Digging deep – new book explores the depths of internationally important Ecton Mines

This is an archived press release

Thursday 25 July 2013

A Peak District archaeologist used his skills deep underground to uncover the secrets of one of the most significant copper mining sites in Europe.

John Barnatt, Senior Survey Archaeologist at the Peak District National Park Authority, charted the workings beneath Ecton Hill in Staffordshire’s Manifold Valley, summarising his findings in a new book, “Delving Ever Deeper – the Ecton Mines through Time,” published on August 1.

Mining activities on Ecton Hill – once rich in copper, lead and zinc – stretch back into pre-history: among the discoveries of John and his team were workings and tools from the Bronze Age, 2000-1500 years BC.

But Ecton mining was at its height in the 18th century, earning the 5th Duke of Devonshire a fortune – particularly between 1760 and 1790, with huge investment in state-of-the-art technology and infrastructure.

In the 18th century, Deep Ecton Mine was the deepest mine in the country, plummeting 1,000 feet (300 metres) beneath the level of the River Manifold and rising 310 feet (95 metres) above river-level to the original mine entrance on Ecton Hill.

John, who started the project in 2007, carried out the work for English Heritage and the National Park Authority to provide the first comprehensive archaeological study of the Scheduled Monument. It will now assist landowners in future conservation.

John said: “Examining this internationally important mining site in such detail, I came to have a deep respect for the miners and engineers of the 18th and 19th century.

“It was a hard life for the miners, who had to walk miles to work in all weathers, go down as far as 1,000 feet on ladders by candlelight, do a day’s hard labour in dark and dangerous conditions, climb back up the ladders and walk home, six days a week.

“Visitors at the time spoke of descending into hell, climbing down in semi-darkness with loud blasts going on unseen around them.

“But the technical feats and the number of firsts at Ecton were stupendous. It was among the first mining sites in Britain to use gunpowder underground for blasting.

“Revolutionary engines were developed to raise the ore and pump out water from deep underground using steam, horses and water. The 1788 Boulton and Watt engine house on the ridgetop is believed to be the earliest surviving example in the world used for winding out ore.

“At another of the mines there were steam engines underground, with lengthy pipework to take the smoke to the surface so the miners would not suffocate.”

“The Duke of Devonshire put Ecton right at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution: as well as mining copper, he had his own smelters which used coal from his own mines, and he was instrumental in setting up a road network to transport the ore. Even the waste-products were used to treat agricultural land nearby. It was a fully integrated system which you can’t help but admire.”

The book also contains contributions from Simon Timberlake and the Early Mines Research Group on the Bronze Age workings, William K. Whitehead on the Ecton engine house and Rhodri Thomas on the ecology of Ecton Hill.

"Delving Ever Deeper" is published by the Peak District National Park Authority (ISBN: 978-0-901428-26-4) and is available at £21 (p&p £5.60) from the Peak District Mining Museum, Matlock Bath, or phone 01629 583 834.

This is an archived press release

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