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Castleton, The Winnats and Speedwell Cavern

"The Speedwell Mine, on the old Buxton Road, is somewhat awe-inspiring"[1]

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The following very early description of the Speedwell Cavern has been extracted from David Peter Davies' "History of Derbyshire", published in 1811.

"The only remaining object worthy of inspection in the neighbourhood of Castleton, is the Speedwell Level, or Navigation Mine, which is situated at the foot of the Winnets, in the mountainous range called the Long Cliff. - This level was originally driven in search of lead ore, by a company, of speculators from Staffordshire, who commenced their undertaking about five and thirty years ago, but with such little success, that after expending £14,000 and eleven years ceaseless and unavailing labor, were obliged to relinquish it. Being provided with lights, the guide leads the visitor beneath an arched vault, by a flight of 106 steps, to the sough or level, where a boat is ready for his reception, and which is put in motion, by pushing against some pegs driven into the wall for that purpose. The depth of the water is about three feet; the channel through which it proceeds was blasted through the heart of the hardest rock. As the boat proceeds, several veins of lead ore may be observed in the rock, but not thick enough to defray the expence of working them.

After proceeding about 600 yards, through various caverns, " the level bursts into a tremendous gulph, whose roof and bottom are completely invisible; but across which the navigation has been carried, by flinging a strong arch over a part of the fissure where the rocks are least separated. Here, leaving the boat, and ascending a stage erected above the level, the attention of the visitor is directed to the dark recess of the abyss beneath his feet; and firm indeed, must be his resolution, if he can contemplate its depth unmoved, or hear them described, without an involuntary shudder. To the depth of ninety feet, all is vacuity and gloom; but beyond that, commences a pool of stygian waters, not unaptly named the Bottomless Pit; whose prodigious range may in some measure be conceived, from the circumstance of its having swallowed up, more than 40,000 tons of rubbish made in blasting the rock, without any apparent diminution either in its depth or extent. The guide indeed, informs you, that the former has not been ascertained; yet we have reason to believe that this is incorrect, and that its actual depth in standing water is about 320 feet. There cannot, however, be a doubt, but that this abyss has communications with others, still more deeply situated in the bowels of the mountain, and into which the precipitated rubbish has found a passage. The superfluous water of the level, falls through a water-gate into this profound cauldron, with a noise like a rushing torrent.

"This fissure is calculated at being nearly 280 yards below the surface .of the mountain ; and so great is its reach upwards, that rockets of sufficient strength to ascend 450 feet, have been fired without rendering the roof visible. The effect of a Bengal light discharged in this stupendous cavity, is extremely magnificent and interesting. Beyond the fissure, the level, has been driven to a similar length to that part which precedes it , but in this division of its course little occurs to excite admiration."[2]

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The road through the Winnats

Sneath's photograph, above, was taken a short distance past the cavern entrance. The road was then a narrow track way lined with telegraph poles, though is now (2018) a tarmacadamed road known as Arthur's Way. There is a cattle grid just past the cavern and its the car park. The highways department will not have realised that they placed a modern cattle grid warning sign at almost exactly the same spot where the sheep had congregated, below a small outcrop of rock!

In 1926 Thomas Tudor described the Winnats Pass as a "deep limestone gorge winding steeply and sometimes swept by furious winds. 'Windgates' seems to be the ancient name, and if you have been here in the right conditions you will have no need to ask why. You can hear the wind screaming along the cliff and it buffets you with a solid force like the blows of a hammer. I have been in this pass when it has scarcely been safe to cross the road. A dreadful tragedy once took place here when a newly married pair were murdered by miners".
He added that "the Winnats road has a terrible gradient and to avoid it the modern road makes a two-mile round along the slopes of Mam Tor"[3].

Castleton is mentioned in the following on-site transcripts:
Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811, Parishes C, which has much more about the village.
Kelly's 1891 Directory mentions the Speedwell Cavern

1. "The Winnats and Entrance to The Speedwell Cavern, Castleton". Published by E. L. S., No.166-30. Unused, but probably before 1914. Edgar Leonard Scrivens (13 Mar 1882-22 Feb 1950) had a Photographic Printing & Enlarging Works in Doncaster.
2. "The Road Through The Winnats, Castleton". Published by R. Sneath, Paradise St., Sheffield, No.4326. The Peak Perfection Series. Copyright. Real Photograph. Unused.
3. "The Winnats". Pen and ink drawing by Thomas Linthwaite Tudor[3].
Postcards and drawing in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched, OCR-ed by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] From: Cox, John Charles, (1915, 2nd edition, revised), "Derbyshire" - Illustrated by J. Charles Wall, Methuen & Co., London. First edition published in 1903.

[2] Davies, David Peter (1811) "History of Derbyshire" pub. S. Mason, Belper.

[3] Thomas Linthwaite Tudor (1926) "The High Peak to Sherwood, The hills and dales of old Mercia", published London by Robert Scott. Tudor's account of the murder

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