Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Monday, 9 August 2010 17:55 UK
Ruined miners' cottages on the Stiperstones are rebuilt
Clifford Hampson outside his grandfather's cottage
Clifford Hampson used to visit his grandfather in one of the cottages

In the late 1800s small settlements began to spread up the hills and across the common land on the Stiperstones above Snailbeach.

The remote cottages which were home to the people who worked at Snailbeach lead mines were occupied until the 1950s and then fell into disrepair.

Simon Cooter of Natural England described them as "lost communities".

Now two houses at Blakemoregate are being rebuilt in a project costing £300,000.

The money has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund , European Leader Fund, English Heritage , Natural England and the Upper Onny Guidebook Fund.

'Throw an axe'

Mr Cooter said they were called Squatters' cottages: "The idea was that if you could build a house on the common land overnight and have smoke coming out of the chimney then you could live in it.

"As far as you could throw an axe from the doorway, that was your boundary."

Many of the houses have disintegrated since they were abandoned when the lead mines closed.

Mr Cooter said when the project was finished he hoped to link up with the mines at the bottom of the hills so people could come and see the harsh conditions endured by miners and their families further up the Stiperstones.

The inside of a miner's cottage
How the cottages used to look when they were occupied

Clifford Hampson remembers the houses as they were when his grandfather, Edwin Davies, lived in one. It was known as Ned's Cottage.

His grandfather stayed on in his house after the mines closed: "He used to buy ponies at Shrewsbury market... when I was 10, 11 and 12 he used to stick me on their backs and see how we got on."

He also had a pony and cart which he used to bring people to Snailbeach from Minsterley station.

Water ran down the hill and was collected in a bucket to supply the cottage: "It was a hard life and yet they survived. If you came up here and you'd got nothing, you always got bread and cheese."

A Stiperstones cottage painted by a war time evacuee
A picture of a Stiperstones cottage painted by an evacuee in the 1940s

Simon Cooter said he had found evidence of the cottagers existence in the rhubarb and gooseberries they had discovered in the surrounding countryside.

Ian Storey of Conservation Building Services in Oswestry said the more they discovered about the houses, the more there was to restore: "It's interesting and it's exciting.

"We normally deal with structures and buildings which are much older than this. It's not often that you get to have a look at something that's quite recent in terms of historical architecture and yet it's still quite fascinating."

He said the stone they had to use was not good quality for building: "It's a tremendous job really if you think they'd literally gleaned all this material from the fields around them.

"I hope we can better what they did, but we've had to develop some new techniques as well. We've got to use two different types of mortar to bond everything together."

Work is well underway on Blakemoregate cottages and it is hoped the project will be completed and open to visitors by late autumn.


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