Review of ‘Ecton Copper Mines Under The Duke of Devonshire 1760-1790’, by Lindsey Porter

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 5th April 2004, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

ECTON COPPER MINES
UNDER THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE 1760-1790

by Lindsey Porter

Ecton copper mines might seem a thing of the past, little more than inoffensive pock-marks on Ecton Hill, recent destination of Sally Mosley and Alfie (Peak Advertiser 22 March). But Lindsey Porter has, literally, explored below the surface of a unique piece of Peak history to reveal the story of these legendary mines and 18th-century life in the area.

Over a period of several years the author has dug and delved to unearth underground evidence and almost 5,000 archival documents, largely in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth. The Duke of Devonshire has provided the foreword for this first, fully detailed history of the Ecton mines. His own predecessors enjoyed lucrative income from the mines and associated industries covered in this book, not least the Cheadle and Axe Edge coalfields.

For a time Ecton had perhaps the deepest mine in the country, certainly one of the largest commercial undertakings. It kept not just miners, their wives and children in work, but woodcutters, brickmakers, ropemakers, blacksmiths and candlemakers (to the tune of 10,000 candles a year). Riddles and sieves came from Hathersage and Abney, thatch from Pikehall, ropes from Winster, firebricks from Newhaven and gunpowder from Chesterfield.

The wider story tells of Cornishmen, adventurers, speculators, fraudsters, and lessees who raised 'every last ton they could get their hands on'. The various processes involved hundreds of workers of both sexes, aged from 5 to 60. Visitors who descended into the mines were generally terrified by the experience, yet one observed that 'everything goes on with the utmost harmony and cheerfulness.' This in spite of the fact that ascents/descents of 660 difficult feet were undertaken on dilapidated wooden ladders with missing rungs - and all in unpaid time.

A chapter on Roads and Transportation looks far beyond the 150 packhorses which used to cross Wetton Bridge every day. Ore was also transported along inland waterways to the Humber and thence around the coast to London, apparently on a vessel named The Ecton. One of the best customers for Ecton's copper metal was the East India Company and it was also used to sheath ships bound for the tropics.

Full of such by-the-way snippets, Ecton Copper Mines Under the Dukes of Devonshire 1760-1790 has 240 pages with a variety of illustrations; published by Landmark Collector's Library and available locally priced £19.95 (ISBN 1-84306-125-2).

Review by Julie Bunting


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