The Magpie Mine, a 200 year old Derbyshire lead mine in the Derbyshire Dales, roughly 5km from Bakewell. No longer is it filled with lead and mining opportunities but instead filled with stories of murder, tales of underground clashes, unstable profits and “the widow’s curse.” Derbyshire’s Magpie Mine is a scheduled ancient monument set in a picturesque landscape that seems to be typical to this scenic part of the peak district at the village of Sheldon, near Bakewell.
A magnificent landscape lies before the eye but, if however we were to transport ourselves back in time to 1740 when first evidence of lead mine working is recorded, a whole different landscape would be before us, an open uncultivated moorland, no fields, no stone walls and no evidence of occupancy or interaction with the environment by human hand. Imagine the hardships of those miners in the early years of grafting to make the first shaft, to strike a claim and keep the workings free from the encroaching water table and importantly to make a decent profit while other mines set up claims in the land all around.
From the earliest days of the Magpie lead mine there were problems, firstly with keeping water out of the workings and also struggles with the other mines working veins that would naturally cross each other, the Magpie mine and the Maypitt mine both worked the redsoil vein, which of course as each other’s workings came closer caused terrible disputes and arguments between the two mines. Miners would light fires underground, one reason being to heat the working face and then cool it with water to naturally ease the extraction of the lead by making it more brittle, the other reason being to smoke out the opposing mine workers!
For years the disputes raged on above and below the surface until one very fateful day, in 1833 three of the Maypitt miners lost their lives due to suffocation, caused by the fumes. A total of 24 miners were arrested for the murder of those three souls. Some of those arrested were released, but 5 Magpie miners were sent to Derby assizes and the murder trial continued for a year, after which time all 5 were released without charge due to lack of evidence and motive and the antagonist behavior of the Maypitt miners.
It is said that the widows of the three “murdered miners” put a curse on the Magpie mine and true to form the mine never did really thrive after that time. In its prime the Magpie mine produced a record 800 tons of lead in 1827 after a Newcomen pumping engine was erected at the main shaft, but this boom in production never returned, the mine work continued on regardless with many changes and upgrades until the final closure in 1954.
Visiting the Magpie mine filled my family and me with intrigue and stoked our imaginations, there are stories of a haunting here and it’s no wonder with its lively history, but in such well-kept and maintained grounds and just a short walk from the roadside along the drive I found it a real pleasure to visit. The remaining mine buildings are kept in a natural state without any signage or interference other than the up-keep of safety and ease of access which gives a feel of going back in time. The grounds are owned by the Chatsworth Estate and leased by the Peak District Mines Historical Society.
To discover this inspirational site, the easiest way to direct you is from Bakewell take the b5055 until you see a road on your right towards Chelmorton and continue towards the village of Sheldon, the site is at grid reference SK173682 and once you get close is very easy to see across the field. A member of the Peak District Mines Historical Society is usually on site at the old Smithy’s and agent’s cottage to give guidance and a very informative guide book is also available at a small cost. School groups can book a visit and on the PDMHS web site is a teacher’s pack full of great educational and eye opening material.
We had so many questions to ask on our visit to the Magpie Mine that we inadvertently took up a lot of the PDMHS volunteer’s time, we came away filled with mining stories and enlightened by the friendly member who was very knowledgeable and happy to answer any question we threw at him! The best way to discover the atmosphere and get a real feel for the history is to visit and experience for yourself, explore, ask questions and relax in the open grounds with a picnic.
I hope I’ve inspired you to take a look into some of the Derbyshire Dales turbulent mining history in this now tranquil scenic location.