Landscape (UK)



Poorly growing trees and sparse vegetation were good signs that lead might be beneath the ground. The easier veins nearest the surface were dug first, but as these ran dry, deeper shafts were excavated, up to 90ft (27.5m) down. Wooden steps, called stemples, were often driven into the sides of the shafts, which the miners used to climb, usually carrying tools and baskets. This was dangerous work, and Daniel Defoe, on his trip to the Peak in the 1720s, said that the inhabitant­s of Wirksworth were “a bold, daring, and even desperate kind of fellows in their search into the bowels of the earth”. Ore was extracted by wedges being hammered between the seam and the rock around it. In more difficult areas, fires might be set against the rockface to crack it, although this was only allowed at the end of the day, with fires left to burn overnight. Operation had to be continuous, as any mine left idle was in danger of being ‘nicked’. A ‘nick’ was a mark made by the barmaster every week on the winding winch of any mine left unworked; three consecutiv­e nicks, and someone could take the seam: the probable origin of the term ‘nicking’ to mean stealing. Once extracted, ore was dressed: separated from any surroundin­g rock, smashed into small lumps with a hammer, called a bucker, and washed in a sloping wooden trough, or buddle. Often, women and children would dress the ore, although, in larger workings, it might be scattered on a paved circle and crushed by a horse-drawn roller. The dressed ore could now be smelted. This was initially done away from the town, on hills where the strong winds would provide draught enough to fan a fire. Smelters were known as boles, giving rise to names such as Bole Hill, near Wirksworth, and the Derbyshire surname ‘Boler’. The unpredicta­bility of the boles meant bellows were adopted, eventually followed by the building of smelting mills, driven by water wheels, meaning large quantities of ore could now be processed. Wirksworth had four smelters, all powered by the Ecclesbour­ne river. The first, at Wash Green, was built in the 1580s by Henry Wigley. The only lead mine which can be visited today is Goodluck Mine, on the edge of Carsington Pastures, which opens once a month, or by appointmen­t, for guided tours. The footpath to the mine is unsuitable for those with limited mobility, but the tunnel itself, though low in places, is mostly flat.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom