The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1903)

Transcriptions by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 1999


There is, particularly on the south side of Eyam, strong evidence of much mining in past ages. Indeed, the Eyam Mineral Charter, if existing, would prove the antiquity of the lead mines at Eyam. This village and parish is included under the general denomination of the King's Field, which is subject to the operation of a peculiar system of mineral law. One clause of the law declares, “that by the custom of the mine it is lawful for all the King's leige subjects to dig, delve, search, subvert and overturn all manner of grounds, lands, meadows,closes, pastures, mears and marshes for ore mines of whose inheritance soever they be; dwelling-houses, orchards and gardens excepted”.

From the inconvenient effects of this sweeping clause, many of the old freehold tenures of the parish of Eyam are exempt according to the supposed charter granted by King John, previously to his being created Duke of Lancaster.

What particular tenures are alluded to no person knows. They are, however, supposed to be those contiguous to the village: or what is denominated the old land.

With the exception of a little land at Hucklow and at Grippe, these decreed tenures at Eyam are the only lands exempted from the arbitrary mineral laws, observed throughout the comprehensive district of a large part of the Peak of Derbyshire.

It may, however, be observed that the benefit of the so called Eyam Mineral Charter has been long forfeited, as the tenures alluded to have been long subjected to the operation of the ordinary mineral laws and usages.

Of the ore obtained from the mine in the whole parish of Eyam, the lot, which is every thirteenth dish, is claimed and taken by the Lords of the Mineral Field. One penny a dish belongs to the Rector; and a small exaction called cope, is paid by the purchaser of the ore to the Barmaster: these, with a trifle paid to the Rector, and the Lords of the Field, for what is provincially called hillock-stuff, are the lots and tithes paid by the mines of Eyam. Smitham, and other inferior kinds of ores were formerly supposed to be exempt from duty (lot, not cope.) It was, however, decided otherwise in an action at law against the miners of the High Peak in 1750.

The Lords of the Mineral Field of Eyam and Stoney Middleton hold a yearly court alternately at Eyam and Stoney Middleton. This court is denominated the Great Court Barmoot, at which the steward, Joseph Hall, Esq., Catleton, presides, who, with twenty-four jurymen chosen every year, determine all cases in dispute that occur respecting the working of the mines in the above district. Other matters, independent of the mines, are also adjusted at these periodical courts, of which the whole expenses are paid by the Lords of the Field. The Barmaster, James Longsdon, Esq., of Little Longstone, has also important offices connected with the mines.[1]

The great vein of ore known as the Edge-side Vein, was discovered more than two centuries back; but it was not worked in the parish of Eyam until some years after its discovery. In the space of fifty or sixty years it was cut for more than two miles in length, but dipping very fast eastward it at length reached the water and could no longer be successfully worked. A sough or level, known as the Stoke Sough, was brought up to it from the River Derwent about 145 years ago, but it did not answer general expectation. The quantity of metal obtained from this vein may be judged of from the fact that it enhanced the annual income of the Rector from £150 to about £1,000 a year, and this for a long time. Other veins in the vicinity have been very productive, but nearly all have been long shut up by the same almost irresistible element - water.

More than a century back the Morewood Sough was projected, with a view of more effectually clearing the Edge-side mines of water. It commences at Stoney Middleton, near the neat country villa of the Right Hon. Lord Denman. After carrying it about half-a-mile, the project was suspended for some years; but the work was at length resumed for a while by James Sorby, Esq., Sheffield, who after some time was obliged, on account of the very great expense, to abandon it. The mines and sough were ultimately bought by a company of gentlemen, principally from Sheffield, who have carried it on with great vigour. The sough or adit has been driven more than five-sixths of the distance. Expectations the most sanguine have been long entertained of the riches of the Edge-side Mines, could the water be carried away by a sough or adit.[2]

By far the oldest lead works are of the rake kind, extending over a large tract of land south of the village. Camden thinks that Derbyshire was alluded to by Pliny, when he says, “In Britain lead is found near the surface of the earth in such abundance that a law is made to limit the quantity which shall be gotten”.

Of the origin of the laws and customs connected with the working of the lead mines in Eyam and the High Peak in general there is much room for speculation. Some think that they originated with the Aboriginal inhabitants of Derbyshire; but from a passage in Suetonius, it is inferred that the mineral customs and laws of the Aborigines were superseded by others introduced by the Romans. Heineccius countenances the supposition that private adventurers were afterwards permitted to work the mines, which would be productive of multifarious laws and regulations and hence their anomalous character. It may be here observed that there is every reason to believe that the High Peak of Derbyshire was a penal settlement during the Heptarchy; that is, persons convicted of certain crimes in any of the seven kingdoms were doomed to be sent to the High Peak of Derbyshire and there work in the lead mines under the superintendence of certain officers denominated captains: a designation still retained by the superintendents of mines in Cornwall and Derbyshire.

Bole hills are very numerous around Eyam - they are the places where ore was smelted before the introduction of the cupola.

The mines in Eyam Edge are very deep and the New Engine Mine is often stated to be the deepest in Derbyshire. Among the number in the Edge is the Hay-cliff, a mine distinguished for having contained in great abundance that extraordinary phenomenon in the mineral world, provincially called Slickensides. It is a species of Galena and is well known among mineralogists. This mine once had it in singular quantity and quality. The effects of this mineral are terrific: a blow with a hammer, a stroke or scratch with a miner's pick, is sufficient to blast asunder the massive rocks to which it is found attached. Of the nature of this mineral and its terrible power, there have been many but quite unsatisfactory solutions. Whitehurst, in his work on The Formation of the Earth, thus mentions its wonderful power:- “In the year 1738 an explosion took place at the Hay-cliff Mine, Eyam, by the power of Slickensides. Two hundred barrels of materials were blown out at one blast - each barrel containing 350 lbs. weight. During the explosion the earth shook as by an earthquake”. A person named Higginbotham once narrowly escaped with life by incautiously striking this substance in the above mine. Experienced miners can, however, work where it most abounds without much danger. It is also known by the name of Crackingwhole.

Mining speculation in the Peak has of late years been an almost all-absorbing matter of interest, and much of this must be attributed to the great mineral wealth of the Dusty-pit lead mine, situated at the western verge of the village of Eyam. At this famous mine for near ten years immense quantities of metal have been obtained. The Eyam Mining Company serves as an example in the mining speculations of the High Peak district; while their rewards and profits have hitherto been commensurate to their deservings and the country at large has been benefited to an almost unknown extent by their very worthy speculations. This company has been unprecedentedly fortunate in having an agent of such clear foresight, of such judgment, and of such an unmixed life-long experiencein mining operations. Doubtless, in a few years, the New Engine and other mines will be in active operation, thus diffusing plenty around the neighbourhood.

At the present time a speculation of great interest exists in the attempt to clear the New Engine Mine of water, where it is said there is an abundance of metal.[3]

Projects for liberating this mine have been broached at sundry times during the last century.

The following are the names of some of the most productive and celebrated mines which have distinguished Eyam in the mineral world, in times past and present:- Lady-wash, Broadlow, Old and New Twelve Meers, Morewood, Middleton and Slater's Engine; Old, New, and Little Pasture, Blackhole, Deep Sitch, Shaw Engine; Haycliff, New Engine, Brookhead, Cliff-stile, Watergrove, Pippin, Dusty-Pit and many others.

[1] At the time this history was written the above statement was correct, but now the mines are all closed, and the Court Barmoot is no longer held.
[2] The water has never been successfully dealt with, and the rapid fall in the value of lead, caused by the working of the Spanish mines, has prevented these hopes being realised.
[3] The attempt was never really successful.


This information was transcribed by Andrew McCann in May 1999.

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