Stone Workers and Lead Miners

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Stone Workers and Lead Miners in Crich Parish

by Mrs. E. J. Varty


Although now of relatively small importance, lead mining and quarrying were once considerable sources of employment in the Crich area.

   In the 1851 census records 148 men from the parish were employed in lead and stone working, Of these, 85 men were quarry workers, 5 were lime-burners, 31 masons, 23 lead miners, 1 lead smelter, and a lead ore dresser. There was also a stone agent and a stone merchant.

   In her survey of mines in the Crich area in the booklet "Lead Mining in the Peak District," Patricia E. Lunn writes: "The area has been considerably mined over a long period for lead ore, but in the second half of the nineteenth century a decline in the price of lead forced the closure of many mines."

   Details from the 1851 census seem to confirm that lead mining was a declining industry. Two boys went to work with their fathers - 14 year old Joseph Storer of Nether Holloway as a 'miners boy', and William Mather, 10, of Cliff Wood, who 'assisted' at the mine - but most of the miners were men in their forties, and their was a noticeable lack of young people entering the industry. It is not surprising that soon the mines were marked only by their decaying headgear and tumbled spoil-heaps. Fortunately the Peak District Mines Historical Society has made a collection of mining relics, some of which may be seen in part of the Tramway Museum at Crich. There is also a mining museum at nearby Matlock Bath.

   Quarrying presented a far healthier picture than lead mining in 1851. Of the 42 limestone workers living in the parish, over half were men under 30 years old, and a similar pattern is found among other quarry workers. This accent on youth suggests a thriving industry.

   There was a tendency for the sons of quarrymen to take up similar work as soon as they were old enough. For example, Isaac Yeomans, a 53 year old quarryman of Nether Holloway, had sons of 27 and 17 who were also quarrymen and an 11 year old who was a 'quarry boy'; and stone quarry labourer Henry Lee, 47, of Crich Carr, had quarry labourer sons of 13 and 11. This seems very young to be tackling such heavy labour, but two other 11 year olds of the Parish were also working as 'quarry boys' in 1851.

   The work of a stone cutter was more skilled than that of a general labourer, and again, it was often a family occupation. William Merchant, 53, of Crich Carr, was rather appropriately, a stone merchant, and his sons aged 21, 17, 15 and 13 were all stone cutters. One feels that the family business must have been kept very well supplied.   

   Life cannot have been particularly easy either for quarrymen or lead miners. The small homes were often crowded with children who were earning a living from a very early age, the boys working with their fathers, and the girls often in the local textile industry as trimmers, seamers, or just 'factory girls.' Also, some were probably living away from home 'in service.' This contrasts with children of farmers, who were often recorded as 'scholars' - both boys and girls - when they were 13 or 14 years old.

   None of the quarrymen had second occupations. One supposes that they worked long hours and had little spare time or energy left to supplement their wages. One lead miner was a 'beer-seller', and three stone masons had second strings to their bows: one was also a builder - a logical combination - another an innkeeper, and the third a 'beer-house keeper.' Apparently the stone dust took some washing down!

   There does not seem to have been much movement into Crich at the time among these workers. Of the 148 employed in lead and stone working, only 31 were young men in their 20's and 30's who had come from outside the parish, and most were from nearby settlements such as Belper, Ashover, Wirksworth and Matlock.

   The total number of workers born in Derbyshire, but outside the parish was 42, and many of these had possibly moved for family rather than economic reasons. It is probable, of course, that a good number of men walked into Crich from homes outside the parish, and that the quarries provided work for people living over a much wider area than that covered by the local census returns.

   Just under 10 per cent of the workers, 14 men, had moved in from outside Derbyshire, and of these it is interesting to note that 2 from Ireland and 1 from Northumberland were lime-burners, living at Amber Grove, and presumably working in the kilns at Ambergate.

   One hundred and forty eight men, may not seem to be a large number to be employed in quarrying and mining, together with their associated occupations, but it must be remembered that the male population of Crich in 1851 was only 1,850. These occupations moreover, were entirely for men, and so almost 8 per cent of the male population was employed in them. Expressed as a percentage of working-age males, this would be considerably higher. There can be no doubt that the local mineral riches provided a livelihood for a reasonably large number of Crich folk in the mid-nineteenth century.

Note: Mrs. E. J. Varty has lived in Fritchley for over 30 years. She is interested in all aspects of environmental conservation, and is an active member of the Derbyshire Naturalist's Trust.

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