Of all the quarries in Derbyshire, Dale Quarry (also known as the Big Hole or Big 'Ole) probably produced the greatest impact on a single community. The houses of the Dale formed a significant element of the ancient lead mining town of Wirksworth. A road along the valley floor served some of the properties, but dozens of others are still only accessed by a network of paved paths. Along the ridge to the east ran the upper road to Middleton and immediately beyond this was Middle Peak Quarry itself. To the west of the Dale road was the Leys, a house in extensive grounds purchased by Arthur Haywood in March 1862. Harwood began quarrying in the grounds in 1874, according to Sprenger, as the Wirksworth Dale and Lime Company. Further land was acquired in 1876. As the trade grew, so did the logistical problems of carting material to the station yard (opened in 1867). Also, as workings deepened, stone had to be lifted out arduously by crane. A proposed tramway through the town provoked stiff opposition and so began the construction of a 1.2km (0.75mile) tunnel from the bottom of the quarry to the railhead. This was opened to great celebrations in 1877. The high outlay on the work put Harwood's company into liquidation. The purchaser was John Gilbert Crompton of Derby, apparently acting as a nominee or lessee to a George Miller of Holcombe, Somerset. However, according to J Doxey, it was shortly after completing the tunnel that the operation was taken over by the Wirksworth Dale Stone and Lime Company, under the managership of John Boulton. His version does not accord with the account of the opening day, when the company is already named as the operator. Both Sprenger and Doxey do agree that shortly afterwards, control again changed, to George Colledge operator of Baileycroft Quarry. According to Sprenger, Colledge was a lessee of George Miller, as cited in an agreement to this effect of 1884. J Doxey notes that two limekilns were active in the 1880's only a few metres from houses and with a capacity of 200 tpw.
The 1897 Quarries list gives the operator as the Wirksworth Stone and Mineral Company, with George Colledge as manager employing a total of 20 men, producing limestone and lead ore. J Doxey records that it was in October 1893 that George Miller took possession of the site who in turn sold it to the Butterley Company which continued to work it until 1914. Wirksworth Stone and Mineral Company and the Butterley Company's sidings are shown together on a railway route map of 1913. Sprenger has the quarry closing down in the early 1920's (and a lease to Butterley preceding purchase by a few years). Checking of these two conflicting accounts is rendered impossible as neither author cites specific references. Other researchers refer to the quarry being put up for sale in 1887, the property being described as having 'practically inexhaustible' reserves of limestone suitable for fluxing, glass and chemicals; the higher more siliceous beds were noted as particularly suited for aggregates and asphalting; two kilns with an output of 200 tpw were included. In the early twentieth century, Dale also became known for producing sets but the natural joint pattern rendered the stone unsuitable for making kerbs and paving. Operations were resumed in 1925 following the purchase in February by a new London based company, Wirksworth Quarries Ltd.
Its presence in Wirksworth in this small, enclosed valley, directly overlooked by 100 or so densely packed properties, proved infamous. For the previous half century, the site had been hand worked on a variable scale, or had been dormant. The introduction of a crusher and screening plant in the late 1920s was the main cause of offence, as traffic by road and rail was confined to the tunnel. It was this early attempt at mechanised production which increased dust and noise levels to such a degree that during the inter war years, provoked the abandonment of many properties, with inhabitants moving into newly built Council houses. There were many attempts to control the company, notably by injunctions in the 1930s. One successful action in 1933 resulted in the court awarding £70 damages to a widow and an order restraining the company from allowing stones or dust to pass over her premises from blasting and crushing operations. Production at Dale continued with the occasional introduction of new plant until the 1960's. In 1963, planning permission was given to extend operations to the boundary of the landholding abutting Middle Peak's land. Dale closed in 1968 but not before diverting production to blockstone for the Port Talbot breakwater project. In 1979 Tarmac bought the by now largely empty Dale site. The main intention was not to quarry here, but to use the area to meet the problem of excessive overburden at Middle Peak. Proposals were made to fill the quarry substantially and transform the eastern portion into a town park for Wirksworth. Planting began in 1995 and by the official hand over to Wirksworth Town Council in 1998 500 trees were in place. Veronica West's landscape sculpture of large stones in the form of an infinity symbol was installed and launched during Wirksworth Arts Festival in September 2000. (1)
Dale Quarry is shown in The Dale, Wirksworth with limekilns, on the 1st edition 25" Ordnance Survey map of c. 1880. (2)
The 3rd edition 25" Ordnance Survey map of the early 20th century shows the quarry as disused. (3)