Water and vertical territory: the volatile and hidden historical geographies of Derbyshire’s lead mining soughs, 1650s–1830s

Endfield, Georgina H. and Van Lieshout, Carry (2020). Water and vertical territory: the volatile and hidden historical geographies of Derbyshire’s lead mining soughs, 1650s–1830s. Geopolitics, 25(1) pp. 65–87.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14650045.2018.1486299

Abstract

This paper is concerned with the complex subterranean politics of lead mining in the Derbyshire Peak District. We focus specifically on the implications of lead mining ‘soughs’ – underground channels driven to drain water out of mines to allow for mineral extraction. Built during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, soughs were substantial, capital and labour intensive projects which served a key function in the refashioning of subterranean and surface hydrological landscapes. They were ‘driven’ at a time when water was both a major hindrance to mining endeavour and the primary energy source for industrial expansion, such that historical disputes surrounding sough drainage were common. Here, we draw on unpublished historical legal records to explore the ways in which vertical conceptualisations of space were central to the legal discourse over soughs and extend the so called ‘vertical turn’ in geography to include subterranean proto-historical landscapes. Drawing on a high profile conflict between English entrepreneur Richard Arkwright and Conservative politician Francis Hurt, we go some way to addressing recent claims for more ethnographic detail in studies of verticality by considering the people who legally and physically negotiated sough development below as well as above ground. We also illustrate the range of temporalities which framed sough developments and highlight the cross-generational nature of the legal disputes over soughs and the productive landscapes they drained.

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