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History of the silver mine

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The mineral deposit Fournel in the Hautes-Alpes, is a leading silver-lead deposits in the Alps, but it is modest in size nationally.
It is an alpine vein, encased in sedimentary rocks and strongly dislocated by the late tectonic game. The origin of the metalliferous stock is not known. The ore is almost exclusively galena intimately associated with a gangue of quartz and barite.
Its power is sometimes considerable to the point that the vein could give up to half a ton of galena per square meter. But the difficulties of exploitation are numerous: a country rock among the hardest in the world; a fragmentation of the house into countless HF panels; a mineral that is mixed and delicate to enrich.

Mine History 1
Charter of 1155 granting the Dauphin the right to coin money

The old Exploitation is medieval
It is spread between the Xth and the XIIIth century. The rare archival documents and radiocarbon dates do not allow us to be more precise, nor to say whether it is a continuous or discontinuous activity. The mine is exploited by miners who master the techniques of the time. Revenues are controlled by some powerful, including a certain Giraldus Malvicinus, then the Church of Embrun and later the Count of Albon who governs Dauphine.
All the outcrops are discovered, from the bottom of the gorge to the escarpments that dominate the Durance.
The ore is mined until the flush panels are exhausted, sometimes over a distance of 150 m on the slopes. The work is organized opportunistically: portions of galleries and wells are gradually added to each other to provide ventilation and drainage of construction sites. The excessive hardness of the rock is overcome by the reasoned application of fire, without leading to deforestation of the surroundings, contrary to popular belief.

Mine History 1
Plan of Old Works in 1790

During 3 to 4 centuries are extracted several thousand tons of lead and a dozen tons of money which fed the manufacture of local currencies.
The mine was known to all, well beyond the Haute-Durance, the latter being a major passageway: pilgrims stopping at the Commandery of St. John of Jerusalem could not ignore an activity that gave its name to the place.
Thanks to this activity, the houses developed around the Argentière castle and gradually supplanted the neighboring agglomeration of Rame, a former Roman resort ravaged by floods.

Mine History 1
Old Saint John Chapel

Modern exploitation
It spans 120 years from 1785 to 1908, an activity that really focuses on fifty years. One can very easily distinguish three phases: a start, a climax and a decline. The startup phase is long and enamelled of serious errors. At the end of the eighteenth century, the Schlagberg Company set up a model, complete and autonomous establishment on the surface, but completely neglected the investment in the underground. The Compagnie d’Allemont sees too much and annihilates its cash by wanting to exploit simultaneously many deposits of Oisans and Briançonnais. Duclos de Boussois technically hands the Fournel mine on a good track, but his temperament throws him into distractions that put the company in difficulty and leads to the eviction of the bad manager.

Then for 20 years, the exploitation is at its peak under the direction of Pierre Suquet, a civil engineer from Aix-en-Provence. It is a period of economic prosperity, technical innovation and social calm. Underground mining progressively extends to 400 m in length and 150 m in altitude, equipped with a pump and a winch, both operated by underground hydraulic wheels. A model establishment is running at full speed at the bottom of the Fournel Gorge, equipped with the most efficient mechanical preparation devices of the time. The annual production is then 500 to 700 tons of concentrated ore, sent to the large foundry Luce & Rozan of Marseille, a turnover of more than 200 000 Fr. of the time.

The workforce reaches 300 to 400 workers, more than half of whom come from an Italian immigration: important figures for a municipality with about 1300 souls. The Fournel is thus the first employer in the Hautes-Alpes department. Italians have to live in homestays and depend on local trade for their supply and / or the canteen of the mine, which is the same. In addition to the miners or washers, the mine permanently employs ten craftsmen (blacksmiths, carpenters, masons). It is also home to muleteers, carters, loggers and various suppliers.

After the banking crisis of 1870, the mine is in recession: the exhaustion of the lodging is near. Two English companies are trying to restart the operation. The Argentiere Mineral Co. has the merit of completing the Great Flow Gallery in 1879, but the little ore found in the depth does not balance the investment.

A decade later, in 1892, the French Mine Ltd modernized the facility for the last time but also failed to find ore reserves. A decade later, a considerable effort was made by Compagnie des Bormettes: the operation was restructured, but only one new oreboard was found. The new laundry will only work for a small year. In 1908, the deposit is considered exhausted.

In the nineteenth century, for 35 years, the activity of the mine was continuous. Some of the staff from L’Argentière were able to make a career there. Some social conflicts, particularly in 1850 and 1873, may have contributed to the emergence of a feeling of the working class. When the operation was suspended in 1881, some residents did not hesitate to follow the Hoskin minor leader in Canada to exploit a gold mine.

In 1908, the exploitation stops definitively and at the same time begin the hydraulic works of Gilbert Planche. Thus, some of the personnel move from the world of mine galleries to that of diversion tunnels. A new industrial area begins in L’Argentière on a social ground that the mining activity will have prepared.

During its period of prosperity, the Fournel mine has enjoyed a certain reputation which makes it refer to several geological and industrial publications. It received the visit of many specialists, including the Geological Society of France during an excursion on 9 September 1861. Several times, photographers have immortalized the establishment nestled deep in the gorge and mining tourism has already exist. The Gazette “Le Dauphine – mail of the thermal waters of the region” recommends in August 1864 to visit “the silver lead mines of L’Argentière (…) which are currently thriving under the able direction of Mr. Suquet. “Later, the tourist guide Joanne says:” Guide to visit the mines, Mr. Barneoud, guardian of the mine and cafe in Bessée-Basse. 150 years ago, the first tourists had the choice:<img data-src="https://www.allsharehd.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/histoire-de-la-mine-2-300×191.jpg" alt="" width="300" height="191" class="alignleft size-medium wp

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