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The Alderley Edge Copper Mines

by Nigel Dibben

The Derbyshire Caving Club has, for some twelve years, been involved in re-opening and exploring some of the Alderley Edge mines.  Locally the mines are very well known (or rather, notorious) but nationally they are much less known.  This is partly because mines in Cheshire are usually expected to be salt mines, although Cheshire includes seven copper mining localities, together with coal mines on its eastern borders.

THE AREA.

Alderley Edge lies about twenty miles south of Manchester and is a dormitory town of about 5000 inhabitants (mostly quite well off), and is surrounded by level farmland except on the south-east side.  Here there is a raised block of land, the Edge itself, formed by faulting and uplifting giving a scarp of sandstone on the north-east side.  The rock strata dip down to the south-west at about 100 and consist of Keuper and Bunter Triassic sandstones interleaved with marl beds and split by several faults.

MINERALS.

There are many small and large faults criss-crossing the edge and most ore is associated with faulting. The principal ore is Malachite (hydrous copper carbonate) with which Azurite is often found.  Galena is frequently found in the faults and was mined from time to time, as was "wad", a general term for manganese compounds, here including manganese/cobalt/arsenic/nickel mixtures.  The minerals are generally found to extend down dip from the faulting. The source of the minerals is a matter of debate, with one party claiming that the mineralisation arose from hot solutions percolating up the faults while the other party argues that the mineral was formed elsewhere and was laid down with the sand.  A third case is now proposed which combines both arguments!

THE MINES.

In the course of our research more than eighty sites have been recorded but this is far greater than the number of truly interesting mines. The mines can be grouped by locality (approximately from north to south) as follows:

SADDLEBOLE: There is one very small mine and few 2 - 3 metre long trials on an outlying hill called Saddlebole.  The area is of interest only because it is likely to be a very early mining site and smelting place - hence the name.

STORMY POINT: There are three mines of a reasonable size (Pillar Mine - 75m, Doc Mine - 270m, 'Abbadine' s Level' - 125m) but none take more than a matter of minutes to explore.  Doc Mine is currently, blocked about 100m in.  All the mines are located on a mineralised fault running NW/SE and heading at about 600.  The Hough Level (see below) emerges at the Edgeon the line of this fault although the end is blocked and has disappeared completely.

ENGINE VEIN: Further south the Engine Vein is a large gash in the sandstone, reminiscent of some Derbyshire open cuts.  It is well known by visitors and geologists as it contains a wealth of minerals and is the only mine that is almost entirely developed along one fault.  It contains about 500m of passage including three large chambers and a sloping shaft, encrusted with copper mineralisation, that leads down to the Hough Level.  In 1980 the National Trust and Cheshire County Council managed to get enough money together to put a concrete lid on the vein.  This was superbly designed so that the mine is totally enclosed without any loss of outward appearance, the first case I know of truly sympathetic closing of a mine site.  The D.C.C. have obtained an access agreement and hold the keys to the entrance.

BRYNLOW: Brynlow Dell is a wooded valley in which there are two open mines (63m, 130m) two blocked levels and a blocked shaft.  The open mines are both short and uninteresting, though we believe that one may connect with some old, uncharted workings.  The blocked levels and the shaft connect to the Hough Level.

HOUGH LEVEL: (Pronounced "Huff").  Underlying most of the mines named above is a single tunnel about 2m high and a mile long, running from the surface near West Mine to the Edge.  In 1980 access was obtained to one section of this and shortly afterwards extended past a run-in shaft as far as Engine Vein.  Recent exploration has established two periods of mining and dates of 1764 and 1866 were found in a fine section of coffin levels, about 1.3m high by 40m wide, under Brynlow.  Most of our work is concentrated on this passage at present.

WOOD MINE: Wood mine contains about 1½ miles of passage on several levels.  There are numerous loops and interconnecting passages and it is easy to arrange a long, round trip in the mine.  Since the mine is relatively dry, clean and safe, the D.C.C. have, for the last ten years, taken parties of non-cavers ranging in age from four years to 75 years old around the mine!

WEST MINE: This is the most extensive mine, with more than six miles of passage and chambers 10 - 15m high.  West Mine is not connected to any other mines although there is a legend that one passage extends as far as the cellar of a local pub!

SURFACE REMAINS.

Almost all surface remains have been wiped away since the last war, that including a 30m high conical sand heap.  Nevertheless, it is possible that some careful excavation would reveal interesting features.  There is no proposal for such at the present time.

HISTORY.

The mines are thought to have been worked since Bronze Age times and Boyd Dawkins, amongst others, found some stone hammer heads whilst the mines were working.  The documented history starts in 1697 when a dozen men were bound over to keep the peace after a disturbance at the mines (does anything ever change?) and the history since then is known a little better, albeit sketchily.  There was no equivalent to the Derbyshire Barmaster and many records were lost in a fire at the landowner's house in the last century.  Furthermore, the work itself was intermittent and lessees rarely held the mines for more than a few years at a time.

The most extensive period of working was between 1857 and 1877 and this is the only period when output figures were recorded: the mines produced 186,000 tons of ore and about 3,500 tons of copper in the twenty years.  The last recorded working was in the period 1914 - 1919 and none has been carried out since.  Environmental considerations would prohibit any renewal of mining these days.

Visitors started to come to the mines in the 1860's (if not earlier) when the Earl and local and all his family, ladies included, entertained a party of Japanese visitors in the West Mine.  There has hardly been a break in interest since, until after the peak in the 1950's, when the mines were almost all capped and lost.  Since then the D.C.C. has gradually reopened the mines under strict access control for non-cavers.

ACCESS

West Mine is on the land of Mr P.V.R. Sorensen of White Barn Farm, White Barn, Alderley Edge, and access to the mine can only be granted by him.  The other mines are on National Trust property and the Derbyshire Caving Club can either give access (Wood Mine, Engine Vein and Hough Level) or advise visitors with respect to the remainder.  There is usually little interest from bona fide caver's but we generally allow them free access to the mines if they wish.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

There is a number of published articles about the mines but the best and most recent summary is in a book:

The Alderley Edge Mines  written by Dr. Chris Carlon.

A copy of this has been placed in the B.E.C. library.