MINING AND EXTRACTION
Until the end of the Victorian era, reading and writing was not universal as it is today and was available to only those who could afford to pay to be taught. So little would have been written down and the practices for treacle extraction and processing would be passed by word of mouth and by example set by father to son. Rather like the Free Miners of the New Forest, treacle mining involved family groups and for this reason the skilled practices for mining and processing the ore remain vague today.
A frequently asked question is - how were treacle seams located? It is believed that the children of a miner’s family were made to follow the behaviour of bees in the fields. Bees gathering together in a spot where there was no visible nectar source could indicate the likelihood of good treacle find. However, in some areas, you only have to look in the fields where the farmer has been ploughing, to discover a fresh harvest of lumps of treacle rock. Often these lumps of treacle rock are difficult to recognise, the lumps usually being plastered with mud. However, a quick wipe over with a handkerchief and a taste of the rock with the tip of the tongue is a simple test anyone can make.
There can be little doubt that the 1776 enclosure act, which put land into the hands of individuals and ended the open fields system of farming, had the effect of increasing treacle mining activities in Crick. The co-operative spirit of the open field method of farming would have continued after enclosure. It is alleged that treacle mining was mainly a clandestine operation but there is little doubt that after 1776 with land being in private hands there was an increased opportunity for small scale drift mining in Crick.
In Crick quantities were extracted in blocks. The thick viscid syrup with the consistency of molasses was extracted from the blocks by a simple pressure extraction process using a treacle press made from local coppice material. Early presses were no more than layers of straw and ore below a wood and heavy stone mass. Later a screw press like a cider press was introduced.
For inferior ore bearing rock, heat was used to extract the molasses. Great care was needed as anyone who has dropped sugar into a fire will know. Often the rock would be heated over the fire in a cauldron held by a free-standing tripod. The liquid would be ladled out.
One problem of heating the rock beside the tendency for material to ignite if overheated was the telltale dark smoke, which like the smoke from the moonshine whisky still, was a tell-tale sign to be avoided.
For more information: Origin of the seams
, Miner's Health
, Crick Mining Co-operative