Westhills Portaway Mine, Winster, Derbyshire
All the information provided in this article is attributed to the exploration work carried out by the ‘North Staffs Mining Club’ in the mid 1970’s, the detailed survey for which was completed in 1977. A present day inspection of the site (2023) reveals no indication of the shaft, with the hillock levelled and the boundary wall removed. It is not known if the shaft was filled or capped and then covered over, see Fig. 1.
Fig 1. Cheg Chester standing on the recorded location of entrance shaft into Westhills Portaway Mine. The large hillock on which the mine shaft was originally located has been removed and entire site levelled to grass. Photo: Nigel Burns June 2023
Fig. 2. Overlaid composite line survey of Westhills Portaway Mine, Lickpenny Mine 1 and 2 and a section of Winter Sough.
Notes on the surveys
There are two copies known to exist of the mine survey; one appears on a 10” x 8” Black & White photographic print (Fig. 3) and the other is a hand drawn version which measures 30" x 19" (Fig. 4).
Fig. 2 is a line survey produced from Fig. 3 and shown as an overlay on the OS 25” map of Derbyshire XXVIII.16: Revised: 1897, Published: 1899. (Overlay plotted 2023).
Fig 3 consists of four separate mine surveys and indicates the access points; added in red 1-4, from which the surveys were conducted.
1 - Westhills Portaway Mine. NGR SK23317 60436. Field no. 242. Depth 260ft.
2 - Lickpenny 1. NGR SK23330 60241. Field No. 266. Depth 200ft.
3 - Lickpenny 2. NGR SK23291 60346. Field No. 231, Depth 200ft.
4 - Shaft onto Winster Sough. NGR SK23438 60474. Field No. 234. Depth not recorded.
Fig. 4 is the Master Westhills Portaway Mine Survey with the addition of Lickpenny2 (LP2).
This article only covers the description of Westhills Portaway Mine.
There was no accessible connection between Westhills Portaway Mine and Lickpenny 2 when explored.
Westhills and Lickpenny are ‘given’ names as the original names have not been traced.
Fig. 6 is an enlarged section of the Westhills Mine and shows Survey points 3 & 9 referred to in the text.
Fig. 3 showing the relevant positions of Lickpenny Mine 1 & 2 and part of Winster Sough with regard to Westhills Portaway Mine. ©
This mine is located on the southerly part of the Portaway title in the area of much worked ground which is bounded by Buckdale Lane, Islington Lane and Grey Tor. The shaft is situated in field no. 212 and is located on the top of a prominent hillock that is straddled by a field boundary wall.
The shaft is some 260 ft. deep and is of quite large cross-section, being approximately 5 ft. diameter at the top, and is beautifully ginged with dressed gritstone blocks for a depth of about 25 ft. after which the shaft is then sunk through solid limestone. The shaft and the ginging is in remarkably good condition. In the shaft a number of thin clay wayboards have been cut through and, at the junction of these, small ledges have formed. At a depth of a little over 100 ft. a small level leads off to the east for 13 ft. beneath a bedding plane roof and this passage contains a 3 ft. depth of water. Below here the sides of the shaft are covered with a layer of flowstone and the shaft walls become wet with the small amount of water that issues from a wayboard.
Fig. 4. Main Westhills Portaway Mine Survey with the adition of Lickpenny 2 (LP2) ©
The first workings off the shaft are reached at a depth of 200 ft. and here, on the north side, the shaft intersects a coffin level and a ledge runs round the side of the shaft to a small chamber that has been mined out on the east side of the shaft. From the 200 ft. level there are three ways off. The first of those is a coffin level, as stated, that leads off to the northwest. The second passage is the continuation of the coffin level that leads off to the east, whilst the third way off is to the south and this leads into a series of bedding plane chambers. Below here the shaft continues down and at 230 ft. depth a part natural and part mined bedding chamber is cut on the south side of the shaft and 30 ft. below this, at 260 ft. depth, a rubble floor is reached at the present shaft bottom in quite a roomy chamber. Here there is only one rather low passage leading off and this takes a very sinuous course through a series of pipe-workings to be described later.
The 200 ft. Workings.
The Northwest Coffin Level.
This level leads off to the northwest from the ledge in the shaft at 200 ft. depth as a coffin level with an average height of 5 ft. for a distance of 250 ft. Along this level, on the southwest wall, are some very large cracks with about a quarter of an inch displacement. These cracks have obviously developed since the level was driven. Beyond these cracks the level continues in a northwesterly direction to a chamber in the side of a former shaft from the surface. This shaft is well covered over at surface as only the shaft mound can be located, see Fig. 5. The chamber is about 60 ft. up from the base of the shaft and in it everything is covered with a coat of pure white calcite and the rocks and small stones are cemented together with flowstone and there are also some fine flowstone curtains on the shaft walls. All of these formations are due to the cascade of water issuing from down the shaft and it is not known whether this water emerges from out of a higher level, or whether it comes off of one of the clay wayboards as noted in the entrance shaft. A descent was made from this chamber to the base of the shaft but no way off could be found as at the bottom, there is just a jumble of boulders and rubble and the descending water disappears through this.
Fig. 5. Nigel Burns standing on the undisturbed shaft mound. It is possible that the shaft lies open below an original cap of unknown structure. Note Lickpenny Lane to the left with Buckdale Lane at middle distance. Photo: Cheg Chester, June 2023
From the chamber a further coffin level leads off in a northeasterly direction and continuing along this it gradually becomes silted up with fines. These fines most probably originated from Buckdale Mine towards which this level is heading. At Buckdale there was a dressing plant for fluorspar in recent years operated by Mr. Johnson of Winster but due to continued trouble with the tailings dam bursting and allowing water and slimes to escape onto the road it was decided to divert the slimes down Buckdale Mine shaft. Much of this slurry has found its way into Wills Founder Mine via the 320 ft. level and the Main Shaft below sough level there is completely filled up with fines. There is no doubt that it is some of these slimes that have found their way into this level and surveying was abandoned after 380 ft. although it is possible to see along the top of those fines for about another 90 ft. although the passage is too restricted to follow. This would place the visible end of the passage about at Buckdale Shaft. A dig was started to try to enlarge the level sufficiently to get to the end but whilst the fines are very easy to dig out it proved almost impossible to tram them back far enough along the level to keep the level clear and it was also noticed that the air was very bad along here making the slightest exertion very tiring due to the presence of carbon dioxide and so the dig was abandoned
The East Coffin Level
As its name implies this level leads off from the chamber at the 200 ft. level in the entrance shaft as a low coffin level with no special features of interest other than it’s restricted height (approx. 3 ft.). This level cuts a vein after a distance of 120 ft. from the shaft and here the only way on is to take a sharp right-hand turn along the vein. This passage leads over a packed floor into a pipe-working after 30 ft. and here a semi-backfilled chamber extends to both left and right with a pathway leading straight on between the stacked deads and backfilling. Shortly beyond the chamber a large pocket on the left leads to the head of a 10 ft. deep unstable winze. From the bottom of the winze a loose incline of semi-collapsed deads leads down for a further 20 ft. into a large chamber some 45 ft. long by 20 ft. wide. At the far end of this chamber a collapsed area is reached and a very shattered and unstable winze gives access into a lower passage with ways off to both left and right. The way to the left in this lower passage leads back beneath the chamber but cannot be followed for any distance due to a major collapse. The way to the right leads into a shattered pocket and large fallen blocks bar any way on which may have existed. No other way on was found from the chamber.
Returning back up into the main level, 15 ft. beyond the 10 ft. deep winze a passage leads off to the left and this leads for 75 ft. to a small chamber and here a steep rubble incline leads down to the right and blocks off what might have once been a way on. Back near the start of this passage entry can be gained into an interconnected series of natural bedding chamber some 20-25 ft. above the main level by climbing up through large blocks on the north side of the passage. These bedding chambers lead off to the south and terminate near the large deep winze encountered later in the main level.
Continuing along the main level a junction is reached after a further 16 ft. and here the main way on leads off to the right, but the passage continues straight on for 10 ft. to end at a washed out fissure. Taking the main way on to the right at the junction leads into a large semi-natural chamber with a partially backfilled bedding chamber on the right. This chamber is fairly high and large blocks in the roof are in reality the floor of the natural bedding chambers described earlier and access can be made from these chambers back down into the main level at this point. Beyond this chamber a low hole leads through into a large chamber and here a very large diameter winze some 70 ft. deep is encountered. This winze was descended but was found to be blocked with rubble at the bottom and no way on was found from there. Back up in the chamber at the top of the winze a way on can be seen on the far side. Access to this is via a traverse over a rift on the left-hand side of the chamber and then by following a ledge round the side of the winze. At the start of this passage the remains of an old wooden ore truck was found. At 20 ft. along this passage from the winze a large collapse of clay and detritus was encountered but a way on was dug over the top of this. This infill was found to have come out of a natural pocket on the right-hand side of the level and from out of this pocket a semi-backfilled level had been worked for a short distance along the vein.
Back in the main level this can be followed to the southeast for a distance of 150 ft. until a dried mud infill reduces the height of the passage sufficiently to restrict further progress but the passage can be seen to continue with even more diminishing height and when plotted out onto the survey it can be seen to align with the large chamber on Portaway Pipe met with along the Winster Sough from Wills Founder Mine. The final point reached is only some 130 ft. from the large chamber. Along this level numerous falls have occurred but it is possible to get by these but no other way on was discovered.
The 200 ft. Level Bedding Passage
This passage leads off to the south from the chamber at the 200 ft. level in the shaft and enters a mainly natural area of small, shattered bedding plane chambers. Due to the unstable nature of this area a survey was not made of the caverns here.
The 260 ft. Workings
The Main Southwest Passage
At the base of the entrance shaft, at 260 ft. depth, one is in a roomy chamber some 20 ft. high by 10 ft. diameter. On the east side of the chamber a steep slope rises up and gives access to a 15 ft. deep winze that was covered over with boulders when first discovered. Those boulders were removed and the winze was descended but the very small passage at the base would need digging out before entry would be possible and this was not attempted.
On the floor of the chamber at the base of the shaft a number of live detonators were found amongst the rubble.
The only passage on from the shaft bottom leads off to the southwest and after 23 ft. a hole in the right-hand wall leads via a shallow winze down into a shattered passage that leads off back towards the base of the shaft and also gives access into a flooded working and here water enters through a pack of deads.
Fig. 6. Enlarged view of the main working in Westhills Mine showing survey point 3 & 9. ©
36 ft. from the shaft is the third survey station and here the main level turns off to the left whilst a low crawl leads off straight ahead from the top of a pack and this leads off over a packed floor for 20 ft. before turning right for 30 ft. to emerge in a small chamber. From the chamber an incline down to the north gives access into a level heading northwest and this level ends in small worked-out pockets.
Returning back to the main level and continuing for 35 ft. to the south brings one to a pack on the left-hand side (east) and water issues from over this pack and is the water from the sough encountered later in the mine and described in later notes. Shortly beyond where the sough water enters the main level another passage leads off to the left from over the top of a pack. This passage is only 20 ft. long and ends in a small pocket. Continuing for a further 30 ft. brings one to yet another small passage on the left and again this ends in a small pocket. By continuing for I7 ft. beyond here a junction is reached at survey point 9 and this junction is an important one as will be realised from the later notes. At the junction a passage leads straight ahead from the top of a 5 ft. step and this passage is described later. The main level leads off to the right from the junction and follows a thin vein which is visible in the roof. Along this passage a number of small semi-backfilled workings lead off on both sides of the level though non are of any significance until at survey point 13 a steep incline on the right-hand side of the level leads up into a series of pipe-workings to be described later.
Continuing along the main level the height decreases until it becomes necessary to crawl through an area of shattered rock and at survey point 15 a way off to the right leads into a small chamber and an incline up from here leads back over the Main level to end at a small, shallow, winze down into a small worked-out pocket. Back down in the main level a small chamber is reached after a further 15 ft. and the main way on turns to the north-west from here. A very low incline leads up for 12 ft. to where it is then possible to stand up again and here one is at the base of a 10 ft. rise that gives access into a very large, but low, natural bedding chamber. At the far end of this bedding chamber a semi-collapsed winze goes down for 15 ft. but it is choked at the bottom.
Returning back to the main level a junction is reached after a further 12 ft. The passage straight ahead soon veers round to the left to terminate in a small pocket whilst the main level leads off to the left at the junction and drops down a shallow winze to become a low crawl once again. After 30 ft. the passage again opens up in height and shortly a level is reached on the left and this can be followed for 43 ft. to where it ends at a run-in.
Back at the start of this latter passage a loose bank of clay can be climbed over and this gives access into a low drainage level that becomes too tight to follow after 50 ft. The bulk of the water enters through a shattered area of loose blocks on the left-hand side of the passage and this level is found to be heading directly towards the shaft in field no. 231 and known to the group as Lickpenny 2. The water encountered in the level is no doubt the same as that met with in Lickpenny 2 as there, it disappears near the shaft. The water flows down the level and disappears into a pack and is not met with again in the accessible workings explored but it no doubt eventually goes via Wills Founder Mine to the Yatestoop Sough. No other workings of any importance were met with along here and so a return back to the junction at survey point 9 is necessary to proceed any further into workings in the mine.
The Working From Survey Point 9
By climbing up the 5 ft. high step at the junction at survey point 9 a small passage leads forward for 113 ft. at which point a level is reached on the left-hand side. This level leads for 20 ft. to a blind heading in a small pocket. Continuing straight ahead in the passage from survey point 9 the passage again steps up over a 3 ft. high step to emerge at a complex junction with four ways leading off. The first of these is to the extreme right and this passage leads over a floor of packed deads and closes down in height but a tight squeeze leads through into a small chamber with a small semi-backfilled working on the right-hand side and the main passage ends in a further 12 ft. at a blind heading.
The second way on is to the right and straight ahead and here a small passage inclines up for 34 ft. to end at a blind heading almost directly over the passage previously mentioned.
The third way on is directly straight ahead but this passage has been almost completely choked with back-filled deads but the far end of this passage may be reached via an alternative route through the 260 ft. pipe-works and this is described later.
The fourth and final way on is to the left and this passage leads to the head of a shallow winze in a small chamber after 11 ft. From this chamber two ways out can be taken. The first of these leads off across the chamber and enters a second chamber in the 260 ft. pipe-works and is more fully described later. The second way on leads off from the bottom of the 6 ft. deep winze as a small level some 3 ft. high by 2 ft. 6 ins. wide for a distance of 7 ft. at which point it enters a large worked-out pocket and the dimensions increase to 10 ft. high by 7 ft. wide. On the right-hand side a small passage leads off into a working on the pipe vein. 15 ft. beyond this chamber the passage emerges at a ‘T’ junction into a sough passage and from this junction the sough passage leads off to both left and right (north, and south respectively).
The Sough Passage
By taking the left-hand passage (north) from 'the junction and following the small stream of water down-dip brings one to another junction after 33 ft. Here the main passage continues straight ahead but the sough water flows off along a small passage on the left to re-emerge from the top of a pack in the entrance passage near the shaft as noted earlier. To stop the water from flowing straight ahead at the junction a small clay dam has been constructed across the width of the level. Continuing straight ahead over the dam a small working is reached on the right-hand side and this consists of a worked-out pocket and small passage running parallel to the main level. The main level continues forward from here to finally end at a collapse after a further 16 ft. Here, at the fall, a strong draught can be detected and when plotted out onto the survey this fall is only some 20 ft. from the base of the entrance shaft and there can be no doubt that at one time it connected through to there. No other way on was found from down here.
Returning now back up the sough and continuing beyond the junction with the passage back to the winze another important junction is met with on the right-hand side. The passage that leads off to the right from here leads through a series of pipe-works and will be described later, but first it is necessary to describe the continuation of the sough.
Continuing straight ahead up the sough the passage soon opens out in both height and width and leads up over a. steep incline of rubble with water splashing down over this. The water can be followed for 25 ft. at which point one is at the far end of this large chamber and here the water emerges through the debris of a major collapse. The way on out of this chamber is found on the right-hand side and along this passage everything was encrusted in a thin coating of flowstone and a number of small nests of cave pearls were also found along here. At 65 ft. from the last chamber one enters a shattered area and the way on straight ahead has been blocked by a fall.
The way on now is to climb up a steep incline of rubble on the left and this gives access into a. small passage that leads off to the southeast for 15 ft. to emerge once again back in the sough. To the left the passage soon closes down until it becomes too tight to follow but by referring to the survey this can be seen to be heading back towards the major collapse at the top of the large chamber. To the right a passage runs parallel with the sough for 17 ft. before turning to the left to rejoin the sough passage.
Following the sough passage upstream one enters a roomy working and on the top of a pack on the left left-hand side of the passage the remains of an old sieve was found. Two ways lead on out of the pocket, one straight ahead following the sough upstream and the second leads off to the left.
The passage straight ahead is a low arch that leads to a further junction after a few feet and here the sough water enters from a small passage on the left. Continuing forward for a further 15 ft. brings one to the end of this level but it is possible to ascend a rise at this point and this leads up for a total of about 20 ft., partially as an incline, to give access into a large natural chamber. This chamber is 60 ft. long and near the middle, on the left-hand side, an incline leads off down back into the main workings near the buddle, described later. Continuing along the chamber to the far end a steep slope of loose rubble and clay marks the end of the chamber but from the top of this access can be made into a completely natural washed-out fissure leading off to the east. This fissure extends for about 40 ft. before closing in and no other way on was found from here.
Returning back to the junction in the chamber where the sieve was found and taking the left-hand branch out of here brings one into a low, but wide, working. Shortly a passage on the right takes the sough water and this passage was noted in the description of the previous level. Also at this point a rither of rock divides the passage into two parallel ways and in the east wall of the left-hand passage a small coffin level leads back up-dip to the point where the other two passages re-unite. A narrow passage now follows for 17 ft. passing a small semi-backfilled level on the left before emerging from over a step to bring one into a low chamber, and here was the best find of all. In the chamber was an almost complete buddling system consisting of a buddle some 3 ft. square and constructed of stone lined with wood, two shovels, a pick, a sieve, a small scraper, and numerous pieces of iron and the handles of a corfe (see Figs. 7 & 8). On the left-hand side of the chamber a large quantity of dressed and washed fines consisting mainly of barytes has been disposed of by tipping it down the incline of a large passage that leads back to the north for 20 ft. to end at a blind heading.
Two ways lead on from the buddle, both to the south, the right-hand passage leads up an incline to emerge in the middle of the large natural chamber as mentioned earlier whilst the left-hand passage is the continuation of the sough. This passage leads for 90 ft. to small workings on the left and right-hand sides of the level and just beyond here the height reduces until it becomes a wet, muddy crawl that extends for 60 ft. before opening up into a roomy chamber. At the far end of this chamber a large pack of deads and rubble marks the end of the accessible workings and here the water issues from a narrow crack above the large pack of deads. No other way on was found along this section of the mine and so a return was made, right back along the sough, to the junction mentioned earlier as leading off into pipe-workings.
Fig. 7. The stone buddle with the remains of the wood lining. Pete Forster with survey notebook and tape
Fig. 8. Alan Steele at the stone buddle displayed with Sieve and shovels
The 260 ft. Pipe Workings
By taking the passage off to the southwest from this junction leads us through an area of small semi-backfilled pockets that lead off from the main passage, The main level for its complete length is clear of debris on the floor and this is perhaps just as well as it is rarely possible to stand up for any distance and almost all of the level has to be traversed as a hands and knees crawl. The first of the pockets leads off to the right (northwest) and shortly doubles back to the left to incline down very steeply to terminate in a flooded working of unknown extent. Continuing up the main level a semi-backfilled working is passed on the left and this is shortly followed by two more small workings, one on each side of the main level. The fifth way off is on the right-hand side and this one is more important as it leads through a small pocket to an opening on the right that gives access into the chamber that was briefly described earlier in the notes as being along the first passage from the chamber at the winze. Access can be made from here back to the winze. Also in this chamber a second way on leads off to the southwest as a steep incline at the top of which is a two-way junction. The passage to the right here is the almost completely backfilled passage that has been noted earlier whilst the way to the left leads up through a tight hole into a further large pocket and the way on out of here leads to the east to rejoin the main level from the too of a large pack some 6 ft. from the start of the fifth way off from here the main level inclines up very steeply until after 30 ft. a passage leads off to the right and this is the main way on as the straight ahead continuation of the main passage closes down as it enters a backfilled pocket. Turning right at the last junction and passing two small backfilled pockets leads after 13 ft. into a small chamber and here the main way on is straight ahead but another passage leads out of this chamber and will be described first. This second passage leads off to the south up a steep incline and is a low passage that leads for 30 ft. to a quite roomy pocket on the left-hand side. Straight ahead the size of the passage becomes even more constricted until after a further 25 ft. the level is blocked by a collapse but here a very unstable rise gives access into a natural chamber and this chamber is more easily reached from a rise in the pocket previously mentioned. Returning back along the level to the pocket encountered on the left. this pocket has a low semi-backfilled passage leading off at its northern end and by referring to the survey this can be seen to be heading towards the backfilled area of the main level described earlier.
By climbing up a fairly loose pack of deads in the pocket access can be made via a tight rise up into the large natural chamber mentioned previously. Going south through this chamber one comes to the head of the unstable rise that leads back down into the bottom level, mentioned earlier. Continuing beyond here the floor inclines up steeply and leads into a further roomy chamber with a low passage leading off down an incline on the left-hand side. Straight ahead the passage becomes much narrower and by squeezing between the left-hand wall and a huge boulder access can be made into a lofty chamber. From this chamber a further way on leads back to the northwest. Continuing straight on to the south through this chamber brings one to a large collapse and here the debris is cemented together with a coating of flowstone but a tight Squeeze leads over the top of this fall and gives access into a natural pocket that resembles the base of a shaft. At the far side of the fall the top of a passage can be seen and this may be a continuation of the level out of the chamber but it is impossible to gain access into this without much digging and this was not attempted. Returning to the northern end of the chamber and taking the second way on, to the northwest, this leads down steeply as a passage of quite large dimensions and drops down a 5 ft. step after 25ft. Continuing along this level for a further 60 ft. brings us into a shattered chamber and this is the end of the passage as no way out could be found, though no doubt a connection down into the main level existed at one time as this chamber is directly above the main level.
Returning now back to the chamber in the main level the way on continues to the southwest as a. hands and knees crawl and in 30 ft. a sharp turn to the right leads into a backpacked area on the left. The main level meanders through this area until a passage is reached on the left-hand side. This passage, on the left leads for 20 ft. to where a very unstable pack had partially collapsed making any further progress extremely hazardous. A decision was taken to drop the pack completely and to re-dig out the passage. This action was taken and the continuation of the passage from here passes through some very shattered ground and emerges into a lofty working with pockets leading off from the top of a 6 ft. high step. Continuing straight ahead the passage continues for approximately a further 60 ft. before it is finally blocked by a wall of deads that has been built across the level and the point reached here is about at the base of the open shaft known to the group as Lickpenny 2. Shortly before the wall is reached a low working leads off to the left but this has not been fully explored.
Returning now back to the main level and continuing for 6 ft. beyond the junction with the passage just described, one enters a very large natural bedding chamber. This chamber is aligned roughly northwest-southeast and extends for 75 ft. in length along its axis and is an average of 20 ft. wide by 8-10 ft. high. The floor is composed of huge slabs at all angles. At its northwest end a steep incline leads down into a large pocket and a shallow winze leads down from here into a small working of no significance. The way on is to the north from the pocket and this leads to the head of an extremely steep and constricted incline that leads down into the 260 ft. main southwest passage at survey point 13 and the way on back to the shaft from here has already been described in earlier notes.
A number of interesting features were noted in this mine, quite apart from the buddle and tools etc., that gives an insight into the mineralization of the Winster area pipe-works and the methods of mining in the 18th century. Whilst a study of the survey will reveal that there are three distinct sets of workings ranging along northwest southeast trending veins what is not so apparent is that most of what appears to have been the richest workings in the mine, i.e. the most worked, are located more or less immediately below, or near, a natural chamber. Whilst nearly all of the passages encountered in this mine, with the exception of the 200 ft. coffin level are of very small dimensions making it necessary to proceed on hands and knees through the main access routes to the various wordings. These access routes are remarkably clear of stones on the floor and it would appear that the miners ensured that these main ways were kept clear.
Members of the 'North Staffs Mining Club'. Left to Right, Alan Steele, Pete Swindells, Derek Heald & Pete Forster. 1976. Photo: Alan Steele ©