Ecton Copper Mine by Tim Rolfe

As many club members headed out last Saturday to take advantage of the first glimpses of spring sunshine, those more (fool) hardy souls wellied-up and headed to the beautiful Manifold Valley to explore the delights of the Ecton Copper Mine.

Our guide for the day was to be John Barnatt, archaeologist, mine surveyor and formidable expert on history of the Ecton Mine.

Ecton has been mined since the Bronze Age, and in the late 18th century was the deepest mine in the country and possibly the world.  It was at this time that the mine also earned the Duke of Devonshire a fortune, with the huge profits paying for the building of the Crescent in Buxton and the Devonshire Dome, now the University of Derby campus in Buxton.

Today, access to the mine is restricted and we entered via the water drainage tunnel that was obviously flooded, but at a good foot deep in places thanks to the recent rains, it was a little deeper than we’d been lead to expect.  This made walking on the uneven tunnel floor somewhat challenging, especially for those who’d missed (or foolishly ignored?) the recommendation of sturdy wellies!

John explaining how canals, kibbles and eventually railways were used to carry the ore to the surface

Once underground, John began to explain the history of the mine, and this set the scene for the day as we were to explore the maze of tunnels, chambers and canals, interspersed with the odd fact or two about the mine and how the technical innovations of the industrial revolution were adopted to increase yields.  

ecton 2
Rare evidence of a copper seam left unmined

Around lunchtime, deep in the heart of the hill, we reached the head of the main shaft which although now flood, disappeared a phenomenal 300m below us.

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The main shaft – 1000ft of crystal clear water

After lunch, the tour continued with the same mix of history lesson and exploration, including the cavernous water-wheel chamber which also used to house the capstan/barrel engine for pumping out the water and keeping the deep mines dry.

ecton 4
The realisation that we’d only seen a tiny fraction of the mine

Having spent around 4hrs underground, the cold had started to penetrate even the most well wrapped up members of the group, but the climb up the 9 ‘traditional’ ladders to the exit at the salts level helped to get the blood pumping and as we were hit by the welcome rays of the sunshine soon all shivers were long forgotten!!

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Underground via ferrata anyone?

All that left to say is thanks to John for such a fascinating guide & Alan P for organising a brilliant trip!!


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