120th Anniversary Of The Arrival In England
Vieille Montagne Zinc Company Of Belgium

6th-7th August 2016

The Anniversary weekend was a great success and it put Nenthead in Cumbria on the map. Alston Moor Historical Society would like to pass on its grateful thanks, to the Heritage Lottery Fund for sponsoring the event with a ‘Sharing Heritage’ grant, to everyone who participated from the beginning of the project, and to those helped on the day.

Responses to the Conference received from some of the sixty or so people in the audience on Saturday 6th to the range and the quality of the talks have been very favourable. Indeed, mining enthusiasts and mining historians who have been familiar with this region for many years e-mailed to say how much they enjoyed the talks and that even they learnt something. The whole story of zinc, from extraction to use, has taken on a new perspective.
It was an honour for the Historical Society that two of the speakers should be from the Vieille Montagne Company itself, both of whom agreed that they also learnt a lot about their own company and in turn felt proud to represent the VM here. The Historical Society intends to publish texts of the talks as soon as it can for the benefit of the wider world and as an incentive for further research.
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Until the 120th Anniversary weekend, the significance of the Nenthead-based company, which produced as it did 60% of the UK output of zinc, had been obscured by two world wars and the Wall Street Crash, but since the Conference the role of the VM now has a much higher profile, not only in the region but in the country.

Vielle Montagne Gala Sign

The Commemorative Gala on Sunday was also very popular. The various organisations in the village that pulled together as a community to make the Gala a success are so enthused that they wish to repeat the exercise next year.

Alston Moor Historical Society would like to thank Nenthead Gala Committee, Nenthead Village Hall Committee, Nenthead Primary School, Nenthead Chapel Project, the staff of Killhope Lead Mining Museum in County Durham, who crossed the county boundary to lend their assistance, and the people of Nenthead who worked hard to cut grass, put up international flag bunting all over and generally tidy up the village for the weekend.


The mine trips on Sunday, organised by Nenthead Mines Conservation Society, were in great demand. The nail-biting 328ft descent into the Brewery Shaft was the first to be fully booked. Extra trips into Carrs Level Mine (not so nail-biting but still very interesting) had to be arranged, and places on the two vintage bus trips, courtesy of Wright Brothers Coaches, to Barneycraig Mine at Carrshield in West Allendale in Northumberland were also in demand.
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VM Plaque

The VM brought people of many nationalities to live and work in Nenthead. The partial re-creation of an international atmosphere in the village was made possible by our guests from Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. The programme of events for the weekend made a great impression on them, they were very impressed with everything that was laid on and took part in as many activities as possible.
It was a privilege for us that Mrs. Ida Bettoni and Mr. Vincenzo Nanni, from the Pestarena Mining Society in the Italian Alps, where some of the Italian miners came from, should open the Gala, and that Sylvie Fabeck and Claudia Eickhoff from Kelmis in Belgium, the birthplace of the Vieille Montagne Company in 1837, should unveil the information plaque that now stands in the centre of Nenthead.

As to the future, Nenthead Mines Conservation Society is now twinned with its counterpart in Italy and a mixed-nationality group is going to continue exploring the many avenues of Vieille Montagne interest begun during this weekend in Nenthead.

The year 2016 is the 120th anniversary of the arrival of the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium at Nenthead, near Alston in Cumbria. This is an occasion that deserves to be commemorated not only for the community of Alston Moor but for the mining fraternity of Britain and mining communities throughout Europe.

Alston Moor Historical Society applied for and was awarded a ‘Sharing Heritage’ lottery grant for a weekend of activities to be held over the 6th and 7th August this year. But what’s all the fuss about? Well, read on …
Old Mines in Nenthead
In 1896 the new owner of the mineral leases, mines, royalties, mills, works and machinery on Alston Moor was the Societe Anonyme des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille-Montagne of Belgium - or ‘VM’ for short.
Zinc was not spelted, nor lead smelted here, but instead the ores were sorted, crushed and cleaned at Rampgill Mill (now Wright’s bus depot) in Nenthead, then transported to the parent plant in Belgium. This was the practice of the VM with its mines worldwide.

In this region of the north Pennines the London Lead Company is rightly famous, revered and written about, but little is known about the Vieille Montagne. The company invested many hundreds of thousands of pounds in the area, the equivalent of several millions today, it was at the forefront of mining and ore processing technology in Britain and Europe, it attracted visitors from all over to Nenthead to view its plant, it employed hundreds of men of several nationalities, mainly Belgian, German and Italian, as well as locals, it produced up to 60% of the UK’s zinc, and the economy of Alston Moor depended on its success.

The Anniversary is a weekend of VM-related activities on 6th and 7th August. A conference of talks about various aspects of the VM’s operations, combined with a series of guided trips (underground and overground) and related events, is arranged for enthusiasts, and a Victorian/Edwardian/internationally themed Gala will be held in the village of Nenthead that includes family-orientated activities. There is a range of informative displays with help from the continent, for example from the LVR Museum of Industry of the Rhineland, where the VM worked, from the mining community of Macugnaga in the Italian Alps where some of the Italian miners came from, and, last but certainly by no means least, VMZINC, the present-day Vieille Montagne, now part of UMICORE, an international group of companies.
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Local businesses, cafes, pubs and hotels are encouraged to sell goods and provide food with Belgian, Italian and German themes, there is scope for a variety of projects for the local schools, and the occasion is an opportunity for the unique village of Nenthead to become a showpiece on the international scene.

Major results of the anniversary weekend are:
Nenthead is receiving due recognition of its important place in the history of zinc and lead ore extraction. Alston Moor Historical Society is setting up a commemorative plaque in Nenthead to this effect.

There is the opportunity for twinning between communities and schools, here and on the continent, and the establishment of an international Vieille Montagne society.

Family history research takes on an international dimension in Nenthead, which will lead to an increase in the number of visitors from Europe.

Nenthead Mines Conservation Society becomes the focus of Vieille Montagne interest in Britain, so complementing the museum at Kelmis in Belgium, Bergisch-Gladbach Museum near Koln, and the LVR Museum of Industry at Oberhausen in Germany.
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Foreigners in the Hills

The Foreigners in the Hills

If you are interested in reading more about the story of the Vieille Montagne in Nenthead, Cumbria, read ‘The Foreigners in the Hills’ by Alastair F. Robertson, available on line or from the author at Ashleigh House, Nenthead Road, ALSTON, Cumbria, CA9 3SN, for £11.50 to include p&p.
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About Us
The Vieille Montagne brings historians, genealogists and researchers from around Europe together into a co-operative project investigating the history of the Vieille Montagne and its workers.
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Nenthead, Cumbria
Vieille Montagne 120th Anniversary