This month’s word is a mining term, guest-researched by Brian Whalley.
Although not obviously a Northern English word, having a wider spread of usage than simply in the north of England, Brian argues that it may have entered the West Cumberland vocabulary because of the Cornish miners who moved to Millom and other areas in the 1850s.
‘Stope’ is a curious word, perhaps suitable for a Scrabble emergency, and one that occurs only once in Nicholson’s poems (‘Silecroft Shore III’; Collected Poems p. 172).
High from the alps the blood-red rivers fall,
Veining the snow, and gouging deep
Cañons in granophyr and shale.
As the old miners wrought with feather, stope
And mallet, so the ice and weather crack
The sockets of the rocks, and boulders
Chock up the gulleys, and the slates flake,
And what the green ice breaks the grey snow solders.
‘Stope’ is a mining term, most probably of Cornish origin, as miners from the south west came to the developing Hodbarrow Mine in the 1850s (Harris 1970).
A stope is an open space or room cut horizontally (via levels or adits) into the required ore deposit. The stope allows cutting into the ore mass and progression along the ore body thus enlarging the stope. Harris (1970, p. 34) gives a description of this ‘pillar and stall’ method known as ‘slicing’. Levels would be dug or sliced horizontally into the ore body and material was forced or allowed to cave in under controlled conditions for subsequent removal. Exactly how this was done would depend upon local conditions. Hand tools might be used or explosives. The country rock, limestone in the case of Hodbarrow, is relatively strong compared with the coals and shales of the coalfield further north. In coal mines props and timberwork were used to prevent stoping. However, accidents did happen and this may be how one of Nicholson’s uncles was killed (‘Hodbarrow Flooded’).
The Wikipedia page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoping) provides further information on stoping methods and photographs. The now defunct Florence Mine at Beckermet certainly used the stoping method of mining
A digital search showed that there are two other poets who have used ‘stope’ in the mining sense. The Australian writer Edward George Dyson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Dyson) published ‘To the men of the Mines’ in1898. Dyson had worked in the Ballarat mines and clearly knew what he was writing about.
Should mates who've worked in stope and face,
Who've trenched the hill and swirled the dish.
Perhaps surprisingly, the American writer and critic Ambrose Bierce (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrose_Bierce) includes the word. The following is from ‘On a proposed Crematory’ in his Collected Works.
And circumvent the handed mole who loves,
With tunnel, adit, drift and roomy stope,
To mine our mortal parts in all their dips
To digress slightly, but you might find it amusing, Bierce’s Wikipedia entry has the following lines of verse linking mining and death:
The electric light invades the dunnest deep of Hades.
Cries Pluto, 'twixt his snores: "O tempora! O mores!"
This seems to be at the expense of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, best remembered, if that is the right phrase by "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone".
Before we leave definitions, the only other use of ‘stope’ I could find was in an early edition of Hamlet, in the First Clown’s speech (Act 5 Scene 1) ‘Last till Doomes-day. Fetch me a stope of beere, goe’. This is now rendered ‘stoup of liquor’ i.e. a flagon, pointing to the fact that this ‘stope’ is a different, although perhaps etymologically related word.
To return to the lines from ‘Silecroft Shore’, we can see that the stope is one of three mining terms together with ‘feather’ and ‘mallet’. A feather was one of two placed metal strips in a hole picked or drilled into a hard rock such as granite. A plug (or ‘tare’) was placed between the two feathers and driven in by a hammer or mallet. This is the equivalent of ‘beetle and wedge’ in wood splitting and timber framing,
In ‘wrought with feather, stope / And mallet,’ it would appear that ‘stope’ is a half rhyme with ‘deep’ but it is curious, although I may be over-interpreting, that it is an open space, the stope, that is the wedge between the feathers. However, the ‘sockets of the rocks and boulders’ are the spaces into which the feathers would be prised apart by the ‘green ice’. Another nice geological allusion by Nicholson.
There is another meaning of stope, specifically ‘stoping’, and this is a geological process but taken from the mining situation as just described. Stoping is a process involved in the emplacement of a magmatic granitic rock beneath the existing indigenous, or ‘country’ rock above. The fluid magma, under pressure, would exploit weakness in the overlying rock, and blocks of the country rock would be removed. In this case there would actually be no stope as it would be the magma chamber. In Cumbria we have several exposures of granite left after removal of the several kilometres’ thickness of country rock. The west coast has the Eskdale Granite (‘The Seven Rocks IV’) and the Ennerdale granophyre, cobbles of both are likely to be found on Silecroft Shore
Although that is perhaps as much as one need to say about stopes and stoping, it is worthwhile mentioning Nicholson’s phrases in this poem: ‘blood red rivers’ and ‘rivers run maroon with blood’. The ‘Red Men of Cumbria’ were hematite miners. As elsewhere in Nicholson’s poems, the red is associated with the hematite of West Cumbria in various ways. Nicholson has eight mentions of haematite in his Collected Poems:
‘My Uncle Jack was killed
With half a ton of haematite on his back.’
‘In the red of the rock
(Sandstone and haematite)’
‘In the time when the slag is only a memorial
Of a haematite dream.’
A Street in Cumberland:
‘Above the chimney, the walls thrust like a crag
Through the dark tide of haematite in the night sky.’
‘Jaunted at then ungathered orchards of ore,
Damsons of haematite’
The Bloody Cranesbill:
On the Dismantling of Millom Ironworks:
‘The river seeped from the marshes
In a flux of haematite.’
The Seven Rocks, Mountain Limestone, By the Duddon Estuary:
‘As a new penny bright
And red as haematite’
For completeness, and because I also found it interesting to see how various authors have used the word, I tracked down three other poems with ‘haematite’. Ted Hughes has a mention in ‘Red’:
Red was your colour.
If not red, then white. But red
Was what you wrapped around you.
Blood-red. Was it blood?
Was it red-ochre, for warming the dead?
Haematite to make immortal
The precious heirloom bones, the family bones.
In The Anathemata, David Jones:
And see how they run, the juxtaposed forms, brighting the vaults of Lascaux; how the linear is wedded to volume, how they do, within, in an unbloody manner, under the forms of brown haematite and black manganese on the graved lime-face, what is done, without,
Neil Curry in Cave Paintings:
How did the old hands come by this colour
(that glint of copper late autumn sunshine ….
Ground haematite, ochre, or whatever?
Finally, I should add that ‘haematite’ is the way in which it is spelled in the poems cited. Usually geologists now follow the US manner and call it ‘hematite’. It is the main ore of iron (in its Fe (III) state) and is dark red to black in colour. To keep the geology in Nicholson’s poems theme going a bit longer, ‘The Seven Rocks, Eskdale Granite’ has a mention of ‘pencil ore’:
The warts of stone glow red as pencil ore
Polished to a jewel, and the bronze brow wears
Green fortitude like verdigris beneath a sleet of years
The pencil ore here has nothing to do with Keswick pencils and the graphite of that area but is a hydrous form of hematite that is usually red. The best samples seem to be from the Florence Mine (http://www.worldofminerals.dk/magento/index.php/hematite-var-pencil-ore.html). The more usual form of hematite is sometimes known as ‘kidney ore’ and is not mentioned as such by Nicholson, although he does use the terms ‘ore’/’red ore’ (most frequently in ‘Egremont’ and ‘The Bloody Cranesbill’).
In the ‘Silecroft Shore’ quotation we started with, ‘granophyr’ should be ‘granophyre’. I suspect this is just a mistake.
I noticed ‘stope’ in Silecroft Shore as a technical term a long time ago and one that is probably known now only by a few, yet exploring it here I hope you don’t mind further excavation and the adit haematite.
Durham Mining Museum Beckermet http://www.dmm.org.uk/colliery/b933.htm
For Newspaper articles (mainly accidents) at Hodbarrow, see http://www.dmm.org.uk/articles/h903.htm
Florence Mine http://www.shropshirecmc.org.uk/sites/florence.html has some general information about the Florence Mine at Beckermet. This started in 1914 and finally closed in 1980. For a while it was run as a museum but is no longer open. This website gives you a flavour of what it was like. NB www.florencemine.co.uk no longer takes you to the mine website.
Harris, A. 1970 Cumberland Iron, The story of Hodbarrow Mine 1855 – 1968. (Monographs on Mining History, 2). D Bradford Barton, Truro. p. 122.