The Vieille Montagne Zinc Mining Company - World Sites

This page brings together an overview of the company’s activities that will lead to investigation into each site. The Vieille Montagne owned mines and ore dressing plants in several countries and had associated companies in others. The list so far is Algeria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia and the United States.
There is wide scope for research here even without leaving the comfort of one’s home. A lot can be found on the internet, for example, by browsing online it was found that the VM obtained concessions at Djebba and Djebel-ben-Amar in Tunisia in 1900. What more can be unearthed?
Vieille Montagne World Map

The Vieille Montagne Zinc Company In The World

The following collection of notes is only that. It forms a brief starting point of miscellaneous scraps of information for what will be a much broader and deeper project. The text is likely to change frequently as new information comes in. More in-depth information will be added to each individual website as it is created in the country concerned.
Please feel free to contribute anything in whatever language. So far we can deal with English, French, German and Italian.

The seeds of the Vieille Montagne Company of Belgium were sown on 19th January 1810, when Emperor Napoleon signed a concession for the construction of a furnace to extract zinc from calamine.
About the turn of the 20th century the Vieille Montagne was at the peak of its international expansion. Zinc had only found a market in the previous two years and was therefore a comparatively new industry, at least in the USA where it had formerly been a by-product, the waste in the tailings heaps.
By 1905 the VM had seven mining and metallurgical facilities in Belgium, eleven in France, eight in North Africa, three in Germany, two in Sweden, four in the north of England, four in Italy and two in Spain, as well as agencies around the world.
After the 1st World War, Europe faced competition from new zinc-producing countries, such as USA, Canada and Mexico, as well as contending with the severe post-war depression. This led the Vieille Montagne company to develop its concessions in Sardinia and North Africa.
By the time of the company’s centenary in 1937 the VM had mines and plant in several countries in Europe and North Africa, as well as associated companies there and agencies in Mexico and United States.

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It has been discovered that in the late 19C the VM acquired mines here. In 1902 the agents for the VM were Poirson & Esperiquette, Depot de Zincs de la Vieille Montagne, 12, Rue de Constantine’, and in 1937 the VM had zinc and lead mines at L’Ouarsenis, with their mine agency at Bone. But otherwise no research has been done.

In 1837 La Societe des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille Montagne of Angleur was formed in the recently-independent state of Belgium. The company soon acquired rolling mills at Tilff in Belgium and the zinc mine in mini-state of Neutral Moresnet, which became part of Belgium after the First World War. In 1837 there was a foundry at St. Leonard in Liege, and the VM acquired rolling mills at Valentin-Cocq and Flone. In 1837 a factory was under construction at Angleur.

In 1889 the Vieille Montagne built a roasting plant at Baelen-Wezel near Anvers, with the canal nearby for transport. Here, until 1932, blende was roasted to be sent to Flone, Angleur and Moresnet, and an agency was set up at Anvers for the distribution of its zinc products.

Maison de la Metallurgie et de l’Industrie de Liege
The museum recently held an exhibition about employees of the Vieille Montagne, who were recorded on camera in 1868 wearing their work clothes and with their tools and equipment.

Gohltalmuseum, Kelmis
Kelmis was once the hub of Neutral Moresnet, the tiny condominium where the Vieille Montagne first came into being in 1837.

In the centenary year of 1937 the Vieille Montagne in Belgium encompassed its administration and general direction at the Station de Chenee, Angleur, the zinc foundries there, at Valentin-Cocq and Flone, the zinc rolling mills and zinc laboratories at Tilff, and washing plants at Moresnet, Penchot and Cointe. The old plants around Liege and Rhenans were replaced by three factories on the River Meuse. The major centre of production was at Baelen-Wezel, Campine, where there was a factory for the manufacture of sulphuric acid, a lead foundry, a lead rolling mill, and a plant to process cadmium and various other products.
1880 Belgian works

1880 Belgian works in Neutral Moresnet,
the home of the Vieille Montagne


The VM arrived in the hills of Cumberland (now Cumbria) in the north of England in 1896 to take up the leases of a failed company. After a few years of vigorous exploratory trials that included mines in Wales, the company concentrated on the area around Nenthead, a village on the watershed between Cumberland and Northumberland. After surviving two world wars, the economic slump of the late 1920’s, and the natural vicissitudes of the market, the VM left England in 1949.
The mines of zinc and lead were all in a small radius that encompassed Nenthead, Coalcleugh, Rotherhope and Nentsbury. The short-lived but intensive Welsh trials had been at Hafna and Holway in Flint, and at Llangynog in Montgomery.
Nenthead Mines Conservation Society, Nenthead Cumbria (
Nenthead was the centre of Vieille Montagne operations in Britain, from where 60% of the UK’s output of zinc ore was produced.

North of England Lead Mining Museum, Killhope, Cowshill, Co. Durham (
Although not part of the VM empire. Killhope is not far from Nenthead and it provides an excellent display of mine conditions through the ages, as well as exhibits of other minerals.
The Museum of Lead Mining, Wanlockhead (

Many Italian miners lived and worked here in similar conditions to Nenthead. Research needs to be done to find out whether any actually came here from Nenthead.

Operations in France commenced more or less concurrently with the establishment of the Vieille Montagne Company when, in 1837, the VM acquired a rolling mill at Bray. The production of zinc in 1837 was 1,833 tonnes, one hundred years later, in 1936, production was 120,000 tonnes.

In 1855 a factory was established for white lead at Levallois-Perret near Paris. In 1871 Auveryon-Viviez became centre of the electrolytic production process. At Penchot there was also a rolling mill.

In 1884 the VM set up a rolling mill at Dangu, near Bray, and a mine at La Croix de Pallieres. A few years later, by 1887, there was a depot, as well as company administration for the north of France, at Hautmont near to the Belgian factories.

During the Great War the French factories of the VM were turned over to munitions. After the war the VM set up a foundry at Creil and a washery at Port du Bouc and soon afterwards, in 1922 hydro-electric processes were introduced at Viviez (Auveryon).
The VM had an associated company in France, the Societe des Gisement Minien de Luz-et-Sauveur, for the exploitation of blendes.

By 1937, the Vieille Montagne operations in France consisted of its French headquarters at 15, Rue Richer, Paris, a mineral reception agency at Bordeux, washeries at Viviez-Averyon and Port-du-Bouc (Bouches du Rhone near Marseilles), a zinc foundry at Creil (Oise), a zinc white factory at Levallois-Perret, zinc rolling mills (where there were usually zinc laboratories as well), at Auby, Bray (Seine et Oise), Dangu (Eure), Hautmont (North), Penchot (Aveyron), and lead and zinc mines at Mines du Gard.

The Vieille Montagne was Europe’s largest producer of zinc, and Germany was home to Europe’s first and largest lead and zinc refiner/smelter.
From early in its history, the VM had business associations in Silesia and Preuss Rhenane with mines at Bensberg in the district of Koln. There were foundries at Mulheim and Borbeck, and rolling mills and washeries at Oberhausen. In 1937 the VM still had a mine at Luderich, Bensberg.

In Germany the VM was associated with AG des Altenbergs fur Bergbau und Zinkhuettenbetrieb in Bensberg, where there were zinc & lead mines, in Essen-Borbeck where there was a washery, an acid manufactory and a zinc foundry, and at Oberhausen where there were zinc rolling mills.

LVR Industrial Museum, Oberhausen

Oberhausen is one of several Industrial Museums of the Rhineland, appropriately housed in an old zinc factory.
Bergisches Museum, fur Handwerk, Bergbau. This miniature ‘Beamish Museum’ is in an area where at least two of the German mine managers came from.
Berzelius Works Germany

Berzelius works, Germany

The Vieille Montagne had mines and works in Italy from the mid 19C onwards. A zinc and lead mine is known to have been in existence at Iglesias in Sardinia in 1865 and another at Bergamo in 1889. The VM was still at Bergamo in 1937, where it also had a washery, as well as its unique mechanical loading dock at Porto Flavia in Sardinia.
In Italy the VM was associated with Soc. della Mineire de Lanusei for the exploitation of blendes, galenas and quartz.

This was a gold mining area high in the Italian Alps, was the home of miners who came to work in Nenthead.

n the 20th century the VM worked several mines on the island, where there is now a strong interest in the history of mining and a European Geopark.

In the late 19th century the VM acquired mines here, but no research has been done so far.

In Mexico the VM was associated with Co. Mexicana el Zinc for mining concessions with the Jesus group in the state of Guerrero.

In the late 19th cenury the VM acquired mines here, but no research has been done so far.
In Spain the VM was associated with Sociedad Miniere de Victoria for the exploitation of blendes, galenas and quartz.

Sweden is home to one of the Vieille Montagne company’s oldest overseas operations, having been there for over 150 years.
In 1937, the centenary year, the company owned zinc and lead mines at Zinkgruvan, near Orebro, Ammeberg and its agency was in Gothembourg. In that year it was reported that the VM sent lead concentrates to Boliden’s Ronskar plant and zinc to its own facilities in France.
The mine at Ammeberg, where the company had been since at least 1857, produced 25% of Vieille Montagne’s ore requirements.

On 27th January 1900, the Minister of Public Works granted lead and zinc concessions to the Vieille Montagne at Djebel-ben-Amar and Djebba, where it still had galena mines at Djebba in 1937.

About the turn of the 20th century the Vieille Montagne was at the peak of its international expansion. Zinc had only found a market in the previous two years and was therefore a comparatively new industry, at least in the USA where it had formerly been a by-product, the waste in the tailings heaps.

The VM entered the American market in 1899 and shipped large quantities of zinc ore from the Leadville district of Lake County, Colorado to Antwerp. Shipments were also made to Swansea in Wales for spelters there.

In 1899 it was recorded that a “solid train of 30 cars, or 25,000 sacks, has been loaded with zinc ores for the Vieille Montagne at Antwerp. The cars go to Galveston, and the shipment is made through A.J. Davis for Jacobson & Co. of New York City. The shipment is the largest of any kind of ore ever sent out to any foreign port.”

In 1900, about 14,000 tons of zinc ores were shipped to the VM works in Belgium via Galveston (2,273 tons) and New Orleans (9,150 tons), 6,000 tons more than in 1899.

Franklin Mineral Museum, Franklin, New Jersey

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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Vieille Montagne History - Mining Sites