The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1903)

Transcriptions by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 1999


The geological features of Eyam and its immediate locality are extremely interesting and striking. Eyam, as before stated, is built on a rocky ledge or table-land of carboniferous limestone; while northward and contiguous to the village, the superjacent shale formation rises abruptly to a great altitude, where it is capped by the basset of the millstone grit. It is, however, in the limestone formation that the most interest is experienced. Of this, the broken and fantastic masses, with their fossil organic remains, might well induce the philosophic Paley to describe them as “the splendid monuments of the felicity of past ages!” Carboniferous or mountain limestone is, in geological classification, a formation of the secondary, or transition series. The prevailing feature is a compact stone consisting principally of carbonate of lime. On the whole it is a composition of marine exuviae. Great natural caverns occur in this formation: two or three of great extent are said to pass under Eyam, but seldom, however, to be explored to much extent on account of water.

In this locality the phenomenon of streams pursuing a subterranean course is of frequent occurrence. Water on the surface is received into what is provincially termed a swallow and after disappearing, may often be traced again issuing out of the basset of some inferior stratum at a considerable distance from the swallow.

The Pippin, at the east end of the village, is a swallow; the waterfall, at the west end, is another of a larger kind. The waters in these two instances fall into a level or adit in Middleton Dale; a distance of two miles from the places of their disappearance.

Another object of interest in connection with the limestone is its numberless fossil organic remains. They are exclusively of marine origin, consisting chiefly of corals, shells and encrinites; the latter are so abundant in some places as to occasion the name of “encrinal limestone”.

At the Water Groove quarry, a short distance from Eyam, the stone is wholly composed of this organic fossil-encrinite. The most numerous shells are Terebratula, Producta and Sperifer. The Ammonite, though almost peculiar to the oolitic formation, is sometimes found in the limestone in the locality of Eyam. One was found at Water Groove quarry a few years ago; another at Eyam, in Fentem's quarry; and one in the vicinity of Eyam. The two letter are now in the possession of the representatives of the late T. Fentem, Esq., Surgeon, Eyam Terrace; they are beautiful specimens, the “whorls”, and other particular parts being very distinct and perfect.[1]

An hour's ramble in the precincts of Eyam is to the stranger a scientific treat: the fences of every field and every isolated stone, being composed of the fossil relics of an ancient sea; a fact now placed by philosophical investigation beyond doubt. They are the unquestioned remains of living animals and not a “lusus naturae”, the sport of nature, as some geologists of the old school so dogmatically maintained. The contemplation of these organic fossils - or in other words, of nature - unavoidably develops the thinking faculty; presents to the mental vision more extended views of the harmony and grandeur of all parts of the creation; and consequently must expand and elevate our conceptions of the attributes of the Great First Cause.

Another peculiarity in connection with the limestone formation and an object of importance in mining speculations, in the vicinity of Eyam, and the High Peak in general, is the formation provincially called toadstone, (Amygdaloid) which alternates with limestone so very irregularly both as respects places and thickness. Toadstone (or channel as it is often named) is a blackish substance, very hard, something like the scoria of metals or Iceland lava. This stratum is not laminated, but consists of one entire solid mass and breaks alike in all directions. It varies from six feet to six hundred in thickness and possesses other apparent properties of volcanic lava. The indefatigable Whitehurst[2] contended that this stratum was of igneous origin; and he supported his darling supposition with unwearied zeal.

After much conflict of opinion on this subject - the igneous or the aqueous origin of toadstone - the balance is greatly in favour of the latter theory. Organic fossils have recently been found in this formation, though very rarely. In further support of its aqueous origin, it is found to consist, by chemical analysis, of oxide of iron, carbonate of lime and alumina of clay. A sample from the Water Groove level contained, according to Layton,

25 per cent. ox. iron.
25 per cent. carb. lime.
50 per cent. aluminous matter.

[1] The Ammonites have at all times formed a very striking object of human contemplation. In India they constitute, or rather their moulds, an object of veneration to the people under the name of Salagraman, because it is believed that one of their gods is concealed therein. Lamarck has separated from the Ammonites the non-articulated, and denominated them, PLANULITES. - Pidgeon.
[2] Whitehurst, as is well known, was born in Derby and as a philosopher was much esteemed in his day. In the house at one time occupied by Mr. Richard Keene, printer, the Derby philosopher and mechanician lived. A fine old oak-panelled apartment is shown by Mr. Richard Keene, where Whitehurst, Dr. Darwin and sometimes Benjamin Franklin met. In the rear are the workshops, where Whitehurst constructed the chimes for All Saint's Church, now used as printing offices. Some relics of Whitehurst still exist on the premises: a barometer, a curious clock in the wall, the remains of a wind-gauge, or register, to show the direction of the air currents, &c. Not the least interesting is the circumstance that Mr. Foster, the Derby centenarian, was also born in this house.


This information was transcribed by Andrew McCann in May 1999.

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