This is a guest blog by one of our team Edward Milner, also known as Thomas Eccles. Thomas is a delightful and knowledgeable guide however he has other talents, please see the blog below ...
Magpie Mine – photograph courtesy of Guy Badham
Improbably situated in a bleak expanse of the high limestone plateau of the Peak District near Sheldon, the Magpie Mines cluster of buildings stand as a fascinating (if somewhat ghostly) reminder of our industrial past. The site is steeped in history. Fortunes were made here and lost as men toiled deep underground to win the precious galena ore from which lead is made. There was always increased activity whenever a European war flared up, since one of the main uses of lead was the manufacture of musket balls. The earliest record of mining here is 1740 when there were about a dozen small scale mines. Exploitation has not been continuous, with many changes of ownership and sometimes fierce rivalries between the various agencies competing for the same productive vein. It was inevitable that in the course of their excavation, the underground galleries would meet and violent exchanges ensue. In 1833 three miners of the Redsoll mine were suffocated by smoke from fires of tar and straw lit by miners from the Magpie company. This was treated as murder and 24 Magpie miners were arraigned and put on trial at Derby assizes. They were all eventually acquitted on technicalities, but the ill feeling between the companies and especially the families involved continued for many years.
Newcomen engine drawn by Thomas Eccles
Excavating shafts and tunnels in the unyielding limestone has always been a constant battle with water. The “Newcomen” engine of 1824, a “Cornish” engine with a 40 inch cylinder installed in 1839 and a later 70 inch engine were all attempts to keep the mine from flooding. Another solution was the construction of a “sough” or tunnel to take water from the mine, passing under Sheldon village (disrupting its water supply for a while!) and discharging into the distant River Wye. The enterprise was technically successful but financially ruinous especially so since lead prices fell during the construction period. It took eight years and cost shareholders £18,000.
Lead Miner drawn by Thomas Eccles
Lead extraction at Magpie Mine continued right up until 1953 when alternative sources and falling lead prices again caused it to cease. Today Magpie is a living museum preserved by the Peak Park Planning Board in conjunction with The Peak District Mines Historical Society Ltd who use the site as a field centre and encourage visitors.
Nestling among these old lead workings is the beautiful Spring Sandwort which is almost entirely found on old lead workings such as Magpie Mine as it can tolerate high levels of lead which would kill other plants.
Thank you to Thomas Eccles for this wonderful contribution. You can join Thomas as our costumed guide Mr Edward Milner on his tour of the magnificent Pavilion Gardens. Thomas, a historian, botanist and talented artist, will explain about the planting and the total gardening concept of Victorian parks.