Inspired by a book – Ted Nield’s Underlands – the next part of my journey into the history of Matlock Bath and my family’s connection to it will take me below ground, into geology and mineralogy, into caverns and mines, to help me understand the foundations upon which the town grew and lives were lived.
In the spirit of Emma Kay’s remarkable Worldview project (where she recorded a history of the world based not on detailed research but using only the knowledge she already held in her head) I thought I’d begin this appendix to the Bub Notebook by capturing – in telegraphese – what I can remember of the local geology, combining very rusty A-level Geography and the memory of my years as a cavern guide in the Great Rutland Cavern located in the grounds of the Heights of Abraham, Matlock Bath.
The ‘foundation’ of a place. What lies beneath. The starting point. The stage upon which subsequent events unfold.
“Masson Hill limestone was laid down 300 million years ago, in the Carboniferous era, it was formed by the slow accumulation of countless shells and hard parts of creatures living and dying in a vast shallow tropical lagoon that covered what became the White Peak area. The limestone, produced by the burying and compression of these remains, is substantially calcium carbonate.
There were periods of intense volcanic activity and at intervals eruptions of lava flowed over the shallow sea bed giving rise to brownish dolerite or toadstone deposits and clay wayboards produced by their alteration. These formed bands in the layers of limestone and were buried under later sediments, then raised up, folded and cracked (faulted) by earth movements.
The cracks formed ready-made channels and voids into which mineral-rich fluids bearing lead, zinc and copper ores flowed. The ores crystalised in the cracks and permeated into the limestone forming the mineral veins known locally as rakes. Other less valuable or gangue minerals included calcite and fluorite.
A syncline or uplift, eroded over time to form the current topography of hills and valleys of the White Peak. The uplift brought mineral-rich rakes to the surface and, from the Roman period, once surface deposits had been exhausted, shallow adits followed rakes into the hillside. These were gradually deepened and extended and new mines were prospected or ‘nicked’ until the late 19th and early 20th century. From the Middle Ages small-holding families would supplement a meagre livelihood from the thin upland soils by prospecting for ‘galena’ (lead oxide). The more extensive mine systems, often interlinked older claims, were named, and include Youd’s, Black-Ox, Hopping, Tear Breeches, Temple, Riber, Devonshire, Nestes, Masson, Cumberland, Wapping, Angelina and Dido’s.”