Skip to content


Deep Ecton Mine was one of the most important copper mines in Britain in the 18th century. Here there are large flooded workings that extend down to over -300m below river level (Meads, 1858; Figure 4). These had not been seen since the later 1850s after the mine pumps were turned off, until the UNEXMIN project provided information on some of the flooded workings by the use of robot submersibles (see below). The accessible underground passages above the water, and the surface remains, are of national importance as archaeological features that tell of the long history of mining at Ecton and the then ‘state of the art’ mine developed for the Duke of Devonshire in 1760-90.

The history of the Ecton Mines and what survives today have been described in detail by Porter and Robey (2000), Porter (2004) and Barnatt (2013; 2020b). We now know that copper mining here started just under 4000 years ago in the Bronze Age (Timberlake 2014). Lead was mined at small scale in medieval times and miners again became interested in the copper in the 17th century AD. With the dewatering of the ‘pipe’ deposits in the 1720s-30s by a company of ‘Adventurers’, who drove the Deep Ecton Level from next to the River Manifold, exceptionally rich mineral deposits at the heart of the hill were first discovered. The Duke of Devonshire took the mining ‘in-house’ in 1760 and for the next 30 years earned a small fortune. By 1790 the ‘pipe deposits had been followed vertically downwards to about 220m, where they ‘failed’ at depth; below here they were significantly more constricted and became uneconomic. In the first two decades of the 19th century an adjacent deposit, at Clayton Mine, was also followed down to depth. The rest of the nineteenth century was a period when a series of private mining companies tried their luck at Ecton, with funding from investors who knew of Ecton’s profitable past history. These were all short-lived ventures that were wound up once shareholders’ money was gone.

Important archaeological remains at Ecton survive both at surface and underground. High on the ridge there is the 1788 Boulton and Watt steam winding engine house. This is now owned by the National Trust and is thought to be the oldest mine winding engine house in the world that survives in good condition. The shaft here was the deepest in Britain in the 1780s and James Watt designed the first tapered ropes used in the world to bring up the ores here. There are mine hillocks across the ridgetop, dating from the Bronze Age to the 19th century AD, together with entrances to adits, shafts and ‘pipe workings’. The main Deep Ecton dressing floors lie part way up the hillside, on top of a massive waste hillock, and here a high 1880s dressing shed wall with ore bins behind has been restored (Barnatt 2017). Nearby there is a well preserved powder house.

In small dangerous workings on the ridgetop there are distinctive shotholes that show Ecton was one of the first places in Britain where gunpowder blasting was employed, using a continental technique, here by a Dutchman Jacob Mumma in 1665-68.

Snap of a snapped snap-bench: original timber snap bench from late 18th century.
The snap bench was where miners would sit to eat their snap (lunch)

Salts Level, which from 1807 was used to bring ore out to surface, enters the mine at dressing floor level close to the education centre. It runs through competent rock to the main winding shaft and then the ‘pipe deposit’. This allows education centre groups to easily view a small part of the workings. For many this is their first chance to enter a mine and look down a deep shaft and view impressive mineral workings. There are also important details dating to 1804-07 to see, such as gunpowder shotholes and stone sleeper blocks for an iron plateway that was laid for mine tubs.

Deep Ecton Level, with a fine arched entrance tunnel restored in 2018 (Barnatt 2020a), gives access to the ‘pipe workings’ and for over 150 years was the main way into the mine. Here infrastructure was installed to facilitate mining at depth. From 1773 until 1807 ore from below was unloaded here from the winding shaft for transport to surface. Nearby there are two large 1780s chambers where water was pumped out of the workings using water-powered machines, and items such as tubs and pipes were lowered down using a horse- and man-powered capstan. It is thought the main level was converted to an underground ore canal, used between 1773 and 1784, and we know from documentation that there was a second one at just over 60m down into the now flooded workings.