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Mine Shafts and their Dangers

By Pete Turner

When I read about Rookham Wood Mineshaft (Mar’ 68 B.B. p 28-29, sketch survey p30) the account of the attempts to dig the shaft bottom made me shudder, having had two narrow escapes at similar attempts.  This prompted me to write of my own experiences in Derbyshire and North Staffordshire.

The first incident is worth recounting.  Back in 1959 I was a member of a small group exploring three caves in Slitter Wood, near Matlock.  The first member had just started to descend a 25ft shaft when he dislodged a rock which started about two tons of rubble moving, leaving our club mate surrounded by rocks from the waist down and fighting for his life.  We got him back to the surface badly bruised but with no bones broken.  We went back to the shaft to find out if the passage was blocked.  To our surprise, where we expected to see the blockage was an open shaft which was later plumbed and found to be 100ft. deep.  This was our introduction to lead mines and their hidden dangers, and it should be noted that this shaft was in a natural cave.

Mine shafts and their cappings vary from one area to another.  A few typical types will now be described.

The most common mine is one consisting of a single shaft, the lead being worked on a small scale, following a joint.  The depth may be from 10ft. to 40ft. (Fig.1).


Fig. 1  Single shaft – very common

The second type of mine has a double shaft.  The lead was again worked on a small scale, but the mine was deeper.  The main shaft was used for haulage and the climbing shaft was driven fifteen to twenty feet away in a series if steps, breaking into the main shaft sometimes near the bottom and sometimes twenty to thirty above the bottom, giving the miners easy access to the workings. (Fig.2).

The triple headed shaft is the third type.  Nestor Mine at Matlock Bath is a good example of this uncommon type of mine.  This mine has a main shaft 90ft. deep and from the bottom of the shaft three more shafts radiate to different parts of the mine. To my knowledge the three shafts do not reconnect.  Fig. 3.

Five further types can be listed.  They are 1) Double Beehive (Fig. 4), 2) Single Beehive (Fig. 5), 3) Conical (Fig.6), 4) Stone Slab (Fig.7), 5) Timber (Fig.8).  The fifth type can be lethal as they are usually overgrown with grass and may give way when stepped on.  Cattle and sheep are the main victims of this type of shaft covering which is very difficult to locate in an open field.    


Fig. 2 Double Shaft - Common


Fig. 3  Triple headed shaft - rare


Fig. 4  Double Beehive


Fig 5-6  Single Beehive or Conical


Fig. 7  Stone (or wooden) slab.


Fig. 8  Timber.  Open top with wooden sleepers part way down the shaft.  Very common


Typical shaft ginging run-in and must be watched when descending

The last few years have seen a great deal of attention paid to the exploration of the Gouffre Berger in France.  But before the Berger came into prominence, another cave system in France could boast the legendary quality which surrounds the pothole nowadays.