The Alderley Edge mines in Cheshire were mined from the Bronze Age (about 4,000 years ago) until the early 20th century. the mining has left miles of underground passages.
Although they are often referred to as “copper mines,” the more general name is more accurate. Both copper and lead have been mined at Alderley Edge since the late 17th century. In one of the mines, the mineral sought was cobalt ore. In 1804, James Ashton built a sail-driven mill in an area of the Edge called Windmill Wood. It was a unique use of wind power to crush lead ore, and the foundations of this structure still remain.
In the 19th century, shaped stones thought to be Bronze Age hammerstones were found in the bottom of old workings. At the same time, a wooden shovel was found and, although the shovel was lost for many years, when it was rediscovered in 1993 it was carbon-dated to around 1750 B.C. This finding changed the idea of the Bronze Age working of these mines from a possibility to a near certainty. Subsequently, excavations revealed what are believed to be Bronze Age ore hearths.
At that time it was believed that mining ceased with the arrival of the Romans, but in 1995 a fourth-century Roman coin hoard was discovered in an abandoned shaft at a mine called Engine Vein. An archaeological excavation of the bottom of this shaft unearthed timbers that were carbon-dated to the last century B.C.
Most of the mines are still accessible although many surface features have been obscured by vegetation over the years. Many of the larger mines are gated both for safety and to protect the historically important site. Many are owned by the National Trust but are held under a lease by the Derbyshire Caving Club (DCC), which maintains access and organizes both organized visits by groups and occasional open days when visits can be undertaken by the public without advanced booking.
The DCC continues to explore the mines in search of areas of mining that have been closed for hundreds of years and their open days illustrate both the mining history and the techniques used in the mine explorations that they undertake.
Know Before You Go
Dates for open days vary from year to year. If you want to go underground check thr DCC website for dates.