For hundreds of years, Dronfield merchants cornered the market in the lead trade thanks to the indomitable efforts of the miners and smelters who helped them make their fortunes.
Now, as part of the Dronfield Arts Festival, the story of the Derbyshire lead trade is being told in a specially written and commissioned musical drama/documentary called Merchants of Fortune.
Subtitled How Dronfield Led the World in Lead, the show is at Dronfield Civic Hall following the festival and starting May 16.
The production is by Dronfield Musical Theatre Group in association with Dronfield Hall Barn and also features local folk band Scuppered.
The history of lead mining in Derbyshire goes back to at least Roman times and Merchants of Fortunes captures the entrepreneurial spirit of all those who made Derbyshire a global player.
Set in the winter of 1699 and moving through to May Day 1700, it tells the story of two Dronfield families – the Rotherhams and the Burtons as they vied with each other for lead trade supremacy.
Writer and director of the show is Dronfield Heritage Trust chairman Alan Powell. He said: “The story of the lead trade, from mining and smelting, to selling, is an amazing one. Conditions in the mines were harsh and smelting was a dangerous occupation as well. In those days, nothing was known about the toxic effect of lead and the average lifespan of a miner was only 32.
“In the show, we demonstrate the trials and tribulation of ordinary folk and contrast that with the comfortable lives of the merchants who built the Manor House (now the Library) and The Hall on High Street.”
Alan added: “Dronfield was a vital mid-point between the Derbyshire lead mines, the smelting mills and the (then) port of Bawtry.
“The score of the production is mainly folk-song based and we are fortunate to have Scuppered taking part with us. Some of the songs are local to Derbyshire and there will be an appearance of the famed Derby ram.”
Alan says he is much indebted to the late Professor David Hey, former Patron of The Barn, whose research for his book The Houses of the Lead Merchants of Dronfield provided invaluable source material for the production.
Alan said: “David’s book was the inspiration for the story. His meticulous research has the sort of detail vital to make the script work.”
*Merchants of Fortune is at Dronfield Civic Hall on Wednesday May 16, Thursday May 17, Friday May 18 at 7.30 and a Sunday May 20 matinee at 2.30. (Note no performance on Saturday 19th) Tickets: 01246 416364 or hand in a booking form at The Barn