A Brief History of Bakewell Chert Mine
Holme Bank was the last of two operational
chert mines in Derbyshire the other being the Pretoria Mine, both at
Bakewell. Access was from adits in a quarry at Bank Top and the steep
workings extended beneath the road to connect with the earlier
Greenfield shaft. The chert bed lies on a 1 in 3.7 gradient and the mine
was subject to flooding in severe winters. Illumination was by mains
electricity in addition to carbide lamps carried by the miners.
Chert is a form of
fine-grained, flinty silica most commonly found in veins in the
uppermost beds of a limestone sequence. Chert was worked into tools in
prehistoric times, easily shaped by chipping off flakes to produce sharp
The most useful role for
chert was recognised about two centuries ago for the grinding of
calcined flint, used as a whitening agent in earthenware manufacture. In
1772 the potter Josiah Wedgwood recommended Derbyshire chert as a major
improvement over granite millstones, which left annoying black specks
in the pure white flint.
The chert bed was on
average 9 ft (2.7 m) thick, though up to 18 ft (5.5 m) in places. It was
extracted by removing the underlying limestone so that the chert fell
under its own weight. A hoist powered by compressed air loaded it onto
flat wagons, drawn to the surface by compressed air winches along a 1 ft
6 in (46 cm) gauge railway. The ‘waste’ limestone was built up into
substantial roof supports.
extraction at Holme Bank was from quarries but commercial mining was in
place by 1867, when the site was known as Bakewell Chert Mine.
Later it was also referred
to as Smith's Mine, after the owner. The workings consisted of an
extensive system of passages with eight entrances.
In 1925, 41 men were
employed but 20 years later only 21 were at work. Approximately half
worked underground. Between the two World Wars, mining broke out on the
surface, enabling the chert to be quarried alongside limestone. In its
later years Holme Bank met a considerable demand for poultry grit. The
mine closed between 1959 and 1961 but a block-making plant, trading as
Smith’s Runners, remained in operation, using existing supplies of
In recent years the few
underground visitors to Holme Bank Mine have included cave divers, using
the clear subterranean waters for training purposes.
Almost 10 years ago the
Peak Park Planning Board granted permission for the mine to be opened up
to visitors but this plan has so far not been implemented.