Treacle mine

Treacle mining is the fictitious mining of treacle (similar to molasses) in a raw form similar to coal. The subject purports to be serious but is an attempt to test credulity. Thick black treacle makes the deception plausible. The topic has been a joke in British humour for a century.

Locations often suggested

Several treacle mines have been claimed in Britain, notably in Wem (Shropshire), Talskiddy, Bisham, Nuneaton, Chobham, Tongham, Tadley, Skidby, Ditchford, Crick, Burtle, Somerset, Newton Abbot, Devon and Dunchideock;[1] in several northern towns including Natland and Baggrow in Cumbria; in Croftamie, Scotland; and in the fictional village of Wymsey.

In Leeds and West Yorkshire it is said the Treacle Mines are in Pudsey—birds are also said to fly backwards there.

The paper mills around Maidstone in Kent were known as "The Tovil Treacle Mines"[2] by locals, after the area where one of the mills owned by Albert E. Reed[3] was situated. The company helped the myth with a float in Maidstone carnival with a "treacle mine" theme. One suggested source of to the story in this area is a rumour that the paper industry was threatened during the Second World War because there was no imported timber. Fermentation of straw was tried, creating a sticky goo. There were attempts to make paper from other than rags in the 19th century and an early commercial success was achieved by Samuel Hook and his son, Charles Townsend Hook, using straw at Upper Tovil Mill in the 1850s. The road next to Upper Tovil Mill became known, and was later named, as Straw Mill Hill. To produce pulp, the straw was cooked in hot alkali. After separation of the fibre, the remaining liquid looked like black treacle. Upper Tovil Mill closed in the 1980s and the site was used for a housing estate.

Tudeley and Frittenden in Kent are also said to have had treacle mines. A tank wagon on the Kent and East Sussex Railway was painted in fictional "Frittenden Treacle Mines" livery in 2009.[4]

Suggestions of a treacle mine in Buxted were published by the "Friends of Horwich".[5]

Tadley treacle mines had a local hotel named after them and a Tadley Treacle Fair is held. Legend says the name derives from using treacle tins to store money because banks could not be trusted. The tins were buried around the village. Criminals mined for tins.

For longer than a century a treacle mine was reputed to be located in Polegate, East Sussex, commemorated by a restaurant near its location.

Fictitious justifications offered

The following justifications are used to help the credulous believe in the existence of the mines.

  • That Cromwell's army buried barrels of molasses that later leaked and seeped to the surface.
  • That prehistoric sugar cane beds became fossilised in a similar way to peat and coal.

There are two theories behind the Treacle Mines of Tadley:

  • In the early 20th century, a gardener unearthed a treacle tin (or possibly golden syrup) containing money.
  • More likely, the "treacle" refers to the heavy clay soil of the area, hence Tadley Treacle Mines.

There is one theory behind the treacle mine in Tongham, Surrey.

  • A train of treacle was derailed during WWI and rather than move it, local people buried it. The treacle rose to the surface many years later.


"Treacle" originally meant any thick syrupy salve, and it is likely that bituminous seeps from coal deposits were used in traditional remedies, so this may have inspired the joke (coal tar also has medicinal uses). The Tar Tunnel near Blists Hill in Shropshire has natural deposits of bitumen oozing from the walls which could be said to resemble treacle.

Another explanation is that "treacle" meant 'a medicine', derived from the appearance of the Greek derivative 'theriacal' meaning medicinal (Gk theriake = a curative or antidote), so the various healing wells around Britain were called "treacle wells". Treacle later came to mean a sticky syrup after the popularity of a honey-based drug called "Venice treacle", and the continued use of the old form in the treacle wells led to the joke.[6]

In Devon, on the eastern edge of Dartmoor, UK, the remains of mines are known locally as "Treacle Mines" since they show a glistening black residue that looks like treacle. In fact, the mines—always on granite—produced a mineral known as micaceous hematite, used as pounce to dust early ink to prevent smearing. It was later used in rust-preventing paints and was the last mineral commercially mined on Dartmoor. This definition seems local to a geographical area.

Some industrial processes leave a treacle like waste that was joked about by factory workers, see paper making above.

Actual places

Several public houses, restaurants and hotels have borne the name. The Treacle Mine public house in Grays, Thurrock, Essex (pictured above) is an example, and the adjacent Treacle Mine Roundabout, which features on the local bus timetable, is named after the public house. There is a restaurant/pub named Treacle Mine in Polegate, East Sussex;[7] the Broomsquire Hotel in Tadley, Hampshire, was previously the Treacle Mine Hotel; and another Treacle Mine pub is in Hereford.

Since April 2009 the town of Wincanton, twinned with Ankh-Morpork, has had a Treacle Mine Road.[8]

Cultural references

The Treacle Mine has been a joke played on children and the gullible since at least the nineteenth century.

  • In Uncle and the Treacle Trouble (1967), a children's book by J. P. Martin, the main character (an elephant named "Uncle") discovers the true meaning of a cryptic sign which reads "Treac Levat"; the characters soon discover that it relates to a vast hidden treacle vat.
  • A treacle mine features in the novels Reaper Man (1987) and Night Watch (2002) by Terry Pratchett. In the fictional Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork there is a street named Treacle Mine Road, with the current watch house (analogous to a police station) found in the building formerly housing the entrance to a treacle mine. Extensive treacle and suet mines also feature in the background of The Fifth Elephant (1999). Thud! (2005) also makes references to "deep treacle" deposits beneath the city.
  • Some of Ken Dodd's Diddy Men were said to work in a jam butty (jam sandwich) mine. This appears to be a similar concept.

See also


External links

  • Wymsey Treacle Mine
  • Treacleminer – for all things treacle

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