The mines below Alderley Edge
Alderley Edge is one of a handful of prehistoric mining sites in Britain. It's the oldest known metal-mining site in England – activity began as early as 1900 BC.
Copper and tin together make bronze thus Bronze Age people were keen to exploit any copper resources they could find. Various prehistoric tools such as stone hammers and mauls have been found.
In the 1870s an oak shovel was discovered and was eventually carbon dated in 1993 to around 1750 BC.
The best concentration of prehistoric mining features is to be found at Engine Vein. Here the remains of shallow shafts cut using simple tools by prehistoric miners can be seen on the surface.
In addition, Alderley Edge also has a Roman mineshaft, believed to date from the first century AD. A pot of Roman coins was found in this back-filled shaft that date from the fourth century AD.
Mining continued here through the medieval period - miners from this time were responsible for some of the shallower hand-picked workings seen on the Edge and set up smelters in several vicinities.
In 1758 Charles Roe of the Macclesfield Copper Company was granted a lease to mine in the area until he left in 1771 for the richer copper deposits of Parys Mountain in Anglesey. In 1804 James Ashton built a sail-driven mill – a unique, although ultimately unsuccessful, use of windpower to crush lead ore.
The foundations of this structure still remain in Windmill Wood. In the mid-19th century the Alderley Edge Mining Company leached copper from the relatively low-grade ore, and as a by-product produced huge amounts of sand steeped in hydrochloric acid. This was dumped in an area that became known as The Sandhills until much of it was sold in the 1960s for use in the construction industry.
The mines today
To discover the wonderful history of the ancient copper mines for yourself, why not take a guided tour, organised by Derbyshire Caving Club? Take a look at their website for more details.