The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1842)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2012


There is, particularly on the south side of Eyam, strong evidence of much mining in past ages. Indeed, the Eyam Mineral Charter proves the antiquity of the lead mines at Eyam. This village and parish is included under the general denomination of the KING'S FIELD, which is subject to the operation of a peculiar system of mineral law. One clause of the law declares, "that by the custom of the mine it is lawful for all the King's liege subjects to dig, delve, search, subvert, and overturn, all manner of grounds, lands, meadows, closes, pastures, mears, and marshes, for ore mines, of whose inheritance soever they be; dwelling houses, orchards, and gardens, excepted". From the inconvenient effects of this sweeping clause many of the old freehold tenures of the parish of Eyam, are exempt, through the virtue of a charter granted by King John, previously to his being created Duke of Lancaster. Who holds this charter now, I am not aware, neither can any person name the particular tenures alluded to. They are, however, supposed to be those contiguous to the village: or what is denominated the old land. With the exception of a little land at Hucklow, and at Grippe, these decreed tenures at Eyam, are the only lands exempted from the arbitrary mineral laws, observed throughout the comprehensive district of a great part of the Peak of Derbyshire.

Of the ore obtained from the mines in the whole parish of Eyam, the lot, which is every thirteenth dish, is claimed and taken by the Lords of the Manor. One penny a dish belongs to the Rector; and a small exaction called cope, is paid by the purchaser of the ore to the Barmaster: these, with a trifle paid to the Rector, and the Lords of the Manor, for what is provincially called hillock-stuff, are the lots and tythes paid by the mines of Eyam.

The Lords of the Manors of Eyam and Stoney Middleton, hold an half-yearly court, alternately at Eyam and Stoney Middleton. This court is denominated the Great Court Barmoot, at which the steward, __ Charge, Esq., Chesterfield, presides, who with twenty-four jurymen, chosen every half-year, determine all cases of disputes that occur, respecting the working of the mines in the above Manors. Other matters, independent of mines, are also adjusted at these periodical courts, of which, the whole expences, are paid by the Lords of the Manors. The Barmaster, M. Frost, Esq., Baslow, has also important offices connected with the mines: putting miners into the possession of new discovered mines, collecting the lots due to the Lords of the Manors, and measuring all the ore, are only a few of the Barmaster's duties.

The great vein of ore, known as the Edge-side vein, was discovered about a century and a half ago; but it was not worked in the parish of Eyam, until some time after its discovery. In the space of fifty or sixty years, it was cut for more than two miles in length; but dipping very fast eastward, it at last reached the water, and could no longer be successfully worked. A sough or level was brought up to it from the river Derwent, about eighty years since, but did not answer general expectation. The quantity of metal obtained from this vein, may be judged of, from the fact, that it enhanced the annual income of the Rector, from £1200 to £1800 a year, and this for a long time. Other veins in the vicinity have been very productive; but nearly all have been long shut up for the same, almost irresistable element - water. The water-groove mine, just within the parish of Eyam, is by far the richest in the neighbourhood. A steam engine of three hundred horse power has been just erected on this mine, and it is anxiously hoped that it will be able to compete with the water. Lumps of metal, from three to five hundred weight are often obtained from this very rich lead mine. By far the oldest lead works are of the rake kind, extending over a large tract of land south of the village. And, as I have before observed, the village, in a great measure, stands on the ruins of old mines; all tending to prove the great antiquity of the lead works at Eyam. Camden thinks that Derbyshire was alluded to by Pliny, when he says, "In Britain, lead is found near the surface of the earth in such abundance, that a law is made to limit the quantity which shall be gotten".

Of the origin of the laws and customs connected with the working of the lead mines in Eyam and its vicinity there is much room for speculation. Some think that they originated with the original inhabitants of Derbyshire; but from a passage in Suetonius, it is inferred that the mineral customs and laws of the aboriginals were superseded by others introduced by the Romans. Heineccius countenances the supposition, that private adventurers were afterwards permitted to work the mines, which would be productive of multifarious laws and regulations, and hence their anomalous character.

Bole-hills are innumerable in the vicinage of Eyam - they were the places where the ore was smelted, before the introduction of the Cupulo.

The mines in Eyam-edge are very deep, and the New-engine mine I have heard stated as being the deepest in Derbyshire. Among the number in the edge is the Hay-cliff; a mine distinguished for having contained in great abundance of that extraordinary phenomenon in the mineral world,, provincially called SLICKENSIDES. It is a species of Gelena; and is well-known amongst mineralogists. This mine once had it in singular quantity and quality. The effects of this mineral are terrific: a blow with a hammer, a stroke or scratch with the miner's pick, are sufficient to blast asunder the massive rocks to which it is found attached. One writer says, "The stroke is immediately succeeded by a crackling noise, accompanied with a noise not unlike the mingled hum of a swarm of bees: shortly afterwards an explosion follows, so loud and appalling, that even the miners, though a hardy race of men, and little accustomed to fear, turn pale and tremble at the shock". Of the nature of this mineral, and its terrible power, there have been a many, but quite unsatisfactory solutions. Whitehurst, in his work on the formation of the Earth, thus mentions its wonderful power:- "In the year 1738, an explosion took place at the Haycliff mine, Eyam, by the power of Slickensides.

Two hundred barrels of materials were blown out at one blast - each barrel containing 350 lbs. weight. During the explosion the earth shook as by an earthquake". A person of the name of Higginbotham once but narrowly escaped with life, by striking incautiously this substance in the above mine. Experienced miners can, however, work where it greatly abounds, without much danger. It is also known by the name of CRACKING-WHOLE.

In this mine and many others in Eyam-edge, was sensibly felt the earthquake which destroyed Lisbon, on Saturday, November 1st, 1755. The following is a narrative of the occurrence, compressed from an account written by Mr. Francis Mason, an intelligent overseer of the mines in Eyam-edge at the time mentioned:- "About eleven o'clock in the forenoon of the first of November, 1755, as Francis Mason was sitting in a small room at the distance of from forty to fifty yards from the mouth of one of the engine shafts, he felt the shock of an earthquake, so violent that it raised him up in his chair, and shook some pieces of lime and plaster from the sides and roof of his little hovel. In a field about three hundred yards from the mine he afterwards observed a chasm, or cleft, in the earth, which he supposed was made at the same time: its direction was parallel to the vein of ore the miners were then pursuing, and its continuation from one extremity to the other was nearly one hundred and fifty yards. Two miners, who were employed in the drifts about sixty fathoms deep when the earthquake took place, were so terrified at the shock, that they dared not attempt to climb the shaft, which they dreaded might run in upon them, and entomb them alive. They felt themselves surrounded with danger, and as they were conversing with each other on the means of safety, and looking for a place of refuge, they were alarmed by a second shock, much more violent than the one preceding. They now ran precipitately to the interior of the mine: it was an instinctive movement that no way bettered their condition; it only changed the spot of earth where they had previously stood; but their danger and their fears were still the same. Another shock ensued, and after an awful and almost breathless interval of four or five minutes, a fourth and afterwards a fifth succeeded. Every repercussion was followed by a loud rumbling noise, which continued for about a minute; then gradually decreasing in force, like the thunder retiring into distance, it subsided into an appalling stillness more full of terror than the sounds which had passed away, leaving the mind unoccupied by other impressions, to contemplate the mysterious nature of its danger. The whole space of time included between the first and the last shock was nearly twenty minutes. When the men had recovered a little from their trepidation, they began to examine the passages, and to endeavour to extricate themselves from their confinement. As they passed along the drifts, they observed that pieces of minerals were scattered along the floor, which had been shaken from the sides and the roof, but all the shafts remained entire and uninjured". A few years before the earthquake, another was very sensibly felt at Eyam. It happened on the wakes Sunday, and the inhabitants were in the church, when the shock came on. Several had their prayer-books knocked from their hands by the shock; and the pewter plates tingled on the shelves of the houses in and around Eyam.

In bringing this brief account of the mines to a conclusion, it may not be improper to notice, that a many miners have fallen a sacrifice in pursuing their perilous and hazardous occupation. The following are those, now remembered, with the names of the mines where they were killed:-

Edward Torre, killed near the Parson's Fold. A.D. 1669.
Three men. Stoke Sough, 80 years since,
William Fox, Shaw Engine, 90 do.
Edward Dooley, Twelve Meers.
Robert Unwin, do.
Michael Walker, do.
Nineteen men, Middleton Engine, (different times)
___ Bramwell, Twelve Meers.
___ Simson, do.
___ Bennet, New Engine,
___ Fearest, Stoke Sough.
Samuel Howard, Water Grove.
William Hancock, do.
A man, Broadlow.
A lad, do.
George Benson, Pasture Grove.
___ Stailey, Twelve Meers.
___ Middleton, Mowerwood Engine.
Robert Middleton, Slater's Engine.
Francis Mower, Haycliff.

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This information was collated and transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in September 2012.

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