Tudor Chemicals

Your guide to the world of Chemistry in an iconic time of history.

Mining And Smelting During Tudor Times

During the Tudor period mining was a thriving industry, in particular for the extraction of copper, iron, lead and tin.

As the existing technology didn't allow the development of deep tunnels, extraction was mostly superficial or open-pit mining.

As the need for more metals increased and mining became more intense, smelting also developed side-by-side, and Tudor smelters become highly proficient in removing the metal from its respective ore. Basically, the metallurgic process involves the use of intense heat and chemicals to remove impurities from the ore and obtain the pure element. During the 15th and 16th centuries, charcoal was commonly used as a source of carbon, which upon reaction with oxygen from the ore, would form carbon dioxide, leaving behind the metal.


During this period, iron was a popular metal for armours, weapons and horse riding material, which greatly increased the need for this metal and stimulated better extraction and smelting methods. After extraction, iron ores were placed in a furnace to remove most impurities and produce a forgeable bar of iron (wrought iron). The process involved three separate phases: the initial removal of impurities, to generate what was called pig iron (now referred to as cast iron), a second fining to produce wrought iron (with very few impurities) and a third phase to produce a bar of iron.


Lead And Tin

Lead was used long before Tudor times, as it’s easy to extract and smelt. However, Tudor miners and smelters could not distinguish between lead (which they called black lead or “plumbum nigrum”) and tin (referred to as bright lead or “plumbum candidum”). Both lead and tin extraction were very important industries in the UK during the 15th and 16th century.

Ores were obtained either from streams or underground, crushed and roasted, producing lead and tin oxide which was then reduced to the metal in the furnace. Currently, other products can be produced and economically recovered, such as silicates, sulphides and arsenides, but during this period, the compounds that separated during roasting were discarded.

During Tudor times, tin was particularly important to produce pewter, which was used in many household utensils, including cutlery and ornamental objects. Pewter was commonly produced with 85-99% tin, and a small percentage of other metals, including antimony, bismuth, copper or lead. Unfortunately, Tudors were unfamiliar with the health risks associated with lead, and pewter containing lead was frequently used in everyday items.


Copper was a popular metal for use not only in coins, but also for sculptures, copper sheeting for ship’s hulls and water pipes. Also, silver was effectively extracted from some copper ores since the 15th century. The extraction and smelting process was similar to other metals, with ores placed in large furnaces at high temperatures to remove impurities.