George Sorocold
Mines and estates
Alongside water supply, river navigation and water power schemes, Sorocold carried out significant water management schemes in relation to mining and on the private estates of the rich and influential.
His first recorded links with mining are a number of petitions he made to the King with an associate called George Grigson, asking that positions linked to the lead mines at Wirksworth, Derbyshire, be assigned to them. One petition, which can be found in the Treasury Records for 29/3/1697, reads as follows:
Same to same of the petition of Geo. Sorocold and Geo. Grigson shewing that Charles II directed the Trustees of the then Queen, now Queen Dowager, to make leases to Ralph Freeman and Ralph Prowse of the Lott and Cope and Barmaster's place for 31 years being a duty and office arising out of the lead mines of Wirksworth, Co. Derby, at the rent of 146[pounds]. 13s. 4d. per an. which said leases are in trust for a Popish Recusant and besides are in themselves actually void; therefore praying a privy seal to the said Trustees to make two leases, one to Sorocold of the office of Barmaster for 3 years at the rent of 83[pounds]. 6s. 8d. [per an.] the other to Grigson of the Lott and Cope for the like term at 63[pounds]. 6s. 8d. [per an.] and the petitioners will make good the Crown's title at their own charge.
Sorocold was to work on the bells of St Mary's Church in Wirksworth in 1702, and there is evidence of his association with the Wirksworth lead miners in the settling of their tithes. Little is known of the exact extent of his involvement with lead mining, though the connections invite curiosity. It has been suggested that he learnt his trade working on the underground drainage channels of the mines at Wirksworth.
That he must have been knowledgeable about the local lead trade is demonstrated by the detail shown on his map included in the 1698 proposals to Parliament concerning improvements to the navigation of the River Derwent — routes for transporting lead were indicated. It is also known that Sorocold played a part in the late 17th century movement of Derbyshire lead miners to the newly-discovered lead deposits in Flintshire, north-east Wales. His name is found in partnership with several other leading Derbyshire figures with respect to mines in the Halkyn area.
One intriguing episode in Sorocold's life is tied to the Scottish coal mining industry. In 1710, he was employed by Sir John Erskine (1675-1732), to advise on the drainage of Erskine's coal mines near Alloa in Clackmannanshire. Erskine was the 6th Earl of Mar [or 23rd earl from the first creation of the title], also known as Bobbin' Jack for his political inconsistencies.
Sorocold was paid £50 for his advice to Erskine, concerning augmenting the capacity of Gartmorn Dam, which was on Erskine's estate at Alloa. The dam's reservoir provided water power for a number of mines and mills, and Sorocold's work raised its level by over 3m, creating the largest man-made body of water in Scotland at the time. He intended that the extra water would enable the driving of waterwheels for the pumping of the mines.
The main feature of the scheme was a long feeder channel cut from the Black Devon river to the reservoir, the line of which was surveyed by Sorocold. He also designed a weir and sluice at Forest Mill, where the cut began and another feeder stream that led to the mines at Sauchie. Sorocold is thought to have erected at least one waterwheel there. However, it seems the existing pump arrangements remained in operation, perhaps resulting from Erskine's absence — he was involved in the Jacobite Rebellion (1715) and subsequently exiled in France. As mentioned in the last chapter, Sorocold ended up there himself in 1716, trying to contact Erskine, and leaving behind a trail of debt in the Scottish courts.
Sorocold also worked on water management schemes for private estates, and there is much still to be discovered about this side of his career. In an early project, carried out in 1701, he installed a water-powered pump and a heated swimming pool for Sir Godfrey Copley (c.1653-1709) on his estate at Sprotbrough Hall (now demolished), near Doncaster.
In 1703, he was working at Melbourne Hall in south Derbyshire. He raised the level of the mill pond by some 600mm to provide enough water pressure to serve a number of fountains on the estate. It has also been suggested he was involved in water management at Calke Abbey, although no direct evidence has been found.
Interestingly for a water engineer, Sorocold tried his hand at the provision of street lighting. In 1700, an Act of Parliament enabled the "enlightening of the streets" of Norwich by Sorocold and his colleagues Richard Soame and Richard Barry — his partners on the Norwich Waterworks scheme and a number of other projects. So far there is no evidence of Sorocold providing a multi-utility service anywhere else.
Sorocold also took out a patent, the only one in his name, it seems. It was granted on 1st January 1703, for "a new invention by him contrived and found out for cutting and sawing all kinds of boards, timbers and stone and for twisting all kinds of ropes cords and cables by strength of horses, or by water". Presumably, it was water-powered as Sorocold made full use of water wherever possible.
All items by George Sorocold  •  Everything built ... 1658 - 1738
main reference  BDCE1
Sorocold's signature  image courtesy William Salt Library, Stafford

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George Sorocold
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Weir at Forest Mill
The weir at Forest Mill, Clackmannanshire, where the River Black Devon sends it waters into Sorocold's feeder stream to the Gartmorn Dam. The channel still exists, after 300 years, although it is no longer in active use. Sorocold's weir is composed of two U-shaped sections. It was rebuilt in 1835, and is a Category B listed structure.
Photo: photographer unknown
Mill pond at Melbourne Hall
Recent photo of the mill pond at Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire. Sorocold was working here in 1703.
He raised the level of pond by some 600mm to provide water pressure for a number of fountains on the estate.
Photo: Alan Gifford
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