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Abandoned cobalt mine rediscovered with ‘time capsule’ of artefacts

An abandoned Cobalt mine from the early 19th century has been rediscovered at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, England, containing a ‘time capsule’ of artefacts left behind by the workers.
Ed Coghlan of the Derbyshire Caving Club said: “To find a mine in pristine condition, together with such personal objects and inscriptions, is rare. It is a compelling window into the past and to the last day when the mine workers stopped their activities.”

Mining in Alderley Edge dates to the prehistoric period, with large scale cobalt extraction occurring during the early 19th century because of the Napoleonic Wars.

Cobalt was used for the blue colouring in pottery and glass, as well as a blue pigment in many famous paintings, but with the UK market returning to imports for the raw material, the Alderley Edge mine was subsequently abandoned in 1810.

The National Trust took ownership of the mine which has been leased to the Derbyshire Caving Club since the 1970s. For the past 50 years, the club has been searching for previously unexplored areas, discovering the abandoned cobalt mine in 2021.

Since then, a detailed study has been undertaken, revealing a ‘time capsule’ of leather shoes, clay pipes, a metal button from a jacket, along with mining machinery and inscriptions written in candle soot.

The inscriptions show the initials “WS” – with the date of the 20th August 1810. Other basic initials and numbers have also been found in ‘cribs’ or rest areas, as if the miners had been learning and practicing their writing.

Also uncovered was a clay bowl buried in a wall, a practice that may have been followed by superstitious miners as an offering of thanks for a good vein of mineral. Other discoveries include clearly defined fingerprints in clay used to hold candles, and the imprint of corduroy from a worker’s clothing where he leaned against a wall.