Westgarth Forster and the Allenheads Mine

Westgarth Forster (1738-1797),  “one of the best judges of lead-mines in the North of England”,  was agent of the Allendale Mines of Northumberland. He was the great great grandfather of Doris Smith and my great great great great grandfather.

The most productive of the Allendale Mines was the Allenheads (later known as Beaumont) Mine, which is thought to have been worked since Elizabethan times. The Beaumont Company operated the mine during the 18th and 19th centuries, mining out the "Old Vein" by the beginning of the 19th century then working the Diana Vein which was discovered towards the end of the eighteenth century. The Coronation Vein (1822-1840) and Henry's Vein (from 1825 onwards) were worked subsequently. A late Victorian crash in lead prices caused the mine to be closed in 1898.

The dumps were reworked (by the Weardale Lead Co) for fluorite during the 1940s and British Steel reopened the mine in 1969, seeking commercial quantities of fluorite in the Diana and Henry's veins. Proving uncommercial, the mine was closed in 1981. This last phase of mining did, however, produce some famously beautiful specimens of pale lavender twinned fluorite crystals from the Diana Vein. The specimen shown below is an example. It was found in 1978 and is about 13 cm long with twinned fluorites to about 2 cm across.

When Westgarth Forster the elder died in 1797 his son, also Westgarth Forster, was agent at Coalcleugh, where he held the post until 1805, four years before the publication of his famous book. Westgarth lived in Ivy House, Garrigill and alternated between preparing the book and farming. With the first edition of "Strata" published in 1809, he then worked as a mine surveyor between 1810 and 1833, initially with great success, initially with great success, but towards the end "the closing years of this clever man were saddened by successive losses, caused by what has been called a mania for mining speculations."

I find the attractive plate of Allendale fluorites a satisfying connection to the two Westgarths. 


  1. Thank you for your page. Would you know if young Thomas Sopwith met Westgarth Forster jnr when he went to work in the lead mining district for J. Dickinson? I'd be please to know of any connections and if you are interested have pictures of WF models and my colleague Bill Dearman wrote about them. Yours Sue Turner - paleodeadfish@yahoo.com and see The Thomas Sopwith Appreciation Society on Facebook


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