BYGONE INDUSTRIES OF THE PEAK, Derbyshire

This is one of a series of articles published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 13th January 1997 (p.9), and reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

The series is now available as a fully-illustrated paperback, published in 2006 by Wildtrack Publishing of Sheffield (ISBN 1-904098-01-0)

BYGONE INDUSTRIES OF THE PEAK: GOLD & SILVER MINING

The mining of gold and silver has barely qualified as an industry in the Peak but nevertheless has taken place on a limited scale.

The existence of silver was known in early times and small amounts have been found in Roman pigs of lead which originated in the Peak. The Domesday Survey of 1086 refers to the payment of £40 of pure silver by the manors of Darley, Matlock, Wirksworth, Ashbourne and Parwich. Records of the 16th century mention silver in the Nester lead mine on Masson Hill and in 1656 troops were sent to Youlgreave when lead miners threatened violence to outsiders who intended searching their workings for silver.

Glover, writing in The History and Gazetteer of the County of Derby around 1829 noted that several vessels had been made from Ball Eye silver. Extraction from the Ball Eye lead mine, near Bonsall, was well organised and worthwhile. Claims were made of up to twenty ounces of silver per ton of lead, and Glover referred to a tankard, a salver and two small tumbler cups, all at one time in the possession of Mr. Milnes of Ashover.

The process of separating silver had been abandoned at Ball Eye by the early 19th century. Generally, recovery of silver from a lead mine was so wasteful to lead that it was not cost effective. Other lead mines which revealed silver included Millclose at Darley, Odin Mine at Castleton and Mill Dam at Hucklow, while minute particles accompanied the find of gold at Ible in the 1940s.

PEAKLAND GOLD

Claims of the discovery of gold have been made at Wirksworth, Millers Dale and Bakewell but the best known 'gold strike' in the Peak took place at Over Haddon, where low levels are found in an outcrop of basalt lava. In 1854 the Cow Close Mine on the left bank of Lathkill Dale revealed the presence of gold in iron pyrites, known as fools' gold. find of gold at Ible in the 1940s.

Samples were sent to London for analysis and on 24 June 1854 the Illustrated London News reported: 'The Derbyshire gold-diggings, of which the Crown is the owner, promise to be worth looking after. The stuff analysed contains twenty-five ounces of silver per ton, and an ounce and a half of gold'.

Mining companies took an immediate interest and one venture proposed the siting of a crushing mill in the Dale. Permission was refused, however, and the machinery was set up in an old mill at Brough instead.

Investors in the mine watched their £1 shares leap to £25, then £30, and those who sold out then were the only ones to make a profit out of Peakland gold. Quantities were so sparse as to make the venture unrealistic. All the speculators pulled out and the crushing mill at Brough was sold for £30, at a loss of almost £700. Many years later one old man used to tell how he had once found a nugget as big as half a pea, and within living memory the mine was still known as the gold mine.

Just over sixty years ago a young geologist named John Wells, FRGS, surveyed for gold in the Peak and was quoted in the Manchester City News of 17 June 1933 as saying: 'There is gold in the Derbyshire Peak District - at a spot very well known to thousands of Manchester hikers. It is going to be our business to find it'.

There the story seems to have fizzled out but eleven years later a scanty vein was found in a basalt quarry in the Via Gellia below Ible. In A Lifetime of Adventure (Peak Advertiser 9 September 1996) reader Cyril Goodall told how in the 1940s he had been commissioned to prospect for gold near Grangemill. The Barmaster supervised the application of ancient mining laws and Cyril was allowed to sink a 200' lined shaft. The search was not quite in vain but only sparse traces of gold were found.

In 1992, local gold made the headlines again after analysts at Sheffield University confirmed that volcanic lava from Matlock Bath contained gold at 37 grammes per tonne, quite a respectable quality ore. The samples came from the Temple Mine, a former fluorspar mine kept open to the public by the Peak District Mines Historical Society. The opportunity to pan for gold has proved very popular with visitors.

At the time of the discovery Dr. Lynn Willies, project leader of the Peak District Mining Museum predicted: 'For the area as a whole it might be a key for some of the future mining', though he warned that the law was 'horribly complicated' as far as gold mining was concerned.

At the end of the day it seems that the mineral wealth of the Peak is more down to earth than what we regard as precious metals.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 13th January 1997.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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