Monument record MDR13779 - Middle Peak and Monkey Hole Quarries, The Dale, Wirksworth

Type and Period (1)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Full Description

Just to the south of the Cromford and High Peak Railway is the massive Middle Peak complex of quarries. The earliest extraction at Middle Peak began in the 1790s. It became a major source of fluxing stone for Midlands' iron and steel works, then a principal supplier to sugar beet refineries and latterly a major aggregates producer. The site closed in 1992 but still carries substantial permitted reserves which are 'kept alive' by intermittent working. There are a range of interesting links to the railways which have been interpreted on the ground and some other features such as a magazine. There is a growing accumulation of archival material for this site, held both at the National Stone Centre and in private hands. (1) Unlike many other sites, the ownership of Middle Peak itself was highly fragmented, involving probably as many as forty separate landholdings. The eastern scarp was defined at the base by the lower road between Wirksworth and Rise End, Middleton. A parallel road ran a little to the west, from Greenhill along the top of the scarp also to Rise End. The early history of working here was confined to the 'sliver' of land between these two roads. Eventually the top (western) road was removed by quarrying. There are frequent unattributed references to quarrying having started around Middle Peak '200 years ago'; others more specifically mention limestone working and dependent limeburning here (by inference usually at Middle Peak) being in the hands of the Shaw family for at least 200 years. Another commentator (unpublished) even suggested a start date for Middle Peak of c 1792 but could not support this with documentary evidence. According to Sprenger, shortly after 1830, John Shaw began limeburning on the west side of Middleton Road. Sprenger also notes that the lime produced was carted to the Cromford Canal with coke (?) for firing kilns making up return loads. Jack Doxey infers that much of the 155.000 tons of limestone carried from Cromford on the canal in 1802 was carted from the Middle Peak area. The Tithe Map and Schedule (1848/9) cite Anthony Wardman as leasing plots from Robert Cresswell including the area between the upper and lower roads (i.e. workings eating back into the natural fault scarp). Hunt's 1857 List gives Middle Peak as a 'Mountain Limestone' quarry producing stone for fluxing in iron furnaces, but does not specify ownership, prices, or numbers employed. In July 1876, Shaw reached an agreement with the Midland Railway to provide a direct connection to Middle Peak by an extension of the Ecclesbourne branch line beyond Cromford Road. In the northern half of the present day Middle Peak Quarry much of the land at the time of the Tithe records (1848/49) was in the hands of the Wheatcroft family. This included most plots abutting the Cromford and High Peak Railway (opened 1830), and the northern half of the sliver of land between the 'top' and 'bottom' roads. The isolated quarry to the west of the upper road was generally known as the Monkey Hole and was destined to become a well known local landmark. Monkey Hole Quarry had been sunk into a small triangular copse on the gently rising plateau, beyond the upper road, as a tightly confined 'hole' style quarry. As quarrying deepened, at some point, access was gained via a horizontal hole excavated through the face of Middle Peak Quarry. Later, the upper road was carried over the Monkey Hole quarry entrance by a small arched bridge. In 1956 the Monkey Hole assumed a new brief life Stewarts and Lloyds as a leading tube maker, were looking for sites to test tall structures and in particular electricity pylons being produced for the rapidly developing National Grid. About a decade later the unique installation was then transferred to Chelmscombe near Chedder the bridge taking the top road across the entrance was blown up and the Monkey Hole was gradually absorbed into the larger unit. Over the first half of the 19th century a complicated network of connections was developed to link the quarries with the main railway systems. At the northern end, a siding ran via a level crossing (near the present Middle Peak Marble Works) directly onto the Cromford and High Peak Railway, initially to Middle Peak and was later extended into Monkey Hole. The date of connection is unclear. Sanderson's Map shows a wharf at the railway connected by a road or track to the quarry (but not specifically a rail link) in the early 1830s. Marshall infers 1856 but the route was shown in the Tithe records of 1848/9 as a branch line. The other connections were all with the Midland Line. The old Middle Peak Quarries were served by an aerial ropeway from about 1905, locally known as the aerial flight; by 1922 it was out of use although it was not dismantled until 1931. After major development of the works in 1965 when Derbyshire Stone purchased the quarry Middle Peak became one of the largest and most advanced quarries in the UK. In 1967/8 Middle Peak was one of the quarries called upon to supply blocks of stone to create a new breakwater for Port Talbot Steelworks in South Wales. Middle Peak closed in late 1992, although production resumed briefly in mid-1995, using a mobile plant, in order to meet the demand for road stone for the southern Derby bypass scheme. (2) The gradual extension of various quarries eventually coalesced to form Middle Peak Quarry which revealed outcrops of Hopton Wood Stone. The first of these outcrops to be exploited was a series of roadside exposures alongside the Wirksworth to Middleton road. The 'Classic' or Light variety of Hopton Wood Stone was won from here around c. 1870-1920 and 'Dark' Hopton Wood Stone in the 1980s. Hopton Wood Stone Company had the lease for Monkey Hole Quarry in 1904, linked to their Middle Peak unit and at some stages possibly producing Hopton Wood Stone. This was worked down to the Bee Low Limestone contemporaneously with Middle Peak by the company, pictures show block-stone production there. Middle Peak Marble Ltd still occupies Hopton Wood Stone Company's former yard at Middle Peak sidings, where some c. late 19th century buildings still remain. (3)

Sources/Archives (3)

  • <1> Unpublished document: Thomas, I (National Stone Centre). 2012. The Lower Derwent Valley: The Exploitation and Use of Historic Building Materials. p 27.
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: Tarmac Ltd. 2000. Tarmac Papers: The Archives and History Initiative of Tarmac Limited Volume IV. p 270-8.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: English Stone Forum. 2005. England's Heritage in Stone: Proceedings of a Conference. 90-103. p 92, 94-5, 99, 102, illus. p 94-5, 99, 101, 103.



Grid reference Centred SK 2810 5466 (811m by 1021m)

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Record last edited

Jan 9 2018 4:32PM

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