Probably the best preserved mining remains are at Magpie Mine, a short distance south of Sheldon in the Derbyshire Peak District. You can see the site from a distance with the remains of the ruined Engine House standing high above the surrounding fields.The surface remains at Magpie Mine are probably the best example in the UK of a 19th. century lead mine. It has a fascinating history spanning more than 200 years of bonanzas and failures, of bitter disputes and fights resulting in the “murder” of three miners, and a Widows’ Curse that is said to remain to this day.
Magpie Mine was also troubled by disputes with neighbouring mines over who had the right to work each vein. Miners from Magpie Mine and Maypitt Mine were both working the Great Redsoil Vein, and would light fires underground to smoke out their opponents. The arguments raged for years, both underground and in the courts. In 1833, three Maypitt miners were suffocated by the fumes, and 24 Magpie miners were put on trial for their murder. Several were freed immediately, and eventually all were acquitted because of the difficulty in identifying the individual culprits, and the provocative actions of the Maypitt miners themselves. It is said that the wives of the “murdered” men put a curse on the mine, and the effect of the disputes was to ruin the mine, which closed in 1835.
In 1839, John Taylor, the famous Cornish mining engineer was brought in to re-open the Magpie Mine, which now incorporated the Great Redsoil workings. He introduced a number of innovations, including steel borers, safety hats, safety fuse, and iron winding ropes. He also introduced a more regular pattern of shift working and payment for his workers, some of whom had come up from Cornwall with him. He deepened the Main Shaft to 208 metres, and also installed a 40-inch Cornish pumping engine. When this proved inadequate, he proposed to replace it with a 70-inch engine, but the proprietors could not agree. Some felt that a sough (a drainage tunnel) would be a better solution, and appeals to the Duke of Devonshire to adjudicate fell on deaf ears. Various attempts were made over the next 30 years, but it was not until 1873 that construction of the sough started. It took eight years to drive from the River Wye near Ashford-in-the-Water to meet the Main Shaft, a distance of 2km.
Magpie Mine had a long history, ending with the erection of a steam pumping engine to deal with the problems of water at depth. The engine had a cylinder diameter of 70 inches (1.75 m diameter). This worked at first with 850 tons of ore being raised in 1871 but the success was short lived: the engine was unable to cope with the increasing quantity of water found as the mine was driven deeper. A sough or drainage level was therefore constructed from the south bank of the River Wye. This was a huge undertaking, commenced in 1873 it was not completed until 1881 at a cost variously reported as between £14,000 and £35,000.
This drained the mine to a depth of about 170m below the shaft collar and also acted as a pump way for water pumped up from greater depths. All this was carried out at a time of falling lead prices and although the main shaft was eventually sunk to a depth of about 220 m the enterprise went into liquidation in 1883. The sough trail can be visited by following the footpath from Kirk Dale along the south bank of the River Wye for about half a mile.
Magpie Mine has a recorded history from 1739, but dates back much further and is said locally to be over 300 years old. Protracted troubles broke out in the 1820s and 1830s between the miners of Magpie, Maypitts and Red Soil mines. The dispute revolved around a vein of lead, and at various times the miners broke through into each others workings. Often when this occurred one side would light a fire underground and try to smoke the other out. Tragically, in 1833, three Red Soil miners were suffocated to death by a fire lit by the Magpie miners.
Following a year in prison and a lengthy court case at Derby Assizes, five Magpie miners were acquitted of the charge of murder owing to conflicting evidence and the lack of intent. The three widows of the Red Soil miners reputedly put a curse on the mine and supposedly a ghost was seen there in 1946.
In 1842, there were two deaths at the Magpie Mine and during the next 50 years the mine was dogged by problems caused by flooding and fire. In 1880, the company operating the mine even changed its name to the Magpie Mining Company, probably in the hope of ridding itself of the curse.
After a period of inactivity several attempts were made to revive the mine, the last in the1950s. However, in 1958, the constant battle with flooding and falling prices forced the closure of the mine. It is now scheduled as an ancient monument, and is the most complete example of a lead mine remaining in the Peak District.
By Road: take the Monyash road out of Bakewell and after about 3 km turn right on a minor road to Chelmorton. The mine buildings can be seen on the right after about 2km. Recommended Walk-www.snapthepeaks.co.uk
Production of lead continued on and off into the 20th. Century. An optimistic report in 1913 promised reserves of four million tons, which attracted businessmen from Sheffield and Glasgow to join forces with Edgar Garlick, the owner. Their venture closed in 1919, and although Garlick re-opened the mine in 1923, he went into liquidation the following year. Nothing happened until after the Second World War, when Waihi Investment and Development Ltd attempted to work the mine using submersible electric pumps. A new winder – in reality a ship’s winch fitted with a diesel engine – and a steel headgear were installed. Despite this more sophisticated equipment, no large body of ore was found, and with the end of the Korean War and the fall in the price of imported lead, the mine closed for the last time in 1954.