Technical and organisational development of the Derbyshire lead mining industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
thesisposted on 02.12.2009, 11:58 by L. M. Willies
Examines factors in success and subsequent decline of Derbyshire Lead industry, which probably peaked at 10,000 tons of lead annually in mid-eighteenth century, but despite a series of attempted revivals, never regained earlier pre-eminence, and was virtually terminated by 1885: the exception was Millclose Mine (not examined) which later became this country's largest ever lead mine. Local legal customs appear to have provided a mildly beneficial effect throughout, without adverse structural effects sometimes claimed. In early and mid-eighteenth century, technologically, the area, with major soughs and early steam engines was a leader, but lagged by the late century. In the mid-nineteenth century an infusion of technology was obtained from Cornwall, but without economic success. Organisationally, the advantage of effective limited liability in mining assisted development of agencies, controlled mainly by smelters, which managed large numbers of shares owned mainly by local trades-people, landowners, etc. Decline led to loss of traditional shareholders, and involvement of a new clientele, mainly from Sheffield, but which proved even more fickle in adversity. Very large amounts of fixed capital were necessary, and found for mining, but in smelting the fixed requirement was small, with a high working capital, and was more amenable to single-ownership. Lead manufacturing was increasingly local, often integrated with smelting, reducing amount of lead available for export. International trade continued to fix, and in the nineteenth century, drive down prices, with production peaks coinciding with price peaks if allowance is made for lag. The principle reason for decline, and failure to maintain U. B. share of production was probably the virtual exhaustion of predominantly small, rich, shallow deposits, by end-eighteenth century.