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One Man & His Coe

One Man & His Coe
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Some men when they retire build themselves a shed where they can happily pursue their hobbies, or chat with their pals.  When Terry Haughton of Middleton-by-Wirksworth retired, he made a bid for a couple of fields at the top of his property. Possibly his idea was to do a bit of small time farming, but his plans were changed radically when he began to tidy up a pile of rubble at the top of his garden.

As the pile began to subside, Terry was shocked to find that it was disguising the top of a mine shaft.  One of at least 5,000 sometimes unprotected mine shafts dotting fields throughout the Peak District, it was subsequently thought to be a winding shaft accessing a lead mine following the Stichen Vein which runs from beneath Middleton Moor to what became Dene Quarry near Cromford.

With the shaft blocked almost to the top by rubble and rubbish, but certainly a potential hazard, Terry decided to make it safe by encasing the surface around the top of the shaft with concrete.  Rather than fill it in, he finished it off with safety glass and a man-hole cover.  Thinking ahead, he also installed an LED lamp to help visitors admire the still functioning ginging, or dry-stone lining to the shaft’s upper section.  

To keep visitors dry when they came to see what he had found, Terry built a corrugated roof to shelter his handiwork, later turning it into a high level wildflower garden. Unfortunately the roof was not proof against Peak District weather, and the shed was in need of walls.  To do this as quickly as possible, he used bales of straw instead of time consuming stone and, in an instant, his shed became a coe, or miner’s shelter.  All it needed was a bit of carpet, a couple of chairs and a small settee and, hey-presto, the place was ready for visitors.

Looking down the shaft, it soon became obvious that it was part-filled with all manner of rubbish.  Without any mining knowledge, Terry puzzled over what to do, especially as he was keen to see where the shaft led.  Salvation came one Sunday afternoon when a few members of the Goodluck Mine Preservation Club were slaking their thirsts in the Nelson Inn nearby.  Goodluck Mine, incidentally, is high on the side of the Via Gellia and runs beneath D.H. Lawrence’s Mountain Cottage, not far down the road from Middleton.  Plucking up courage, Terry asked one of the Goodluck people if they would be interested in exploring the mine he had found at the top of his garden.

This was an offer they couldn’t resist and, over the span of a few weekends work started on clearing out the shaft.  It soon became obvious that the shaft had over the years, been used as a dumping ground for anything from a dead dog and a cow’s jaw, to glass bottles, a treasure trove for anyone interested in picking over old rubbish.

Ginging at the top of the shaft was in perfect order, but as the explorers made their way slowly down the shaft it soon became apparent that the quality of workmanship left much to be desired.  What they did confirm was that the shaft cuts into the east-west running Stichen Vein.  Starting below Middleton Moor, it passes according to nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps, directly under Terry’s house to continue beneath the Nelson Inn (which has interesting possibilities) and then on in an almost straight line to Dene Quarry.

Terry if he so wished, could by following the laws of the ancient Barmote Court, claim ownership to the mine, if no one else claimed ownership, by applying to re-open Stichen Vein Mine. There is just one problem stopping him doing this – he would have to present the jury with a dish full of ore, the miners’ Standard Dish which has been used since the time of King Henry VIII. 

With Terry’s original plan to do a little small-time farming put on hold, a highland bull called Henry and two heifers together with a pretty calf, the result of Henry’s attentions, graze peacefully in the paddock, blissfully unaware that bales of straw destined for their comfort, now make the eco-friendly walls of Terry’s coe.

Anyone interested in visiting a restored lead mine, especially without the need to descend by way of a shaft (this one is accessed horizontally directly into the hillside), can visit the Goodluck Mine in the Via Gellia.  Guided tours are offered on the first Sunday in every month.  Safety helmets and lamps are provided, just wear walking boots and outdoor gear.

Access to Goodluck Mine is from the Via Gellia, on the left of the A5012 coming from Cromford. Park in the layby on the left beyond Tufa Lodge and follow the path over the footbridge and climb steadily uphill.  Go past the first side path on the right and turn right at the next.  Wood smoke from the restored coe should act as a guide.

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