Although overshadowed by coal-mining the North East was important in the development of lead-mining from the Roman period.
Lead mining in Allenheads began in the 1500s and the mine was worked until the 1840s, when the price for lead collapsed. At one time it was the most productive mine in the North Pennines – producing a seventh of the country's lead.
Creativity and innovation were essential to the development of the technology for the mining and processing of lead - markedly different to that used in coal mining. Mines co-operated to develop early pumping engines and drainage levels. Dressing floors saw the introduction of the ‘Brunton buddle’ a continuous belt used to separate even the smallest pieces of ore. And smelting was improved by the Pattinson process which saved fuel and ensured less lead was lost.
The remote nature of the mines meant communities developed away from the amenities of market towns. In particular, the Northern Pennine orefield saw the development of nonconformist (particularly Methodist) chapels, complete with Sunday schools, bands, reading rooms, schools and institutes.