Saturday, October 13, 2007

Magpie Mine

As you know from previous posts one of my favourite contemporary writers is the crime writer Stephen Booth, mainly because he writes so well and I like his two detectives Cooper and Fry but also because he sets his stories in the Peak District. I've been reading his latest novel 'Dying to Sin' a great story which interweaves ancient customs and superstitions with the present day social conditions of post foot and mouth outbreak farming, migrant land workers and the breakdown of village communities. One of the settings in the book is the Magpie Mine near the village of Sheldon.

Lead mining was one of the main industries in the peak district and Magpie mine is one of the earliest mines. Its records start in the 1730s but the mine was there long before then. It is now scheduled as an ancient monument and is one of the most complete lead mine works still standing.

The mine can be seen from miles around across the fields. We managed to park on the roadside just near the designated footpath over the fields to the mine. Halfway across we realised that the cattle in the field were not all cows, as we had thought but that one of the animals was most definitely a bull. We remained calm as we passed by; the cattle never even looked at us but carried on chewing grass, thank goodness, whilst we crossed the cattle grid and went through the gate near the agent's house.

The mine has had a very colourful history including being cursed. The story goes that early in the 19th century troubles and rivalries broke out between the Magpie miners and those from neighbouring mines in particular the Red Soil mine. Apparently there was a claim to a particular seam of lead and when miners broke through from other mines to claim the lead action would be taken.

There was a long, drawn out court case involving the miners from Magpie mine who were accused of setting a fire to smoke out men from the Red Soil mine. Three of the Red Soil miners were killed and when the Magpie miners were acquitted through lack of evidence and intent their widows supposedly put a curse on the mine. The mine was dogged by troubles throughout the rest of the 19th century.

The cottage is now a field studies centre open at weekends and heritage days and manned by members of the Peak District Mines Historical Association.

After a good look around we wandered back to the car by the cattle, now even closer to the path but still extremely uninterested in our passing by, and drove on through the villages of Flagg and Chelmorton to the wonderful bookshop at Brierlow Bar.


  1. I've heard of Magpie Mine but haven't visited - oddly enough I was on a walk yesterday which included visiting Odin Mine and all the lead rakes around Castleton. It always seems odd to me that the Beautiful Peak District was once a very industrial area:) One of my ancestors came from Chelmorton so I really should visit there and go to this bookshop at BRierlow Bar which I didn't know about until you mentioned it. Not today though - after climbing to the top of Mam Tor yesterday I've got various aches and pains - I wasn't quite as fit as I thought I was!

  2. there are some lovely books in the bookshop. I just love wandering around it. Hope your aches and pains have subsided - it is ages since I went up Mam Tor but we visited Castleton and Peveril Castle earlier this year - the climb up to the castle winded me a little:)

  3. I've just been doing 'crime statistics' and came across the 'Red soil mine' for the first time. In fact 18 miners were tried for murder in 1834, but all found not guilty. One of these was my ancestor Abraham DOXEY born 1773, who was 60 at the time. Did all these men work for Magpie, or Red Soil as well? I'm trying to do research into the nasty business, anyone with info please contact me.

  4. I've finally got the transcription of the Red Soil Mine trial on line, see
    The Court sat for 26 hours in 2 days, hardly "long drawn out". The proceedings are very complex, so I've provided a 'cast list' of
    73 witnesses, officials, accused and 'mentioned' involved. Personally I would have found some of the men guilty. Hopefully I will soon be able to publish online Nelly Kirkham's detailed history of the Magpie Mine. I find the trial throws a fascinating light on the life of a lead miner in 1833.

  5. hello there, thanks for leaving a comment re the Magpie and Red Soil mines - glad you have been able to find out more about the Red Soil Mine - I was fascinated by the place and look forward to reading more on your wonderful Wirksworth site which I am aware of, having once been on the Derbysgen list - I'm going to pop along and read your account of the court case and look forward to reading the Nelly Kirkham history when it is available:) Thanks again:)