Mining Minerals in the Peak District
In this section of the site you will find articles and information about mineral mining in the Peak District. The main mineral mined was lead however smaller amounts of copper, zinc and others have been produced. There are the remains of this mining heritage scattered throughout the region. Sometimes they are visible just as depressions in the ground with maybe a few bits of twisted metal to be seen around and about. Other times, they are more obvious such as those at the Magpie Mine near Sheldon and Ecton mines.
Mining Overview, Derbyshire Peak District – Copper, Lead
The Peak District was the first region in the UK to be designated as a National Park. Before this, the landscape was utilised in a variety of different ways. Here, you can read a little about the history of lead mining in the region.
Mining in this region is not new. Minerals of various kinds have been mined in the Peak District since prehistoric times. Here is a brief overview of mineral mining in Derbyshire and the Peak District.
Mining in prehistoric times
An antler tool and hammer stones from the bronze age have been found at Ecton (copper) Mines, near Wetton. Also a lead axe has been found at Mam Tor, near Castleton (where there is a high concentration of mines). By looking at levels of lead in soils, archaeologists can find circumstantial evidence for lead mining in the past. Peat on Kinder Scout, Derbyshire’s highest ‘peak’, suggests that lead smelting occurred during the Bronze Age. In other areas, higher lead concentrations have been found which date to the Iron Age but the highest concentrations date to the heyday of lead mining in the Peak District during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Peak District mining during Roman times
Lead ingots have been found that carry Roman inscriptions. Some have personal names, one has the Emperor Hadrian stamped on and several have Lutudarum. No reference to the town of Lutudarum has been found, some believe it existed in the area of Carsington whilst others believe it could refer to the ore field itself. It is possible that the fort of Navio, at the northern limit of the mineralised area, was built to protect this industry. A prehistoric track way – The Portway – linked this with a non military settlement further south, where Carsington water now is. No signs of these early lead mines have been located. One of the main features of Roman mines is the shape of the tunnels. They have a characteristically small, square, arched or coffin-shaped cross section. These may have been present originally but subsequently lost during later mining as the tunnels were enlarged. Mining enthusiast and writer Nellie Kirkham explored a shaft close to a Romano-British settlement at Rainster Rocks and concluded from a variety of pieces of evidence that it seemed to be much older than most of the other workings she had explored.
Peak District Mining in Saxon times
The only reference to Saxon lead mining activities is from the Wirksworth area. The mines here were owned by the monks of Repton. There is some ambiguity as to whether the entries in the Domesday Book refer to actual mining or smelting works. In Wirksworth church there is a carving of T’owd Man (the local name for miners) dating from the 12th century. I believe that it originally belonged to the people of Bonsall, a village a few miles away.
Post Saxon mining activities
The major time for mineral mining in the Peak District happened after the Saxons. Mining technology moved on and the need for the metals from the Derbyshire ore field increased. Products from the Derbyshire mines were sold globally. The Industrial revolution increased both the need and the technology at a pace not seen before.
Lead mining was widespread in Derbyshire and the Peak District in the 12th and 13th centuries. Nestus mine (Heights of Abraham, Matlock Bath) is documented as being active in the 14th century. Some of the mines in the region yielded lead ‘for the Crown’ but there were plenty of others in private ownership. Many of the big-name local families (e.g. Manners, Gell, Babbington) made money from lead mining between the 15th and 17th centuries. The earliest known mining laws from the ‘Ashbourne Inquisition’ in 1288 and the carving of a medieval miner in Wirksworth Church add to the evidence. Medieval lead from the Peak District roofed many important buildings. The industry collapsed with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries due to the recycling of lead from their roofs.
The heyday of Peak mining was begun in the 17th century. Improvements in technology in the 18th century such as soughs and pumping engines gave access to deeper workings. Some of the richest veins were found in the south of the ore field – Winster, Elton and Snitterton had the Plackett Pipe and the veins in the Wirksworth area were also rich in lead. Millclose mine was one of the richest and most successful.
An interesting local insight into underground workings can be found in Masson Hill quarry, a recently developed sports climbing venue. On the guide, there is a cave marked at one end of the quarry. This is in fact a cross section through an old mine (the Masson mine) that was revealed during the working life of the quarry. A shaft is intact above your head and a deep, narrow cleft marks the line of the vein. The site is on private property and the rock at the quarry is loose. Do not enter unless you are with a local guide.
Ventilation in mines has always been a problem. In early days, it consisted simply of lighting a fire at the bottom of a specially dug shaft. The rising hot air set up a convection current that drew cooler fresh air down into the mine through another air shaft nearby. Fans were first introduced in the early 18th century. Waterblasts were intruduced in the mid 18th century and were not widespread. Water falling down a pipe was used to compress air which then blasted into the mine at depth.
The name ‘Bole Hill’ or ‘Bolehill’ occurs in many Peak District places. It indicates sites where bonfires were used to smelt lead. They were situated on high points where the wind would fan the flames and generate the high temperatures needed for the smelting process. Naturally, these were small scale operations.
The method was superseded by the cupola smelting system late in the 16th century. This enabled an increase in production and Derbyshire’s Peak District became a major producer, exporting world wide for the next 200 years. The industry declined as it became harder to find new deposits and also as new areas were developed such as the northern Pennines, Wales and Spain. Probably the most successful Peak District mine was the Millclose Mine which closed in the 20th century (1939). In addition, the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century disturbed trade as access to the European market was denied. The industry revived briefly in the mid 19th century but most mines had closed by the end of the 1860s. The Broken Hill mine in Australia opened at that time. They had easily mined and very rich lead/zinc veins which helped to make the Peak District mines non-viable as it was becoming increasingly expensive to extract the remaining ore.
So what remains of the industry that once employed an estimated 20,000 people? Well over 20,000 shafts and spoil heaps with high levels of lead and a small number of buildings and chimneys. This is a mixed legacy, on the one hand it leaves tangible and fascinating evidence of one of the most significant industries of the Peak District plus a habitat for rare metallophytic (tolerant of high levels of potentially toxic metals in the soil) plants e.g. leadwort. On the other hand, it leaves areas that are potentially toxic to visitors. Please make sure that your hands are washed if you spend time investigating the remains, particularly spoil heaps.
Mining Reference Book …
Peak District Mining and Quarrying – at last, a local history book that is easy to read and holds your interest for more than a few minutes at a time! Fascinating, well illustrated, non-technical and with a social angle throughout. Buy now via Amazon.co.uk for a big discount off the shop price.
The Saxon Carving in Wirksworth church.
T’Owd Man (above) can be seen carrying a pick and kibble, the kibble being a basket into which the ore was placed for transport to the surface.
Looking for waterproof maps of the Peak District to visit the locations of some of the mining relics? Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 (2 1/2 inches to the mile for us oldies!) map of the White Peak or Dark Peak (10% discount off list prices). You can also get the 1:50,000 there as well, again with a discount.
Probably not needed but these days you never know … We can accept no responsibility for your wellbeing if you visit any of the sites mentioned on the Peak District Visitor, they are included only for reference. You should ensure that the necessary permissions are sought when entering private property and also take appropriate action to ensure your personal safety.
Click here for a comprehensive Roman Britain web site.
Click here for the official Peak District National Park web site.