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A Walk Underground

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It was a spooky grey day with persistent drizzle when I parked at the side of the busy Via Gellia Road, waiting for my guide who would escort me on the ‘walk underground experience’.

Dave Barrie is one of a group of mining enthusiasts who recently took over the ownership of the Goodluck Mine, forming the Goodluck Mine Preservation Club. With the intention of restoring the mine and preserving it for future generations, they also offer limited tours for capable small groups of the public and budding enthusiasts like myself.

After being kitted out with compulsory helmet and safety lamp we crossed over the little footbridge at the side of the road and climbed the steep path to the mine which was tucked away in the dripping wet trees and damp foliage.

Goodluck Mine dates back to 1830; the mine was intermittently worked for lead, barytes and galena until 1952, when the entrance was blown in by the landowner. It was re-opened in 1970 by Jim Rieuwerts and Ron Amner who nicked it in May 1972 (obtained official ownership from the Barmote Court in Wirksworth), and on Christmas Eve 1972 an old tradition was revived – a candle was lit on the vein for the ‘old man’.

Today Goodluck has been restored to represent a typical Derbyshire lead mine with historic and original underground and overground features including a primitive coe (miners shelter), narrow gauge rails to a spoil heap (now registered as a SSSI due to the wild flowers) and a little powder house. The powder house door faces out over the gorge and would have originally been constructed with a wooden roof layered with turf so that in the event of an explosion the force would have blown out the door with sods of turf flying off in all directions.

The processing here was quite basic and would have involved only a handful of men laboriously working with hand tools. Little tubs (wagons) on metal rails brought out the rock and ore which was then washed with water from a small leat (water source) taken from a nearby spring to a jigger (ore washing machine), and a demonstration model has been constructed on the site to give an impression of how this operated.

Dave is an underground fanatic and loves to pass on his vast knowledge and enthusiasm in an informative but interesting way. He said that all mines and caves have an individual atmosphere and that he considers Goodluck to be a friendly place with a welcoming aura – even though it is thought to have a resident ghost that moves around the artefacts and tools when the mine is locked up!

With wispy low cloud hovering above the trees we stooped through the entrance gate into the hillside, with me leading the way to get the maximum experience impact. Goodluck is not at all like the Show Caves of Castleton or the commercial mines and caverns at Matlock Bath, but a journey into the confined distance and back through time. It is not suitable for the fainthearted, claustrophobic or unfit – if you can touch your toes and walk a few yards at the same time, you might be able to do it! At times it was possible to stand upright for some distance, but when the roof was low and the tunnel narrow Dave said to walk sideways a bit like a crab. However, with a giant battery strapped to my lower back and mini-rucksack on my front I was pretty rounded whichever way I went! 

My immediate reaction was to look at the neatly picked-away side walls and down to where I was placing my feet until Dave pointed out the roof above my head – WOW! Slabs of stone called ‘stemples’ were positioned one by one above me, some held in place with little stone wedges whilst others were arched with a little ‘keystone’ in the middle. They were an absolute work of art confirming that the leadminers here were also brilliant stonemasons. Their incredible handiwork is why Goodluck is one of the best preserved Derbyshire mines.

However they were also very efficient and ‘environmentally friendly’ - to save on dragging out unnecessary waste rock, this was then stashed away in any available nook or cranny and also on top of the stemples, so that above my head I could see hundreds of tons of rubble. Evidently the miners then used this as a platform to work higher and higher up the hillside in an attempt to eke out the valuable lead ore, so that in places there are several layers of stemples and stone above you!

Undeterred I ventured on, all the time learning more and more about the life and times of the Derbyshire lead miner. On the way we passed ledges where interesting displays of artefacts and old tools had been neatly arranged including one with a miniature leprechaun who I understand is the ‘Goodluck Charm’!

At one point I came across the ‘runaway chain’ at the bottom of a slight incline which was a simple device to stop the tubs if they got carried away. Shortly afterwards we came to the piece de résistance – a smoothed rock wall which held a series of initials appearing like some ancient hieroglyphics which were inscribed to celebrate the completion of the cross cut on 5th December 1831. Earlier deep shafts had originally been driven down into the hillside which located the ore of the Goodluck vein but it then took a whole year for the men to create the adit (the level entrance) further down the hillside.

At the top of the list was RK for Roger Knowles the Mine Manager, followed by NG of Nathaniel Godbehere. Generations later there are many descendents of these and other local lead miners who still live in the area. Brian Spencer, a new member to the GMPC, had a ‘special moment’ when he traced with his finger the outline of his great, great, great grandfather George’s initials which had been carved 177 years earlier.

There were many other interesting features along the way including the remains of Victorian candles. The stubs which were stuck into lumps of mud to weight them still sat on little ledges where they had been originally placed to light the way. There was even a piece of broken porcelain doll which had somehow found its way into the mine and looked extremely strange. Some weird brown fungi deep inside the mine had spread its spidery tendrils along the walls after initially growing on a series of wooden stemples which had been used as steps up a section of shaft.

Goodluck has always been a well ventilated and airy mine, mainly due to the numerous shafts and various levels, so much so that there is a reference to the ‘goodluck gales’ when miners hats were blown off by the draft!

Dave took me all the way to the Goodluck Forefield which contains the last pick marks and is where the miners eventually called it a day. Having turned down his ‘generous’ offer to climb the long succession of ladders of the ‘escape route’ to the surface on top of the hill, it was now simply a case of retracing my steps with Dave as back-up.

Emerging into the doom and gloom on the outside I was amazed at how green everywhere appeared and how soft and lush compared to the harshness of the mine. The overpowering smell was pungent wood garlic mingled with the smell of outdoors.

It had been an amazing Indiana Jones experience going almost ½-mile underground which I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. If any small local groups of enthusiasts would like to follow in my footsteps for a small donation, then please contact Dave Barrie 07808 326469.
Tours can generally be arranged at weekends throughout the year or evenings during the summer.

 

This article was written by local writer Sally Mosley. Sally is available for public speaking, one of the talks including experiences of her trip down the mine. For further information please visit www.sallymosley.co.uk or email mail@sallymosley.co.uk.