From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Middle Peak Quarry

53°05'11.3"N 1°34'44.5"W
SK 2829354445

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Middle Peak Quarry are a group of quarries located to the south of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, at Wirksworth, Derbyshire.

The first quarrying at Middle Peak started in the 1790s, becoming a major source of fluxing stone for the Midlands' iron and steel works, then as a supplier to sugar beet refineries and lastly as a major aggregates producer. Although the site closed in 1992, but still carries substantial permitted reserves which are mined by intermittent working.

The ownership of the quarries was highly fragmented, with 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.

Around 1830, John Shaw began lime burning on the west side of Middleton Road. The lime produced was carted to the Cromford Canal with fuel for firing the kilns making up return loads. It is thought that much of the 155.000 tons of limestone carried from Cromford on the canal in 1802 was carted from the Middle Peak area.

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 was in the hands of the Wheatcroft family. This included most plots abutting the Cromford and High Peak Railway which 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 and 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 quarry.

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, close to the present day Middle Peak Marble Works, directly onto the Cromford and High Peak Railway, initially to Middle Peak and was later extended into Monkey Hole. 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, it 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.

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 quarried from here around 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 at the same time as 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 late 19th century buildings still remain.