The Ecton Mine Child’s Shoe

Sometimes, even an object as simple as a shoe can tell a story. Once again, we’ve raided the brain of new collections assistant Bret Gaunt for a glimpse in to a murky part of Peak District history.

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In the Wonders of the Peak gallery at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is a small, rather unassuming, battered leather shoe once belonging to a child. The shoe dates to the 18th or early 19th century and was found in Ecton Mine in the Staffordshire part of the Peak District. Despite its battered appearance the shoe forms part of the story of atrocious working conditions for children in the mines of Britain.

The mines at Ecton are unusual for the Peak District in that they predominantly produce copper, rather than lead and zinc, as so often seen at other mines of the area. There is evidence to show that Ecton has been mined for copper since the Bronze Age.

In the 17th century Ecton mine was the first in Britain to use gunpowder for extraction, and the engine house is believed to be the earliest surviving example in the world used for winding out ore.

The mines were owned by the Dukes of Devonshire and it was in the 18th century that the site was fully exploited; records show that the Duke made £300,000 profit in the latter half of the 18th century, the money being used to finance the building of Chatsworth and the Crescent in Buxton.

Children often worked in a range of dirty and dangerous jobs, such as chimney sweeps, or in mills, as they were essential to contributing to the household income; in the case of mining often whole families worked together in appalling conditions; children as young as five years of age would start work in the mines. The mines were cramped, poorly ventilated and highly dangerous and children were often injured or killed by explosions, roof falls or being run over by carts.

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Ecton Mine entrance

Children performed a number of tasks in the mines such as ‘door keepers’, who operated the ventilation doors to allow carts through; ‘drammers’, who pulled carts to and from the work face; ‘helpers’, who assisted with the actual cutting of the stone, usually alongside fathers and older brothers; and ‘drivers’, who led horses which pulled the wagons along the main roadways. The working day for a small boy would start at 2am, when the ‘caller-out’ came round. By 3am they were expected to be in the pits working and did not return home until the evening.

Many people in Britain were unaware of children working in mines and it was not until an investigation by the government was carried out between 1840 and 1842 that the full extent was realised, with inspectors visiting mines and speaking to many child miners. The horrific stories of dangerous conditions and abuse at the hands of employers and fellow miners were presented to Parliament as part of the Commission of Enquiry into the State of Children in Employment and would lead to the Mines Regulation Act being passed in 1842.

From 1843 it was illegal for women or any children under the age of ten to work underground in Britain. There was no compensation for those made unemployed which caused much hardship. However, evasion of the act was easy as there was only one inspector to cover the whole of Britain and he had to give prior notice before visiting the mines. It was only until the Sandon Act of 1876, which required all children to be in education, that the exploitation of children in mines fully came to an end.

In the 19th century the ores began to run out at Ecton mine and the site was eventually abandoned in 1891. Today it is now run as a trust promoting education in applied geology, chemistry, mining and mineral extraction.

See the shoe and many more intriguing items at Buxton Museum, admission free. Plan your visit here.

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Sacred Waters and Altars

Bret Gaunt sheds more light on some of the Roman artefacts at Buxton Museum:

With the arrival of the Romans in the 1st century a new culture was introduced to the tribal lands of the Corieltauvi, the native, Iron Age people of the Peak District. Although the region remained largely agricultural, the Romans exploited the rich lead deposits and established forts, such as Melandra and Brough, to control both the commodities and the local people. The Romans also built the town of Buxton, centred on the sacred thermal spring.

One of the ways in which the Romans integrated into the local cultures that became part of the Empire, was by the adoption of local gods into the pantheon of Rome. The Iron Age Celts largely worshipped at open air sites, most often associated with water, such as lakes, bogs, rivers and sacred springs. One of the most famous watery sites in the Peak District is the thermal spring at Buxton, then known as Aquae Arnemetiae, meaning ‘the Waters of the goddess Arnemetia’.

Buxton is one of only two places in Roman Britain known to have the prefix ‘Aquae’, the other being Bath in Somerset, known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis (the Waters of the goddess Sulis). Like its counterpart in the South, Roman Buxton consisted of a series of Bath houses, now under the Crescent, close to the sacred springs. On the Slopes, overlooking the site of the baths and springs, was a temple dedicated to the goddess Arnemetia; excavations in the late 18th century revealed that the temple was of typical Classical design with a rectangular podium supporting a shrine room with portico of columns to the front. Such temples are a rarity in Roman Britain with only five such examples being known; temples in Roman Britain more often take the form known as Romano-Celtic, being a tower type structure with colonnaded ambulatory around all four sides.

The name of the goddess Arnemetia contains the Celtic word ‘nemeton’, meaning ‘sacred grove’; so her name is interpreted as being ’she who dwells over against the sacred grove’. The springs at Buxton must have held special powers for the local people as there are six grouped closely together in the valley floor and which provide both hot and cold water. During the Roman period offerings of jewellery and coins were made at one of the springs located between The Old Hall Hotel and the Crescent; these finds are now in the Wonders of the Peak gallery at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

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Altar to Arnomecta from Brough

Other evidence for the goddess Arnemetia comes in the form of an altar from the fort of Navio, close to the village of Brough, and now in the Wonders of the Peak gallery. Here the goddess is given the name Arnomecta. The altar was found in the underground strong-room of the headquarters building and consists of the typical block shape with a pair of bolsters to the top and inscription to the front. The inscription, which is contained within a wreath, reads ‘Deae Arnomecte Ael(ius) Motio V(otum S(olvit) L(aetus) L(ibens) M(erito), meaning ‘To the goddess Arnomecta, Aelius Motio gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow’.

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Imperial altar top from Melandra

Altars were central to the cults of most gods and was the focus for sacrifices and offerings to the particular deity. At temple sites the altar was generally outside, and opposite the main door, though at military shrines in forts and Romano-Celtic temples the altars were often placed inside and against the walls. The large outdoor altars were for the public ceremonies associated with the deity, which generally involved the sacrifice of animals accompanied by prayers for the well-being of the Emperor and the community. The smaller altars would have been more suitable for the offering of food, incense and for wine to be poured over the top. It was not unusual for an altar to be erected or promised to a god in exchange for a safe journey or other favour, thus the phrase ‘gladly, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow’ on the Navio altar shows that whatever Aelius Motio asked for, the gods provided!

Other altars in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery include the top to a large Imperial altar from Melandra Roman fort near Glossop, a badly weathered altar from Hope village, as well as a small altar dedicated to Mars, god of war, from Brough. There must have been numerous altars set up at the healing shrine of Arnemetia in Buxton, including a large altar outside the temple for the focus of worship, but to date none have been found. Many of the altars were dedicated by people from across the Empire; an altar at Haddon Hall, near Bakewell, is dedicated to the Roman god of war Mars, and the Celtic goddess of sacred intoxication, Braciaca, by a high ranking officer from Numidia in North Africa, revealing the diverse cultures that existed in Roman Derbyshire.

 

Proud Boys in the Background

Archivist Ian Gregory unveils another glimpse in to the past:

Every now and then, as I number and re-number photographs in our collection, one will catch my eye. It happened the other day as I catalogued a group photo from 1902. Men and boys have gathered round a collection of fossil animal bones. They sit or stand by a quarry face, similar to one where both my grandads once worked.

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Two figures at the back hold my attention. They are young boys, probably in their early to mid-teens. One has a hand on his lapel while the other has both hands behind his back. Their faces are a little blurred, but their postures indicate pride. Did they help in recovering those bones? Were they the first people to have seen them for millennia? Were they excited? Nervous? Did someone order them to help or had they volunteered? If ordered then I think they came to enjoy their task.

In those days most people left school at the age of twelve. How much did these boys understand about the excavations? No one would’ve known that humans evolved in Africa or that dinosaurs had feathers and so on, not even the men in suits who presumably directed operations. Then again, Darwin’s theory of evolution was already well established in the academic community. Perhaps these two boys had already heard something about it. If not then the people leading the dig could have told them of it.

My mother was at school in the 1930s and she told me that subjects like religion were taught in a simple way, even then. Pupils learned little about non-Christian belief systems. Yet neither she nor her friends were Creationists, they all accepted that the earth is millions of years old. Perhaps when you work long hours at physically demanding jobs you haven’t time to ask too many questions. I suspect that my two youths were in that situation of the time. My grandparents certainly were. That said, when help with an excavation was needed, experts often called on local people who had never been to university as there was no one else available. The said locals must’ve picked up some knowledge.

What did the future hold for those proud looking youngsters? Did they resume backbreaking labour? Did they try to find out more about the past? Or did an accident or the First World War end their dreams too soon? I don’t know, but if that day in 1902 they swaggered on their way home, then it’s quite understandable.

Ghostly Echo of Fin Cop

Following an exhibition about the Iron Age hill fort of Fin Cop near Buxton in the Autumn of 2018, a lady who used to live locally got in touch to relate a strange experience by a man called Gordon Phillip Cave :

A few months or so ago, a friend of mine told me of his father’s experience whilst out driving his car in the Peak District area in 1965. Mr Cave heard the frantic screaming of women, children and the shouting of men and the sounds of weapons. His experience so chilled and frightened him that he never drove down that road again. Mr Cave actually left written descriptions of what he heard on a dry and sunny afternoon in 1965 quite a few years later; obviously the experience lingered powerfully with him.

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This 19th century painting from the collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery focuses on the viaduct crossing Monsal Dale but Fin Cop looms ominously in the background.

The location of the encounter was near Fin Cop where an archaeological excavation unearthed the remains of a brutal massacre. It is easy to write off the experience as the product of a stimulated imagination until you realise that Fin Cop was only excavated ten years ago; forty-five years later!

Of course, museums are bastions of knowledge and only deal in scientific facts but you could argue that experiences like this are just phenomena that have yet to be explained by established logic and should not be dismissed lightly.

If you have any experiences of Fin Cop you would like to share, ghostly or otherwise, please get in touch. The mysterious site features permanently in The Wonders of the Peak exhibition at Buxton Museum and admission is free. Plan your visit here. 

The Year Ahead: 2019

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the lofty spa town of Buxton and its museum, 2019 would a good time. We have two exhibitions focusing on aspects of local life: As we look forward to the re-opening of The Crescent as a spa hotel and visitor experience, our summer exhibition will focus on this iconic Buxton building with art works and artefacts from our collection.

7. Crescent what's on imageOn May 31st 1999, media in the High Peak changed forever. Radio Buxton took to the airwaves for the first time and five years later High Peak Radio was launched. 20 years on, the two brothers who founded both stations curate an exhibition featuring reconstructions of the original Radio Buxton studio. They’ll also be a ‘pirate’ studio including items of memorabilia, equipment and original recordings.

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This year we are excited to be hosting Hoards: The Hidden History of Ancient Britain. Discover buried treasure and find out the various reasons why people put precious objects into the ground and why they did not retrieve them. The exhibition brings together finds from the British Museum and Salisbury Museum, including spectacular Iron Age gold torcs and recent discoveries from Wessex. We’ll also be displaying hoards from Derbyshire and the Peak District including additional material from Beeston Tor.

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As usual, there is also a changing programme of art exhibitions and events. Download your 2019 What’s On below and plan your visit here.

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