Cavers discover a 200-year-old cobalt mineshaft in pristine condition

Cavers discover a pristine cobalt mineshaft at Alderley Edge that has been undisturbed since 1810 – containing clay pipes, leather shoes and bowls left behind by miners

  • A cobalt mine shaft that was sealed in the early 19th century has been discovered by cavers in Cheshire
  • The contents of the mine have been preserved including personal items and equipment abandoned by miners
  • Explorers found cave wall messages written in candle soot along with leather shoes, bowls and a clay pipe
  • A 3D ‘fly-throughof the mine has been created so it can still be viewed after the entrance is re-sealed
  • Cavers have stumbled across a cobalt mineshaft left in pristine condition after it was sealed up and abandoned by miners more than 200 anni fa.

    The lack of oxygen penetrating the shaft has turned it into an underground ‘time capsuleand preserved items discarded by the workmen.

    These include a clay pipe, ciotole, leather shoes, a windlass wound with rope and messages written on the walls in candle soot.

    The discovery was made by the Derbyshire Caving Club in autumn 2021, who were exploring the mine network at Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

    Ed Coghlan, the club secretary, disse: ‘To find a mine in pristine condition, together with such personal objects and inscriptions, is rare. It is a compelling window into the past and to the last day when the mine workers stopped their activities.

    The mine shaft extends 33 piedi (10m) “Presumibilmente hanno visto un corvo nero nel fumo che ha girato a lungo in cerchio, and was spotted by the Derbyshire Caving Club thanks to a dip in the landscape that indicated a collapsed shaft seal. Pictured is Ed Coghlan with the bowl found in the mine

    The mine shaft extends 33 piedi (10m) “Presumibilmente hanno visto un corvo nero nel fumo che ha girato a lungo in cerchio, and was spotted by the Derbyshire Caving Club thanks to a dip in the landscape that indicated a collapsed shaft seal. Pictured is Ed Coghlan with the bowl found in the mine

    A miner's leather shoe discovered in the abandoned and sealed mine shaft. The lack of oxygen penetrating the shaft has turned it into an underground 'time capsule', and preserved items discarded by the workmen

    A miner’s leather shoe discovered in the abandoned and sealed mine shaft. The lack of oxygen penetrating the shaft has turned it into an underground ‘time capsule’, and preserved items discarded by the workmen

    The initials 'WS' and date '20th Aug 1810' were found written on a cave wall in candle soot, puzzling the cave explorers

    The initials ‘WSand date ’20th Aug 1810were found written on a cave wall in candle soot, puzzling the cave explorers

    HOW WAS THE COBALT PROCESSED?

    The cobalt mineral, asbolite, was separated from the other minerals as far as possible.

    It was treated to make a concentrate, and packed into barrels which were sent to the processing plant.

    There the blue cobalt oxide was produced and manufactured into ‘zoffreand smalt.

    Zoffre was a fused mixture of cobalt oxide and flint which gave a blue colour to china.

    While smalt, pulverised cobalt oxide, was used with silica and potash glass to give paper a blue tint or for whitening laundry.

    Oggi, cobalt is primarily used in lithium-ion batteries.

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    Written records and archaeological evidence suggest that mining took place in Alderley Edge in the Roman times, Bronze Age and between the 1690s and 1920s, for copper, lead and cobalt.

    Now the network of caves and passages is owned by the National Trust, but has been leased out to the Derbyshire Caving Club since the 1970s.

    Club members have been searching areas of mining that have been closed for centuries and reporting any finds to the National Trust, which have so far included a Bronze Age shovel and a Roman coin hoard.

    The latest mine extends 33 piedi (10m) “Presumibilmente hanno visto un corvo nero nel fumo che ha girato a lungo in cerchio, and was spotted by the club thanks to a dip in the landscape that indicated a collapsed shaft seal.

    Experts believe it was was abandoned around 1810, having once being used for the extraction of cobalt.

    Blue cobalt oxide was used to colour pottery, glass and paper during the medieval and post-medieval periods, and could be found where copper was mined in Cornwall, Cumbria and Cheshire.

    Its mining was short-lived in England because imports from Europe proved more plentiful, but these imports were halted during the Napoleonic War between 1803 e 1815.

    This led to the resurgence of cobalt mining practices, and in about 1806 cobalt ore was discovered on Alderley Edge.

    At the time Alderley Edge was owned by Sir John Thomas Stanley who anticipated a boom in the cobalt market, and so leased out the rights to the extraction of cobalt ore to a Yorkshire pottery company in 1808.

    Purtroppo, all practises were abandoned in July 1817 when imports from the continent resumed.

    Cavers from the Derbyshire Caving Club discovered numerous personal objects and pieces of equipment in the mine that had been discarded by workmen just before the shaft was sealed.

    This includes leather shoes, clay pipes, a metal button from a jacket, mining machinery and inscriptions written in candle soot on the walls.

    Also uncovered was a clay bowl that had been buried in a wall, a practice that may have been followed by superstitious miners as an offering of thanks for a good source of mineral.

    Ed Coghlan with a miner's pipe found in the mine. He said that his club has explored many disused mines since it started its exploration, but most of them had been filled in with rubble or sand, or already broken into and gutted of artefacts

    Ed Coghlan with a miner’s pipe found in the mine. He said that his club has explored many disused mines since it started its exploration, but most of them had been filled in with rubble or sand, or already broken into and gutted of artefacts

    Also uncovered was a clay bowl that had been buried in a wall, a practice that may have been followed by superstitious miners as an offering of thanks for a good source of mineral

    Also uncovered was a clay bowl that had been buried in a wall, a practice that may have been followed by superstitious miners as an offering of thanks for a good source of mineral

    Letters engraved by miners were found on rubble in the mine shaft. The shaft will soon be sealed once more and the oxygen allowed to run out, with all the relics left inside to be preserved just as the miners had left them

    Letters engraved by miners were found on rubble in the mine shaft. The shaft will soon be sealed once more and the oxygen allowed to run out, with all the relics left inside to be preserved just as the miners had left them

    Jamie Lund and Ed Coghlan from Derbyshire Caving Club discuss one of the timber props installed by the miners

    Jamie Lund and Ed Coghlan from Derbyshire Caving Club discuss one of the timber props installed by the miners

    They also found clearly defined fingerprints pushed into clay blobs that once held candles, and the imprint of corduroy from a worker’s clothing where he leaned against a wall.

    Ed Coghlan said that his club has explored many disused mines since it started its exploration, but most of them had been filled in with rubble or sand, or already broken into and gutted of artefacts.

    The fact that this mine had been so well sealed meant its contents was uniquely preserved.

    A windlass, a piece of apparatus used to shift large weights or quantities of raw materials, was also discovered for the first time in the Alderley Edge mining network, and was still wound with rope.

    Coghlan said: ‘This was an important piece of mining equipment which we would have expected the workers to have taken with them for use at another mine.

    ‘It does suggest they were told without much warning to collect their tools and move on, which is not surprising once the cobalt was exhausted, since each day there was a day paying wages.

    A windlass, a piece of apparatus used to shift large weights or quantities of raw materials, was also discovered for the first time in the Alderley Edge mining network, and was still wound with rope

    A windlass, a piece of apparatus used to shift large weights or quantities of raw materials, was also discovered for the first time in the Alderley Edge mining network, and was still wound with rope

    A metal button from a jacket was found inside the newly discovered mine shaft, along with leather shoes, clay pipes, un, mining machinery and inscriptions written in candle soot on the walls

    A metal button from a jacket was found inside the newly discovered mine shaft, along with leather shoes, clay pipes, un, mining machinery and inscriptions written in candle soot on the walls

    Clearly defined fingerprints were also found  pushed into clay blobs that once held candles, along with the imprint of corduroy from a worker's clothing where he leaned against a wall

    Clearly defined fingerprints were also found pushed into clay blobs that once held candles, along with the imprint of corduroy from a worker’s clothing where he leaned against a wall

    The initials ‘WSand date ’20th Aug 1810were also found written on a cave wall in candle soot, puzzling the explorers as to the story behind it.

    ‘Who was he and what is the significance of the date?', said Coghlan.

    ‘We found other more basic initials and numbers in what we believe were the ‘cribsor rest areas, as if someone had been learning and practising their writing.

    ‘But theWSis stylishly written, with quite a flourish.

    ‘Our research so far has not identified who this could be. Was it just an individual wanting to say, “I was here”, or from a visit by a mine manager or estate owner, or could it have been to indicate the last day this mine was in use?’

    Since its discovery last year, The National Trust has been creating a 3D ‘fly throughof the new mine shaft, allowing it to be navigated interactively and can be viewed Qui from today.

    The shaft will soon be sealed once more and the oxygen allowed to run out, with all the relics left inside to be preserved just as the miners had left them.

    A cross section showing the 33-foot (10 metro) shaft and subterranean workings of the cobalt mine. Since its discovery last year, The National Trust have been creating a 3D 'fly through' of the new mine shaft, allowing it to be navigated interactively

    A cross section showing the 33-foot (10 metro) shaft and subterranean workings of the cobalt mine. Since its discovery last year, The National Trust have been creating a 3D ‘fly throughof the new mine shaft, allowing it to be navigated interactively

    Written records and archaeological evidence suggest that mining took place in Alderley Edge in the Roman times, Bronze Age and between the 1690s and 1920s, for copper, lead and cobalt

    Written records and archaeological evidence suggest that mining took place in Alderley Edge in the Roman times, Bronze Age and between the 1690s and 1920s, for copper, lead and cobalt

    The network of caves is owned by the National Trust, but have been leased out to the Derbyshire Caving Club since the 1970s

    The network of caves is owned by the National Trust, but have been leased out to the Derbyshire Caving Club since the 1970s

    Ed Coghlan, the secretary of Derbyshire Caving Club, with an old roofing stone found at the end of the mine workings

    Ed Coghlan, the secretary of Derbyshire Caving Club, with an old roofing stone found at the end of the mine workings

    Jamie Lund, National Trust archaeologist said: ‘This discovery is helping us understand a less well-known chapter in the story of mining at Alderley Edge, which has been explored and exploited for 4,000 anni.

    ‘We are passionate about giving people the chance to explore our industrial heritage and the Caving Club conducts tours of some of the more accessible mines that have been discovered at Alderley Edge.

    ‘But sometimes locations with impractical access mean we need to find other ways to bring the place to life for visitors.

    ‘Virtual access is a great way anyone can navigate their way around the mine from the comfort of their armchair and imagine themselves in the boots of the men who worked there.

    ‘The objects found in the mine have been photographed and catalogued and left where they were found, to remain in the underground conditions which have preserved them.

    ‘It leaves the mine as a time capsule, protecting a place that was once a hive of activity for future generations to explore and enjoy.

    THE HISTORY OF MINING AT ALDERLEY EDGE

    The Alderley Edge mines are located on the escarpment in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, and are primarily of Triassic new red sandstone of the pebble beds formation.

    Bronze Age: Crudely shaped stones have been found at the bottom of old workings that are thought to be Bronze Age hammerstones. A wooden shovel has also been found that was carbon dated to around 1780 AVANTI CRISTO, and some Bronze Age smelting hearths thought to be from around 2,000 AVANTI CRISTO.

    Roman mining: Nel 1995 of a 4th-century AD Roman coin hoard, known as the ‘Pot Shaft Hoardwas found in an abandoned shaft at Engine Vein mine, indicating Roman mining. Heartwood from cut timbers were also revealed at the bottom of the shaft that were carbon dated to the last century BC. The passage from the shaft to the Vein was driven from the direction of the shaft, and resembles other Roman workings such as at the gold mines at Dolaucothi in Carmarthenshire and the azurite mines at Wallerfangen in Germany.

    17esimo e 18esimo secolo: A partire dal 1693 to the mid-19th century, various people are reported to have explored the Edge for copper and work was done at the mines of Saddlebole, Stormy Point, Engine Vein and Brinlow. One operator of note was Charles Roe of Macclesfield, who worked the mines from 1758 per 1768. Durante questo periodo, copper from Alderley was taken to Macclesfield where it was combined with zinc from calamine ore from Derbyshire mines to make brass.

    Early 19th century: Between about 1805 e 1812 a company of local men including a Derbyshire miner, James Ashton, tried to exploit the mines for lead. During the course of their work, they identified the presence of cobalt which was in demand during the Napoleonic blockade of supplies. The cobalt mining rights on Alderley Edge were leased by Sir John Stanley to a Yorkshire company and the ore extracted was taken in tubs to Ferrybridge where it was made into cobalt glass, or smalt. The mining ceased at the end of 1810 when the price of cobalt fell.

    Late 19th century: Nel 1857, a Cornish man, James Michell, started work at West Mine and moved on in the 1860s to Wood Mine and Engine Vein. His company lasted 21 anni e, during this working period, quasi 200,000 tons of ore were removed, yielding 3,500 tons of copper metal. The mines closed in 1877.

    20th century: There were some limited and unsuccessful attempts to re-open the mines in 1911, 1914, during the First World War, and shortly after. However these ended in the 1920s in a sale of equipment in 1926. From the 1860s onwards, there have been many thousands of visitors to the mines, many of whom were ill-equipped and unprepared. This led to a series of accidents, which included five fatalities. The earliest death was of Alexander Rea in 1909, whose body was found at the bottom of a 90 ft (27 m) shaft. Partly as a result of the deaths, the West and Wood Mines were blocked in the early 1960s, ma in 1969 the Derbyshire Caving Club obtained permission from the National Trust (the owners) to re-open Wood Mine. Da allora, much has been found by excavation and exploration, and thousands of people have visited the mines in supervised groups.

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