Mining and Industry
by Roger Ridgeway

The old Manor of Eyam was much larger than the present township, encompassing Foolow to the west and Eyam Woodlands and part of Stoney Middleton to the east. At the time of the Manor the moor extended as far south as Eyam Edge. Most of the woodland, as the name suggests, was in Eyam Woodlands, which also encompassed part of Grindleford. Stephen Glover, in his history of Derbyshire in 1803, comments that Middleton Dale was bare of trees and it is only in the last century that this modification to a tree-lined dale has taken place. Similarly, the slopes of the Edge were first covered in gorse; this was cleared in the early nineteenth century and deeds show that corn was grown on the slopes. The southern boundary of the Manor or Ecclesiastical Parish was Middleton Dale Brook, a source of water power for grinding corn, and by which stood the Lords Mill. Only a small part of the original manor still exists. This remnant forms part of Eyam Moor. The rest of the manor had been sold by Sir George Saville, Lord of the Manor in 1662-3 following his ill fortune on the side of the Royalists during the Civil War. Professor Robinson, in his book "Seven Blunders of the Peak" regarded Eyam at the time of the Plague, 1665-6, as a feudal village, but in reality it was occupied by a workforce who were owner occupiers, or who rented land and accommodation from new landlords. It was in this changing setting that the primary industries, lead mining, quarrying, and farming, existed during the last thousand years.

The lead mining industry began amongst the miners veins of the limestone outcrops to the south and west of the village. The mines were numerous and small because the veins were generally small. They were manned by individuals or small groups of miners, and on the surface the wives dressed the ore and looked after their children, or at least all the children aged six and above. The skills of quarrying and lead mining are closely related, a fact verified by the quality of the masonry found in the old lead mines and the drainage levels for these mines. Lead ore only occurs in the limestone measures. To the north of the village the Carboniferous Limestone dips below the shales and the thick sandstone which forms the Edge. It was here in the early eighteenth century that the miners sought the possibility of a large vein, which they found and worked six hundred feet below the surface. Mining was financed by the Adventurers as they were called in the Mining Act, and the mines were worked in sections by small teams of miners using much the same pattern that the small mining operations of the limestone outcrop had used for centuries before. In these cases small groups of miners would take a contract to drive headings of a certain length or mine a certain block of ore. These groups of people worked in several mines. They had contracts in mines, not just in Eyam, but in the whole mineral field, which stretched from Wirksworth to Castleton.

It is not known when the earliest lead mining took place at Eyam, but Roman coins were found in a waste hillock in the New Close when the council estate was built in the late 1940s. Derbyshire lead was exported through the Trent ports at the time of Edward the Confessor. There has always been talk amongst the miners of an apocryphal charter granted to the miners of Eyam by King John giving them sweeping rights to search and mine for lead almost wherever they pleased within the village. Eyam is still governed by the same lead mining laws and customs that have existed since time immemorial. In 1287 during the reign of King Edward 1 the customs were collected and reviewed at a Quo Warranto at Ashbourne. The same view of their antiquity was reflected at this enquiry. At the present day, the lead mining law is incorporated into two acts of parliament, the 1851-2 Derbyshire Mines and Minerals Courts acts. These laws are very practical because they are largely a collection of the old customs that have been developed over the centuries. Eyam is in the mining liberty of Eyam and Stoney Middleton, and has its own mining court, or Barmote Court with its twelve jurymen, steward, and Barmaster who is executive officer of the court. Lead royalties and mining rights are still dealt with by the jury and the officers of the court, which is held once a year. In the eighteenth century the living of Eyam was a very rich one due to the discovery of the large vein under the edge, and the payment of tithes for the lead that was sold, and also there were tithes for the considerable hillocks of waste material that were produced and left on the surface.

Mining, quarrying and farming were interrelated in the lives of many of the people of Eyam. In the hard times the lead miners resorted to the farms. Most lead miners had a small field in which they grew oats, and in other fields they kept their animals. Although the Lord of the Manor had sold most of its freehold in the village, he still retained the water mills which ground the corn, and the new owners of the land had to covenant through the courts of the Lord of the Manor of Eyam, that any corn grown on the land purchased would be ground in the water mills of the Lords of the Manor of Eyam. Lead mining experienced bad times and good following the dissolution and sacking of the monasteries. There was a lot of lead around in the sixteenth century in the time of Henry VIII, and the number of lead miners in Derbyshire was greatly reduced. Nellie Kirkham, the mining historian, relates that by the early sixteen hundreds the numbers of miners had increased by twentyfold. Lead mining reached its height in the mid-eighteenth century, and this is reflected by the amounts of tithes paid to the rectors of Eyam, which in some years passed a thousand pounds. Lead mining continued to prosper until the 1880s when the new Broken Hill deposits in Australia, which contained far more silver than the Derbyshire lead, came into operation. Derbyshire lead is very poor in silver content, and only contained about two ounces per ton, whereas lead from elsewhere can contain about one hundred and fifty ounces of silver per ton. Sometimes such ore is more valuable for its silver content that for the lead. This should have killed the mining industry, but over the centuries huge spoil heaps of what had been waste minerals that occurred with the lead dotted the countryside around Eyam. For instance, there was over a million tons of these residues on the Edge itself, and from then on, lead became a by-product from the use of these minerals, mainly barytes and fluorspar. Barytes was used for making paint, and it was ground especially in Middleton Dale from the middle of the nineteenth century. It largely took over, together with the expanded quarrying industry, from lead mining. In 1895 the first shipment of fluorspar was sent to South Wales to the tinsmelters. The mixture of waste materials on the Edge was ideal for this smelting because it was low in silica. It was also low in sulphur in the form of barytes and lead. In 1904, William and John Robinson, together with George G.Blackwell and Sons, shipping agents from Liverpool, started exporting fluorspar from the hillocks on the Edge to the United States for the new basic open hearth furnace, where it was used instead of dolomite as a slagging agent. The operation was so successful that by 1911 the American Senate had put a one dollar per ton tariff on the imports of fluorspar, their own producers being unable to compete. This didn't kill the industry and in 1922 a Senate commission came to Derbyshire to see just what the Derbyshire reserves were. The result of its finding was a four-dollar tariff, which killed the exports. By this time, the reserves were becoming depleted on the Edge, and the British Steel Industry could by now take up the production from Derbyshire. In 1938, a man by the name of Henry Ellison had a small high grade fluorspar producing plant in the village itself at the old Glebe lead mine. He took on Frank Robinson, William Robinson's son, to manage the operation. Ellison had a hydrofluoric acid plant at Rotherham, and this required material of about ninety seven per cent purity of fluorspar, something which was never found under lead mining hillocks. It required a complex processing plant to upgrade the ore to the required quality. This was eventually done in 1939 by the advent of the process known as froth flotation, in which the minerals are removed on a soap bubble. Frank Robinson designed the plant, which was to produce seventy per cent of the country's high grade fluorspar which was necessary for the war effort in the production of hydrofluoric acid and also in the production of aluminium, where it is used in the electrolyte. The techniques developed in the early part of the war were further modified in the 1950s. In the mid 1950s the first separation in the world of barytes and fluorspar by this method took place.

Today many of the plants in other countries have been modelled on the work of Frank Robinson and his mill manager, Frank Bagshawe, at Glebe Mine.

In 1959 there was a large expansion in demand for fluorspar. There was no room to develop further within the village, so a new plant was built at Cavendish Mill in Stoney Middleton, that is still in the old lead mining liberty of Eyam and Stoney Middleton. This remains the largest high grade fluorspar producer in the country to the present day. Lead is still removed as a by-product, and the average annual production is similar to a moderate year of the mid-nineteenth century. Lead mining requires a great deal of engineering skill in removing the ore six hundred feet to the surface as the miners did under the Edge, or for the pumping of water through a drainage level which passes through the south west boundary of the village. In 1792 for instance, eight hundred thousand gallons of water per day were pumped with the use of a Newcomen Engine from this mine. It may be that these engineering skills were passed on to other industries in this village, because there was a succession from cotton, to silk, to shoes, right through to the end of the 1960s when the shoe industry finally ended within the village.

There are two types of quarrying. There are still the remnants of small sandstone quarries on the Edge and at Riley, where building stone for houses was produced. At the top of Eyam Dale, the early quarries were next to the village, one in Eyam Dale House grounds, and other at the head of Eyam Dale itself.

With the expansion of the demand for limestone, which took up a lot of the slack left by the demise of lead mining, it was necessary to quarry within the Middleton Dale itself. This quarrying is still a main industry, although not in the parish of Eyam itself today.

The enclosure of land took place in three phases. In 1614 the greater of these, mainly to the west of the village towards Foolow produced a host a small narrow fields, typical of the requirements of the lead mining community. In 1698 a further award was given on the Edge side itself, and in 1800 the third and final enclosures took place north of the escarpment of Eyam Edge, and this was only partially completed. The ring fence was completed on Eyam Moor, but it wasn't divided up into fields. The stone for the walls doesn't come from the large quarries, but comes from within the fields themselves.

Eyam and Stoney Middleton have shared the primary industries for the simple reason that the Middleton Dale brook is the dividing line between the two parishes. Many of the people of Eyam found work on the other side of the brook in the parish of Stoney Middleton. Much of the quarrying in Stoney Middleton is closer to Eyam than it is to Stoney Middleton village. There are two further industries, one of which is now defunct: this was the lime industry, and on both sides of the dale there were lime kilns in the past. The other, probably the most important industry in Eyam at the present day, is the grinding works, which grinds many commodities, which lies at the site of the old Black Hole Mine between the village of Eyam and Foolow.

At the height of the lead mining in the eighteenth century, cotton spinning began to be of importance to the village, and the work was situated at two factories, Audrey Cottages in the west of the village, and Lower Burch Place in the east. These two sites were reasonably close, but not on, the two main streams that issue from the Edge, the Jumber Brook on the west and the Hollow Brook on the east. Both sites were within a hundred yards of their respective streams. According to the lead mining archivist Doug Nash, there was an engine at the head of the Jumber Brook at Highcliffe, which through a series of rods transmitted work for several hundred yards. These rods rested on trestles and it is possible that any power required by the two cotton-spinning factories was obtained in the same way from the two brooks. Both brooks are intermittent in their flow, and it is said that continuous water supply was a problem.

In the course of time the cotton spinning industry was replaced by silk in the early nineteenth century. It was during the time of the silk industry that Ralph Wain invented the process to put patterns on both sides of the cloth. Eventually he sold his rights to a firm in Macclesfield, but declined to take up their offer of employment. In due course silk was replaced by shoe factories, not only in Eyam, but also in the surrounding villages of Stoney Middleton, Calver, and other villages, and there was a tannery at Grindleford.

The shoe industry has been a very important one to the village of Eyam, and reference to it can be found in the Slater's Directory of the 1880s. In the mid nineteenth century according to Wood, there were around two hundred people employed in this industry in the village, and this continued until the 1950s. The last of the shoe factories closed down due to foreign competition and cheap labour in 1979. Only one of the numerous factories in the neighbouring villages still remains, Lennons boot factory in Stoney Middleton. There were two large shoe factories in the village between the wars, Ridgeway Willis at the Town Head, and Ridgeway Bros, later to become Edmund West, opposite the Rectory, and these were very important sources of work for the local population as well as for the people in the surrounding area. In the 1950s there was quarrying, fluorspar, and shoes, the labour supply was completely insufficient and a labour force was drawn from an area extending as far south as Winster.

The removal of Glebe Mines processing operations in the village to the Cavendish Mill in neighbouring Stoney Middleton, and the demise of the shoe factory has completely changed the character of the village over the last thirty years. There is little industry in the village today. The extent of the mineral workings may be shown by the fact that during the war, ore was hoisted from the Glebe mineshaft in the village. In 1948 the same veins were worked from the Ladywash Shaft on Eyam Edge. Today a drift mine works the veins under the Edge from Great Hucklow, to the west. It is possible to walk the three miles or so through old workings from Stoney Middleton to Great Hucklow.

Tourism has taken the place of industry in Eyam, but it provided only a tenth of the turnover of the village of thirty years ago. The twentieth century has seen a considerable change in Eyam. At its beginning, a hundred horses and carts would have been seen taking fluorspar to Grindleford and Hassop stations. Today, up to a dozen coach loads of children arrive in the village to visit the Museum, the Hall, the Church, and the Plague graves, but the industrial village of the last millenium is no longer there, only its shadow.


original website 2000 J.F.Day. Updated and edited ©2005 Infinity Junction
Map design 2000 The Eyam Map project