Lead Mining in Derbyshire

Lead Mining in Derbyshire

We often hear about Mr. Darcy’s fortune of “ten-thousand a year.”  But where did all that money come from?  In doing research for my current work in progress, I have been exploring what industries the Darcy family might have built their fortune from.  

While the Darcy family certainly owned plenty of land in Derbyshire and would have reaped a share of the profits from the tenant farmers that worked it, I began to wonder if their fortune might have also come from another major industry in Derbyshire: lead mining.

Cross-section of a lead mine in Derbyshire, showing miners working

Since the 1200s, and possibly even dating back to Roman times, the Derbyshire region has been home to some of the world’s oldest and most profitable lead mines. In the Regency era, lead was used for everything from roofs, to water storage and pipes to the glazing on windows (remember Rosings Park and its expensive glazing? Probably made of lead!). All of the ammunition used by the army and navy was made from lead as well, so you can see why it was one of the largest industries in the country.

Most of the mineral rights in Derbyshire belonged to the Crown under the Duchy of Lancaster, and the land was subject to a “free mining” arrangement.  

Any man who could demonstrate to the barmaster that he had discovered a significant amount of ore was allowed to open a mine and retain the title to it as long as he continued to work it, and, secondly, mining took precedence over land ownership.” [1]

Land owners could not prevent miners from working mines on their land, as long as the mineral rights were part of this free-mining region controlled by the duchy. This allowed many poor families to prosper through lead mining and rise up into the middle classes. They paid royalties to the Crown for the minerals they mined, but were able to sell the rest at a profit. 

Magpie Lead Mine near Sheldon, Derbyshire

But not all the mineral rights were subject to the Crown and to this act. The Gell family had purchased Griffe Grange near Brassington from the Crown Commissioners during the time of Henry VIII, and they collected the dues for all the lead that was mined on their land, instead of it belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster..  Also, the Manners and the Cavendish families, two of the largest landowners in the county, held a claim over the mineral rights and ownership of the region known as the High Peak. While the Manners family employed labourers to work in their mines, the Cavendish families eventually adopted the same rules as the Gells and allowed free miners to work the land in exchange for dues.

Chatsworth House, the home of the Cavendish Family

You might recognize the name Cavendish.  It’s the same family that owns Chatsworth House near Bakewell, in Derbyshire.  Chatsworth is believed to be one of the great houses that Jane Austen took as her inspiration for Pemberley [2], and in fact, Chatsworth was used as the filming location for Pemberley in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film. While Mr. Darcy may have a noble title like the head of the Cavendish family, who holds the title The Duke of Devonshire, when you consider the Cavendish family’s prominence in Derbyshire and their vast land ownership and mining rights, it’s not too big of a stretch to suppose that the Cavendish family might have influenced Jane’s creation of the Darcy family.

Lead mining could certainly have contributed to the Darcy family’s vast annual income if they owned the mineral rights to any ore-rich land in their holdings, whether the Darcy family would have allowed free miners to open mines on their land and pay dues like the Gell and Cavendish families, or whether they owned the mines themselves and employed miners like the Manners family.

So what do you think?  Could Mr. Darcy’s income have been augmented by lead mining?  What other industries do you suppose the Darcy family might have built their wealth from?  Leave me your thoughts in the comments!

 

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derbyshire_lead_mining_history
  2. https://www.liveforthehills.com/toursblog/chatsworth-house-a-real-life-pemberley

Media credits: Wikimedia Commons

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7 COMMENTS
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Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
July 25, 2021 7:45 PM

Fascinating post!

DarcyBennett
DarcyBennett
July 25, 2021 2:48 PM

I think it’s a definite possibility.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
July 24, 2021 9:23 AM

Makes you think that’s for sure!

Gianna Thomas
AuAu
July 23, 2021 6:30 PM

The Darcys were not peers so I imagine they had not only tenants, but mining, sheep, investments, possibly in one or more banks, and even quiet ties to trade as well. They would have been smart in having multiple sources of income.

Corrie
AuAu
July 23, 2021 4:25 PM

Oh this is fascinating! I wrote a short Lizzy-Darcy story set at Christmas and mining happened to be a major topic… but I had no idea he may have had a personal stake in it or at least a personal interest due to the mining in Derbyshire. Perhaps I shall write a sequel or flesh that one out, lol. Great research, thanks for sharing!

Mirta Ines Trupp
AuAu
July 23, 2021 11:51 AM

Thought-provoking, to be sure! Thanks for sharing!

Shana Jefferis
Shana Jefferis
July 23, 2021 7:22 AM

Very informative! I was always partial to sheep farming. It was a high margin business. The sheep could be used for wool production as well as eventually for their meat. And there was the ancillary business of producing the wool fabric.

Raising the sheep required very few employees, shearing the sheep, producing fabric and thread, and slaughtering sheep did require people and would have offered employment opportunities to the locals.

I always thought the imagery of sheep grazing the countryside was a beautiful backdrop for a romantic story!

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