Keith Gascoigne



The Peak District Mining Museum
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

The Peak District Mining Museum is run by the Peak District Mines Historical Society (PDMHS) and located on the ground floor of the Pavilion building in Matlock Bath. The museum attracts visitors from all over the world and has won many awards. It contains a wealth of artifacts from Roman lead mining until the 1950s when the lead mining industry declined. Here is displayed everything you might want to see, touch and experience about lead mining while keeping clean and dry. For the more adventurous, there is the real thing at Temple mine close by and also Magpie mine in the Peak District National Park.

T'owd man

This is t’owd man or one of them and he relates some of the history of lead mining (courtesy of a computer-controlled audio system). ‘T’owd man’ (or ‘the old man’ if you are from the London region) was the name given, by later miners, to their predecessors. Whistling down a mine was frowned upon because it frightened t’owd man and the lead away - much in the same way as whistling on a theatre stage or mentioning that scottish play does even now.


Trevithic water-powered, pumping-engine valve

The huge Trevithic water-powered pumping engine is a central feature. The image shows only the control valve. This was one of the early water-powered pumping-engines designed and forged to remove water which was one of the main problems in lead-mining. It was powered by water falling from a higher level in the mine to pump out water from the lower levels of the mine and was quite an ingenious invention. The pump was discovered near Winster, during a drought which lowered the water level in a mine. It was dismantled, brought to the surface and restored by the Peak District Mines Historical society in the late 1970s. The installation of the pump in the museum required the excavation of a large pit in the floor and quite a few leather shoes and gloves were found during the process. The ground-floor of the Pavilion building was once a leather factory; before that a roller-skating rink and later the central kitchen producing school meals. The local fire-service team kindly volunteered to raise the heavy balance-bob (box full of rocks) using a large, inflatable ‘cushion’. This arrangement helped the fire service people practice lifting heavy objects and saved a lot of grunting and groaning by the construction team. This was toward the end of the time when people worked together and helped each other without the restriction of needing permission from faceless bureaucrats from above and far away (pardon my observations of a lifetime).



A corner of the reconstructed mining office complete with authentic ledger and some mine surveying equipment gives a visual impression of what the real thing might have looked like although the reconstruction looks very clean, is warm, dry and well-lit. Notice the single stool, the single desk, the single ledger, the total lack of top-heaviness.


A windlass over a shaft

A windlass is a wood drum on supports turned by an iron handle (basically a winch) to wind rope. It is positioned over a mine shaft and used to lower tools (and often the miner) down the shaft and bring up galena (lead ore) to the surface in a wood or iron kibble (bucket). There were no safety devices on this version. The man winding the windlass had to control the journey up and down. Mining for lead was a tough, dirty and dangerous job and involved a lot of trust between people (remember that?).


A level with tub

A represention of a level. Lead mines were neither tidy nor safe places to be. One thing that is (or was) missing in the museum is mention of the women and children used in the mines. Some lead deposits in vugs (tiny caves) were too small for the adult miner - male or female - to get into, so young children were used to get in the vug and hack the galena out while breathing in the dust. Their lives would have been blighted by illness, just as most people working down there in the gloom would be. One of the costs of the lead sheets on the fine churches and the huge stately homes dotted around the Peak District, the Dukeries and other pleasant and sylvan areas as a display of wealth by the rich mine owners, the owners of industrial factories, et al, was ill health and blighted lives for the workers. Plus ça change...

The author was a part of the team which produced the museum between 1977 and 1978. It was an interesting project and everyone looked forward to working there together to get a good job done as much as the money permitted. Remember that?
Look for t’owd man’s teaspoon. It was on the wall in a small glass case, near the entrance. It isn’t quite what it seems.


(The images were taken c.1992 using 35mm film and were scanned to digital in 2003.)