Tag Archives: mining

What’s in a name? Life, luck, and Derbyshire mine and sough names

By Carry van Lieshout

Beans and Bacon Mine, Horse Buttock Mine, Stop Thief, Hie-thee-home, Danger Level, Peace Forever: these are just some of the many evocative names of old Derbyshire lead mines and soughs that I encountered in my research. Robert Macfarlane’s recent book on the relation of landscape and language, Landmarks (2015), celebrates the idiosyncrasies of regional words for particular natural phenomena and features. The Derbyshire landscape is full of such unusual place names emerging from its mining heritage, which evoke a sense of people’s relationships with the landscape and their workplace, as well as with the unusual and unfamiliar spaces of the underground world.

While there were many mines that were simply given the name of their owner, or were named after local features or landmarks, others provide a glimpse into the lives of those who named them. Some mines reflect the everyday experiences of the miners, such as Dirty Face mine (and Dirty Face sough), or the challenges of working underground, as evidenced by the Danger Level, and Watergrove, which suggests a mine in need of drainage. The Lousey Level on the other hand seems to indicate an occasion where this drainage did not work as well as it should.

A Dragon Shaft, in the vicinity of an engine raising water from the mine, conjures up a sense of the smoke and fire of the steam engines required in mine drainage – ‘dragon’ was an established metaphor for early steam technology, also seen in a pamphlet against York Buildings Waterworks’ engines in central London.[1]

Many of the mines carry names that allude to the element of luck involved in the metal mining industry. A mine was named and claimed on discovery, at which point it was still uncertain how rich it would prove to be. As a result, some of the names reflect the hopes miners would have had for their mine: Good Luck mine and Luck at Last evoke the ‘eureka!’ moment of a miner hitting a vein, while Who can tell grove and Hit and Miss mines were perhaps named by more weary miners.

Similar hopes are reflected in naming a mine after existing mines which were very successful. This explains the presence of the Potosi mine and sough, and the Golconda Mine in the middle of Derbyshire, both named after far-away places that had a mythical attraction to miners hoping to find similar riches. Luck and fate were important aspects in a miner’s life, as hitting a good vein could make the difference between poverty and riches. Signs and premonitions were taken very seriously as a result: Stafford’s Dream mine refers to a miner who had a dream of where the lead would be found – and indeed, there was a vein at the dreamt location.

Some mines seem whimsical and poetic, such as Peace forever, Stand to Thyself, Buy the Truth and Sell it Not. Others convey a sense of humour: Beans and bacon mine refers to the nearly Bacon vein, which was likely named after a miner (Bacon was a local name). Finally, in a 1980s case of premonition, there was a Wham sough and a Crimbo sough quite closely together – this cheered me up to no end!

Other names remain mysterious, such as Water Leg, Catchflee, Dogskin, and Sing-a-bed. Any thoughts?

 

Source: all mine and sough names were found in Dr J.H. Rieuwerts’ 4 volumes of Lead Mining in Derbyshire (2007-2012)

[1] Anonymous, The York-Buildings Dragons (London, 1726).

Who killed the Lathkill? (or, when is a river is no longer a river?)

By Peter Coates

In Alaska, environmentalists are currently fighting a proposed coal mine in the watershed of the Chuitna River, 45 miles southwest of Anchorage. This strip mine will not only destroy salmon spawning grounds. It will literally remove 11 miles of the Chuitna’s Middle Creek tributary by mining through and therefore dewatering it. If the project goes ahead, there will be no mystery about why Middle Creek disappeared.

In the former lead mining areas of Derbyshire’s Peak District, there’s a disappearing river too. But there’s also a sense of mystery about its strange behaviour. One of the Key Stage 2 activities that the Lathkill Education Service attached to the Lathkill Dale National Nature Reserve runs for local schools is ‘why the river disappears – solve the mystery of the disappearing River Lathkill through this investigation of the geology and wildlife of the area’ [1] (‘kill’, incidentally, means ‘creek’, ‘stream’ or ‘channel’ in old Middle Dutch, and was a name attached in the seventeenth century to creeks and streams across what became the northeastern United States – as in Kill Van Kull, Bronx Kill and Schuylkill River). Natural England, which manages the Lathkill Dale reserve – one of five reserves that make up the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve – also refers to the Lathkill’s ‘vanishing act’. As Natural England proceeds to explain, the upper river’s disappearance is part of the legacy of the two lead mines (established in 1740 and 1797 respectively) that operated in Lathkill Dale until the mid-nineteenth century: ‘the soughs are responsible for causing the river to dry out today’ [2]. ‘Where has the river gone? is also the question posed on the interpretative board that Natural England has erected at the bottom of the ladder that leads to the mine shaft under Bateman’s House (an engine house converted into a dwelling for the mine agent and his family, though empty since the 1840s).

signage Bateman’s House

‘Where has the river gone?, interpretative signage, Bateman’s House (photo: Peter Coates)

Who (or what) has been messing about with the Lathkill? Our project team meeting in Derbyshire in early October provided the opportunity to find out. Our schedule included a field trip to Lathkill Dale, one of the key sites for Carry’s and Georgina’s study of the area’s soughs – underground channels forged to drain water from the area’s lead mines. Our walk began down in the dale at a point where our guide, John Barnatt, an archaeologist with the Peak District National Park Authority, could stand with his back to the (at the time) water-less Lathkill River, whose peculiar annual lifecycle we now began to piece together.

Field trip

John Barnatt of the Peak District National Park Authority, with his colleague, Sarah Whitelaw (in red), and members of the project team, including (to Sarah’s immediate right) sough investigators Georgina Endfield and Carry van Lieshout (Photo: Peter Coates)

The Lathkill River is not exactly unique, though. It’s normal for streams running through limestone strata riddled with a network of natural caves to flow underground in summer or periods of drought when water levels are low. But this seasonal tendency is accentuated by the construction of soughs that lowered the water table and created a network of diversionary channels that can capture river water.

For some, the river’s seasonal disappearance is a problem to be resolved. (This interest group includes anglers: the Lathkill brown trout is a renowned quarry that merits inclusion in James Prosek’s definitive compendium, Trout of the World [2003], in which Prosek quotes the comment [1653] of a friend of Izaak Walton, James Cotton, that the Lathkill ‘breeds the reddest and the best Trouts in England’ [3].) Because of what Natural England refers to on its Bateman’s House signage as the ‘dramatic’ impact on the river and its wildlife, the managing agency is ‘currently exploring means of sealing the riverbed’ so that the water does not drain off into Magpie Sough. Whether this waterproofing remedy will be sufficient in itself to restore a perennial flow to the Lathkill is now increasingly debated, however. Since some of the river’s water travels through Magpie Sough, plans now focus on the establishment of some sort of blockage in the sough in addition to sealing the riverbed – and this blocking proposal is a major source of controversy (many thanks, Carry, for bringing this latest development to my attention).

Bridge

A (fluvio-centric) view from under the bridge across to Bateman’s House (Photo: Peter Coates).

But has the river really disappeared? And what do those who want to ‘improve’ the sometimes dry river want to restore? A living river? An attractive recreational resource for anglers? Rather than dwell on the seasonal absence of water or the fortunes of fish (during dry spells, trout can be trapped by receding water levels and this entails relocation), we might want to think about attaching a new story to the Lathkill, a story that diverts attention to the seasonal presence of a riverbed carpeted lush vegetation, for example. For me – as an outsider visiting for the first time and someone who has no stake in the debate – the problem is not so much the seasonal disappearance of the river’s water, but our generic expectations of what a river should be. After all, though the Lathkill’s liquid content may vanish on a regular basis, its form and overall function remain the same. This replacement narrative tailored to this particular body of water might begin by reclassifying the Lathkill as an intermittent stream. This would elevate it to the respectable international company of a distinctive type of watercourse that includes the arroyo seco ([seasonally] dry stream) of southwestern North America. This would also underscore its status as a different river rather than a lesser one (compared, that is, to a ‘proper’ river). And if the privilege of re-naming the intermittent stream that flows through Lathkill Dale were mine, I would not hesitate to call it the Mossy Cobbled Bottom Kill.

It is a shame that the cause of preservation is often reduced to a clash between the attributes of cultural heritage and those of natural heritage, with the respective interests of History and Nature being advanced by ‘the archaeologists’ and ‘the historians’ and the one hand and ‘the ecologists’ on the other. Environmental historians, it seems to me, are well positioned to reconcile these two often warring positions.

Lathkill River

The Mossy Cobbled Bottom Kill, aka Lathkill River (Photo: Peter Coagtes).

linear pasture

The Lathkill, even when drained of its liquid content, is anything but dry. On the damp day of our visit, I got soaked from my boots to above my knees walking down its lush linear pasture (Photo: Peter Coates

Notes

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/derbyshires-national-nature-reserves/derbyshires-national-nature-reserves

[2] Natural England, Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve (2010), p. 3.

[3] James Prosek, ‘Trout of the World’, Field and Stream, October 2003, p. 77.

 

A day at the Barmoot (a short tale of tea, cake and gentlemen of the Wapentake)

By Carry van Lieshout & Georgina Endfield

When we met lead mining history expert and former engineer Dr Jim Rieuwerts at the end of last year he invited us to attend the 2014 Barmoot.

The Barmoot is an ancient court that deals with lead ownership in the mining districts of Derbyshire. It had been in existence from 1288, but Great Barmoot Courts became especially busy by the 16th century as the lead industry expanded. The courts consisted of the Barmaster, a steward and a jury made up of local miners, and their function was to collect the royalties due on lead as well as resolving disputes between miners about ownership of specific veins. At the height of the lead mining industry there were several Barmoot courts meeting a couple of times a year, but nowadays the court sits once a year in Wirksworth and is mainly ceremonial (although last year they had an actual case! – see the Derby Telegraph http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/ruling-decades-ancient-mining-court/story-18755029-detail/story.html)

So it was that on the 9th of April we made our way to Wirksworth to see this illustrious court in action. After arriving early we went to suss out the location of the court – off a side road (Chapel Lane) in one of the oldest parts of the town. It was a slightly masonic looking building decorated with lead mining symbolism.

Barmoot court in Wirksworth

The Barmoot court in Wirksworth. Photo: Georgina Endfield

The plaque over the door reads:

This Hall was built by the direction
of the Right Hon. Charles Bathurst
Chancellor of his Majesty’s Duchy
and county palatine of Lancaster in the
LIV year of the Reign of his Majesty
King George III AD MDCCCXIV

The building doesn’t have many more uses besides hosting the annual Barmoot, although the local band’s drum kit and an electronic organ left behind after band practice suggests that this old building has moved with the times. As the building was still closed, we made for a local café for tea and pikelets, anticipating that the Barmoot may be a lengthy affair. Intriguingly, we spotted a group of suited-up men who also made their way to the café and half-jokingly we speculated on whether they were the jurors or just the local solicitors on a cake break.

At a few minutes before noon we made our way back to the court building where we met with a local historian (doing research on the history of Georgina’s old house – it’s a small world up here!) and Jim, who was one of the jurors. We also met George Jaramillo, a PhD student from Edinburgh who is working on the lead mining communities of the Peak District. We chatted while the jurors were getting ready in a backroom (they were served the traditional meal of cheese and ale – the miners used to come from far to attend long meetings. As far as we understand, clay pipes and tobacco are still provided as was the old custom).

The Barmoot started off with the jurors filing into court benches on the side where they, fairly squashed it has to be said, remained for the proceedings. In walked the gentlemen we had spotted in the café! Next, we all rose as the steward, the barmaster, and a local solicitor representing the Queen (as the official Lord of the Field) came in, accompanied by the announcer who would proclaim the cases. This was a very masculine affair. While in our own studies we have unearthed some very powerful women in the lead mining industry and lead trade, to our knowledge, women have not acted as jurors.

In front of the jury was the official lead measuring dish, dating back to 1509 and used to determine the duties due to the Crown and Church, placed here, as the inscription says, in 1513, “so as the merchantes and mynours may make the tru mesure at all tymes.” Later discussions confirmed this as the original dish.

Lead measuring dish at the Barmoot

Lead measuring dish at the Barmoot. In the right corner a plague with the names of the former and present stewards and barmasters. Photo: Georgina Endfield.

After a short introduction the jurors were sworn in and the court started. As there were no actual cases to deal with this year, the meeting came to an unexpectedly speedy close though Jim (who was chosen as foreman of the jury) reminded all in attendance that the Court building was built in 1814 as per the plaque, and thus was 200 years old this year. In response to a smart quip from one of his juror colleagues, Jim confirmed that he was considerably younger!

The jurors signed their attendance and there was an opportunity for the few curious attendees like ourselves to take photographs.

We had a quick chat with Jim and some of the other participants after (who were off to have their proper lunch in Rowsley) and then spent some time in Cromford vising the Cromford sough tail, the site of the conflict between Cromford miners and Richard Arkwright. Fuelled by more tea and cake we planned out the location and programme of the Derbyshire team fieldtrip in October, where the full Power and Water team will be able to enjoy these fantastic locations.

Cromford Sough Tail

Cromford Sough Tail. Photo: Georgina Endfield.

 

Getting a feel for the landscape: the Peak District

By Carry van Lieshout

Peak District

Landscape of the Peak District.
Source: wikipedia

My first two months working on the project started off with several expeditions to the Peak District. These included a visit to the Mining Museum at Matlock Bath, where I stocked up on books and explored inside the Temple Mine; a talk on the geology and mineralisation of the Peak District at Buxton; and a visit to the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO Heritage site to see Richard Arkwright’s cotton mills, the first of which made use of the Cromford Sough. These fieldtrips also allowed me to visit the lovely Chatsworth estate, where I learned about water landscaping and enjoyed the autumn colours.

Arkwright Masson Mills

Richard Arkwright and Co, Masson Mills, Derbyshire. Source: Wikipedia

Getting a feel for the physical landscape and the sites I will be researching provided a good background to help me get stuck in the literature on soughs and the history of Derbyshire lead mining. Much of the work on soughs is written by geologists who surveyed the mines in the 1960s and 1970s, when they were still active as fluorspar mines. They collected a wealth of knowledge about the physical characteristics of the soughs, but no environmental history drawing out the connections between trades and people that these features represent. At same time, and still ongoing, I am reading about the social history of the Peak District, especially its mining industry and the mills and cotton legacy along the river Derwent.

On 12 November Georgina and I had the honour to meet Dr Jim Rieuwerts, who has been researching Derbyshire mines and soughs for 60 years and is still going strong. Jim imparted some of his encyclopedic knowledge on everything related to the history of Derbyshire lead mining to us, and proved great company to boot. He was very supportive of our project and suggested several cases of conflicts surrounding the soughs that we can use as case studies to look into the different stakeholders involved. In the afternoon we took Jim to the University of Nottingham’s Special Collections for him to see an early eighteenth-century document he hadn’t been able to access before, which made the trip useful for him as well. Jim was an absolute wealth of information and I am still following up on leads that came up during this meeting.

On 3 December Georgina and I visited the Peak District National Park Authority’s office in Bakewell, where we met Ken Smith and John Barnatt.  The PDNPA have agreed to collaborate on the sough-strand of the project (together with the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO heritage site). Together we identified which soughs would be useful for them to know more about. As there are current issues around the implications of soughs around the Lathkindale Site of Special Scientific Interest and how they affect the water level of the river they are keen to hear about its history and how changes in water levels affected local people. This site was on our list of conflicts from Jim so it will definitely become one of our case studies. Ken and John also showed us some of their collections. The PDNPA has conducted research into landscape changes over time in the Peak District, and has tons of information available which they were very happy to let us have access to. I did not realise that institutions like these did so much original research so this was a great discovery for the project!

The last week before Christmas will be spend on identifying appropriate archival sources for the soughs conflicts that we aim to focus on, and I am looking forward to get into the archives in January.