Vein minerals from the Derbyshire orefileds have been extracted and processed for lead from Roman to present times. The importance of the industry can be judged by the fact that the miners petitioned Edward I to give proper legal standing to the rules governing the extraction of lead, which he did in 1288. Essentially the same rules have remained in place since, though they were amended by Acts of Parliament in Victorian times. Early extraction methods were usually by quarrying from the surface or by driving horizontal shafts (levels) into the hillside where a rake crossed a valley – as at the Nestus Mine in Matlock Bath. By the 18th century deep shafts were being dug and the workings usually would extend horizontally along the vein from these shafts. The miners would descend the mine by a ‘climbing shaft’ which consisted of a number of short vertical shafts with wooden stakes to climb down and short horizontal levels between the sections of the shaft. Ore would be hauled out via a single deep shaft using a horse ‘gin’ or taken out via a level or even via a canal.
Even up to the mid-19th century the methods used were very crude and usually the ore was dug out by pick and shovel. It was not uncommon for miners to hack out narrow passages between veins by hand using a pick, and these were known as ‘coffin’ levels from their cross-section shape. The miners would access improbable positions to extract ore, often hammering a wooden stake (stemple) across a vein, climbing onto it and hammering in another higher up, and so on. The heyday of lead mining in the Peak was the 18th century, which saw the greatest volume of ore recovered and major new veins opened up, as it attested by the number of lead mines shown on this 18th century Ordnance Survey map. From 1850 lead mining declined. The price of lead went down and the richest veins in the area had largely been worked out, so only a handful of mines survived into the 20th century.
Watersaw Mine, which is actually the second adit of the Sallet Hole Mine is a relative newcomer to the club. Sallet Hole Mine only opened in 1965 and was originally owned by Laporte Minerals, who had bough Glebe Mines in 1959. Laporte worked the Sallet Hole Mine for fluorspar lead barytes. In 1987 after persistent tunnelling, Watersaw linked up with the lower Sallet Hole Mine (adit 1) and it then took over as the main haulage route after Sallet Hole closed. Watersaw mine consisted of an east and west ramp. The shorter east ramp was worked until around 2009. The longer west ramp which was linked to Sallet Hole no.1 adit was worked until the mine closed in December 2010.