DCC website



NGR: SK 13555276

history  |  mine levels  |  natural cave  |  tackle  |  survey

The Mine is situated between Alstonfield and Ilam, at the rear of Hill Tops farm, Ilam Tops. The shaft head itself is fenced and marked by obvious mining mounds. The following is an incomplete history of the mine.


The shaft proper is probably unique in Derbyshire, measuring 8' x 6' and descending at a constant gradient of 45?, with an extended length of 400 ft. The shaft bears resemblance to mining techniques used in Cornwall. The shaft was sunk, possibly in the early 1840s, by the Ilam Mining company, at one point breaking into natural caverns. Whether the miners had gained access to the natural cave is uncertain (no evidence supports this view at the present time), but either with luck or good management, the miners successfully sunk the shaft in the right place. Beyond the natural cave the main shaft continues until reaching its 400 ft length and a depth of 300 ft. At this point two levels were driven at right angles to the main shaft. This stage seems to have been reached round about 1846-47 as there is recorded in the archives an estimate for extending the mine; whether this refers to the last section of main shaft or the bottom levels is unclear, but ?900 to ?1000 would be needed, and a time of 10 months in which to complete the work.

The miners were after Copper but Galena was also found in reasonable quantities, even being found intermingled. The lodes in the earlier levels yielded 25 to 30% Copper ore but as the lower levels were driven, the lodes started to yield 30 to 35%. Production was increased by the middle of 1847 and considerable amounts of copper carbonate and galena were extracted as they worked the lower levels, hitting richer pockets all the time. Things were looking rosy.

Around about the same period, Browns shaft had been sunk, but those workings suffered excessive water seepage. So towards the end of 1847 plans were put into operation to drive a level or crosscut from Robins to Browns shaft in order to alleviate the problem. (In fact reports to the company at the time, stated that it would only be a matter of time, before the two would be connected.) As work progressed water seepage started to affect the lower levels of Robins mine too, and taken as an indication of how close they were to Browns shaft, but a report from Browns shaft indicated that there had been no improvement at all in the water level.

By the end of 1847 another problem had arisen, that of bad air, so wooden ducting was installed down the main shaft and along the bottom levels. However this seems to have been insufficient, and by now the water problem was even greater.

Whether it was these problems which closed the mine or lack of finance to solve them is uncertain, but by the middle of 1848 the mine had ceased operation and the mines removable assets were auctioned off

Over successive years the tenants of the land proceeded to use the shaft as their own personal corporation tip, dumping down it everything from dead cows to cars, intermingled with assorted household rubbish.

It was in this condition that in August 1980, Colin Darroch started to dig out the shaft aided by Pete Lee, and within the space of five weekends had managed to dig a route over the top of the rubbish and gained entry to the mine. A brief flurry of exploration followed, aided by a number of club members. Through 1981, clearing of the shaft head of all the rubbish was made the first priority, until by the autumn of 1981 proper descents could be undertaken in reasonable safety.


There are three main levels at depths of 100 ft, 180 ft and 300 ft as well as one or two minor levels. The rest of the mine consists of enlarged natural passages. The bottom level at a depth of 300 ft is the most interesting but at the time of writing this level was sealed off due to debris which built up during the clearing of the entrance. The floor of the bottom level is flooded with an average depth of 18 inches of smelly silt and water, but in two places the water exceeds this depth by about 6 ft and there could possibly be flooded levels going off at angles.

Miners tools have been found in the mine and remnants of the wooden ducting can still be seen in the bottom levels. A wheelbarrow was also found although thoroughly rotten.


From the cavers? point of view, the natural cave is by far the most important aspect of the mine. The depth potential is approx. 600 ft from surface to the floor of the Manifold valley, that being the direction in which the system seems to trend.

The cave itself is old fossilised phreatic passage, with no active stream anywhere, entered along its length by fine high avens, most of which have been scaled and reach to an average approximate height of 150 ft. This height seems to correspond to the mined level half way down the main shaft. The main passage itself must have been very active itself, as seen by the scalloped walls and large phreatic domes. The main stream responsible for the cave appears to have entered the system from the east down a passage which is now boulder choked. The possibility of a natural entrance to the system is further enhanced by the existence of a cave on surface. This cave is situated in a quarry, about 200 yards to the south east of the mine entrance, and descends 10 ft and ends in a glacial choke. If entrance could be gained from this cave, it could give us a natural cave depth of 275 feet, by far the deepest in the area. Extending the cave further is also a possibility, however this may involve quite a bit of work as the miners used the natural passage as a dumping ground for waste material.


1st pitch 70 ft ladder or handline to head of second pitch.

2nd pitch 275 ft - 300 ft rope or ladder to the bottom or rigged to 200 ft rope or ladder and traverse to metal spike for 70 ft pitch

3rd pitch 100 ft handline useful for the extension of the main shaft

4th pitch 50 ft handline: or ladder for loose natural shaft.

PLAN:  Plan of Robin's Shaft            ELEVATION:  Elevation of Robin's Shaft

Based on an article compiled by P Boardman in 1982 for DCC Newsletter No 5.