Cavers find 200-year-old cobalt mine in England

Surprising finds in the mine included personal items and historic graffiti
Cavers find 200-year-old cobalt mine in England Cavers find 200-year-old cobalt mine in England Cavers find 200-year-old cobalt mine in England Cavers find 200-year-old cobalt mine in England Cavers find 200-year-old cobalt mine in England

Archaeologist Jamie Lund and caving club leader Ed Coghlan explore mines below Alderley Edge Credit: NT

A caving club based in northwest England has uncovered a 200-year-old cobalt mine that is practically untouched from the day it was sealed.

Abandoned in the early 19th century, the  cobalt mine was discovered last September by the Derbyshire Caving Club in Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

The site has since revealed a ‘time capsule' of personal objects and equipment the workers left behind, according to British heritage organisation the National Trust.

Ed Coghlan of the Derbyshire Caving Club told the NT: "In the time the Club has been active here, we have explored a number of disused historic mines and made some significant discoveries. But many mines have been filled in with rubble over the years or with sand washed into them by heavy rainfalls or they have been accessible in some form since they were abandoned, so anything of interest had been removed.

"To find a mine in pristine condition, together with such personal objects and inscriptions, is rare. It is a compelling window into the past and to the last day when the mine workers stopped their activities."

Ed continued: "One of the objects which we had not unearthed in this area before, was the windlass. This was an important piece of mining equipment which we would have expected the workers to have taken with them for use at another mine. It does suggest they were told without much warning to collect their tools and move on, which is not surprising once the cobalt was exhausted, since each day there was a day paying wages."

The windlass was a piece of equipment used to shift large weights or quantities of raw materials.

Cobalt was used at the time for the blue colouring in pottery and glass. However, cobalt mining was short lived in England because imports from the continent were more plentiful. These had stalled during the Napoleonic Wars between 1803-1815 leading to the search for sources closer to home.  

Surprising finds in the mine included historic graffiti.

"We are also intrigued by the initials ‘WS' with the date '20th Aug 1810' that we found written in candle soot in part of the mine, Who was he and what is the significance of the date? We found other more basic initials and numbers in what we believe were the ‘cribs' or rest areas, as if someone had been learning and practicing their writing. But the ‘WS' is stylishly written, with quite a flourish. Our research so far has not identified who this could be, Was it just an individual wanting to say, ‘I was here', or from a visit by a mine manager or estate owner, or could it have been to indicate the last day this mine was in use?"

Jamie Lund, National Trust archaeologist said: "This discovery is helping us understand a less well-known chapter in the story of mining at Alderley Edge, which has been explored and exploited for 4,000 years.

"We are passionate about giving people the chance to explore our industrial heritage and the Caving Club conducts tours of some of the more accessible mines that have been discovered at Alderley Edge. But sometimes locations with impractical access mean we need to find other ways to bring the place to life for visitors. Virtual access is a great way anyone can navigate their way around the mine from the comfort of their armchair and imagine themselves in the boots of the men who worked there. 

"The objects found in the mine have been photographed and catalogued and left where they were found, to remain in the underground conditions which have preserved them. It leaves the mine as a time capsule, protecting a place that was once a hive of activity for future generations to explore and enjoy."

The National Trust has worked with a specialist team to use state of the art technology to create an immersive fly through of the cobalt mine which is now being shared online to give everyone a chance to see inside virtually.