The Magpie Mine, just South of Sheldon, was one of the most famous lead mines in the Peak District and is the only one with a significant part of its building still standing, having been taken into the care of the Peak District Mines Historical Society in 1962. The mine buildings can be seen from the Bakewell – Chelmorton road. The mine is at the junction of the Magpie vein, the Bole vein and the Butts vein, and was only one of several mines exploiting these veins – the Red Soil Mine and the Maypitts mine lay within only a few hundred metres of the Magpie.
The mine is first recorded in 1795, though the workings are probably much older. It finally ceased operations in 1958, though the working in the 1950s mined little actual lead. The heyday of the mine was in the mid 19th Century. The proximity of other mines often led to disputes, and the Magpie Mine and the Red Soil mine disputed the working of the Bole Vein on which they both lay. In 1833 this led to the deaths of 3 miners from the Red Soil Mine who were suffocated underground when the Magpie miners lit a fire to try to drive out the men from the opposing mine. Three miners were tried for murder, but acquitted. However, it was said afterwards that the Magpie was cursed and it never really prospered thereafter. Lead-mining was a speculative business with big profits to be made sometimes and huge losses at others, so the mine changed hands frequently.
Though the mine was very profitable in the early 1840s, it closed from 1846 to 1868, and when it was re-opened a large Cornish pumping engine was installed in the engine house which is now the major building on the site. However, water was a problem in this mine as in many others and when the price of lead fell the cost of pumping made the mine unprofitable and led the owners to consider driving a ‘sough’ or drainage tunnel from the River Wye into the mine workings. The sough was built between 1873 and 1881 – an epic undertaking since the rock proved to be mostly ‘toadstone’, a variety of basalt, and very hard. It was the last major sough to be constructed in this area and is now one of the best preserved.
The cost was 18000, a very large sum for those days, and far more than the shareholders had budgeted for. The sough enabled the mineshaft to be deepened to 728 feet, but despite this the mine never became profitable again and closed in 1883. It was worked again at intervals until 1923 and reopened in a limited way in the 1950s but only ever employed a few men and rarely made money. The buildings still visible are enough to be able to construct a picture of what an 19th century leadmine must have looked like – except for the corrugated iron section which is a relic of the 1950s! Around the buildings there would also have been areas for crushing the ore and washing and dressing it prior to smelting.