Located near the village of Sheldon, 5km west of Bakewell, Magpie Mine was the last working lead mine in mid-Derbyshire, making it the best-preserved example of its kind. With a history spanning over three centuries, Magpie Mine stands today showcasing the development of mining techniques over the course of the industrial revolution. Outside from the site’s industrial history, Magpie Mine also boasts a rich cultural history involving the people who worked here, with colourful tales of murder, disputes, rivalries, and closures.
Magpie Mine stands as one of many mines located within a walled enclosure, the other mines being Dirty Red Soil, Horsesteps, Great Red Soil, and Maypit – each of which are scheduled monuments.
The most prominent remains of Magpie Mine are the 1869 Cornish Exchange House, the 1840 circular powder house, and the 1760 Shuttleback Engine Shaft. The mines themselves have been blocked off in order to ensure visitor safety, so can no longer be accessed.
This area of the Peak District was used almost relentlessly for the practice of lead mining – beginning with the roman period and ending with the closure of the Magpie Mine.
The earliest remains of mining history found on the site of Magpie Mine date back to, at least, 1740, although records of the Shuttleback vein have been found which date back to 1682. On record, Magpie Mine changed ownership many times throughout the 18th century; despite this, the mine maintained a high profitability, and became the biggest lead producer in mid-Derbyshire in 1790. However, this monopoly was short-lived, as Magpie could not match the uptake in lead mining in the area, with the opening of the likes of Great Red Soil mine, causing Magpie to close in 1793.
Magpie Mine reopened in 1800, and in order to solve persistent issues the mine had with flooding, saw the installation of a Newcomen type pumping engine in the main shaft. Production increased tenfold following this modification, and in 1827, Magpie Mine produced a then-record breaking 800 tons of lead – a record Magpie held for over 40 years!
In the wake of Magpie’s success, several additional mines were constructed in the area, sparking fierce conflict over territorial issues. The main dispute occurred between the miners of the Magpie Mine and the miners of the nearby Maypit Mine; the cause of the tension being the shared Great Redsoil Vein, which connect both mines. The quarrelling escalated over time, and miners from both camps turned militant, lighting fires into the vein in order to smoke the other side out. The conflict became deadly in 1833, when three Maypit miners were suffocated. 24 miners were put on trial but were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
Following the disaster, Magpie Mine was hit by a sharp decline in lead demand, alongside further flooding issues, leading to its second closure in 1835; it became widely believed that the widows of the murdered miners had put a curse on Magpie Mine.
The closure was short-lived, as renowned Cornish miner, John Taylor, revived the mine in 1839, incorporating it into the wider Great Redsoils working company. Taylor was responsible for both modernising and extending the mines; introducing health and safety regulations, and expanding the main shaft by 208 metres.
After a 30-year battle with proprietors and the Duke of Devonshire, Taylor was also able to commence the construction of a drainage system, taking water from the mine to the River Wye – permanently solving Magpie Mine’s flooding issues. This drainage system is still in use presently and carries up to six million gallons of water to the Wye daily.
Despite this series of renovations, production stalled regularly at the end of the 19th and into the 20th century, and after several false starts, Magpie Mine closed for good in 1954.
It was recognised as a scheduled monument in 1974.
How to get there
Magpie Mine is raised slightly, sitting on top of a limestone plateau, which makes it easily visible from a distance. The best way to reach the mine is by starting out from the village of Sheldon, which is only a half-mile from the mine, and has the most parking spaces available within the locality. The main road that leads to the mine, the Bakewell to Flagg road, does have some parking spaces, but it is a private road used regularly by farmers, so you would have to make sure not to block the road.
Good to Know
– Given its uneven terrain, the site is, unfortunately, not suitable for wheelchair access. For health and safery reasons, visitors also need to be over the age of five.
– Drones are not welcome.
– Resist the temptation of dropping stones – or any other objects – down the mineshaft. Climbing any of the buildings is also forbidden.
– Be sure to pick up the Magpie Mine Guidebook, available to buy at the Peak District Lead Mining Museum, for the price of just £1. The guidebook is also available onsite if a society member is present.
Things to See & Do While at Magpie Mine
Monyash – Just over half an hour away from Magpie Mine sits the alluring limestone village of Monyash, which provides excellent respite after exploring the nearby mines. Monyash has a café and a pub, set to the backdrop of the beautiful white peaks. The focal point of the village is the impressive spire of St. Leonard’s Church.
Lathkill Dale – To the east of Monyash lies the River Lathkill and the pretty Lathkill Dale; bustling with plants and wildlife, the site is popular amongst hikers and fishers.