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In Ashby de la Zouch Past and Present"

The Journal of Ashby de la Zouch Museum

Issue 13, July 2011


The Earl Ferrars’ Lead Mines, Dimmingsdale

If you stand in the car park overlooking Dimmingsdale Nature Reserve, you are looking at an ancient lead mining landscape.  On the crest of the hill behind the reserve boundary is a clump of pine trees. Below these trees is a mine shaft collar made of angular blocks of sandstone and limestone.  This was one entrance to the Earl Ferrars’ Lead Mine.  On the hill slope below the ground is very rough and in the low evening light, the shapes of walls, drainage channels and mine dumps can be seen.  In Spring Wood there are the remains of a smelting cupola, though nature has nearly erased all traces if it.

Limestone and coal were worked on the Staunton Harold Estate.  The limestone was mostly burned for agricultural lime, undoubtedly using the coal from the estate coal mine at Heath End.  The remains of the limestone quarry and the limekilns are in the Nature Reserve.  The remains of the Heath End Colliery can be seen as rough ground on both sides of the long drive from Heath End to the Hall (the Garden Centre).

The lead vein was undoubtedly encountered during the limestone quarrying and was first won via an adit in the back wall of the pit.  This adit is still there, though it is completely flooded below the water level of the Laundry Pond.  As the mine became more extensive the upper shaft was sunk to gain access to the higher lead and zinc bearing strata.

Production was never very great though the records of production are incomplete.  However, it is recorded that during the winter period from October 1778 to April 1779, 8 tons of ore were produced.  This is not a large amount when compared with similar sized lead mines in the Peak District at this time.  In 1811 John Farey mentions, in his General View of the Agriculture and Minerals of Derbyshire, that he has seen the smelting cupola working.  In 1833 the lime and lead works were leased to William Matthews for a 21 year period.  This relationship proved to be disastrous as Matthews quarried out the roof of the lead mine which eventually collapsed.  Lord Ferrars sued Matthews but lost and Ferrars had to pay the costs of the case, this proving to be the end of the mine.

It is likely that any lead won from the mine was used on the estate and locally for roofing and water pipes.  There was never enough to sell on the open market.  So the mine lasted for a long period and produced very little lead.  It would seem that the mine never made Ferrars any money and ended up costing him the court expenses.

There have been attempts in the 20th century to enter the mine for different purposes.  In 1939 the mine was dewatered with a view to win any remaining lead and use the site as an ammunition dump.  The mine proved to be too unstable and the project was soon abandoned.  In 1976 a group of mining history researchers, including the author, attempted to clear the upper shaft of back fill, in order to view any underground remains.  Unfortunately seepage of water through the rocks slowly flooded the shaft and this project was also abandoned.

Today, the scene is one of tranquillity and snowdrops punctuated by the occasional sound of an aircraft form East Midlands Airport.

Paul Monk

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