ACCORDING to the history books, South Shropshire has been known since Roman times for its rich lodes of lead, deposited deep underneath its rocky terrain.
In the late-19th century, at the height of the British Empire, this area of Shropshire was purportedly, “the most productive lead mining region in the whole world.”
Certainly our mining industry was a profitable affair, at least for a lucky few. But was it ever a productive one? Not likely, it would seem.
In the late Victorian era, money flooded in to the new Shropshire mining companies that were springing up with each new month.
Led by mining pioneers claiming to be eager to work those precious lead veins hidden far beneath our hills.
Where ores could yield weight-for-weight an unrivalled 20 or even 30 per cent lead. Or so the mining stock promoters would claim to any who’d listen!
Over just a few years, countless new mining ventures were advertised in the press, near and far.
Attracting interest from genteel Bath and Edinburgh, to the industrial boom towns of Bradford and Birmingham.
New investors lured in by the promise of financial returns on an unprecedented scale.
Promises, however, that would ultimately prove to be wholly unfounded.
A SCAM FROM THE OFF?
Was Shropshire’s heritage of lead mining, stretching back at least 2,000 years (or so some claim), nothing but a giant financial hoax from the very start?
A phony bonanza founded on little more than rudimentary, yet ruthless, sleights of hand? Relying on time-worn scams well-known to those versed in the tricks of the trade?
Was there ever any real evidence of Roman mining in this area? Was much lead, if any at all, ever mined commercially in south Shropshire?
Could the entire industry have been just another fraud from those notorious days of industrial capitalism? The heyday of industrial plunder. Get-rich-quick tricks played out on an industrial scale. In an era rife with financial swindles of one form or another.
Shropshire’s history of lead mining dates back, so it’s said, to the Romans.
Evidenced, we’re told, by the discovery of “Roman” ingots of lead known as “lead pigs”.
In not so many years, no less than six ingots were supposedly discovered. All within a few square miles of rural south Shropshire. 
Several of those ingots were supposedly found actually inside the “old” mine workings! 
Each ingot bearing the impress of IMP HADRIANI AVG.
Surely dating their manufacture, unequivocally, to the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)?
Irrefutable proof that the Romans were mining here all those centuries ago?
A promising place indeed to start mining for lead once again?
Yet before we accept these claims without question, should we perhaps apply a sceptical critique?
Hadrian must be the most famous emperor to have ruled Provincia Britannia (Britain).
Ask any child today to name a famous Roman, and he’ll probably name Hadrian; recalling that legacy of Hadrian’s Wall, the 70 mile monolith across our land.
In Britain, Hadrian is one of the most emblematic Romans, even now.
Appropriate that these ingots of lead, unmistakably date by their inscription alone, to the reign of “Hadrian” – the nation’s favourite emperor!
Insightful, too, that the ingots should surface so providentially at the zenith of Shropshire’s mining eldorado!
And perhaps even more telling, not a single “Roman” ingot, of any imperial dynasty, has been discovered here since!
At the time, those ingots served as effective devices for the mining stock promoters.
Persuasive ‘stage props‘ for those men in the City reeling in an endless stream of would-be investors. Punters eager to secure their stakes in the new mining bonanza of deepest Shropshire. An area “known since the Romans for its rich lead deposits,” or so they were told!
Those ingots were the lures to draw in the gullible; gimmicks for fleecing their wealth, in that den of vipers: the City of London!Now here’s where our scepticism grows even stronger.
At least four of those six “Roman” ingots of lead purportedly discovered at the time, all disappeared sometime afterwards.
Mysteriously vanishing after their public exhibition.
The sixth, last surviving ingot remaining hidden away, in safe keeping at Linley Hall, near Bishops Castle. 
Photographed in 2003 by former county archaeologist, Paul Stamper, is a rare image of that last existing “Roman” ingot. 
Yet there’s a problem with it — where is its patina?
Over time, lead reacts naturally to the atmosphere and starts to tarnish.
In a complex three-stage chemical process – which is difficult to reproduce artificially – the dull grey metal slowly develops an off-white coating, or patina, of lead sulphate. 
Even lead musket-balls lying in the ground for just a century or two develop that dusty white patina.
Thus, that ingot, after two thousand years of lying in Shropshire’s sodden soils should have gained a very rich patina of its own. And yet it hasn’t. Why not?
That “Roman” ingot at Linley Hall looks fresh from its mould. As if preserved since manufacture in a warm, dry display cabinet. As if kept well away from the brutal elements that raged outside during its “2,000 year” alleged history. How so?!
Perhaps it’s no surprise that those “Roman” ingots have gone astray or else remain out-of-reach. Today’s forensic metallurgists might otherwise have a field-day, analysing them all.
Applying, for example, modern techniques of mass spectrometry. To determine their exact elemental composition; matching their chemical structure to their alleged geographical locale; confirming their method of casting; and ultimately their true date of manufacture.
Were these really Roman ingots from 117-138 AD? Or, more likely, modern Victorian fakes from the latter half of the 19th century?
Counterfeit “Roman” ingots used in a series of grand share-ramping scams? Devices of City conmen, for selling worthless Shropshire mining stock to the naïve masses?
Back though to Linley Hall where that last ingot was “found”.
Linley was the country seat of the Mores; a prominent family of country landowners, barristers, and parliamentarians. 
Over the years, the More family produced several Members of Parliament for Ludlow and South Shropshire, both Liberal and Tory.
Not surprising, the Mores, wealthy by any standard, had a vested interest in hyping these schemes.With influence in the City, the Mores doubtless enjoyed a share of capital from the mining stock issues; and through land-rents and royalties from mining prospects opened up on their estates; with lucrative insider share-dealing and metal-trading to be had in between.
To promote these stock market ventures, the Mores even gave local history tours to visitors from as far as London.
On display at Linley was that infamous “Roman” ingot. Together with other, equally impressive “Roman” artefacts.
Wooden “Roman” spades, pottery, and even “Roman” tallow candles, abandoned by miners way back in Hadrian’s day, apparently!
Only to be discovered by the Mores two millennia later in remarkable condition, and just in time for the mining bonanza!
Though not everyone was quite so convinced of that Roman provenance.
The incumbent at Linley, the Rev. T.F. More (Oxon), received a sceptical reception from Thomas Wright Esq., a well-known 19th century antiquarian scholar.
When shown the “Roman” exhibits, Wright could scarcely conceal his disbelief. Politely challenging the “extraordinary preservation” and thus the true antiquity of these “Roman” relics. 
Wiser then than now, it seems!
FOLLOW THE MONEY!
Invariably the financiers behind these schemes had little interest in whether the miners struck it rich or not. In fact they were expecting failure!
By the time a mining prospect was formally declared barren and bankrupt, the promoters were long gone; their fortunes secured years before.Though even before that inevitable collapse, the really audacious swindlers would take several bites at the same cherry.
Launching further raids on their victims’ capital; tapping the same investors in multiple demands. (see press article, right)
Appealing in desperate pleas for more “emergency” funds. With threats that if extra cash were not forthcoming, the venture would go bust, and investors would lose the lot. Which they always did anyway!
In practice, the capital actually spent on these (fruitless) mining enterprises was minimal. Funding just enough work to convince the casual observer of productive activity. Generating just enough bustle to assure any doubting investors; those demanding to witness the workings for themselves.
Even so, there were occasional reports of disgruntled shareholders ordering meetings with the “captains” of these mines; skilled conmen who worked in collusion with the financiers themselves.
In angry confrontations, distressed stockholders would put the managers on the spot. Ordering them to demonstrate, there and then, that their finances weren’t being squandered or stolen.
The scams relied heavily on the credibility of a tight-knit team of confidence tricksters.
THE COVER OF QUARRYING
Typically, at several of these “mines” were incidental stone quarrying operations; making work for the miners when their mines lay idle(!)
Calcite, an almost worthless white mineral used in decorative stonework for pebble-dash and grave-dressing, is found throughout the Stiperstones.
Along with roadstone aggregates it was recovered and processed for minimal profit, all supposedly secondary to the metal mining itself.
While generating negligible returns, quarrying for base minerals nevertheless provided tangible evidence of human activity. Visible proof to show any mining investor that their cash was at least paying for some activity of sorts.
While the real money was being quietly siphoned off in the City by the financiers behind these schemes.For example in 1873, the promoters of “The Stiperstone’s Consols (Limited)” — one of many such scams — sought £35,000 from investors – around £3.5m in today’s money – through a single share subscription issue.
Prospectuses were placed in the London and provincial presses to attract hapless investors.
The capital raised from the stock issue, the promoters said, would be used to work Disgwylfa Hill near Lydham.
To extract its “well-defined lodes” of lead (as well as copper, ochre, barytes, and nickel!), they claimed.
Yet at Disgwylfa (Squilver) today, there’s no evidence at all, beyond that 1950’s Tarmac quarry, that any workings were ever undertaken.
So what became of the investors’ £35,000 from the Disgwylfa prospect? Need we ask?!
These share issues were replicated in numerous scams which sprung up to purportedly mine the Stiperstones over a decade or two, from the late 1850s onwards.Interestingly, the directors chosen for each new mining company were usually different in each case.
More often gentlemen drawn from outside the area.
Given the fraudulent nature to all these schemes, that was surely no accident, and likely expedient!
There was nevertheless a plentiful supply of peers, baronets and honourable gentlemen, willing to lend their names as directors of each new venture.
Strongly suggesting that the mining scams were coordinated by powerful hidden hands in the City. Those directors lending credence through their association were just expendable puppets in the frauds.
That distinct lack of industrial activity at Disgwylfa is evident throughout the so-called mining district of south Shropshire.
There’s very little tangible proof of any workings, except for a few ‘prospect’ shafts, and those romantic yet conspicuously odd “engine-houses”.
Structures which rise so prominently above the rolling pasture land.
Otherwise, though, precious little proof that extensive mining activities occurred anywhere here.
And notably, of those “engine-houses”, why do they look like they’ve never housed an engine?!
Stand inside one. Take a studious look around. Try and determine where the engine mountings would, or should have been; and where the drive-shafts might supposedly have secured to the stone and brick walls.
It would seem from their internal configuration that these buildings could never have housed an engine!Furthermore, those ‘engine houses’, while standing so prominently on the skyline – appear as if they were sited foremost to be seen.
Why are they so far from any signs of underground workings?
The Ladywell and White Grit engine houses are perhaps the most obvious examples here. Very obtrusively placed.
And where are the accompanying stacks to these “engine houses”?
A steam engine needs a stack! And what about the access roads to and from these buildings, for delivering coal to fuel the furnaces? And where is all the combusted clinker?
For a really obvious example of a fake set-up, study the above-ground workings near the (redundant) Lordshill Particular Baptist Church. Google Street View of it here. 
Where is the “engine house” at that site? Why isn’t it adjacent to that splendid stack which dominates the skyline?
And why is there a stack but no engine house?
Further, why build the stack there, on the precarious sloping hillside (except to be seen)?
Why not build the stack (and missing engine house) at the bottom of the hill?
Why wasn’t it sited next to the “Chapel Shaft” and the lane? Surely that would be the most practical place; where one could easily service the (missing) engine with coal and water?
Just imagine trying to haul coal right up that hillside!
And please examine for signs of a track up to that engine-house site. There are none.
It looks very fake! Built just to fool any curious investors.
At the very top of Lords Hill, Snailbeach is an even taller stack.
This stack supposedly had a kilometre-long brick flue running up to it! Not remotely realistic nor practical. Surely much simpler to build a taller stack in the right place? Of course, building the stack at the top of the hill made sure it was seen from afar. That was critical for the scammers.
Perhaps the clearest hallmark of this wholesale fraud is this lack of any remains of industrial endeavour. An obvious indicator today is the near total absence of “tailings” at any of the supposed mining sites. Sites where underground hard-rock mining had purportedly taken place on a grand scale over some years.
Tailings are worthless piles of ‘gangue‘ – unwanted rock by-product, devoid of any valuable mineral content. The debris dug from deep underground and the discarded output of the milling process. It should be present as large heaps of crushed stone, found piled nearby to every (genuine) mine working.
The tailings are always found nearby to the mine and the ore-dressing plant, since moving the tailings elsewhere costs labour and capital, which eats into profit. Back then environmental obligations were unheard of. So any genuine commercial mine operation simply left its tailings as is.
The scale of the tailings is thus an obvious indication, a reliable gauge, of the extent to an underground mine workings. The more tailings there are, the larger the workings there once were.
In the gold and silver mines of the American West, even mines deep into Death Valley, there are always extensive tailing piles; including at the earliest hand-worked mines from the days of the Forty-Niners.
And yet by contrast here in South Shropshire we find almost no mine tailings.
How can that be? In what was apparently the most productive lead-mining region of its time?
Just where are all our tailings?!
Again, by way of explanation, the history books tell another bizarre tale.
Some have it that the (defunct) Shropshire County Council of the late-20th century “removed” (to where, and how?!) the tailing piles from the Stiperstones area, where most of the lead mines were supposedly worked.
Those tailings described, curiously, in one “photo” caption as “legendary”. A double entendre, maybe?! 
Certainly there’s a tall tale of tailings to tell. (sorry!)
MINING FRAUDS OF THE PAST
Mining scams like these go back centuries; perhaps as far back as mining itself. Scams were commonplace in the feverish Gold Rush era in north America, decades earlier. There again, the smart money was rarely if ever made in mining, per se.The real riches from the Gold Rush were reserved to those on the East Coast. The money-men on Wall Street who secured the initial capital for prospecting ‘Out West‘; and who manipulated the mining stocks and metal prices thereafter.
“Mining intelligence” reports, like the one to the left (for “Ritton Castle Lead Mine”) were planted in the press, to enable profiteering from the distorted or “cornered” markets they created.
With a plethora of confidence tricks, frauds and misrepresentations used, then as now, to draw-in and deceive the hordes of new investors.
SALTED OR NOT?
As mining cons go, the simplest, and yet one of the hardest to detect is “salting“. That is when an ore sample from a mining prospect is sprinkled or “salted” with grains of a desirable metal, before being officially assayed. Fraudulently boosting the ore-to-metal ratio, the potential reserves, and the overall worth of a mine.
Surprising indeed if Shropshire’s mining promoters didn’t engage in at least a little “salting” of their own, to help along the bubble!
Let us turn now to perhaps the most important aspect of these scams: how things worked in the City of London:
BUSINESS AS USUAL IN THE SQUARE MILE?
Not coincidentally, at the dawn of this mining bonanza, lead was becoming an increasingly valuable commodity. Today, lead remains an important industrial metal, used mainly in the battery industry. 
But back then, it was prized for its malleability; an ideal material for use in ‘modern’ plumbing.
This was the era of the great Victorian public health programmes when domestic plumbing was finally coming of age.
The seamed copper piping used commonly today was not yet invented. Instead, lead piping was the best there was; a crucial metal in that public health initiative.
Empowered by the new Public Health Acts, local authorities were ordering sanitation for slum neighbourhoods where poor hygiene was the cause of disease. Installing running water and flushed water closets, reliant on pipework of lead. 
That public health programme, and that new demand for lead, ensured tremendous profits for those controlling the metal market. That, it would seem, was one of the key objectives behind the Shropshire lead mining scam.
This was a scam to leverage control and manipulate the underlying metal price; possibly through a practice known as engrossing.
Publishing exaggerated figures for lead mining output to depress the metal price in the City. Causing lead to be dumped on the market in desperation by genuine mining operators, at rock-bottom prices.
The market manipulators could then snap up that cheap lead and stockpile it. Before turning the market around with bullish press reports – claiming shortages and surges in demand for the metal. Enabling them to re-sell that warehoused lead at great personal profit!
Falsified production figures for the sham lead mines of Shropshire could be used to leverage the lead price across the whole country and beyond; particularly the lead imported from Spain and Italy; which amounted in the 1870s to a significant 100,000 tons a year. 
That manipulation could work the price up or down, as required by the speculators.
Similar to the world oil market where control is wielded through the “spot price” of Brent Crude oil, also set in London.
The Brent oilfield in the North Sea is just a tiny contributor (0.4%) to global oil production. Yet the Brent spot price nevertheless determines the price of crude for most of the world (60%). Market leverage at work! 
In the 1870s, trading of commodities was done semi-privately, absent any official exchange. Metals including lead were bought and sold by profiteering middlemen in dingy London coffee-houses like The Jerusalem in Exchange Alley, an old district of the City.
Shropshire’s sham mining bonanza foreshadowed, and was perhaps even a precursor to the founding of the official London Metal Exchange (LME) in 1877.
That Exchange is today the hub for a £14.5 trillion a year global market where strategic metals including lead are traded on a futures-basis.
With forward delivery of contracts to any number of domestic warehouses, foreign ports and entrepôts around the world. 
The LME is a key instrument of the real British empire – the City of London – an omnipotent cartel monopolising the world trade in strategic commodities – metals, minerals, hydrocarbons, and even raw food stuffs. Today, the City oligarchy relies heavily on the derivatives trade to truly gouge out its fortunes (and/or fend off collapse!)
Derivatives – those so-called futures and options – are an entire layer of casino-like speculation in the City. This is commodity trading that exists on paper alone! 
In the oil market, derivatives traders even deal in “paper barrels”! Pure gambling where rarely a barrel of oil, or an ounce of metal, is ever delivered from seller to buyer.
Derivatives are a wholly speculative financial market that sits precariously atop the (barely) tangible metal-dealing and mineral extraction industries.
Derivatives are a trade created explicitly to manipulate the price of an underlying physical commodity, while rarely taking delivery of it.
The sham lead-mining bonanza of the 19th century, focussed on deepest south Shropshire, was likely a progenitor to the shenanigans of the commodities trade we witness today.
Let’s finish with a quotation from Petronius, a Roman courtier from the reign of Nero, apparently:
Which roughly translates to “In his hands, lead became gold”! Perhaps that should be the latter-day motto for the financier-alchemists who gave Shropshire her “legendary” lead-mining heritage:
“In his hands, lead became gold!”