Lead Mining Records

The Miners Tearms are like to Heathen Greek – Edward Manlove, 1653

A guide to the brief history of lead mining in Derbyshire and notes on the sources available for research (written March 1993, updated June 2020).

Administration and Customs

There are few primary series for the study of Derbyshire lead mining before the 16th century.  By this time the unique set of laws and customs which govern Derbyshire lead mining were already well established.  Most of the ore fields within the county were within the estate of the Duchy of Lancaster and thus belonged to the Crown.  A royal inquisition held at Ashbourne in 1288 recognised the “immemorial” right of miners to dig for lead anywhere on the Crown’s estates except under churchyards, gardens, orchards and highways, but it also codified the mining laws in order to regulate this activity.  The mining laws of 1288 remained substantially unaltered and were accepted as the basis for the Derbyshire Mining Customs and Mineral Courts Acts in 1852 (see D163/1 and Local Studies 622.344).

The Crown’s ore fields were divided into the Kingsfield of the High Peak in the north and the Kingsfield of the Low Peak (also known as the Wapentake of Wirksworth) in the south.  Each field had its own Great Barmoot Court, which met twice a year and had exclusive jurisdiction over matters connected with mining.  The Great Barmoot Court was presided over by a steward, who could also summon a more frequent small Barmoot to hear lesser cases.  Both the High Peak and Low Peak ore fields were subdivided into smaller administrative units known as liberties, each of which corresponded to a mining township, and an officer called a Barmaster was appointed for each liberty. There were some lead mining areas outside the Crown’s estates on private lands.  These are known as the Private Liberities and had their own Barmoot Courts, Barmasters and mining customs, modelled on those of the Kingsfields.

Barmoot Court Books/Rolls: are the official minutes of the mining courts.  At the beginning of each session should appear the title of the court, the name of the Lord of the Court (if a Private Liberty), the date of the session, and the name of the steward presiding.  The business of the court will then follow and may include the appointment of the Barmaster and his deputies, the swearing-in of jurors, the delivery of accounts (of “lot” and “cope” collected) by the Barmaster and his deputies, and the details of cases of plaints brought before the court.  There may be subsidiary papers such as jury lists, the articles of the court, court orders, case notes, and notes on mining laws and customs.

Records of the Barmaster: barmasters’ notebooks or diaries provide a day-to-day record of their activities, and cover the full range of official duties.  These included

  • recognising a new claim in return for a dish of ore (freeing the founder meer)
  • making (nicking) the windlass (stowe) of an idle mine and re-allocating its possession after it has been nicked three times
  • investigating the sudden death of any miner within the Liberty,
  • making summons for breaches of the mining laws
  • measuring lead ore, and
  • collecting the mineral duties.

Lot was the payment of a set fraction of the ore raised by the miners. Cope was a monetary payment per load of ore measured, which was normally paid by the lead merchants or smelters.  There are usually separate account books recording the amounts of ore measured and the lot or cope paid.

Derbyshire Record Office has three particularly good and complimentary collections for the study of lead mining administration and customs:

  • D258 Gell family of Hopton, near Wirksworth.  The Gell’s were prominent lead smelters in the 16th and 17th centuries and held the farm of cope from the Crown.  Their archive contains a lot of material on the operation of the Barmoot Court and the Barmasters in the Wapentake of Wirksworth.
  • D504 Brooke-Taylor of Bakewell, solicitors, contains a large amount of similar material for the Kingsfield and Private Liberties in the High Peak.
  • D1289 Rieuwarts Collection is an artificial collection of lead mining records covering the private liberties of the Duke of Rutland.
Development in Lead Mining Technology

Initially lead production was fairly limited: the smelting process was primitive and the depth of the mines was restricted by problems of ventilation and flooding.

Smelting: was originally carried out using boles, wood fired furnaces on westerly facing hilltops.  Smelting could only take place when there was a south westerly wind to fire the furnace, usually about twice a year, and would fail if the wind failed.  the second half of the 16th century saw the introduction of the smelting mill.  Lead was produced in a specially designed ore hearth, fired by bellows that were powered by a water wheel, thereby enabling production to take place continuously throughout the year.  In the 18th century the ore hearth itself was superseded by the Reverbertory Furnace or ‘Cupola’, which used coal instead of wood to generate the heat for smelting.  These changes in smelting practice can be followed using records including those relating to Sir John Gell’s smelting mill in the 1640s (see D258) and the county’s largest 18th century lead cupola in Lea owned by the Nightingale family (see D1575).

Soughs: were drainage tunnels designed to lower the water table, or free the mines of underground streams, by diverting the water into the near river valleys.  the earliest recorded sough is the Longhead sough, driven by the Dutch engineer Sir Cornelius Vermuyden between 1629 and 1636 to unwater the Dovegang mines at Cromford.  The Gell collection (ref: D258) contains material concerning early soughs including contemporary copies of documents concerning the draining of Dovegang.  The largest sough driven in Derbyshire was the Hillcarr Sough.  It was begun in 1766 and drained the mines at Alport-by-Youlgreave by carrying water a distance of four miles to the River Derwent at Darley Dale.  A good number of records for this project are held at the record office, including the minute book of the proprietors 1775-1821 (ref: D200), as well as a contemporary copy of the sough articles, title deeds, plans, accounts and other material (ref: D504 and D1575).

Other records

Individual Derbyshire lead miners have left few records, and will only appear as names in the Barmasters diary or the Barmoot Court Book.  From the beginning the lead trade was controlled by the wealthy smelters and merchants.  As mining became deeper and more expensive the merchants grouped together to form mining companies.  Many of the surviving records are therefore in family or company archive collections.  These include account or reckoning books for particular mines detailing expenditure on wages and equipment, against income from the amount of ore produced.

See our online for a list of the archive collections of lead mining companies, lead dealers Barmoot Courts and Barmasters and a list of items in Local Studies relating to lead mining.

The Barmaster’s Library

The Barmaster’s Library is a collection of publications and other items about the history of Derbyshire (particularly Buxton and the Peak District) including a number of items specifically relating to lead mining.  Originally brought together by William and George Eagle Esquires, Barmasters of Wirksworth, it was presented to the Whitworth Institute at Darley Dale probably in the early 1930s – the original catalogue was produced in March 1931 but it is unclear if the catalogue was produced at the time of the presentation or some time later.  It was transferred to the custody of the Local Studies Library (then based at Matlock Library) in 1968.

There are some early 20th century publications in the collection, but most of the items  date from the 18th to 19th century – the earliest items are from the 16th and 17th century

Further Reading
  • Edward Manlove Liberties and Customs of the Lead Mines (ref: Local Studies 622.344 for 1708 edition and D2193/1/1 for a photocopy of the c1653 poem)
  • Blog Post – Acquisition of lead mining plan of Winster, 1769 (ref: D8163/1)
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (1998) Glossary of Derbyshire lead mining terms
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (2007-2012) Lead Mining in Derbyshire: history, development & drainage (4 volumes)
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (1972) Derbyshire’s old lead mines and miners
    J. H. Rieuwerts (1988) A History of the Laws & Customs of the Derbyshire Lead Mines

A large number of records relating to lead mining in Derbyshire are held at Chatsworth Archives, including several items that originally formed a series with some items held under D504.

What do you have about dwarves in Norse Mythology or the future colonisation of space?

These are just two of the themes I have been looking into yesterday as part of a visit from students at the University of Derby doing a Creative Writing degree. This has now become an annual visit that challenges me every time to come up with items from the collections to inspire and inform the students, as part of an introduction to the opportunities for supporting their work that can be found amongst the archives.

Two of the students had been in touch in advance to advise what their interests were and what they were currently working on. There have been struggles in past years in identifying a selection of documents related to the students’ interests and current projects but when this year I received an email referring to “representations of Dwarfs in Norse myth and perhaps other representations of dwarfs or dwarf-like humans in folklore” and “space, future planet colonisations”. Fortunately, the latter also included a reference to “accounts of colonisation of British colony’s in the words of eye-witnesses”, which is much more what we might expect amongst our collections given the official roles undertaken by a number of Derbyshire gentry in the 18th-20th century (see in particular the Fitzherbert connection in the West Indies;- Gell family in South Africa;- Wilmot-Horton in Ireland and elsewhere).

After an ill-advised search in  the catalogue for ‘space’, which primarily turned up records relating to graveyard spaces, I tried terms such as planet, Mercury, Venus, Mars, solar, lunar, astronomy, etc. which was a little more successful. Knowing the relationships of Derbyshire personalities with The Lunar Society, and of John Flamsteed of Denby, some terms were less successful than I hoped. I also already knew that we had a couple of collections relating to the Rocketry department at Rolls Royce (see D4907 and D5290), so the selection also included a few drawings and lecture notes.  However, I was thrilled to find a reference to the Mars Colony Project of the 1960s amongst papers of the Derby Group of the British Interplanetary Society (ref: D317).  Fortunately, the student in question was also very pleased and fascinated with the selection, learning that whilst the US had plans to colonise the moon, the British (and European) aim was for the colonisation of Mars – obviously neither got very far!

Putting together a selection relating to dwarves and Norse mythology required a little more abstract thinking. Whilst Derbyshire is full of its own myths, legends and folklore, they don’t tend to contain many references to dwarves or Norse traditions. Based on my extremely limited knowledge of such fantasy fiction (primarily as a result of repeated viewings, though never readings, of the Lord of the Rings) the obvious Derbyshire connection was to mining (lead especially) and caving, and mountains. The resulting selection included;-

  • photographs of various Derbyshire lead mines and caves, notably Peak Cavern at Castleton which is particularly famous for Blue John (e.g. D4959, D1502, D869 and a large number from the local studies library, also available on Picture the Past)
  • an 18th century copy of civil war era lead mining customs and laws (D7676/Bagc/550)
  • a recipe for “spring mountain wine” (D307/H/28/1) – although the catalogue entry had read ?strong, which might have been more dwarf-like
  • several illustrations and caricatures by George Murgatroyd Woodward (1767-1809) of Stanton-by-Dale (ref: D5459).

The group were also fascinated by the people in the Victorian asylum admissions register and what their stories were (ref: D1658/1/5), a Great Seal of Charles I granting a pardon to Francis Leeke in 1639 after he purchased land without permission, (ref: D315/1) and an illustration of woman who grew four sets of horns (ref: D303/30/7). Other students spent time using the online catalogue to search for items relating to Irish immigration and seafaring, and made plans to come back during normal opening hours to pursue their own interests and research.

I look forward to hearing and reading what they come up with. It was good to hear from their lecturer that after last year’s visits one of the students who was interested in pirates on the high seas wrote a book partly inspired by records she consulted at DRO particularly relating to an individual who chased pirates across the seas – unfortunately I don’t have any details of the records she consulted, but we do hope to add a copy of the published book to our Local Authors collection in due course.

A busy week with some interesting finds

As you may know we are constantly adding “new” material to our collections (some of it new, i.e. recent, especially in local studies, and some of it much older). It is rare to go more than 3 or 4 days without accessioning new material, this was a little exceptional though with 7 new and additional  archive deposits and gifts in just 2 days.

Some of this was fairly typical of the material we take in on a regular basis, for example, late 20th and early 21st century school governors minutes. Some was was a little less typical and I got a little excitable as I looked through these new accessions to produce a summary for the official receipt and online catalogue.

One of the key professional duties of an archivist is to undertake an initial assessment of material that is being offered (whether it is being offered as a donation or a deposit, where the organisation offering the records remains the owner and the Record Office acts acts the custodian). We then summarise and describe the records and record in our database where the material has come from. This is known as as the accessioning process, and also involves assigning a running number to each new accession in addition to giving it a catalogue collection number. If we already have other records relating to the same collection (for example, in the case of a parish, school or business), we use the existing “D” reference number. If this is the first accession of material for a particular collection it is also assigned the next “D” reference (we have almost reached D8000 by the way).

Once we have entered all the necessary information into the database (which may also include information about access restrictions and copyright, amongst other things), we produce an Accession Receipt for the donor/depositor to sign along with the duty archivist. Both parties then each have a copy of the receipt.

Screenshot of our internal database for recording accessions and catalogues, showing list of accessions received on 14 July 2016

The next stage is to add information about the new accession to our online catalogue so that people know what we have. Very occasionally, if the new accession is quite small and individual records easily identified, we can add individual catalogue entries for each record and assign it a unique reference number. I was actually able able to do this on two occasions this week, for new material that came in from the Parish of Draycott and a separate accession from Ilkeston St Marys Mothers’ Union.

When it is not possible for this to happen a summary of the new accession is added under ‘Description’ at home collection level entry on the catalogue until full cataloguing and number if can take place in the future. This is what I have done with the rest of the new accessions received last week.

So what new accessions did we receive this week? Can you guess which ones I was particularly excited about?

On Monday, two boxes of governors records arrived from Aston-on-Trent Primary School (ref: D6701) this was by far the largest deposit and contained a large number of documents that are not required or considered appropriate for permanent preservation in the archives. I undertook an initial assessment of which files contained archive material, returning those that didn’t to the school this week. The remaining files have now gone to be processed by our Records Assistants, checked, boxed and added to our archive strongrooms. However, as only the initial assessment has yet been completed, further appraisal will be required to identify other material within the files not appropriate for permanent preservation – for example there are a number of duplicates of items and publications from other bodies that do not relate to the school.

On Thursday, the first to arrive were were the minutes and reports from the Ilkeston St Marys Mothers’ Union, which sadly disbanded earlier this year. This material has already been fully catalogued and added to the existing collection under the reference D4603. Two deposits were received from the Parish of Wilne with Draycott, including an original Register of Apprentices for Draycott, 1804-1816 (ref: D2513/5), an apparently very comprehensive survey and valuation of the whole of Draycott, including names of owners and occupiers, produced by William Cox in 1810 (ref: D2513/6) – see images below.

The deposit for Wilne (the mother church to Draycott) was much larger and generally much more recent, including for example, Parochial Church Council minutes 1993-2004, inspection reports, inventories of 1908 and 1935 and papers relating to various works and improvements undertaken between the 1950s and 2000s  (although these latter files will be appraised further as part of the cataloguing process – see my post in February “to keep or not to keep”) – ref: D2513. The star of the accession was undoubtedly the addition of the parish copy of the Wilne Tithe Map and Award of 1847-1848. Although we already hold the Diocesan copy of these important and incredibly useful records, Wilne was one of the few Derbyshire parishes for which we were not also protecting and preserving the parish copy. Nevertheless, the parish had clearly been taking good care of it as it is in very good condition:

Parish copy of the Wilne Tithe Map and Award 1847-1848 (D2513)

We also took in a small collection of printed items (see picture above), with a couple of photographs and news cuttings, relating to William Rhodes Junior School (later, and now, Primary School), donated by a friend and former colleague of the teacher who collected them during her employment there from the late 1960s to her retirement in 1983. Although not yet fully catalogued this material has been added to collection D5234, which also includes log books and admission registers for the infants and juniors from the 1930s.

Finally, we had two donations via the British Cave Research Association Library in Ashbourne. The first consisted of the only collection of material specifically relating to the Peak Forest Mining Company, including letter books and accounts from the late 19th century (ref: D7981). This material had once been in the possession of a past member of the Association (formerly the British Speleological Association), Mr Peter Crabtree, who passed away in 2003. And it was the research and other papers of Mr Crabtree that complete our list of new accessions received  (ref: D7982).