Mines, Quarries and Mineral Resources of the Matlock Area

Metal Ores / Minerals

The limestones on both sides of the Matlock Gorge (Masson Hill to the west and High Tor to the east) have been subject to extensive lead, zinc and fluorspar mining. Many of the mineral veins (and hence the mine rakes) are associated with faulting. It is believed that lead mining at High Tor dates back to Roman times.  See the Andrews Pages (9) for a full account of the history of lead mining in the area,

Roman Cave (Hard Rake) and Fern Cave (High Tor Rake) on High Tor were worked out as opencuts for lead and fluorspar
Once worked out, Hard Rake was opened as a show cave

Magpie Mine (10) was the last lead mine to close in the 1950s. The last large mine to close (in 1939, due to flooding) was Millclose Mine (11) at Darley Dale, which once employed 600 people. Millclose was one of the most productive of all British lead mines; during 300 years of operation, it produced nearly half a million tonnes of lead and zinc concentrate

Many of the great houses of the area were built using the profits from lead mining, notably Chatsworth, Haddon Hall and Hardwick Hall. Excellent descriptions of the impact of lead mining in our area can be found on the Biggin Hall website and in the Andrews Pages. A visit to the Peak District Mining Museum in Matlock Bath will give not only a full account of local mining activity but also an opportunity to go into the Temple Mine which extracted lead and fluorspar until the 1920s.

Some fluorspar is still being extracted, notably at Cavendish Mill, near Stoney Middleton. There are also a few small opencast operations.

Watt's Pumping Engine House; Mill Close Mine
Minerals to be found in the Matlock Area (click on the centre of a photo to see enlarged view)

One mineral that you are unlikely to find is the rare Matlockite, Lead Fluoride Chloride (PbFCl), named after our town and first discovered here.

Source of the Minerals

A number of reputable sources mistakenly imply that the lead and other minerals came from underlying mineral-rich magma and that molten galena (lead sulphide), fluorspar (calcium fluoride) and calcite (calcium carbonate).intruded into fissures and faults in the limestone, cooled and crystallised there. The lead deposits in Cornwall and sites in the North of England like Weardale are underlain by large granite batholiths and these provided the heat to generate the superheated fluids (water based but probably no hotter than 120oC) that dissolved minerals at depth and percolated up into the limestone fissures and deposited the minerals there.

Earlier sections have shown how the limestone rocks in our area came to be strongly fractured.  However we have seen that boreholes proved that there is no granite under the limestone to provide the source of heat to drive minerals up from depth.  Neither does it explain why the mineral deposits become poorer with increasing depth rather than the reverse.  We also need to explain the source of the warm water that made Matlock and Buxton into spa towns. 

So where did the lead and other minerals come from? The answer is that it has travelled a long way, probably from Scotland and probably in at least two steps. Large scale erosion of northern uplands, where the lead and other minerals were first generated from underlying granites, deposited sediments much further south to form what are now the Edale Shales and these contained the minerals as fine grains. By the end of the Carboniferous, the Edale Shales had been buried by a further 2-3 km of Upper Carboniferous sediments. Subjected to heat (earth’s temperature rises by about 25oC for every km of depth) and pressure, ground water could have dissolved out the minerals and carried them down into the limestone beneath, especially if the water was saline or acidic. This would explain why, in Derbyshire, early miners found that the best minerals were concentrated at the top of the limestone below the Edale Shales, whereas in other places like Cornwall the yields tend to increase with depth. Due to uplift in the centre of the Peak District dome, the layers above the limestone have been completely removed.

Building Stones

Gritstone / sandstone

Gritstone / sandstone has been extensively mined in the Matlock area as a building material (6). Remains of quarrying can be found at Bentleybrook, Lumsdale, Lumshill, Matlockmoor, Bank, Wirestone and Cuckoostone Quarries. Many of the houses on the northern bank of the Derwent are built with this local stone; it is also widely used for drystone walls. More details about some of these, the methods used to win the stone and its uses can be found at the Derbyshire Heritage website. The BGS Strategic Stone study lists several dozen quarries in the Matlock area, together with notable buildings that used these stones. Most of these quarries produced Chatsworth Grit, about 320 MY old.


Just a few hundred metres to the south of these gritstone quarries lies Cawdor Quarry, now occupied by Sainsbury’s and the new Matlock Spa housing development. However this produced limestone not gritstone. Whilst not of the same premium quality as Hopton Wood Limestone (from Middleton-by-Wirksworth), the Matlock area has produced some good quality limestone; stone from Cawdor was used to build both Hyde Park Corner and the Thames Embankment in London. The cliff face behind the supermarket is designated as an SSSI. The larger Hall Dale Quarry, SW of Cawdor, is also now disused. Apart from hard limestone (Eyam Limestone formation, about 330MY old) for the construction industry, it also produced decorative stone (crinoids and brachiopods). Today it attracts fossil hunters and climbers although access is not officially allowed. There are still operational limestone quarries in the Cromford area.

Decorative Stones

Black marble
Ashford black "marble"

Ashford black marble was only mined in Ashford in the Water but workshops for polishing and working the marble did exist in Matlock(12) (Bunting, 1995). It is not a true marble but an impure limestone, impregnated with bitumen, and is capable of taking a high polish. It was valued in Victorian times and numerous examples can be found in local stately homes (e.g. Chatsworth House, Hardwick Hall).  There are also some excellent examples of furniture made using black marble in Buxton Museum.

Crinoidal limestone
Cut and polished section of Crinoidal Limestone

Polished crinoidal limestone has long been prized as a decorative stone for memorials, flooring, fireplaces, etc. The nickname of crinoids is “Derbyshire screws”. This special limestone was mined at Hall Dale Quarry, Matlock and in Lathkill Dale, near Monyash, amongst others. It is still being mined from the “Once-a-Week” quarry between Monyash and Sheldon and is worked in the Mandale Stone works at Rowsley. An excellent example can be found in the entrance step of the Bull’s Head pub in Monyash.

Weathered Crinoidal Limestone, showing how the "Derbyshire Screw" got its name
Tufa / Travertine

Tufa and travertine are both mainly calcite and are formed by water evaporation around springs or in caves. Tufa is porous and friable because it is produced when water emanates from thermal springs and often incorporates vegetation in the calcite. Excellent examples can be found in Derwent Gardens in Matlock. There were once extensive deposits of tufa up to 20 ft thick on the banks of the Derwent at Matlock Bath. 

Porous structure of tufa
Tufa grotto in Derwent Gardens

In 1783, William Bray noted:

All along this course of warm waters, from their first eruption down to the river, are vast heaps of petrifactions, which are soft before they are exposed to the air, and very light, but afterwards turn to a smoaky blue colour … when they [i.e. the waters] begin to lose their warmth and motion, the petrifactions are found“.

Over the centuries, probably thousands of tonnes of tufa rock have been quarried from this source as it became very fashionable in the 1800s. 70 tonnes of tufa were used just for the fernery in the winter garden of Smedley’s Hydro.

This was the basis of the “petrifying wells” that were a great attraction in Victorian times. In his book, “the Medals of Creation”, published in 1854, Gideon Mantell noted that “The so-called ‘petrifying springs and wells of Derbyshire are celebrated throughout England for the incrusted birds’ nests, baskets, &c. which are very generally purchased by visitors, as mementos of a trip into this county” and that “the incrusting power of the Matlock waters is very considerable”. 

Travertine is denser and less porous than tufa, often banded, and may even have a waxy appearance as seen in some stalagmites and stalactites.

Thermal Waters

Its thermal waters must be considered as one of the Matlock area’s mineral assets. Whilst the mines & quarries and the mills undoubtedly laid a foundation for the economy of the town, it was the exploitation of the thermal waters through hydros and baths that brought it fame and visitors, especially in Victorian times and thanks in large part to John Smedley. An account of Matlock’s hydros can be found in the Hydro Heritage Trail Booklets (nos. 3 & 4), published by MCA.

There are still several points between Matlock Bath and Cromford where “steam” can be seen rising on cold days from streams draining into the Derwent.