A brief history of Bickerton Copper MineIt is thought that copper has been mined at Bickerton and Gallantry Bank since the Bronze Age and by the Romans, but the earliest documented reference to mining in the area is in a report written by J D Brandshagen in 1697 for Sir Philip Egerton. The sandstone outcrop at Peckforton forms part of the same geology as that of Alderley Edge, where there is also evidence of copper mining (See Copper Mining at Alderley Edge).
|Alderley Edge Copper Mine: Source http://www.derbyscc.org.uk/caving/caving_image/JK_trip_20060507_21_resize.jpg|
|The remains of the chimney beside the sealed Engine Shaft (Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Copper_mine_chimney_-_geograph.org.uk_-_713124.jpg)|
|Bickerton Cooper Mine circa 1904 (Source: http://www.sandstonetrail.com/wp-content/uploads/Coppermine.jpg)|
The minesAlthough Shaft No. 5 and the Pit were shown in an 1890 survey of the mine workings (Edwards, 1890), only the Engine Shaft and Shafts 1, 2, 3 and 4 are shown in the 1906 survey (Spargo & Thomas, 1906) suggesting these were the only workable shafts at that time. This drawing shows the approximate position and extent of the workings based on these two surveys (click on the image to enlarge).
|Bickerton Copper Mine (Based on Carlon (1981) Fig vii)|
It is assumed that the mine shafts at Bickerton were relatively dry as the pumping engine over the Engine Shaft was a modest affair. Over the years, advice had been sought from Cornish mining engineers and so it is highly likely that the mining practices at Bickerton would have been heavily influenced by those carried out in Cornwall.
|The type of pumping engine house possibly used at Bickerton (Source: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4079/4798065476_e74ec2c1ee.jpg)|
|Steam powered winding engine used in copper mine (Source http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/02/32/38/2323827_775bb0fa.jpg)|
|Azurite and malachite (Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Azurite-Malachite-59275.jpg)|
The mineralsThere were two veins of copper-bearing rock in the mine at Bickerton which varied in width from eight inches to five feet, with an average of 2½ feet. There was also thought to be cobalt, lead and silver deposits in the seams. In 1802 a sample of ore from Bickerton was sent to the Mineralogical Society for analysis which pronounced there was 9% copper in the sample in the form of copper sulphide and copper carbonate. However, another analysis in 1806 found the ore varied in quality from 0% to 2½%, whereas another in 1862 found there was between 19¼% and 25% of copper and 18 ounces of silver per ton of ore.
The minerals present in the ore were malachite and principally azurite, though there were also traces of chrysocolla, melaconite, bornite and covellite. These were deposited in an almost vertical fissure of white sandstone, similar to that found at Alderley Edge, Clive, Pim Hill, Whixall and Eardiston.
|Mineralised sandstone from Alderley Edge (Source: Minerals UK)|
The copper mining processUntil the middle of the 19th century, copper was extracted and processed mainly by hand, but thereafter mechanisation played an increasing role. By the early 1930s, when my model is set, pneumatic and hydraulic mining equipment would have been used, though this would also have been supplemented by hand tools and the use of explosives. As the shafts and galleries were very narrow, it seems reasonable that the narrowest gauge of railway would have been used to transport the ore and spoil beneath the ground. Railway tracks were found in the mines at Alderley Edge - though these are associated with later restoration work.
|Copper Mines at Alderley Edge (Source: http://www.mine-explorer.co.uk/photo_cache/mines/Alderley-edge_2547/Alderley-edge_22468.jpg)|
|Tub from the Saint Veran Copper Mine in France (Source http://www.aditnow.co.uk/photo/Personal-Album-1-Image-067)|
|Copper Processing (Source: www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=1410)|
The (fictional) history of the Peckforton Light RailwayTo provide my 16mm scale garden railway with a realistic context, I have made some hypothetical propositions and just a few flights of fancy. However, where possible, these have been based on facts and reflect what might have happened, given the certain favourable conditions. My fictional inventions are shown in italics, the rest is factual.
In my imagined history (see A History of the Railway), the local landowner, Lord Tollemache, decided to invest in the copper mines following the optimistic report produced in 1906 by Spargo and Thomas. As a consequence built a three foot gauge railway to transport the mined ore and spoil to the mainline Crewe to Chester railway via the former Beeston & Tarporley Station. Bentley Tollemache succeeded his father, Wilbraham, as the 3rd Baron Tollemache in 1904 and as such became the owner of the Peckforton Estate which included Peckforton Castle. Peckforton Castle was built in the middle of the nineteenth century by his grandfather, John Tollemache (see History of Peckforton Castle). It was designed in the Gothic style by the architect Anthony Salvin and was described in 1858 by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the architect of St Pancras Station, as "the largest and most carefully and learnedly executed Gothic mansion of the present."
|Peckforton Castle shortly after completion in 1851 (Source: http://www.dicamillocompanion.com/images/Houses/database/Peckforton_Castle.jpg)|
Bentley Tollemache was actually a keen amateur engineer and I like to imagine that, as a consequence, he would have been very enthusiastic about constructing a narrow gauge railway to serve his pet project, the mining of copper on the edge of his estate. I also hypothesise that he would have constructed a 15" minimum gauge railway to handle freight within his estate, inspired by that constructed by his near neighbour, the Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall (see Eaton Railway) and influenced by the work of Sir Arthur Heywood (see Historical Background to Minimum Gauge Railways)
|The Dee Estuary (Source: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29787/29787-h/images/p033.jpg)|
|Ore crusher (Source: http://www.bricscrushingplant.com/images/solutions/gen/36.jpg)|
By 1932, when my model is set, I'm assuming that the viably workable seams were becoming exhausted and so there was proportionately more spoil being extracted than copper ore. As a consequence, there was less money available for carrying out repairs and the railway and the works were beginning to fall into decay. However, the tourist potential of the area was becoming more lucrative as the healing powers of the mineral waters in the Peckforton Hills were being exploited and the largely unspoilt scenery around Beeston and Peckforton Castles proved attractive for Bank Holiday visitors from Manchester and Birmingham.
- C.J. Carlon. (1981) British Mining No.16:- The Gallantry Bank Copper Mine, Bickerton, Cheshire
- H. Dewey. T. Eastwood. (1921) MGS Special Reports, Vol. XXX: Copper ores of the Midlands