Ecton Engine House

Ecton Engine House was finished in 1788 and is a scheduled monument © National Trust / Peak District

Ecton Engine House was finished in 1788 and is a scheduled monument

In 2008 the National Trust acquired Ecton Hill in the Manifold Valley. The land was adjacent to Apes Tor, a geological site that the NT has owned since the 1940s. As well as being a popular walking area, this is a daleside of mixed grassland scrub and woodland, with fine grassland plants. It also contained an extension of the geological site, most importantly, buildings related to the Ecton Copper mine.

Ecton Hill’s geology of distorted limestone rock gave rise to it being the source of high-grade copper ore, unusual for the Peak District, which is historically known mainly as a source of lead ore. Thanks to recent archaeological research we now know that copper was mined here as far back as the bronze age, it is one of only two confirmed Bronze Age copper mines in England; the other is at Alderley Edge, also owned by the NT.

We purchased the site from the estate of Geoff Cox, a mining engineer who bought the site and the old mine in the 1960s, having recognised its importance for mining history and geology. The mine was most active during the 18th century when, under the ownership of the Dukes of Devonshire, great investment was made in new mining technology to exploit the extensive rich copper deposits within the hill. It became one of the richest copper mines in the world at the time.

As the mine became deeper, the Duke engaged Messrs Boulton and Watt to build a steam engine at the top of the shaft to lift the ore from the depths below. This was completed in 1788 and the Engine House, which was bought by the NT along with the land, still stands and is thought to be the oldest mine-winding engine house in the world.

The engine house is a scheduled monument and is on English Heritage’s list of buildings “At Risk”. With the support of Natural England, we succeeded in getting funding for repair work. The first phase of this was undertaken in late summer 2012, with roof repairs, structural work and site improvements being undertaken. Phase two, planned for 2013, will reveal more of the original interior of the building and provide for some interpretation for visitors.

The mine itself at Ecton is owned by the Ecton Mine Educational Trust, an independent charitable body that we work closely with to promote the use of the mine and the hill for educational purposes. When it is repaired, the Engine House will become part of a tour of features that tell the story of this important site. The NT have started to run events at Ecton, including public events where visitors go for a walk on the hill and then visit the underground mine itself.