as this is dependent on the percentage yield of copper from
the pyrites.
Nevertheless the Rio Tinto Company obtained nearly 2.3 million tons of
copper during its ownership of the mine.
46 My third example, the Marbella Iron Ore Company is a relatively unknown
British mining operation.
Initially formed by a Scottish group of entrepeneurs in 1871 the Company did
employ some British mining engineers. The mines are located in the hills about five
miles north of Marbella. The mineral is magnetite.
The deposit was mainly worked by open pit and a small narrow gauge railway
was used to transport the ore to a pier at Marbella for export.
The company survived until 1933 and the pier was dismantled a year later.
47 My fourth example is the Posadas-Almodóvar area to the west of Córdoba
where during the late 1800s there was some British mining interest.
At Posadas in 1897, The Cordova Exploration Company under the
directorship of Robert Esholt Carr, who was the British Vice-consul at Córdoba,
explored the Cinco Amigos concession. A year later the concession was transferred to
the Dos Naciones Company, established by Thomas Sopwith junior. It was
subsequently transferred to the British based Calamon Mining Company of Spain who
worked it successfully through to 1919.
The Cordova Exploration Company then explored the Cerro Muriano copper
deposit north of Córdoba which eventually became the very successful Cordoba
Copper Company, under the management of John Taylor and Sons.
At Almodóvar the Leocadia concession was explored firstly by the Fortuna
Company of Linares, and then transferred to several other British companies.
Very few English miners were employed in these areas. English engineers
supervised Spanish staff. There was no formal company structure, and the engineers
tended to lodge in the towns, or occasionally at the mine site.
Many of the mines encountered old Roman workings close to the surface that
caused numerous mining problems. In the case of the Fortuna Company operations,
the company never successfully got beneath them and eventually abandoned the mine.
Some Roman workings, as at Cerro Muriano for example, reached depths of 200
48 For my last example of British mining operations I would like to look at
mining companies in southeast Spain where there was some British interest as early as
1856. The Sierra Gador Mining Association was formed that year but didn't appear to
have worked any lead mines.
Later British interest moved to the Sierra Almagrera when five companies
being formed between 1872 and 1891. None were successful.
It was however iron mining that brought the most British investment. Bairds
mining took an interest in the Alquife haematite deposit in Granada at the end of the
19th century. Their success attracted a number of other British Companies to the area,
and inevitably transport links were constructed to the coast, principally at Almeria,
Garrucha and Hornillo to the north of Aguilas. Garrucha iron ore from Bedar was a
valued commodity.
49 The Alquife deposit that occurs on the plain to the south of Guadix, Granada,
was a significant British operation. The mine was originally worked by underground
methods and then by open pit. There are currently plans to re-open the mine.
After Bairds initial involvement the mine was taken over by the Alquife Mines
and Railway Company Limited. Who had offices in Cumbria, England.
The Alquife Company was fortunate in that they only had to construct a short
length of railway track to connect to the principal railway line to Almeria.
A considerable archive of documents exist for the Alquife Company, both at
Barrow-in-Furness, England, and Bilbao, Spain (deposited there by the last Spanish
company to work the mine).
50 However, at Almeria there was an ore storage problem as there wasn’t
sufficient land to create a railway terminus and ore storage facility. The railway line
was extended from the main railway station to a new loading pier that had integrated
ore hoppers.
The pier was constructed between 1902 and 1904 with 40 storage hoppers
each capable of holding 250 tons of ore – a total holding capacity of 10,000 tons.
The structure still stands at Almeria and is known as the Cable Inglés, and in
my opinion is one of the finest examples of industrial architecture in Spain.
51 By 1920 there were about fourteen British mining companies working in
Andalucia, most working pyrite mines. They included Rio Tinto and Tharsis.
In Córdoba Province, the Cordoba Copper Company was in the process of
being sold to a Spanish company. The Provinces of Malaga, Granada, and Almeria
still had operating British owned iron mines, and near La Carolina the Haselden
family were still working the (New) Centenillo lead mine.
52 However, in 1921 a Spanish Royal Decree, dated 15th June, was published in
English mining newspapers. It announced that:-
1. In future any mining company taking up a concession must be registered in Spain.
2. The Company’s chairman and management must be Spanish
3. Any mining machinery must be Spanish.
This was really the end of full British mining investment coming to Spain. The
Centenillo mine for example, came under a Spanish owned company and eventually
Rio Tinto and Alquife were treated in a similar manner.
In effect, as far as British mining investment in Spain was concerned, the clock had
been turned back 70 years!
53 That is the end of my talk. I would like to thank you, and advise you that in
September 2016 we are holding the 11th International Mining History Congress in
Although the call for papers is now closed, late registration doesn’t finish
until 26th August.
Thank you.
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