Five go to Rio Tinto: 12th - 18th January 2014
On Sunday 12th January Byron Cowling, David Green, Hilary Allen, Ken Allen and Roger Doonan travelled to Rio Tinto in Andalucia, Southern Spain to see for themselves the war memorial and the sites of the photographs in the album found by one of Byron's children about ten years ago. We wanted to know more about the people named on the memorial plaque and, most of all - “What was the connection with Wincobank and Sheffield? – How did the album arrive here?” We wanted to take “then and now” photos of the sites depicted in the album and find out as much as we could about the mine – especially during the time period of the album. Work stopped in the mine about ten years ago, but a local resident , a retired engineer, was hopeful that it might reopen sometime in the future.
We were successful in doing many exciting things and making good contacts but made only a beginning on our main objectives.
The monument is situated in the “English village”[Barrio Ingles], built for British employees at the beginning of the last century, called “Bella Vista”. This was an attempt at a “little England” built in an English style, but with local materials,so that the mine officials and their families could live in the manner to which they were accustomed separated from their other employees.
We were able to take” then and now” photos here though there are a great many trees now blocking what had obviously been a clear, or cleared, view with later buildings encroaching on the monument space. Bella Vista is,surprisingly, adjacent to the deep workings of the mine. Our first view of the nearest crater was absolutely mind-blowing in its size,colours and depth – quite shockingly beautiful . We found the English cemetery, now in disrepair, where the British employees were buried ,again separate from those of other nationalities.“Any Sheffield names “wondered Dave.
We were unable to visit the Roman necropolis shown in the album as it was fenced off and declared unsafe, but we took photos through the gate. In the town itself we visited the museum where the artefacts found on the site are on display, along with a replication of the underground mine workings and an actual railway engine with elegant wooden carriages furnished with fabulous leather seats that could be made into beds for the directors and important visitors to the mine. Byron and Roger went into the museum archives to see if the answers to any of our questions could be found there but the files were so dense and references hard to follow so that with limited time they had little success. However the archivists were interested in our search and will let us know if they find anything themselves. We had found a useful contact.
Whilst they were there the rest of us, whilst taking photos in Bella Vista, also made an interesting contact. Speaking almost no Spanish, Dave speaks a little, we met by chance a journalist,who spoke no English but was very interested in the album . He took photos of us with the album and the next day arrived with civic dignitaries, [and an English speaking interpreter], to interview us. Thus we made it into the Rio Tinto newspaper and the internet!
We visited other areas of the mine and the lovely Moorish walled town of Niebla , the site of an archaeological dig shown in the album. The red river – rio Tinto – flows under a Roman bridge past this town. We had learned that the colour of the river is not due to working the mine but to natural leaching of the minerals. This colour is recorded in ancient documents.
The city of Huelva is located where the two rivers Tinto and Odiel join and flow together into the Atlantic. Here we walked on part of the stunning double-storied pier that took two levels of train tracks carrying minerals from Rio Tinto mines to ships, and so across the world. Made from girders - from Scotland!
A final free day took us to Seville and ,on the way back to Huelva, to the home of an English geologist who had emailed Penny back in Wincobank. She emailed us. His private hobby was military history and he was therefore also interested in the story behind the war memorial. Hopefully another useful contact.
We returned home with no answers, more questions, but a clearer picture of Rio Tinto itself and some useful threads in the story of the album.
To see the article in the Huelva News click here There is an automated translation facility on the web page.
To hear a more from the intrepid travellers and to see their photos, come along to the meeting of Friends of Wincobank Hill from 6.30pm on Thursday 6th February at Upper Wincobank Chapel, Wincobank Avenue S5 6BB