Rambling just outside The Peak District national park, yesterday afternoon, I stopped for a moment to look at my map. As I was doing so, something caught my eye up the adjacent wooded slope...
It was an old stone arch, poking above the surrounding foliage. I scrambled up the slope to take a closer look.
It was and is a noble piece of architecture. Behind it, beneath the undergrowth, I could see the foundations of stone walls. Clearly the arched structure had just been the valley-facing facade of a substantial building. But what was it for?
At first I thought it might simply have been a rich landowner's folly but then I spotted a capped hole in the ground. The evidence clicked in my mind. It must have been the engine house of an old lead mine with the engine being used to pump water from the mine and perhaps also to winch miners up and down the pit shaft.
|The capped mine shaft at Mill Close Mine|
When I got home, I used Google to lead me to the knowledge that it was indeed a Victorian engine house belonging to the most significant and productive lead mine in Britain - Mill Close Mine. This mine operated right up until 1938 when so much flooding occurred that the mine had to be closed for good.
Visitors to The Peak District are often unaware of Derbyshire's rich lead mining history. There are no mines today but the historical evidence is everywhere. It goes way back beyond Roman times. In fact the very reason that Romans came to Derbyshire was to exploit its lead reserves. Large quantities of that lead finished up back in Rome itself.
There are numerous quaint limestone villages in The Peak District but the cute little cottages you will often see were once the homes of humble lead-mining people. Appearances can be deceptive. Once the cramped rooms accommodated large, hard-working families who were often on the brink of destitution but nowadays the same cottages are home to retired people from the city or second homes that are rented out to holidaying country lovers.