Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Ecton Copper Mine

On Oct. 13, 2010, 33 miners who had been trapped underground for more than two months returned to the surface after a successful rescue operation that inspired Chile and riveted the world. The miners travelled up a narrow, nearly half-mile rescue shaft in a specially designed capsule. The final phase of the long rescue effort took roughly 22 hours, The leader of the group was the last to be rescued. I came across an event 250 years ago which struck me as having parallels with the Copper miners of Chile
On April 20 1759 the following extract of a letter was published in the Derby Mercury. “We received an account from Ecton about 6 miles from Leek that the Sough through which men go into the Copper mine had fallen in; there were 15 men in the mine when the accident happened. Luckily there was a cleft in the ground left open which that they received their meat or they must have perished. The Inhabitants are generally employed in digging away at the earth. In order to release them it is feared it will take some time. The Accident was caused by excessive rains they fell on Mondays and Tuesday which caused such floods here”.
Copper mining began in earnest at Ecton at the beginning of the 18th century although the existence of copper had been known about since the Middle Ages. It became one of the richest mines in the country and was considered a good investment as the rival copper mines in Cornwall were prone to flooding. Ecton did not suffer from drainage problems. It returned a healthy return of 40% to the Dukes of Devonshire the profits were used to develop Buxton as a Spa town. In its heyday Ecton boasted of a number of initiatives. Explosives were used for the first time in mining, boats were used underground shortly after their successful introduction at the Duke of Bridgewater's Collieries, an early use of balance beam pumping engine was pioneered at Ecton as was employment of a James Watt rotative steam engine in 1780. The mines were very deep( over 1300 feet) some of the deepest in Europe. A description of 1769 describes how little boys wheeled barrows on the dressing floor while young girls sorted the ore previously crushed by women with hammers. Wages started at 2d per hour for the children and up to 30d for the men. The age span of worker ranged from 5 to 60