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Magpie Mine, Sheldon, Derbyshire.

by John G. Riley.

The mine is situated three miles S.W. of Bakewell, standing on a limestone plateau 1025 – 1050 feet above sea level.  It is said, locally, to be over 300 tears old, but its history can only be traced for half that time.  Galena was the chief ore extracted although some brown ore, zinc blend, calcspar and barites were removed during some periods.

During its history the mine changed hands several times, there was always a problem of flooding and the cost of removing the water from the shaft caused the return of lead to be minimal at times and as the price of lead fell the mine closed.

It was not until 1882 that things began to ‘look up’ for the mine when a sough was driven through at a depth of 579 feet to drain the water away into the River Wye.  In this year a record amount of ore was produced. Pumps, however, were still required to drain away the water standing below the level of the sough.  Some idea of the extent of the flooding is indicated by the flow rates of 8,000 gallons/minute from the sough in 1913.

During the period 1907 – 1951 the mine was closed and reopened twice and at one period remained closed for 25 years.  In 1951 a London firm commenced to drain the shaft using electric pumps and by 1953 had succeeded in draining it to a depth of 620 feet where two large, partly natural caverns, Chatsworth Cavern and Devils Hole became accessible but proved to be disappointing.  By 1958 the price of lead had fallen drastically and it became no longer economical to work the mine and it lay in peace once more (that is until the B.E.C. arrived!).

On 11th and 12th May, party from the B.E.C. (including two Alan Thomas’) visited Debyshire with the intention of descending the shaft by ladder.  On the Saturday afternoon Eldon Hole was visited as a ‘warm up’ and the night was spent in Magpie Cottage after being fortified in Buxton’s answer to ‘The Hunters’.  The tenancy of Magpie Cottage was taken over by the Peak District Mines Historical Society who use it as their base for study on mining antiquities.  A certain young member of the society was somewhat apprehensive of our venture, after being convinced in the pub by Alan that we had no knowledge of such sophisticated equipment such as lifelines, caving helmets, wet suits etc!

The shaft was laddered on Sunday morning and descended first by Alan Thomas (the somersaulting – window smashing one) who descended the shaft to water level (i.e. the flood level of the sough at -579 feet).  There was obviously no question of leaving the ladder but it was possible to rest adequately (or even sleep if required!) using an excellent harness loaned by Ken Kelly. After Alan had slogged up 500 feet of ladder the word was passed down that according to the lifeline there was another 400 feet to go.  After a few oaths and curses (the joke was not appreciated!) and rapid calculations the climber realised this to be untrue and on reaching the top the classic remark was “Funny how your sense of humour goes after climbing 400ft. of ladder!”

Successive valiant attempts at reaching the bottom were made by Martin, Alan Thomas (the one who doesn’t somersault and smash windows) and the writer to no avail and finally by Mike Luckwill who was privileged enough to gaze on the stagnant water at the bottom!

Dr. D.T. Ford of the Department of Geology, University of Leicester wrote this of the mine which is not without interest:  “Both the blende vein and the shaft show natural solution features indicating the passage of underground water in the geological past.  In both cases the water table was above these until the sough was driven, so they are examples of phreatic solution by slow-moving waters beneath the water table.  The sources and outflow points of such water before the driving of the sough would form an interesting study, which might lead to the discovery of other caverns and water courses.  One such water course is apparently still active and is responsible for the main feeder of water (or ‘boil-up’) into the sough beneath Sheldon village.  In forming such deep-seated water-courses it may be that surface water has utilised a series of interconnected, incompletely filled mineralised fissures, as the route from the surface catchment well to the west of Magpie with the water subsequently rising to feed springs at a lower altitude near Bakewell.  The position of toadstones would at least partly control such a flow and solution under such circumstances may have been partly responsible for the caverns such as the Chatsworth Cavern found beneath the present flooded deep levels.”

From Other Clubs

By G. Tilly.

Speleo. Vol. 6 No.2  Spring 1968

This edition of the S.W.E.T.C.C.C. newsletter is a 72 page octavo publication containing reports on “Cave Hydrology and Water Tracing” and “Karst Relief and Caves”.  Articles range from “Cave Surveying including the use of a simple Water Level.” To “The Dangers of using dissimilar materials.”

Wessex Journal No.116  Vol.10.  April 1968

The Wessex seem to have another pursuit (other than caving!) namely the scrap metal business if you don’t believe it read it for yourself.  The Journal itself, however, again contains some very interesting articles.  One in particular is a factual account of the Mossdale Caverns Disaster by Alan Fincham.  This report includes the history of the survey attempts and the events up to and following the disaster.

Other publications were received from Axebridge.