Magpie Mine is a lead mine south of the village of Sheldon in Derbyshire. The mine was taken over and is run by the Peak District Mines Historical Society in 1962.
The mine is at the junction of the Magpie vein, the Bole vein and the Butts vein, and was only one of several mines exploiting these veins; the Red Soil Mine and the Maypitts mine lay within only a few hundred metres of the Magpie. The mine is first recorded in 1740, though the workings are probably much older. The miners had difficulty in keeping the workings free from water, but by 1824, a Newcomen type pumping engine had been erected on the Main Shaft. This led to the production of 800 tons of lead being mined in 1827, a record that remained unbroken until 1871. It finally ceased operations in 1958, though the working in the 1950s mined little actual lead. The heyday of the mine was in the mid 18th Century.
Magpie Mine was also troubled by disputes with neighbouring mines over who had the right to work each vein. Miners from Magpie Mine and Maypitt Mine were both working the Great Redsoil Vein, and would light fires underground to smoke out their opponents. The arguments raged for years, both underground and in the courts. In 1833, three Maypitt miners were suffocated by the fumes and 24 Magpie miners were put on trial for their murder. Several were freed immediately and eventually all were acquitted because of the difficulty in identifying the individual culprits and the provocative actions of the Maypitt miners themselves. The effect of the disputes was to ruin the mine, which closed in 1835.
In 1839, John Taylor, the famous Cornish mining engineer was brought in to re-open the Magpie Mine, which now incorporated the Great Redsoil workings. He introduced a number of innovations, including steel borers, safety hats, safety fuse, and iron winding ropes. He also introduced a more regular pattern of shift working and payment for his workers, some of whom had come up from Cornwall with him. He deepened the Main Shaft to 208 metres, and also installed a 40-inch Cornish pumping engine. When this proved inadequate, he proposed to replace it with a 70-inch engine, but the proprietors could not agree. Some felt that a sough (a drainage tunnel) would be a better solution, and appeals to the Duke of Devonshire to adjudicate fell on deaf ears. Various attempts were made over the next 30 years, but it was not until 1873 that construction of the sough started. It took eight years to drive from the River Wye near Ashford-in-the-Water to meet the Main Shaft, a distance of 2km. It was an epic undertaking since the rock proved to be mostly 'toadstone', a variety of basalt, and very hard. It was the last major sough to be constructed in this area and is now one of the best preserved. The cost was £18,000, a very large sum for those days, and far more than the shareholders had budgeted for. The sough enabled the mineshaft to be deepened to 728 feet, but despite this the mine never became profitable again and closed in 1883. It was worked again at intervals until 1923 and reopened in a limited way in the 1950s but only ever employed a few men and rarely made money. An optimistic report in 1913 promised reserves of four million tons, which attracted businessmen from Sheffield and Glasgow to join forces with Edgar Garlick, the owner. Their venture closed in 1919, and although Garlick re-opened the mine in 1923, he went into liquidation the following year.
Nothing happened until after the Second World War, when Waihi Investment and Development Ltd attempted to work the mine using submersible electric pumps. A new winder - in reality a ship's winch fitted with a diesel engine - and a steel headgear were installed. Despite this more sophisticated equipment, no large body of ore was found, and with the end of the Korean War and the fall in the price of imported lead, the mine closed for the last time in 1954.
The wives of the "murdered" men put a curse on the mine, supposedly a ghost was seen there in 1946.