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Ecton copper mine engine house refurbished

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: June 14, 2014

  • The National Trust visitors experience officer Zoe Stevens down in the Ecton Mine.

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THE world's oldest surviving mine winding engine building was officially opened last Friday following a £160,000 refurbishment programme.

High up on a hill in the Manifold Valley at Ecton near Warslow sits a small unassuming stone building, which from the outside gives little away of its important role in the UKs industrial heritage.

But just over two hundred years ago it was the scene of industrial activity on a vast scale.

Ecton Mine, owned by the fourth Duke of Devonshire during the 18th century, provided copper for the Royal Navy, with the copper used in brass that was worked into sheaths for the hulls of ships.

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The wealth the mine afforded helped the Duke to finance the splendours of Chatsworth House and the Crescent at Buxton.

At its peak in 1786, the mine produced over 4,000 tonnes of copper ore at a profit of £40,000 per annum (the equivalent of £6 million today).

The Deep Mine at Ecton was eventually worked to a depth of 330 metres (1,090 feet) below the ridge top – the shaft for which went to a depth of 1300 feet which is greater than the height of the Empire State building.

Today the engine house and approximately 21 acres, are owned and cared for by the National Trust. The mine itself and associated mineral rights is owned by Ecton Mines Educational Trust. Together the two organisations have been working to bring the area back to life again.

With funding from an Environmental Stewardship agreement, the 18th-century engine house has now been restored.

Welcoming visitors Jon Stewart, Peak District estate general manager said: "We are here to celebrate the restoration of the world's oldest engine house.

"This mine made huge money and produced 50 per cent of the copper in the country.

"The National Trust bought the premises in 2008. Today is the fruition of our work as there are only two places of pre historical mining in the country. Money made from this mine went to build the Buxton Crescent.

"A lot of people worked very hard in the mine. This is a fitting legacy on behalf of the miners."

The official opening of the engine house was performed by archaeologist Professor Francis Pryor who has made frequent appearances on the Channel 4 television series Time Team.

Professor Pryor said: "This is an astonishing area and the modern world began here. Why did the Industry start in Britain? Because we had a class of Yeoman farmers who were people who went down the mines then they did other things on the farm."

Speaking to the Post & Times Professor Pryor, who has written many books, said: "This is the birth of Modern Britain. This mine is fantastic and it is all about how industrial power came to Britain.

"Archaeology is people. There is more information underground than in a library."

Project manager Paul Mortimer said: "Work has involved roof repairs, structural work along with major excavations to the floor, the original level of which was two metres below ground level to accommodate the lower parts of the beam engine.

"Going back to the original level has helped our understanding of the building and will, we hope, help visitors to appreciate how it all worked. A replica 12 feet steel flywheel has also been constructed along with innovative ways to bring the story to life including interpretation boards and a listening post.

"Latterly the engine house was used to house cattle and as part of the restoration, the stalls and hayloft have been retained to honour another layer of history to this remarkable building."

As part of the restoration, the mine's powder house has also been restored. Sited a good distance down the hill from the engine house, this building housed gunpowder (black powder) used for blasting in the mine.

The construction of thick walls and a light roof ensure that any explosion would go upwards rather than outwards.

Guided tours of the mine and engine house take place on various dates throughout the summer, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-peak for details or call 01335 350503.

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