Middleton-by-Wirksworth is a hilltop mining and quarrying village surrounded by the scars of industry yet steeped in history and bursting with community spirit.
In fields around Middleton-by-Wirksworth you will find dips and hollows, being the spoil heaps and remains of lead mines. The majority of shafts have now been capped but it is always wise to be cautious when walking in the area.
A lead mining disaster which occurred in 1797 close to Middleton-by-Wirksworth involved two miners named Job Boden and Anthony Pearson. They were working up to 50 yards underground when there was a huge fall of earth and a rush of water. The mine was choked and it was thought that Job and Anthony had surely perished. Other miners laboured to clear the debris, and after three days they came across the body of Anthony Pearson who was found in an upright position. After a further five days digging, Job Boden was found still alive although badly emaciated through lack of any nourishment for eight days. He recovered from his ordeal however, and lived for many years to tell the story of his rescue.
In Balleye Quarry between Matlock Bath and Middleton-by-Wirksworth there was an amazing discovery recorded in 1663. George Mower found the bones and molar teeth of an elephant! He also found a huge natural cavern large enough to contain a great church, and there was also the skeleton of a man said to be of monster proportions.
There have been many finds in caves and mine workings in this area. In 1882 in the b>Dream Cave which is closer to Wirksworth, the skeleton of a rhinoceros was found which was extremely well preserved.
A quarry over the hill from Middleton-by-Wirksworth towards Hopton was worked for its almost translucent marble which was used in building Liverpool Cathedral and in the new Bank of England building. Whilst in a quarry west of Middleton-by-Wirksworth, limestone was literally quarried underground. Lorries drove ¼-mile to the working face with excavations carried out along roads controlled by traffic lights. The roads were some 35feet wide and 20feet high with pillars 40feet square to support the roof. Even the stone crushing plants were operated underground to produce 5,000 tons of limestone a week.
Middleton Top above Middleton-by-Wirksworth has a restored octagonal engine house which contains a beam winding engine made at the Butterley Iron Works in 1829. It was designed to draw trains up the steep Middleton incline until the lines closure in 1963. Prior to this, a stationary engine positioned at the top of the incline was used.
Work originally began on the Cromford and High Peak railway line back in 1825, and it was finally opened in 1830. The line extended from Cromford at 277 feet to Whaley Bridge at 517 feet. However, in the middle it reached a height of 1264 feet above sea level before descending again. The line was mainly used to transport heavy minerals from the Cromford Canal to the Peak Forest Canal and was thought of as an extension to the water form of transport. So much so that the stations were called wharves and the nine inclines along the route were the equivalent of locks. There was provision for passengers with a small carriage tagged on to the back of the train, but this was never very popular due to the inaccurate timetable and the fact that when the train reached an incline the passengers had to get out and walk! One description of the railway read ‘the skyscraper High Peak Railway with its corkscrew curves that seem to have been laid out by a mad Archimedes endeavouring to square the circle’.
The disused railway is now The High Peak Trail and is extremely popular with cyclists , walkers
and horse riders. It is 17 miles long and extends from Cromford Wharf to Dow Low which is four miles south-east of Buxton.
Steeple Grange Light Railway is a small section of working line close to Middleton-by-Wirksworth and the High Peak Trail which is open on Sundays and Bank holidays from Easter to the end of October.
The National Stone Centre at Middleton-by-Wirksworth tells the story of stone with exhibitions and activities for children. This is open all year round.
The church in Middleton-by-Wirksworth, built in 1844, is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Many of the gravestones bear the same family names. In the top right-hand corner of the churchyard are the graves of the ‘Killer’ family, one family member having given the Town Hall clock to Wirksworth as a bequest.
On the outskirts of Middleton-by-Wirksworth, overlooking the valley containing the Via Gellia road is Mountain Cottage where D H Lawrence lived for a year from 1918. He thought of the area as being the ‘dark Midlands’ and wrote ‘on the rim of a steep valley, looking over the darkish folded hills – exactly the navel of England’ in one of his works. It is also said that he based Woodlinkin in his book ‘The Virgin and the Gypsy’ on Middleton-by-Wirksworth.
The miners of Middleton-by-Wirksworth often had the second occupation of being smallholders. On Middleton Moor there is evidence of the little strip pastures and small stone buildings where they would have kept a couple of cows. Many of them were classed for tax purposes as cowkeepers and miners.
From Middleton-by-Wirksworth there are lovely far reaching views, especially across to the wooded heights surrounding Black Rocks. Also known as Stonnis, this mound of millstone grit boulders is popular with climbers