Concept

Derbyshire lead mining history

Summary
This article details some of the history of lead mining in Derbyshire, England. It has been claimed that Odin Mine, near Castleton, one of the oldest lead mines in England, may have been worked in the tenth century or even as early as Roman Britain, but it was certainly productive in the 1200s. Derbyshire lead mines are mentioned in the Pipe Rolls. Recent analysis of a Swiss ice-core extracted in 2013 indicates that levels of lead in atmospheric pollution between 1170 and 1216 were as high as those during the Industrial Revolution and correlate accurately with lead production from Peak District mines, the main European source at the time. On one of the walls in Wirksworth Church is a crude stone carving, found nearby at Bonsall and placed in the church in the 1870s. Probably executed in Anglo-Saxon times, it shows a man carrying a kibble or basket in one hand and a pick in the other. He is a lead miner. The north choir aisle of Wirksworth church is dominated by a far more ostentatious monument, a large ornate alabaster chest tomb, a memorial to Ralph Gell of Hopton, who died in 1563. The simple figure of the miner bears witness to the fact that for centuries the people of Wirksworth and their neighbours relied on lead mining. Ralph Gell's imposing tomb is evidence that a few people became rich and powerful from the trade. While Derbyshire lead made Gell and others rich, for poor families it was both a living and an adventure, with the possibility of a better life from a lucky find. The industry was organised in a way that gave a measure of independence to many of them. Mining was hard and dangerous work: death, illness and injury came from poisonous lead dust, underground floods, falling rock, methane gas in shale workings and lack of oxygen in badly ventilated galleries. From the later years of the 17th century gunpowder introduced a further hazard. Nonetheless the thousands of shafts, hillocks and ruined buildings in the limestone landscape of the old lead mining areas, and the miles of galleries underground, make it plain that the veins of lead were intensively exploited.
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