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In October 2019 Alastair Robertson, Vice-Chairman of the Vieille Montagne Heritage Association and Chairman of Alston Moor Historical Society, paid a visit to Kelmis in Belgium. Kelmis was the birthplace in 1837 of the Vieille Montagne Zinc Mining Company of Belgium that worked the mines at Nenthead, Carrshield, Haggs Bank and Rotherhope in Cumbria, England, from 1896 to 1949. At the Museum Vieille Montagne in Kelmis he was able to meet up with fellow members of the Association, Celine Ruess, curator of the MVM, Daniel Sobanski and Francois Wouters, historians and researchers. Daniel was one of the speakers at the conference at the Vieille Montagne 120th Anniversary weekend held in Nenthead in August 2016.

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With Daniel Sobanski beside the Oskar-Stollen mine level entrance

Francois led a walk along the old narrow-gauge railway track through what is now beautiful woodland, but was at one time scarred with mine workings. Celine was unable to come with us due to work commitments but numbers were made up by friends from the air b&b.

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With Petra Scheidacher, owner of the air b&b and a teacher of French and English across the border in Germany, viewing the mine waste site reclaimed by nature

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Looking at, but understanding little of, the information board of the Schmalgraf mine, in French and German but not English.

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With Zet, a former geologist, on top of a capped Schmalgraf mineshaft, Elsa the dog disappearing off stage left.

Schmalgraf was the deepest metallic mine in Belgium at 290m. In this mine were found sphalerite, cerusite, galena, marcasite and smithsonite.

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In front of the remains of one of the Schmalgraf mineshaft buildings.

Unfortunately, the person missing from all the photos is the photographer Francois Wouters, a former foreman at the zinc rolling plant in Balen, Belgium.

Previous News


  • The Vieille Montagne Heritage Association held its first AGM in June in Liege, which was followed by a visit to the MMIL (Maison de la Metallurgie et de l’Industrie de Liege).

  • Many thousands of Vieille Montagne documents are in the process of being catalogued by the AVAE (Association pour la Valorisation des Archives d’Enterprises). It has been estimated that the work will take about four years, although a lot can be completed within the first year. Funding for this has been generously given by the international UMICORE company based in Brussels.

  • A set of fascinating mid-nineteenth century watercolour paintings illustrating the zinc industry around Kelmis is to be restored and properly recorded.

  • Since the opening of the MVM (Museum de la Vieille Montagne) in Kelmis, Belgium, in May 2018, the number of visitors has exceeded all expectations.

  • A member of the VMHA has taken upon himself the heroic task of cataloguing and digitally improving around 2,400 photographs of the VM, most of which were taken in the early 20th century.

  • Plans are under way to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of J.J.D. Dony, an abbot who was also a chemist! Dony was the founding father of the zinc industry in the Kelmis/Moresnet area of Belgium who obtained a lease from Napoleon in 1806 to work the zinc mine.


In September 2018 a museum was opened in the former directorate building of the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company and combined railway station in the town of Kelmis, Belgium. The building, which has been thoroughly renovated, complete with a new zinc roof, houses a large collection of displays of local interest imaginatively and attractively set out. Called the MVM (Museum de la Vieille Montagne), it is dedicated to the ‘Societe Anonyme des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille Montagne’, or ‘VM’ for short, and to the small unique territory of Neutral Moresnet. The event was held during the weekend of 14th to the 16th September, it was significant enough to receive television coverage, press coverage and a large number of visitors.

The weekend also saw the first General Meeting of the recently-formed Vieille Montagne Heritage Association in one of the conference rooms of the museum. The Association is a mini-United Nations, members came not only from the home country of Belgium, but from France, Germany, Sweden and England, with an expression of interest from Italy. Members have a variety of backgrounds, for example there were representatives from ‘VM Building Solutions’, a former zinc rolling mill manager, a mine manager, at least three authors, archivists, and representatives from industrial history museums, etc.

One of the English representatives presented the MVM with an album of photo’s of the company’s days in Nenthead, Cumbria, as a gift from Alston Moor Historical Society, a sample of sphalerite (the zinc ore-bearing mineral) as a gift from the Nenthead Mines Conservation Society, and samples of the zinc roof cladding salvaged from the former VM ore-dressing mill in Nenthead. By coincidence, this VM building, possibly the last of its kind anywhere, was in the process of being demolished at precisely the same time that the museum in Kelmis was being opened in another VM building. It was then that a small but exciting discovery was made. Roger Balthus, chairman of the VMHA, looked for and found on one sample of sheeting a stamp mark that showed the zinc to have been rolled in Angleur and taken to Nenthead to be put on the roof there.

For the business of the meeting, Chairman Roger Balthus took members of the association through the agenda, which covered issues such as the registration of the association, which requires royal assent, ideas for a logo for the Association (a variation on the old VM company logo), the setting up of a working group to establish a website, and the cataloguing of the VM archives. Then, to round off, Alexander Kierdorf of the LVR group of museums in Germany gave a talk about mining in the Bensberg area of Germany.

An agenda item of particular interest and concern to members was the cataloguing of the VM archive – all 700 linear shelf metres of it. Daniel Van Overstraeten of the Association pour la Valorisation des Archives d’Enterprises (AVAE) explained that funding has been obtained to pay for this work, which will involve two archivists for an estimated period of four years. Access to VM archives has always been problematic, and now prospective researchers will have to be patient while this heroic task is under way. However, it is anticipated that hard-cover and bound reports, etc., the easiest items to identify, treat and catalogue, could be available after one year.

The day was rounded off by a meal at a restaurant in Liege. The next meeting will be held once the registration formalities have been completed.

Watch this space.


The new 'Museum Vieille Montagne' (MVM) in Kelmis, Belgium, will open its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday 15th September from 2pm to 7pm with tours and lectures, and open again on Sunday 16th from 2pm to 7pm, when additional entertainment will be a theatrical performance based on the book 'ZINK'.
Visitors will learn about the unique neutral territory of Moresnet, the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company with its mines around the world, and the Altenburg Mine on which the VM was founded.
The Museum is housed in the former directorate building on the main street in Kelmis. The building has been beautifully refurbished with its stunning domed roof re-clad in zinc - of course.
More details will be published as they become available.

Somewhere in England a Vieille Montagne steam locomotive is being restored and the owner would like to find out about its history.
What is known so far about the loco is that it was built in 1890, it worked for a few years for the East Brussels Tram Company, it was then bought by the VM to work at Angleur. The loco was given the name Lucie and the number 8. Can anyone supply any more information?

The former Vieille Montagne Directorate office in Kelmis, Belgium

In August 2016, with help from a ‘Sharing Heritage’ HLF grant, a weekend event was held in Nenthead in Cumbria to commemorate the 120th Anniversary of the arrival of the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium that brought a multinational workforce to the area. Although Nenthead is a quiet, out-of-the-way place today, a hundred years ago it was home to workers from all over Europe. The conference reflected this diversity, the speakers were English, Italian, French and German, a lady and gentleman came from the village in the Italian Alps that was home to the Italian miners, two ladies from the Gohltal Museum in Kelmis in Belgium, where the Vieille Montagne began, unveiled the information plaque in the centre of the village, and ‘VM Building Solutions’, formerly ‘VMZinc’, was represented by two of its directors.

Eighteen months later the next phase in the development of what has become ‘Vieille Montagne Heritage’ took place in the town of Kelmis, in the former tiny neutral territory of Moresnet, sandwiched between Belgium, Holland and Prussia.

Neutral Moresnet

A conference organised by ‘VM Building Solutions’ and the mayor of Kelmis was held in the Park Hotel on Saturday 17th February 2018. Delegates from far off stayed in the hotel while others were able to travel each day. The Park Hotel, incidentally, is next door to the former mine manager’s house, which, it is hoped, will be refurbished in the not-too-distant future.

At the Saturday morning meeting about twenty delegates from Belgium, Germany, England, Holland, France, and Sweden were seated around the table. The State University of Liege, Belgium, was represented, the Maison de la Metallurgie et de l’Industrie de Liege, Belgium, Nenthead Mines Conservation Society of Cumbria in England, the Industrial Museum of the Rhineland, Germany, the Bergisches Museum of Bensberg, in Germany, the local authority of Kelmis, and ‘VM Building Solutions’ with its representatives from France, Germany and Britain. A group of archive researchers also attended to express their interest in examining the many metres of VM documents held in the Belgian State Archives.

‘Vieille Montagne Heritage’ was established with a committee consisting of a French Chairman, German and English Vice-chairmen, a Belgian Treasurer and Belgian Secretary – a miniature United Nations.

The meeting was recorded by Belgian national television and the local press, after which the contractor for the zinc roof, to be installed as part of the renovation work at the new museum, was interviewed on TV with a backdrop of the roller banner produced for the 120th Anniversary of the VM at Nenthead in Cumbria.

Guided tour around the VM Directorate office and site of zinc works, Kelmis, Belgium

In the afternoon guided tours took the group to the site of the old zinc works in the town of Kelmis that were overlooked by the proposed museum to be housed in the former VM Directorate office. This was followed by visits to the mine sites at Schmalgraf and Berg Lontzen that finished with a tour of the village of Lontzen and its museum.
That evening delegates were privileged to meet the mayor of Kelmis and to enjoy a meal at a restaurant in nearby Aachen, just across the border into Germany.

On Sunday 18th there was a talk by author Marc Bressant, to conference delegates and residents of Kelmis, on his fictional work (at present available only in French) about Neutral Moresnet, called ‘So Small a Territory’. The theme being the fact that Moresnet is a minute piece of land ‘the size of a large farm’, surrounded by Belgium, Holland and Prussia, that remained ‘neutral’ until after the First World War.

Vieille Montagne Heritage Chairman, Roger Balthus, with author Marc Bressant

The next meeting has been planned to coincide with the opening of the Museum in Kelmis, which, we hope, will be this autumn.

A couple of small spin-offs were:
1. Contact has been made and much information exchanged between a former manager of the Zinkgruvan mine, not far from the Ammeberg mine in Sweden, where zinc ore was produced for shipping to Belgium, and the plant manager of the works at Balen in Belgium where that zinc was roasted.

OTTO Otto Martin Torell, a Swedish mining engineer who worked at Nenthead in Cumbria from 1897, when the VM first arrived, to 1900.

2. The identity of a Swedish mine engineer has been discovered to add to the list of foreign workers at Nenthead in Cumbria, England.
About Us
The Vieille Montagne brings historians, genealogists and researchers from around Europe together into a co-operative project investigating the history of the Vieille Montagne and its workers.
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