Deep Ecton Level Restored - A Job Well Done
Notes by John Barnatt, EMET's archaeological adviser

Over recent years a bulge in one wall of the Deep Ecton Level was becoming significantly worse, and this led to a decision that access should be prohibited in case there was sudden and catastrophic collapse. Repair work was undertaken October to November 2018 after securing the necessary permissions from Historic England, Natural England and the Environment Agency. A hole was dug from surface, 4m deep at the inner end, in order to reach the top of the arching over a 10 metre stretch so that the bulge and two holes in the Level's arched roof could be put in good order. Remedial shoring of the roof done in the 1980s became redundant and was removed. The old Acro-props and home-made ring-arching are no longer there and thus the UNEXMIN submersible, which is planned to be tested in the flooded workings in May 2019, can pass unencumbered down the Level.

1. The 21 ton excavator digging the pit, exposing
part of one of the creamery buildings in the process
2. The pit as dug by machine; the top of the
arching was then dug out by hand


The main contractor was a local firm D-Geo, while the arching rebuild was led by Peter Roe, a master mason from Swaledale, one of the few people around with previous experience of such work. The work was supervised for EMET by Nick Hardie from Hard Rock Mining Ltd. Between them they did an excellent job and the Level should now be secure for many years. The restored stonework is protected above by reinforced concrete, not that visitors will know this as it is now buried and the entrance passage looks much as would have done when first built.

The work was monitored by John Barnatt, who did the archaeological watching brief that was a requirement of Historic England, as the entrance lies within a Scheduled Monument. New things have been learnt. The 1884-85 portal of the arching was found hidden behind 1980s timberwork. The Deep Ecton Level has had a long history of collapse and reinstatement. An original passage of 1723 collapsed and its outer section was bypassed in 1784-85. This passage in turn collapsed near the entrance and we now know, after the recent archaeological investigations, that it was fully replaced in 1884-85 rather than just repaired.

3. The inner collapse in the arching, with the bulge in the wall below
4. Rebuilding the arching near the entrance
where there had previously been a collapse


This is not the end of the discoveries. In 1918 a creamery was built on the site and they used the Level for water storage. They extended this passage outwards by a short distance so there was room for a railway siding to pass over the Level. Their new arching was wrongly built, as Peter Roe discovered they had built with mortar between each arching stone and when this rotted their arch flattened and started to collapse. When the remedial work was done in the 1980s the end of what was left was encased in a new concrete portal. This has been retained to commemorate the reopening of the Level in 1984, which is a date to remember as it gave easy access to the wonders that lie underground.


5. The 1884-85 portal above the iron beam,
with rebuilt arching above and behind the site of the inner 1980s door
6. Preparing to rebuild one of the holes in the arching and the bulge
beneath, removing arching stones to fully expose the bulge before
taking down the stonework here


The excavation pit has now been backfilled and the site contoured; once it revegetates it will look much as it did except that the creamery outbuilding has mostly gone; it needed to be removed as it lay over part of the hole needed to do the work. The 1980s security gates have been shotblasted and galvanised and now put back.


7. The rebuilt arching has now been
protected by a reinforced concrete cap
8. The upper part of the site as the refilled hole was being landscaped; what remains
of the creamery outbuilding lies just beyond the steps
9. The 1880s doors after being
galvanised and refitted
 
10. The rebuilt arching where the bulge was


*Photographs 1-6, 8-9: © J. Barnatt; 7, 10 © S. Henley

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