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Portal to the copper mine gets revamped by team of volunteers

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: June 12, 2014

  • DEGM20140430D-061_C.JPG DEGM20140430D-061_C.JPG Picture By: Geoff Merryweather

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High up on a hill in the Manifold Valley sits a small stone building. From the outside, few would guess that it is what's thought to be the world's oldest surviving mine winding-engine house. Carolyn Bointon went along to find out more. Pictures: Geoff Merryweather.

THE beautiful Manifold Valley is today a tranquil setting of verdant hillsides, wild flowers and bird song. But just over 200 years ago, it was the scene of industrial activity on a vast scale.

The Peak District's lead mining past is well-known. It was also home to what was once the country's most productive copper mine.

Ecton Mine, owned by the fourth Duke of Devonshire during the 18th century, provided copper for the Royal Navy's ships.

Today, the engine house and surrounding area of about 21 acres are owned and cared for by the National Trust.

The mine and its mineral rights are owned by Ecton Mines Educational Trust. The two organisations have been working together to bring the area to life again.

With funding from an environmental stewardship agreement, the 18th-century engine house has now been restored.

Roof repairs and structural works have been carried out, along with major excavations to the floor, the original level of which was two metres below ground level to accommodate the lower parts of the beam engine.

A replica 12ft steel flywheel has been created, along with innovative ways to bring the story to life, including interpretation boards and a listening post.

Latterly, the engine house was used to house cattle and, as part of the restoration, the stalls and hayloft have been retained to honour another layer of history to this remarkable building.

As part of the restoration, the mine's powder house has also been restored.

Sited a good distance down the hill from the engine house, this building housed gunpowder used for blasting in the mine.

The construction of thick walls and a light roof ensure that any explosion would go upwards rather than outwards.

Frances Pryor, from the TV programme Time Team was invited to open the renovated engine room last Friday.

Paul Mortimer, a projects officer for the White Peak, said: "We couldn't have asked for a better day.

"The weather was glorious and the turnout of more than 40 guests was fantastic.

"All those who have been part of the project and made it happen were there, from our project funders, Natural England, and key advisers from the Peak District National Park Authority, to the team on the ground, including many volunteers.

"The day was a landmark for us and it was really great to be able to celebrate with everyone this team effort and brilliant success."

The mine has a long and varied history. The wealth it afforded the Duke of Devonshire helped to finance the splendours of Chatsworth House and the Crescent at Buxton.

At its peak in 1786, it produced more than 4,000 tonnes of copper ore at a profit of £40,000 per annum – the equivalent of £6 million today.

The Deep Mine at Ecton was eventually worked to a depth of 330 metres (1,090 feet) below the ridge top.

Ore was brought up to the surface using a horse gin – a large wooden drum turned in a circle by a horse to wind a rope at the top of the shaft.

But, as the mine plunged ever deeper, the horse was replaced in 1788 by a steam-powered winding engine and the engine house.

The steam engine was manufactured by Boulton and Watt of Birmingham.

As well as raising ore, the engine would lower water to the miners.

The winding rope alone weighed a tonne, so a balance rope was added. An innovative system of dials indicating depths was connected to the engine, allowing the operator to judge how far down a load of ore was.

Mining continued throughout the 19th century, coming to an end in 1891.

Trips down the mine have been given to groups for a number of years and these will continue.

Guided tours of the mine and engine house take place throughout the summer.

Visit www.nationaltrust. org.uk/white-peak for details or call 01335 350503.

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