By David Abbott, 25th October 2022
Recently, a group from Olliers enjoyed a tour down one of the mines at Alderley Edge, as part of the firm’s continuing employee wellness programme. It gives colleagues the chance to try non-work related activities, often in office time.
People have been digging metal-bearing rocks out of the ground at Alderley Edge, a striking red sandstone escarpment overlooking the Cheshire plain, since pre-historic times. Mining continued on up to and including the Victorian period. Miners have principally taken copper ore, but have also found lead and cobalt. Four thousand years of digging has left a warren of now-disused tunnels and caverns beneath the Edge, some of which can now be visited on supervised tours, run by members of the Derbyshire Caving Club (see their website for details).
We had the opportunity to go down into Wood Mine, which was developed in the 19thCentury and where miners cut out shafts following the veins of metal ore. Entering the mine through a door set in the wooded hillside, we followed our guides down underground through a maze of tunnels, the only light coming from the head torches fixed to our helmets.
Happily, for those of us with mild claustrophobia, there were no really tight squeezes to negotiate, but there were many spots where being short-statured was an advantage, and one section which required a hands-and-knees crawl. Being sandstone rock, the tunnel floor was often sandy, and thankfully there was little water to contend with.
During our journey we stopped frequently to learn about the geology of the area and the fascinating history of the mines. Ancient artefacts, including a Bronze Age shovel nearly 4000 years old, and a Roman coin hoard and altar, have been found in the mines. In more recent times, using just candlelight, family groups had dug or blasted out the copper ore here and hauled it up to the surface in wagons, where it was processed before being turned into metal. Back-breaking, dangerous work for little pay.
After more than two hours underground we returned to the surface, a little weary, but thrilled to have had the chance to explore this strange world beneath the Cheshire countryside.