Keeping it Weir: Honister's future far from rocky as young guns join historic slate mine business (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Keeping it Weir: Honister's future far from rocky as young guns join historic slate mine business
A FAMILY-run slate mine on a remote Lake District mountain pass is keeping traditional skills alive by taking on its fourth generation of family members.
Conor Weir, 18, has started his apprenticeship at Honister Slate Mine which is co-owned by his father Joe, grandmother Celia and aunty Jan.
Conor from Borrowdale, has even been occupying the very place where his great grandfather once sat in the 40s and 50s as he is trained in the ancient art of slate riving.
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The mine - high up on Honister Pass in the Borrowdale Valley - was rescued from closure by Conor's uncle, the late Lake District entrepreneur, Mark Weir in the late 1990s.
He was inspired to open it by his own grandfather who used to work there.
Conor is now following in their footsteps by perfecting the age-old skills of ‘docking’, ‘riving’ and ‘dressing’; dividing large blocks (or ‘clogs’) of slate, splitting down the grain, and carefully crafting smaller slates with a hammer and chisel.
The mine, said to be England’s oldest working slate mine, transforms thousands of tonnes of the Honister green slate into roofing tiles, paving stones and home and garden products.
Conor’s grandmother, Celia Weir, said she was proud.
“These are the skills we are losing – they simply don’t teach them at university. It’s all about being here, on the shop floor, and keeping the ancient traditions alive.
“With Conor now working here four days a week, he becomes the fourth generation of our family to make their living at Honister.
"It’s such a special privilege for me to see him growing in confidence and emulating the work my own father did here all those years ago. My brother stayed here for 40 years as well and of course, my sons - Conor’s father Joe and his late uncle Mark - have been essential to the revival of the mine in recent years.”
Conor added: “Honister’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember, but I’m now enjoying getting stuck into my new role. Putting out my first ton of ‘best’ slate was definitely a proud moment!”
He is also learning about the more recently-introduced aspects of the business and has just been inducted as a safety guide on the Via Ferrata, which takes visitors along the ancient miner’s cliff-edge footpath high on Fleetwith Pike.
Conor isn’t the only family member getting involved.
His younger brother Tiger, and his cousins and sons to the late Mark Weir - Prentice and Piers, are now all helping out at Honister.