Barmote Court, Wirksworth – Derbyshire

For further information and opening times see Barmote Court, Wirksworth

The ancient Barmote Courts of Wirksworth have regulated mining in the local area for over 700 years.

The historic town of Wirksworth lies in the Honor of Tutbury, confiscated from the rebel Earl of Derby and given to Edmund, 1st Earl of Lancaster, in 1265. As an area with important mineral resources, it was an estate of great value.

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. Throughout the ages mining in this area seems to have maintained a large body of workers in comparative comfort and with a much wider degree of independence than was found elsewhere.

In 1288 Edward I ordered an inquisition into the local practice of mining to be held at Ashbourne. Two Barmote Courts were set up, one at Moyneash for the High Peak and the other at Wirksworth for the Low Peak. They were established to regulate and administer the mining equivalent of the civil magistrates’ courts, and deal with small cases such as trespass and theft. The word ‘barmote’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘bergh’ (mountain), and ‘mote’ (assembly).

By the beginning of the fifteenth century Great Barmote Courts were also sitting, usually at Easter and Michelmas. These courts were empowered to adjudicate on much wider and more serious issues; they consisted of 24 jurors, presided over by the Barmaster and a Steward.

In 1773 the first Moot Hall at Wirksworth was built in the market place by the direction of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Today Wirksworth holds the only remaining Barmote Courts in existence. The High Peak Barmote Court was set up under an Act of 1851, and the Wirksworth Barmote Court by an Act of 1852. They have met in the Moot Hall in Wirksworth since 1814.

Since 1994, the Barmote Courts have met once a year, in April. The Grand Jury is formed of twelve members resident within the jurisdiction of the Court in the High Peak or working within Wirksworth. They sit before a miners’ standard dish, made in the reign of Henry VIII, and originally used for testing the miners’ wooden dishes against the regulation model. At meetings, bread, cheese, clay pipes and tobacco are still provided.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is now responsible for the appointment of the Steward and the Barmaster on behalf of The Queen in Right of Her Duchy. The Queen also has the title Lord of the Field and a member of the Duchy office attends the court in Her place. The Duchy is not involved in the actual running of the Courts.