A Taste of the Peak District - bringing you information about the Peak District of Derbyshire. 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. On this page, you can read a little about the history of lead mining in the region.

The Saxon Carving in Wirksworth church.

Lead mining in the Peak District of Derbyshire - t'owd man lead miner Saxon carving at Wirksworth, Derbyshire.

T’Owd Man can be seen carrying a pick and kibble, the kibble being a basket into which the ore was placed for transport to the surface.

Minerals of various kinds have been mined in the Peak District since 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.

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.

Not all of the mines were deep underground, many of the veins were worked using 'bell pits'. These were a cheap and easy way of getting at an ore that was fairly close to the surface. A shaft was sunk into the ore vein and enlarged at the bottom to extract the ore. The bottom of the chamber was enlarged until it became unsafe, then another pit would be sunk and so on along the vein. In many places in Derbyshire's Peak District you can see a line of bell pits, or at least what remains of the shaft at the surface. This type of mining resembles a line of craters marking the location of the ore.

The only historical 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.

Lead mining was widespread in Derbyshire and the Peak District in the 12th and 13th centuries. Odin mine near Castleton at the foot of Mam Tor was cited as the location where a poacher was caught; 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.

More Peak District, Derbyshire mining information >> or see images of Bell Pit mines in Derbyshire

Disclaimer - (probably not needed but here goes anyway!) We can accept no responsibility for your well being if you visit any of the geological sites mentioned on this web site, they are included only as information. You should ensure that the necessary permissions are sought when entering private property and also take appropriate action to ensure your personal safety.

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. I bought mine via Amazon.co.uk with a decent discount off the shop price (sorry, I don't know if they are still doing the discount). 

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).

Click here for a comprehensive Roman Britain web site.

Click here for the official Peak District National Park web site.


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