Mystery bomb – A tale of Coniston copper mines

This is the first time this guy, who will end up being my boyfriend, and I are meeting outside the climbing wall. He is trying to fill the silence while we drive through the Lake District in England – I‘m not a very talkative person.

He keeps talking about crags, pubs, houses, hills, and pretty much anything that can be seen from the car window. When we pass Coniston, he points at the hillside. “Someone tried to explode the mines once and flood the valley. Maybe, someday, we could go see the tunnel where the bomb was.”

This is interesting. Tell me more.

Parkmoor Jetty on Coniston Water. Photo by Rob Noble, licensed for reuse under

Prime Minister Major’s visit

The tale goes that in 1995 when John Major was the prime minister of the United Kingdom, he planned to visit Coniston as a part of National Trust centenary celebrations. His visit was well known locally and was going to include some boating on the Coniston Water. However, for some unknown reason, John Major cancelled the trip one day before he was due to arrive.

Makeshift bomb

A few weeks after his planned visit, a group of mountain rescue team members discovered a makeshift bomb from the Coniston Copper, which dig deep into the hillside above Coniston Water. According to the Sunday Times, the bomb was made from a camping gas cylinder packed with fertilizer and sugar. It was situated next to a concrete plug that kept the water from the above tarn, called Levers Water, from flooding the tunnels. Some say that the fuse had been lit, but it had petered out.

The mining activity had permanently ceased in 1956, but it seems like cavers would go explore the mines every now and then. The same location was visited in the 1980s when a caving party discovered that the original plug was made of wood. Supposedly it was replaced by a more secure concrete seal after that.

Conspiracy theory?

A few years after, in 1998, The Sunday Times draw a neat line between these two occasions. Had the bomb designated, millions of litres of water would have filled the mines and likely flooded the Coniston village. If John Major had been there at the time, his trip would have taken a different turn. The Sunday Paper speculated that it was works of the Irish Republic Army, IRA, that was causing major unrest around that time. It would not have been the first time the IRA tried to assassin the prime minister or cause damage to gain publicity.

However, the police said that such speculation was nonsense; The bomb was placed in the mines by some cavers who wanted to explore the sealed-off caves. They claimed that cavers didn’t know that breaking the seal would burst the tarn. The police had strong evidence of that, but they didn’t want to point their fingers at anyone. So the story was debunked. 

Nevertheless, the story is still circulating. And there is a way down to the mines to see the spot from where the bomb was found…



3 thoughts on “Mystery bomb – A tale of Coniston copper mines

  1. Pingback: Bubblegum-blue – Inside Coniston copper mines

  2. Hmmmm…. very interesting. I lived in London in the 1970 and early 80s. I remember a lot of IRA activity in those days. But did someone tip off the staff of the Prime Minister? Why did he cancel his trip? The IRA used to give warnings but usually only 5 minutes.


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