Belfry Bulletin

Search Our Site

Article Index


Helictite Well, Shipham. (N.G.R. 440557332).

by Mark Ireland

Chris Richards and Marie Clarke explored the wells and mines in Shipham in the 1970’s.  It was recorded in the ACG Journal, No.7, 1972. The writer advises the reader to read this article in conjunction with the Journal mentioned above.

The writer discussed with Chris Richards about the open mines and wells in Shipham and why the choked shafts were not recorded.  The discussion came to Helictite Well, which was a very unusual well system.  It was agreed to find out what was below the rubbish choke in the well shaft, concerning where the pipe leads to. Chris thought it might be connected to one of the houses in the village.

After consulting the landowners and getting permission from them to explore Helictite Well, on 5th May 2003 I located the shaft, which had an old-fashioned man hole cover, which was seized up.  The writer spent some time removing it and exploring the well system and it was amazing to see the work that was put into it.

It was dry stoned all the way down the shaft (known as ginging - a Derbyshire mining term or steining - a well sinker s term) for 10.6 metres and still continuing, with an Upper Gallery and Lower Gallery built just off the bottom in a southerly direction and also built dry stone with flagstones acting as lintels.  It was a well thought out construction that must have taken some time to construct and also have been a costly project.

The Upper Gallery is 0.45m wide and 0.9m high and roughly 5.4m long, with the first part stone walled and linteled with flagstones.  This leads into the Lower Gallery through a flagstone that has been moved to the side, the flagstone was a ceiling of the Lower Gallery 1.2m high and 0.6m wide, and runs back north towards the shaft.

The water level is 5cm high. On further inspection it is a reservoir, as all along the passage, which is again stonewalled, the bottom half is mortared, possibly old lime (lime based concrete?) and the top half is dry stoned.  There is a dam at the shaft end and situated at the base of the dam is a lead pipe 5cm in diameter, which has slotted holes on top of the pipe, which acts as drainage. Around the base of the dam surrounding the lead pipe is clay which was brought into the well as a sealing compound.

Over the next few trips, especially after the rain, I observed that the water level rises up to halfway up the Lower Gallery and it works well as a reservoir.  There is a slot on the dam wall halfway up which looks into the shaft, and it once worked as an overflow.  When the heavy rain overfills the reservoir (Lower Gallery) the water rises too high.

It is amazing that the system is still operating after all these years even though the shaft has been partially filled.  I did a smoke test into the shaft to see whether there was any draught - none!

The rubbish choke was dug out of the shaft on the 18th May 2003 and over a period of 8 trips.  There was 0.6m deep of earth spoil and rubbish before reaching the rocks, which could be seen from the slot in the Lower Gallery. 

The rubbish consisted of:

  • broken Nescafe coffee jar and Nescafe lid label
  • metal strip bent over itself
  • black china top lid
  • earthenware bowl
  • flat red marl rock with iron corroded on to it




It appears that the infilling was done in the 1950s as there are no signs of previous or later infilling.

As the rocks were removed, the Lower Gallery came into view with the slot in the back of the dam 0.7m away from the shaft.  There was water in the shaft and after a period of dry weather the water level dropped enabling the removal of rocks as I went deeper.

With the rocks removed, the opening of the shaft into the Lower Gallery is 0.55m wide and narrows to the slot, which is 0.4m wide.  The flagstone lintel ceiling partially collapsed above the dam and an opening appeared which is between the Upper and Lower Galleries.  Beware when entering the Upper Gallery.  The opening is 1.2m cubed and is in old red sandstone.

The floor of the shaft is now silted with gravel and old red sandstone from the collapse; it was there that a rusted, corroded chain link was found.  After all of this was cleared there were flagstones 22cm wide across the length of the shaft from the dam.  The removal of the flagstones showed the old stone culvert 15cm wide and deep, squared.  In the centre of the stone culvert is the lead pipe, which is the same one that was seen from the Lower Gallery, and the pipe continues through the shaft.  There is a joint connection of the pipes.

Mr George Thiery told me that, as a young boy, he remembered seeing a lead tap at the back of the Court House - which he was told was connected to the well.  But on further inspection one wonders whether the stone culvert, which now is 1104 metres down from the top of the shaft, was constructed possibly all the way to the Court House.  Was it built to protect the lead pipe or was the lead pipe put into a previously constructed stone culvert?

On the 1841 tithe map the field in which the Helictite Well is situated and the field below were respectively an orchard and ruins.  The ruins may have been a cottage of an older generation and may also have had a well. The present Court House was rebuilt in the 1890’s and this could be when the lead pipe was put in.

Trips: 8 Buckets: 46

Helpers: Shane Ireland

Alison Cromwell (ACG)