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Members February Talk

The Buxton Coalfields

Walking on the moors above Buxton, there is little evidence to the casual observer of the industry that for centuries toiled, struggled and sweated to win coal from the rocks beneath the surface. But if one stops and looks at the landscape, some of the traces left by coal mining can just be glimpsed. It was the story, human, geological, historical, of this forgotten industry that was told by Alan Roberts and Lyn Noble to a packed Buxton Civic Association, for their February members talk.

A depression in the ground once formed the base for a ‘gin’, a winding engine that was turned round and round by a horse and its young human charge, braving the elements up on these unforgiving moors day after day. The boy for 6d a day, and the horse presumably for just enough hay and oats as was needed to keep it in some sort of health to do its job.

Cisterns Clough incline

Another depression marks one of the many shafts that litter the landscape, now filled in, but that once were part of an extensive and complex mining operation. Beneath the moors canals were dug to enable boats to bring the coal out of the mines, and everywhere water was a problem, constantly needing to be pumped out to make the passages safe for the miners.

Once on the surface, the preferred method to transport the coal to its destination was by pack horse. One can see the evidence, the deeply grooved "Holloways", green now, but in the depths of winter these would be filled with mud, making progress slow and difficult.

Much of the coal, which was of a poor quality, was taken to help fuel the kilns of Grin low. The poor quality led to the large ash and slag tips that now litter the hillside, but hidden by the trees planted in the 1790's.

Alan Roberts, author of ‘The Coal Mines of Buxton’ put the industry into its historic and personal context. The boy who led the horse round and round winding the buckets up and down on the moor top was Anthony Ashmore, as identified in records from the day. (We don't know the name of the horse) for his 6d a day. By comparison, visitors to the Card Room in the Crescent paid 5 shillings entry fee to look around and admire the architectural splendours of the building, funded in part by the rent from the coal licences.

Lyn Noble then explained how a self-guided heritage trail walk had been conceived. It was first tested in the heavy rain and wind of an August afternoon, an experience shared by thirty members and friends of the Civic Association.

The walk has been designed to take the walker on an historical journey of the Buxton Coalfields, working back in time to the earliest recorded mining in the 16th Century up to the 19th Century with its winding wheels, levels and fire houses.

Poole's Cavern Visitor Centre filling up before the talk

The effects of the mining can still be felt today as Lyn explained why after particularly heavy rainfall, the river in the Serpentine gardens turns red. The water flows out of the Old Duke's level and is the result of the Red Iron Oxide that accumulated in the level.

The talk was rounded off with a sing along to an old miner's song “Dark as a Dungeon" with Lyn providing the lead vocals and musical accompaniment.

The heritage trail walk of the Buxton Coalfields will be available shortly as a guide from the Poole's Cavern shop.

The next talk is on 17th March at 7.30pm at Poole’s Cavern Visitor Centre. The Talk is entitled “Butterflies of Grin Woods” to be given by Steve Orridge.

Members Event

A song to round off the evening

Secretly filmed at the February BCA members talk on the Buxton Coalfields, Lyn Noble leads the singing to round off an excellent evening.

Winter Talk – Bialowieza Forest

The last Primeval Forest In Europe

Imagine walking along a woodland trail deep in the heart of an ancient wood. Birds sing from almost every branch, filling the air with their song. The trees tower forty metres or more above your head and around you, on the ground, the dead and the dying trunks are alive with fungi and insects.

Imagine as the trail turns a corner in this ancient woodland, you briefly glimpse a dark shape, a shadow, as some creature of the forests breaks cover ahead of you. Was it a wolf, a bison or a wild boar? Your heart rate accelerates and for a moment you are back with your ancestors as the flight or fight instinct tries to take over.

Or is it your imagination playing tricks on you, surrounded as you are by the forest, its legends and stories stretching back 10,000 years. The shape disappears and the bird song, temporarily drowned out by the rush of fear you felt, returns and you continue, more cautiously now, on your way.

This is Bialowieza, the forest that straddles the Polish, Belarus border, and is the largest remaining area of European lowland wild wood that once stretched from Siberia to Ireland.

To a packed visitor centre at Poole's Cavern, Buxton Civic Association members and friends listened enthralled as Peter Phillipson, aided by Susan Cross brought the forest to life, with a clever combination of words, pictures and sound recordings, to show the beauty, tranquility, and astounding variety of life in this world heritage site.

Key to the forest's richness of biodiversity is the deadwood and the animals that thrive there. As much as 50% of the trees are dead, either fallen or in some cases still standing. But the "decay is the future", as the forest recycles the nutrients from the dead wood, aided by a wealth of fungi and invertebrates for the next generation of trees.

Wild boar root amongst the leaf litter turning the top two inches over, to provide a habitat for plants and insects, bison create small clearings and the beavers dam the rivers and so reengineer the landscape and create new places for flora and fauna to thrive..

The deer population is kept in check by the Lynx and the Wolf packs so the young saplings are not over grazed. So the cycle continues and has done for thousands of years.

There are challenges to overcome, and tensions between the foresters and ecologists. But the central section of the forest is effectively closed off and nature left unhindered to do what it does best. Access is limited to the fortunate few and then only for a few hours.

Bialowieza is a shining example of how to do conservation. It is a reminder of the landscapes that we have lost but also an example of what can be achieved if the will and understanding is there.