Dish given to Wirksworth court by Henry VIII goes on display for first time

A bronze dish presented to a historic Wirksworth institution by King Henry VIII, and now owned by the Queen, has been returned to the town to go on public view for the first time ever.

Wirksworth Heritage Centre’s new exhibition ‘Digging for grey gold, lead mining traditions’ tells the story of the Barmote Court, which served to regulate the local lead mining industry since at least 1288 and the reign of Edward I.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a standard dish which can hold around 38.5 kilograms of lead ore, and was used for testing the volume of miners’ own wooden dishes against a regulation model.

Jacqueline Ferguson-Lee, chair of trustees for the centre, said “We were absolutely thrilled to hear the announcement of the loan of the dish which was announced publicly in the Barmote Court on April 27 this year. Particularly so, as it can now form part of the Queen’s jubilee celebrations.”

The bronze dish has been part of Wirksworth's mining traditions for more than 500 years.

At the time of the court’s creation, anybody was allowed to set up as a miner and extract lead ore, but duties – known as lot and cope – were payable on all ore mined.

The court collect those taxes on behalf the crown and settled disputes between lead miners and landowners, as well as ruling on minor cases such as trespass and theft.

The heavy dish was presented to the court in 1512 and was in use for several centuries as the industry evolved around it.

Until about ten years ago, the dish was stored at the Moot Hall, on Chapel Lane, where the court sat. It has since been housed securely at Chatsworth on behalf of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Queen’s private estate.

The standard dish was on a wishlist of exhibits when Wirksworth Heritage Centre museum opened in 2019.

There are two barmote courts, one at Monyash covering the High Peak, and one at Wirksworth covering the Low Peak. In 1814, the Monyash court moved to Wirksworth, and since 1994, the two have met together, once a year, in April.

The courts still have legal powers but meetings are now mostly ceremonial affairs, traditionally involving bread, cheese, clay pipes and tobacco – although it could be called upon at any time.

The exhibition will runs for six months. The heritage centre, on St John Street, is open 9am to 4pm every day but Monday and Wednesday.

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