the reality be separated from the myth?
scientific evidence is there?
there be more than one origin for the legend?
explores the topic
several possible sources
the likelihood of substantial underground caves,
forward a remarkable suggestion!
a Natlander about the Treacle Mines and
the reaction can vary from a look of blank puzzlement
to a wry smile and knowing wink. A few view the
subject as an embarrassment whilst others regard it
as a good bit of harmless fun to be enjoyed at the expense
of curious visitors.
But perhaps there are those
who know rather more?
for directions if you will but do not expect a simple
answer. One theory is that the secret is known
only to a few village elders; another is that they have
all died and the knowledge is lost.
round Natland, the only visible reference to the Treacle
Mines is in a garden on Oxenholme Lane where
a small cart is on display, painted in the livery of
the Natland Treacle Mines Ltd of Westmorland.
Also in the garden is a replica of a delivery
bicycle, as used to carry the treacle to the customers.
Treacle Mine cart
references to Natland Treacle Mines
exist but generally add little to what was recorded
in Whin Inglesfield's book Natland
& Oxenholme; the Story of a Westmorland Village.
She records the legend that in the year 1211, a man
searching for Roman treasure in a cavern near Natland
saw an ancient pot apparently filled with gold, guarded
by a snake. Recklessly he seized it, the snake
bit him, his hand began to swell and throb and he fainted,
breaking the pot. But what was in his hand was
a golden syrup that cured him at once. Realising
that this was more precious than any coins, the man
explored the cave and found a spring of treacle. For
centuries this has brought health and wealth to the
villagers, but no outsider is ever told where the golden
spring may be.
is dismissive of the legend and speculates that the
origin of the long-standing rumour might be related
to an accumulation of sticky resin in the old sawpit
on the village green opposite Compton House, near Green
variation on this theme is that there is a layer of
bituminous tar underneath the Green that has the appearance
Gambles, in an article in the magazine Cumbria
circa 2003, also tells a version of the same treasure
legend and explains that the word "treacle" derives
from the old French word "triacle" which in turn came
from the Greek "theriake" (other sources, say Latin
"theriaca") meaning an antidote against poisonous bites.
too, goes on to debunk the myth, pointing out that the
suspiciously precise year 1211 is, in Roman numerals,
MCC XI- a term well familiar to cricketers-
and that the reference to "Golden Syrup" suggests a
much more modern origin!
Gambles puts forward a totally different theory, that in 1983 contractors for the North West Water
Authority were excavating a trench for a new pipeline
across a field near Natland when they broke into a subterranean
cave. Two experienced speleologists investigated
and discovered a large cavern with a stream flowing
through it. A full exploration was not possible
in the time available but most of the usual features
of limestone caves were found.
Of especial interest
were several clusters of helictites
and a pocket of cave
pearls which one of the cavers, Jeff
Clegg, photographed. Jeff has
kindly allowed Natland.info to reproduce
the water authority did not permit a complete survey
of the cave and permanently sealed the only known entrance.
Further investigation has been denied.
Gambles goes on to question whether this natural feature
was known to earlier generations? As the cave
is only a few feet below the level of the fields, the
watercourse must have an outlet not too far away. Earth
movement or some other activity may have blocked an
entrance once well known in the locality. The
underground waters were clear and pure, ideally suited
for the concoction of home made "treacle" with the herbs
that grew abundantly in the surrounding woods.
ago, in the early eighties, not long after I first moved
to Natland, I did hear rumours of a cave to be found
along the road toward Sedgwick, near the railway lines.
I confess I approached the subject with scepticism.
Although this is a limestone area, I had not heard
of any other caves locally. However, with modern
technology, an internet search quickly identifies the
existence of at least two nearby:
Cave at Helsfell Nab, just west of Kendal,
near the golf course.
John Beecham excavated
this cave, on the outskirts of Kendal, in the 1880s.
His collection was bought by Kendal museum
in 1888 and in 1960 sold to Liverpool Museum.
Bone Cave on Farrer's Allotment, Whitbarrow
then, whilst preparing this article, I was presented
with a document that forced me to suspend any remaining
disbelief. Keith Bradbury, Natlander
and Secretary of the Kendal Caving Club, sent me an
article that he wrote a few years ago about the club's
search for caves around Natland. Entitled Natland
Treacle Mines, he describes the article
as "accurate but somewhat flippant!" It makes
fascinating reading; it is not really about the treacle
mines at all but a speleological description of the
area and the challenge of trying to understand where
water flows once underground.
had been in touch with Jeff Clegg and obtained more
of the story. The original exploration had been
reported in Descent,
the Magazine of Underground Exploration, edition number 55 November
1983. Subsequently the club has made some
progress in identifying the location of the cave (near
and possibly under the railway).
added that KCC has a current dig opposite the lay-bye
next to the Helm but this doesn't appear to be very
promising at the present time. A lot of infill has been
removed from a small natural cave system but current
progress is in a spoil-filled chamber with no obvious
way forward. Digging is extremely laborious so he does
not envisage caverns measureless to man in the near
the likelihood of a substantial cave in the area seems
real. But whether this is the elusive treacle
mine remains speculation.
the clue to the real story of the Treacle Mines lies within the village,
in the obvious place, with the owner of the aforementioned
treacle mine cart and bike. The cart has now achieved
international exposure, having been posted on the internet-
visit Google Earth and zoom into to Natland and you
will find its photograph.
owner, Jim Cannon, had also heard about
the NWWA discovery when putting in the new water pipes
although he understood its location to be close to Hawes
Bridge (near which Keith Bradbury identifies a small
replica treacle delivery bicycle
However his memories of the Treacle
Mine long predates that excavation. Jim
explained that when he moved to Natland in 1935 he learned
about the Gunpowder Works and the Treacle
Mines. He was able to discover the remains
of the Gunpowder Works but the location of the Treacle
Mines eluded him. He discussed it with an old
farmer, Johnny Wilson, who told Jim that
he used the treacle on his farm for his animals due
to its healing properties. He explained that it
is not like Tate & Lyle but is solid but would liquefy
if heated. Jim asked where the mines could be
found but was told, "Can't rightly say!" Couldn't
or wouldn't? He did give a clue that they were
"Up Helm way."
lump of treacle like rock
explorations led him to the old quarry on Helm
and the discovery of rock quite unlike the predominant
limestone- a sort of ruddy brown colour. He showed
a sample to the late Pearson Charnley
who recognised it as the same as the somewhat brittle
stone out of which a couple of cottages on Helm Lane
had been constructed.
Could this perhaps be the
origin of the legend? Or could there be more than
one type of treacle contributing to and confusing the
has several more observations on the subject, some dating
back to his scouting days:
1st Kendal Scout troop,
at a jamboree on the Isle of Mull, presented the Chief Scout with a block of Kendal
Mint Cake and a block of Natland Treacle. The
wrapper was bright yellow and printed in black with
the words "Natland Treacle as supplied to 1st Kendal
Scouts and used on its expeditions."
Hughes, member of the Civic Society
and well known authority on Kendal's history, was
also a Scout leader. He used to illustrate
the stories told about the treacle mines at jamborees
with a pair of treacle miner's shoes that he had
moccasins with soles made of lamb's wool impregnated
with candle wax to cope with the inevitable stickiness
of the mine floor.
Rainbow Hotel in Kendal used to have
a sepia photograph hanging on its walls showing
an old bus heading up Highgate Bank, its destination
clearly shown as Natland Treacle Mines.
group of Natlanders, believing the Treacle Mine
cave lies between Long Meadow Lane and the railway,
are hoping to force the water authorities (now United
Utilities) to publish the record of its excavations
as clearly any further development of the village
on top of such unstable ground of historic importance
would be quite inappropriate.
evidence is at best confusing and contradictory with
at least three different types of treacle being involved-
rock, resin and edible food or medicine. But maybe,
just possibly, could this confusion be deliberate and
serve to protect a different secret known only to a
is another explanation and might it be significant that
Jim Cannon failed to mention it?
amongst the whimsy and myth on the Treacle Miner website
(where there is reference to a number of treacle mine
locations including a brief mention of Natland plus a passing
reference to the Kendal Mint Cake quarry), there exists
a quite different postulation. It suggests that
the Treacle Mine legends were deliberately propagated as a cover
for an underground defence system in anticipation of
invasion during the First World War. And of course
such a system would be worth keeping secret for future
potential use in times of need. So maybe someone
in the village really is the guardian of a secret of
much greater national importance than mere treacle,
no matter how great its medicinal qualities?
I put the suggestion to Jim Cannon, he became unusually
silent and refused to comment. I may be barking
up the wrong tree but, if you want to know the truth
about Natland Treacle Mines, my recommendation is that
if there is ever a national emergency, keep a tight
watch from a discrete distance on Jim Cannon's whereabouts
and all may be revealed.
Shore, 23rd May 2008
more about the Natland's Caves and Treacle Mines, see:
Natland Pipeline Cave
Barrows Green Cave
page has been converted from the previous Natland website:
here to return to Natland