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Geoscientist Online

Delving along the Derwent: A history of 200 quarries and the people who worked them

Delving along the Derwent coverDelving along the Derwent is a collection of geological and historical information connected to quarrying and related industries that grew up along the River Derwent between Derby and Matlock. This area is now recognised as a World Heritage Site for the role it played in the industrial revolution and the birth of the factory system, made possible by its geology. This provided a ready availability of limestone, sandstone, minerals and coal, coupled with the power of the River Derwent.

The area has also been an important source of building stone, grindstones for mills, agricultural lime, pottery clay and lead ore since pre-Roman times, but the bulk of the information is about the post-1700 industrial history. The network of canals and railways that grew up alongside these industries to transport goods and raw materials are also included, as well as geological sites.

An outline of the Carboniferous geological history explains why there is such as concentration of strategic raw materials in this area. The book is split into two sections; the Sandstone Zone in the south and east of the area dominated by the Millstone Grit with parts of the Westphalian and Triassic, and the Limestone Zone in the north of the area in which the Carboniferous Limestone Grit crops out.

In each area, there is a comprehensive account of all the quarries and works, covering the methods of extraction, treatment, transport, uses and markets for each rock type in each area. There are also numerous historical maps, plans and photographs of many quarries while they were still in operation. There is also a wealth of information about the people who owned and worked the quarries, the history of ownership and their disputes.

This is a book to be dipped into and will make an essential companion to a geologically-inclined visitor to the Peak District. The few downsides include the cross referencing which could have done with a bit more editing and although there isn’t a reference list, there is a section detailing all the sources of information.

On the other hand, you get the impression that every possible fact about every possible geologically relevant industrial site has been relentlessly tracked down and extracted from historical records as efficiently as the sandstone and limestone have been extracted from the various quarries. If this isn’t a comprehensive account of the industrial history of this part of Derbyshire, I don’t know what is.

Reviewed by Peter Gutteridge 

DELVING ALONG THE DERWENT: A HISTORY OF 200 QUARRIES AND THE PEOPLE WHO WORKED THEM by Ian Thomas et al., 2019. Published by: Gomer Press, 191 pp. pbk. Further information: ianathomas2@gmail.com