History of Anhydrite Mine

Anhydrite (Calcium Sulphate) was mined at Billingham from 1927 until 1971 when it became unprofitable to carry on. In the 44 years the mine operated over 33 million tons were extracted and used principally to make fertilizers and cement. The Room and Pillar method of mining was employed, with an extraction efficiency of about 50%, which means that half the Anhydrite was left unmined.

This method, coupled with the natural strength of the rock, gives massive stability to the mines structure, and prevents any subsidence. In 1979 the shafts were capped off. The mine extends over a distance of about a mile east to west and two miles north to south. About two-thirds of the underground workings are beneath ICI owned land.

The remainder lies underneath farmland, industrial development and housing. Access is via two main shafts which are inside the Billingham factory. Nothing is stored down the mine, which is assumed to have remained dry since it was capped off.

23 thoughts on “History of Anhydrite Mine

  1. Pingback: Saltholme.Teesside Wanderings

    • My Father Peter Rock was the Plant Manager for the mine for a couple of years prior to the mine closing. He took my brother Philip and I down the mine a few months before it finally closed. This was an amazing experience – one that neither of us will ever forget. We couldn’t believe the scale of the workings.

      We had an old sailing dinghy which finished up in the mine after it had closed – the dinghy was briefly used to check the mine after it had partially flooded.


  2. A PERSONAL HISTORY OF THE ANHYDRITE MINE AT I.C.I (BILLINGHAM) DIVISION FROM 1963 TO 1966 The anhydrite seam lies approximately 900’ below the Billingham site and the mine remains dry due to the adjoining impervious layers of marl, salt and limestone. Anhydrite, anhydrous calcium sulphate, was a basic raw material in the manufacture of sulphuric acid, ammonium sulphate and cement. It was mined at Billingham using the road and pillar method, whereby 25’ wide headings were driven at 60’ centres in a grid pattern to a height of 18’. The roads were therefore wide and high enough for large vehicles. The rock face was drilled with 60 holes to a depth of 10’ in a pyramid pattern and loaded with an average of 3lb of explosive with varying short-delay detonators. After blasting, scaling platforms moved in to check the security of the roof, fitting roof bolts if necessary and then loading shovels tidied the blast area to allow gathering-arm loaders to load the waiting trucks. The loaded trucks carried the stone to a weighbridge and drawbridge, through which the rock was dumped into a 500-ton bunker and then discharged to the primary crushers, conveyor, weighing machine and shaft at 1” – 3” size. The two 13’ diameter shafts allowed a circulation ventilation system in the mine workings. No.1 shaft (downcast) brought the stone to the surface and No.2 shaft (upcast) transported men, consumables and equipment. I graduated in Mechanical Engineering from King’s College, Newcastle upon Tyne, within the University of Durham in 1961. I was recruited by Imperial Chemical Industries as a Technical Officer and started a Graduate Apprenticeship at Billingham. On completion of this, and another special project, I was appointed to be a Plant Engineer at the Anhydrite Mine in 1963. I.C.I. operated its production units under a Plant Manager, who managed the production process and staff, with a Plant Engineer alongside to manage maintenance. This parallel was repeated for groups of plants, called Sections (Section Manager and Engineer), which were then grouped into Works under the Works Manager. The Anhydrite Mine was one section within the Casebourne Works, which also included the Cement Plant. At the mine, the Plant Manager was the Mine Manager and he had three Under Managers, two Surveyors and their staff. The Section Engineer had an Electrical Engineer and two Plant Engineers, one for the static mine equipment and the other for the mobile vehicles and underground machinery. I worked alongside these two as a Design and Development Engineer. The mine had had a small explosion some years previous to my arrival, as a result of which the mine management were required to flameproof all underground electrical and mechanical equipment. My initial work was to implement the flame proofing of the underground vehicles, 70 in total, with a team of four draughtsmen and four fitters. The vehicles comprised 8 to 10 AEC 16-ton dumper trucks, drilling vehicles, scaling platforms, Land Rovers, tractors, a road grader and open-top trucks converted for use as buses. Each vehicle’s diesel engine had to have its inlet and exhaust systems replaced with stainless steel pipes with spark arrestors at inlet and exhaust wash tanks. The mine had recently implemented a vehicle replacement and modernisation programme and I was given another task to manage the dismantling of each new vehicle on its arrival at the pithead for transportation underground. The maximum dimensions of each component to be suspended beneath the mine cages was 4’10” x 5’2” x 25‘0”. The vehicles included eight Scammel 25-ton trucks, eight Chaseside Super Loadmaster SLM 1000 four-wheel vehicles, three Fordson ‘buses’ and two Land Rovers. Two of the Chasesides were to be fitted as long-feed pneumatic drill carriers, two as bulldozer/ shovels and four as Scaling Platforms. All of these, of course, had to be flame proofed during reassembly underground. A further job was to be the mine management’s liaison with staff from Mavor and Coulson at the mine, who were developing for use an M&C 6 Gathering Arm Loader. This machine was revolutionary in that its drives to all motions were through hydraulic pumps and motors. Its major problems were caused by the physical shocks during loading trials affecting its hydraulic circuits. After a year on these tasks, I was thoroughly familiar with the mine, its staff and its special conditions (compared to other I.C.I. plants). I was appointed to be the Mine Surface Plant Engineer. Working with me were a Foreman, Chargehand, Estimator, 8 Fitters, 6 Fitter’s Mates, 2 Blacksmiths and 2 General Workers. The physical scope extended from the underground crushing plant (with a Ross Chain Feeder, Roll Grizzly, 36” x 24” Jaw Crusher, Rocker Feeder and 36” conveyor to the mine shaft), the two 13’ diameter mine shafts with their 350 hp winding gear, the 40,000 ton stockpile (with conveyor and grabbing crane), the surface crushing plants (with three gyratory crushers, Schenck vibrating screens and three disc crushers –reducing the stone to below 1” size), loading stations for conveyor, ropeway and rail/road stone despatch, engineering workshop and blacksmith’s shop. The Blacksmith’s Shop forged the 12’ long hexagonal drill steels, with an integral rose bit at the end, used in percussive drilling in the Atlas Copco pneumatic drills. The blacksmiths also ground new faces on the tungsten-carbide drill bits used in the alternative rotary method of drilling. In my last months at the mine, I visited some china clay workings in Cornwall to evaluate the new impactor crushers. As a consequence, one was purchased for Billingham and I supervised the design of a new secondary surface crushing plant. The mine, as a major user of compressed air, managed (through the Surface Plant Engineer) two compressed air stations, one on the mine surface to service underground mining operations and one at the centre of the Billingham site for all other users; these two station had a total of ten Belliss & Morcom and Atlas Copco reciprocating compressors of varying sizes with a total potential output of 19,300 cfm at 90/100 psi. I was also responsible for the mine ventilation system, with main 48” diameter Scirocco axial and standby fans. One of the duties of the Plant Engineer, on a rota with the other engineering staff, was to inspect the shaft winding gear in accordance with the Mines and Quarries Act requirements. This included ‘riding’ the shaft, in which the engineer, with a qualified tradesman, stood on the top of the transport cage, tethered with a safety belt, and was lowered the full 900’ depth of the shaft to inspect the shaft walls for cracks or leaks. The mine was closed in 1971 and sealed in 1978. 19/03/2012 17:44:11

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  3. The Cage shaft was 800 feet from ground level to workshop level where you got the bus to the faces. The Stone shaft was around 150 feet deeper as the stone was dropped into hoppers below the Cathedral then fed into buckets on the stone elevator. Standing on top of the cage tied to the haulage rope on an inspection it seemed twice as deep.06/10/2011 15:12:22


  4. My dad did some of his time as an apprentice fitter in the mine during the mid fifties. If anyone has any further information or photos I would love to read/see. David Milburn (1939 – 2006) formally of Cowpen Lane, Billingham.


  5. Miners came from all parts of the United Kingdom as it was considered a safe and clean mine, the dust was white not black. From the start a lot of machinery was used though hand drilling and cleaning went on even in my time. A 24 hour shift system was worked and the miners had shower blocks and changing rooms when that was not normal practice in coal. They did say “once an ICI man, always one” and many Fathers then sons worked for them.


  6. I believe my late father-in-law worked in the Anhydrite Mine, he had been a coal miner from Dipton in Co Durham, his name was David Gregory, I”m not sure when he worked there, he was already retired when I met him in 1963.


  7. The Anhydrite mine had some of the same Norman. We did not always need to take the bus to where the men were working you could walk and one day coming back an old miner asked me if I had seen the passages? He took me through a small door in the wall into a darkness which was total apart from our own lamps. We walked back to the Cathedral through a series of small compact passageways which were years deep in dust and never used. There were odd items laying about on rock shelves which told a tale of long gone miners. The silence in those ways was almost touchable and all a bit eerie, I was glad to get out into the light of the workshop area. Tough men who did a tough job, as I well knew, having been taken down the pit at New Brancepeth as a lad by my Uncle a miner. That was as far from the ICI style of mining as you could get – hot wet, dirty and dangerous, that was only the shaft bottom, I did not venture far from the little train we travelled on I can tell you.


  8. Frank Mee”s question about the old vehicles being abandoned down the mine is interesting. My Grandfather was a lead Miner in Weardale and I have just been looking at the Website at mining in Weardale, and seen a number of poignant pictures of pairs of boots and personal possessions of miners of the past. Superman does not have a look in! This country would never have been Great without them. I recommend anyone to read the history hewn out of the bowels of the earth for a mere pittance.


  9. All the vehicles went down the mine in bits and were assembled underground. The largest parts possible went down the stone shaft and were the largest earth movers possible down there. There was a garage where the vehicles got maintenance and servicing. For me the best part was what we called the dead house, every vehicle that had gone down the mine and finished its time ended up in there and because of the dry air did not rust. I had a good look at some very old vehicles, it was a veritable museum. They did not bring them back up as it would have needed a team to dismantle them then valuable time using the stone shaft which stopped production of Anhydrite. I wonder if they are still down there?


  10. This brings back a memory for me. When I started work in the metallurgy section in “F” building in 1961 I think it was probably in my first week working there that I had to go with one of my bosses to check a bulldozer that had run into the wall and check if there were any cracks in the welds on the bulldozer blade. This also brings back other memories of testing the ammonia rail tankers for cracks in the fillet welds attaching them to the rolling stock. This involved traveling all over the place where ever they were empty to do the tests. I had my first plane flight after doing tests at the Kingsham site (I hope this is the correct spelling) near Bristol and I had to be flown home on the Friday to play rugby for Stockton RFC on the Saturday. It was on a DC3 from Bristol to Liverpool then to Middleton-in-Teessdale.


  11. During the 70″s when I worked as an Experimental Officer in the ICI Central Laboratory, one of my weekly duties was to test the exhaust gases of the vehicles in the anhydrite mine. I used to be met by the driver of “the bus”, an enormous truck and driven around the mine to all the lorries and other vehicles that were working there. The test was done using a Draeger tube which was very similar to what is used by the police in breathalyzer kits. It amazed me at the size of the passage ways and I often wondered how the vehicles got into the mine. Could it be that they were assembled down there?


  12. Anhydrate, Calcium Sulphate, CaS04, is a dry rock. It is normally with Salt deposits and when in humid or wet conditions becomes Gypsum of which dry walling materials are made. I can assure you the mine was very dry apart from several sump holes where seepage was pumped from the mine. My first trip down the ICI mine was one Sunday morning with a chap called Frank Canny a Boilermaker. It was on top of the cage and we were fastened by safety harness to the lift rope then dropped down at a slow pace to inspect the steelwork of the lift shaft. We looked at one side going down and the other side coming back up. We then compared notes and I had to write a report. I was down many times with maintenance crews and it was impressive. Having been down a coal mine with narrow passages the Anhydrite mine was a revelation. The Cathedral and workshop area below ground was massive and quite high. There was a dual carriageway underground with vehicles flying up and down from the face to the Stone chute. A bus service ran you to the face and it was so well lit and ventilated it could have been above ground. The gallery”s were 20 feet wide and 20 feet high cut square through the rock with a 20 foot square pillar every so far to hold the roof up. Miners drilled and pegged soft sections of roof to stop falling rock. The air was very dry and your skin prickled with the salt in the air. There was one small explosion I remember when Methane had seeped into a sump hole but regular air tests were always gas free. I often saw the miners come up at the end of the shift, they would sit in rows just looking at the sky or soaking up the sun I understood that as my few trips down there always made me breath deeply when I reached the surface and take a look at the sky, it was a wonderful relief.


  13. My father Chris Prosser worked at the mine from the end of the war to its closure. I well remember the social clubs annual outings, a daytrip to the seaside in Summer, and a trip to the Pantomime at the Globe in Stockton, followed by a grand Xmas party in Sparks” Cafe. I”m not sure about the mine staying dry, I understood the pumps were running constantly to remove water.


  14. Does anyone remember the Warren Cement works in Hartlepool they were mined from around 1925 and abandoned in the 1930″s? I live nearby this disused mine and it is flooded with sea water and it may collapse. It”s life span is not yet known but tests are hopefully about to start. The residents are in the dark. Can anyone help me find out more ?


  15. I am given to understand that my Grandfather was killed in the ICI mine, probably in the late 20s early 30s. He was a Scotsman, known to all (including his family) as “Jock” Anderson. If anyone has any information on this I would be grateful if they would pass it on to me. My e-mail is. < ian.bedford@ntlworld.com > Many thanks.


    • Hello Ian, well, over 14 years later and I find your post here. Did you ever receive any information?

      I too am given to understand that my Grandfather was either killed in the mine or as a result of some incident that took place down there. My (now deceased) Father told me years ago that his father worked there and died in probably the 1930s. My Dad was born in 1927 and mentioned things about his Dad from when he was a small child, so the mid to late 1930s is probably a good estimate.

      My Dad was born in Port Mulgrave (near Runswick Bay) in the winter of 1927 – by all accounts a terrible winter, so bad that my Grandad had to chop up the furniture to put on the fire to keep them warm. From what I can remember my Dad telling me, his Father used to ride his push-bike over the moors to work in Billingham. Due to the way the shifts were organised, he stayed somewhere in Stockton a couple of nights and rode back to Port Mulgrave. This he did twice a week I believe. I think he used the Black Lion in Stockton during his free time. At some point he must have had enough of riding up and down Birk Brow and he moved the family to Norton.

      If anyone still reads this thread I would be interested to hear any further information and will happily answer any queries.


  16. These mines were the focus of real ‘Peiople-Power , in the mid 1980s when thousands took to the streets through out Tees-side, particlarly Billingham .against the plans of British Nuclear Fuels (B.N.F) to dump thousands of tons of spent nuclear-waste below Billingham People-Power generated B.A.N.D. (BIllingham Against Nuclear Dumping) over 3000 people taking part in one of the peaceful march and demonstration’s They won !!


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