Castleton, The Winnats & Entrance to Speedwell Mine
Publisher: Francis Frith & Co, Reigate
Winnats Pass is a hill pass and limestone gorge in the Peak District of Derbyshire, England. The name is a corruption of ‘wind gates’ due to the swirling winds through the pass. It lies west of the village of Castleton, in the National Trust’s High Peak Estate and the High Peak borough of Derbyshire. The road winds through a cleft, surrounded by high limestone ridges. At the foot of the pass is the entrance to Speedwell Cavern, a karst cave accessed through a flooded lead mine, and which is a popular tourist attraction.
The Speedwell caves are set at the foot of the Winnats Pass, just outside Castleton. Miners began to extract lead from the Speedwell mines in 1771. A group of investors from neighbouring Staffordshire raised 14,000 pounds to launch the mining efforts. They redirected natural underground rivers and used the waterways to carry spoil and ore to the surface.
Despite the huge investment of time and money, the mines proved unsuccessful and no rich veins of ore were discovered. The venture folded in 1790, but even before the mining came to an end, visitors were coming to Castleton to visit the mine and its unusual mode of underground transport. A later visitor was Queen Victoria, who was transported through the underground waterways in a boat navigated by a miner lying on his back, steering the craft with his feet on the ceiling of the adit shaft.
Speedwell Cavern is one of the four show caves in Castleton, Derbyshire, England. The cave system consists of a horizontal lead miners’ adit (a level passageway driven horizontally into the hillside) 200m below ground leading to the cavern itself, a limestone cave. The narrow adit is permanently flooded, so after descending a long staircase, access to the cave is made by boat. At the end of the adit, the cavern opens up with fluorspar veins, stalactites and stalagmites, and the so-called “Bottomless Pit”. This chamber has an underground lake with a 20 metres (66 ft) high waterfall and an extremely deep vertical shaft, now choked to within 20 metres (66 ft) of the surface by rock spoil dumped by miners. The original depth of the shaft has been estimated, from the amount of spoil placed in the shaft over the years, at around 150 metres (490 ft). The mine was developed in the 1770s but the limited lead ore deposits meant that it was not profitable and it was closed down by 1790.