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Posted by: mike on Aug 31, 2013

Category:Transports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

National Tramway Museum, Crich:  London United Tramways 159

The National Tramway Museum, like all good tourist sites, needs novelties to encourage visitors to return repeatedly:  http://www.tramway.co.uk/plan-a-visit/opening-times-prices-2013.

This year’s pride and joy is London United Tramways no 159, built in 1902 and now newly restored after twenty-one years of service in London and fifty-five years as part of a residence in Surrey.

It was originally used on the routes out to Twickenham, Hampton and Hampton Court, where expectations were understandably high, so this W-class tram was one of the LUT’s “Palace cars”, its palatial lower deck fully fitted with the inlaid walnut ceiling, plush carpet, velvet curtains and upholstery and silk tassels instead of leather hanging straps that were thought appropriate for its upper-class passengers.

It was not, as such, a first-class vehicle, simply what the residents expected.  (Liverpool tramways did have first-class trams in which workmen could not ride so that passengers could travel without fear of dirtying their clothes on their fellow passengers’ overalls.  Presumably the LUT didn’t expect workmen in Twickenham and Hampton:  they are, after all, a long way from the docks.)

The National Tramway Museum, in conjunction with the London County Council Tramways Trust and the Arts Council’s Prism Fund [Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Material], has spent £400,000 on bringing 159 back to its glorious original condition.  The original cost in 1902 was £669.

It’s the biggest restoration project the Museum has tackled so far.

The London County Council Tramways Trust’s album of the restoration of 159 shows how much work is needed to turn a recovered tram body back into an operational vehicle:  http://www.lcctt.org.uk/159m.htm.  A smaller but more comprehensive gallery is at http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/transport/trains-and-railways/art392208

Posted by: mike on Jun 1, 2013

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Cromford Canal Bull Bridge Aqueduct (1967)

Bull Bridge Aqueduct, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire (1967)

My journeys to school in the early 1960s were punctuated by a pause on the road through Bull Bridge, near Ambergate in Derbyshire, for the traffic lights that controlled the tight gothic arch of Bull Bridge Aqueduct on the Cromford Canal.

The canal had not been used since before the Second World War and the arch was impossible for any vehicle larger than a single-deck bus.

The A610 road was already a significant link in the 1960s, and would become more important when the Ripley by-pass was opened in 1977.

It was inevitable, therefore, that Jessop and Outram’s tiny road-arch had to go.  It was demolished in 1968 – shortly followed by the adjacent iron-trough aqueduct that had been inserted into the canal when George Stephenson drove the North Midland Railway through in 1839.

Images of the canal at Bull Bridge can be found at http://www.cromfordcanal.info/archives/bullbutt.htm.

In the 1960s no-one in their wildest dreams would have expected the Cromford Canal to be restored, but the Friends of the Cromford Canal plan to return the whole canal to navigation, however long it takes, and so one day an elegant new aqueduct will span the road and the railway, rather like the New Semington Aqueduct (2004) on the Kennet and Avon Canal:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Semington_Aqueduct.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 4, 2013

Category:Taking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Kedleston Bath House

My Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & Hydros guests who didn't think much of Quarndon Spa didn't have the chance to see its upmarket neighbour, the Kedleston Bath House, because it's in the middle of a golf course.

For clients who might scorn the “wretched lodging and entertainment” in the village of Quarndon, Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedleston Hall built the New Inn, now the Kedleston Inn (1761), on the stretch of new turnpike road that enabled him to extend his parkland.

As part of this development Sir Nathaniel built the classical bath house, designed by Jason Harris (Matthew Brettingham’s assistant), over a sulphur spring in Kedleston Park, about half a mile from the Quarndon Spa, with segregated baths and changing rooms divided by a central hall and entered through a recessed portico.  The baths themselves were originally overlooked by a statue of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine.

The Kedleston spring had been recognised by 1730, when Thomas Cox described it as “singular in curing old ulcers and especially the leprosy”.  James Pilkington, in A View of the Present State of Derbyshire... (1789), remarked –

Persons of a weak and relaxed habit have been much benefited by the use of this water.  After drinking it a few days they have found their spirits and strength return in a surprising manner, and in the space of a month a cure has been entirely effected.

By visiting the two nearby springs, visitors had a choice of drinking chalybeate (iron-bearing) or sulphurous waters according to their perceived needs.  Neither sounds a lot of fun.

The bath house, reduced to half its original depth in a 1925 restoration, is particularly difficult to see.  Access to the actual building requires permission (and the key) from the National Trust office at Kedleston Hall.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 2, 2013

Category:Taking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Quarndon Spa

When I took the tour-group on the Derbyshire Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros programme on a whistle-stop tour of the lesser spas of the county, I’d no idea what their expectations might be when we reached Quarndon Spa.

One or two people were a little disappointed with what looks like a Gothic bus-shelter.

In fact, its inconsiderable size is what makes it interesting.  In the days before science gave us ample solutions to many maladies, those who could afford it (or gain charity) would travel long distances and put up with privations in the hope that the mineral qualities of a particular spring would bring relief.

The little chalybeate (iron-bearing) spa at Quarndon was recommended as early as 1663 as “good against vomiting, comforts ye stomach, cures ye ulcers of ye bladder, stopps all fluxes, helps conception, stays bleeding in ye breast and at ye srige”.  (I’ve no idea what “srige” is, but it’s not a typo.)

Daniel Defoe visited in 1727:  “We found the wells, as custom bids us call them, pretty full of company, the waters good, and very physical, but wretched lodging and entertainment.”

The adjacent pub, the Joiner’s Arms, is first recorded in 1702, and was run by one family for nearly three hundred years to 1928.  The last survivor of that family was Miss Helen Hampshire, who died on July 16th 1972, aged 102.

Quarndon lost out in the nineteenth century to nearby Matlock Bath, and to Buxton in the north of the county, because its waters were cold and no railway came near it.

The spring disappeared as a result of successive earthquakes in 1863, 1895, 1903 and 1956, but the pub survives [http://www.pub-explorer.com/olpg/joinersarms/quarndon/index.htm] and the little spa house is maintained by the parish council.

You could easily drive past it without even noticing, yet its history has much to say.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Dec 9, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTaking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Matlock County Hall

County Hall, Matlock (formerly Smedley's Hydro)

Matlock owes its importance as the county town of Derbyshire primarily to two men.

The first, John Smedley (1803-1874), was a local hosiery manufacturer who made a recovery from typhus at the age of forty-three at the newly-opened Ben Rhydding Hydro near Ilkley.  He felt he owed his life to an innovative form of water-cure, hydropathy, a system of baths, compresses and treatments in mineral-free water to expel morbid impurities from the body through “putrescent excrescences”.

He underwent a religious conversion which led him to encourage temperance through the promotion of hydropathic “cures”, which he promoted as an “entirely an original system, not the cold water cure”.

In 1853 he bought a small private medical establishment serving six patients and developed it into the huge Smedley’s Hydro on Matlock Bank.

After his death the business was incorporated as Smedley’s Hydropathic Company Limited, with capital of £25,000.  The buildings were repeatedly extended until by the Edwardian period Smedley’s had 300 bedrooms.

The opulent architecture of Smedley’s Hydro reflects the gradual relaxation of its founder’s strict temperance regime:  tobacco, cards, billiards and dancing were introduced over the years, and the iron-and-glass Winter Garden of 1900 was built with a dance-floor.

What John Smedley had intended as a therapeutic establishment open to all classes gradually became a high-class hotel for those who could afford it:  eventually there was actually a licensed bar on the premises.

The comfort and luxury of Smedley’s in the early twentieth-century was a long way from its founder’s precepts banning “books, newspapers, or tracts of an irreligious character”, visitors or receiving letters on the Sabbath.

The entire building was taken over at the start of World War II and used as the Military School of Intelligence.  Business resumed in 1947, but failed to pick up, and Smedley’s Hydro closed in 1955.

At that point the second “father” of modern Matlock stepped in – Alderman Charles White (1891 -1956), the chairman of Derbyshire County Council, who spotted the opportunity to move the council’s offices from cramped sites in the centre of Derby to a huge empty building nearer the geographical centre of the county.

Smedley’s became County Offices, and in the 1990s was aggrandised as County Hall.  There is a species of rush hour up the bank and across the moors twice a day as hosts of civil servants flit in and out of the town.

Its position as the county town is no doubt the reason why Matlock retained its rail service as a branch-line when the main line to Manchester closed in 1968.  Perhaps it’s also the reason it has a Sainsbury’s.

There’s a particularly well-constructed website of Matlock and Matlock Bath history at http://www.andrewsgen.com/matlock/index.htm.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Dec 7, 2012

Category:Taking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosLife-enhancing experiencesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Matlock Bath Royal Well

Royal Well, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

Driving through the limestone gorge along the A6 through Matlock Bath always has a feeling of being on holiday.

The place has in fact been a resort since the end of the seventeenth century, when a mineral spring on the hillside was developed for the growing fashion for cold-bathing that had already fostered the growth of new spas such as Harrogate, Scarborough and Tunbridge Wells.

This spring still feeds into a grotto at the back of a public car-park that occupies the site of the Old Bath Hotel, latterly the Royal Hotel, which burnt down in 1929.

The New Bath Hotel of 1762-7 remained a hotel where the basement bathing pool is supplied with tepid thermal water from the original spring, until it suddenly closed in July 2012:  http://www.matlockmercury.co.uk/news/local-news/employees-and-guests-face-uncertainty-as-hotel-goes-into-liquidation-1-4731341.

Further along the valley, the Temple Hotel [http://www.templehotel.co.uk] was built in 1786 alongside the Fountain Baths, which had opened eight years previously.

A fourth hotel, known simply as the Hotel or Great Hotel, proved overambitious, and was subdivided in the 1790s into a terrace which became Museum Parade, so named after Mawe’s Old Museum which took over the enormous dining-room.

In days gone by, the appeal of Matlock Bath was that it wasn’t Buxton.  Though Buxton was anything but grand until the 5th Duke of Devonshire tried to turn it into Bath in the late eighteenth century [see Mary, Queen of Scots slept here, Buxton’s Crescent and Duke’s Dome], Matlock Bath, in a dark gorge with hardly any road access, was much more secluded.

Phyllis Hembry, the historian of British spas, described the late eighteenth-century lifestyle:  “…the company...had their meals at 1s each in common ‘in a very sociable manner’;  they dined at 2 pm and had supper at 8 pm and were free to drink as they pleased.  The evening concluded with dancing or card-playing.  Visitors inclined to exercise could take the ferry near the Old Bath, rowed by Walker the boatman, to the other river bank where he had made a Lovers’ Walk.”

Indeed, Dr Hembry relates, when the teenage 5th Duke of Rutland turned up with some friends at the end of the season in 1796 he had the place to himself.

Nowadays the main road runs through the dale, and at weekends it’s the resort of bikers, whose gleaming machines are lined up outside the cafés and chip-shops.  The black leather gear may look intimidating, but you may be sure the people inside are entirely respectable.

Indeed, when my mate Richard bid at a fantasy auction for a ride on a Harley Davison, he found himself whisked off to Matlock Bath for a greasy-spoon breakfast by a hospital consultant.

Priceless.

There’s a particularly well-constructed website of Matlock and Matlock Bath history at http://www.andrewsgen.com/matlock/index.htm.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Nov 20, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Wingfield Station, Derbyshire (1976)

Wingfield Station, Derbyshire (1976)

The 2012 version of the Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list headlines Wingfield Station, Derbyshire of 1840, by Francis Thompson (1808-1895), one of the very first architects to specialise in designing railway buildings:  http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/wingfield-station-derbyshire

The Transport Trust considers that “Francis Thompson's best work was on the North Midland Railway, between Derby and Leeds” [http://www.transportheritage.com/find-heritage-locations.html?sobi2Task=sobi2Details&catid=15&sobi2Id=143], yet all the others have disappeared, apart from one small isolated structure at Chesterfield and his Railway Village, next to the main station in Derby.

Wingfield Station appeared, transformed into a suburban villa, in a supplement to John Claudius Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture.

As long ago as 1950 Christian Barman, author of the pioneer study An Introduction to Railway Architecture, described it as “the most perfect of all station houses”.

Passenger services ceased in 1967, but trains still thunder past twenty-four hours a day:  the North Midland line remains a major trunk route between Sheffield and London, and between the North East and South West of England.

Soon after the station closed to passengers it was bought as a residence, but the passing trains must have made life intolerable.  For several decades the building has simply been left to rot, and lead thefts have led to extensive water damage.

The Victorian Society commentary unequivocally lays the blame for the dire condition of this beautiful little building on neglect by the private owner and negligence by the local planning authority, Amber Valley Council:  “The building has seen too much time go by to wait any longer. The council needs to take action urgently:  compulsory purchase looks to be the only answer.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the national publicity will lead to a burst of energy from a cash-strapped council.

Even more interesting will be the search for a practical use for an elegant station building with too many trains and no passengers.

Posted by: mike on Oct 23, 2012

Category:Transports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

National Tramway Museum, Crich:  Sheffield 189 (1968)

National Tramway Museum, Crich:  Sheffield 189 (running in 1968)

The last time I had a chance to indulge my inner anorak talking to someone from the National Tramway Museum, Crich I made a point of asking why, whenever I visit the museum, I never get the chance to ride on the dignified, elegant Sheffield trams I remember from my childhood.

The superbly restored Sheffield 74 operates quite often, but otherwise the Sheffield vehicles in the collection stay in the depot.

The two Crich volunteers, who themselves happen to come from Sheffield, looked a little shamefaced, and said they were itching to get their hands on repairing and restoring Sheffield’s Last Tram, the Roberts car 510, which has a number of technical defects and needs a complete overhaul.*

It’s in the queue [see http://tramcarsponsorship.org/projects/510.html], but the cost in time and money will be considerable.

But what, I asked, about the two most representative Sheffield trams, the Standard 189 and the Improved Standard (similar but with curves) 264?

It seems that they both have serious bodywork defects.  The frames are creaking and they aren’t safe to run.

I felt like Dame Edith Evans, who refused to play Lady Macbeth because, she said, there were some pages missing from Shakespeare’s script:  “Why does she go mad?  She was perfectly all right at dinner.”

Both these trams came to Crich in 1960, straight from the streets.  They were perfectly all right when they left Sheffield.

When the museum began running services in 1964, those trams that were already in running order were the mainstay of operations.

Gradually, new restorations joined the fleet, and the Sheffield standard trams were parked up indefinitely.

There’s an additional irony.  264, which always ran in the post-1930s cream-and-blue livery, has been repainted twice since it reached Crich.  189, on the other hand, has the older, elaborate, traditional Prussian blue livery that dates back much further.

As such, it was rarely if ever repainted after it was built in 1934.  Once the elaborate lining and lettering had been completed, such trams were given many layers of varnish.  Every few years, the varnish was sanded down and reapplied.

So, my Crich contacts told me, the actual paintwork of 189 is a historical artefact, and as such should be preserved intact.

The fact is that Crich, like almost all museums, has far more exhibits than it can show at once.  But its pioneering raison d’être from the early 1960s onwards was to run as a working line, alongside the early preserved railways like the Talyllyn and the Bluebell.

So I hope that before I become completely doddery I’ll have the chance to catch an orthodox second-generation Sheffield tram, as I used to do when I went to school in the 1950s.

For information about the National Tramway Museum, see http://www.tramway.co.uk.  There is a detailed and richly illustrated history of the museum at http://tramways.blogspot.com/p/crich-1959-1969.html, http://tramways.blogspot.com/p/crich-1970-1979.html and http://tramways.blogspot.com/p/crich-1978-1979.html.

* Update:  The Museum's blog reports that Sheffield 510 has entered the workshops for its overhaul:  http://www.tramway.co.uk/blog/sheffield-510-1.

Posted by: mike on Oct 21, 2012

Category:Transports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

National Tramway Museum, Crich:  Sheffield 74

As part of its mission to show fully the evolution of British railed street transport, the National Tramway Museum has carried out some remarkable restorations.  Indeed, some of the restorations are almost reconstructions.

One of the oddest-looking stages in the development of the British tramcar from an electrified, railed, double-ended horse bus to a suitable vehicle for speedy, weather-proof mass transportation is illustrated by the impeccable example of Sheffield 74, dating from 1900 but displayed in its late Edwardian condition.

It’s fundamentally a four-wheeled open-top tram, but with the upper deck enclosed in a substantial and shapely top cover.  However, in order to sit in sheltered state upstairs, you have to brave the icy blast climbing up and down the stairs from the platform.

It was a half-way house, dictated by the nervousness of designers and – more significantly – the Board of Trade, about the feasibility of extending an upper deck out over the platform.

Fairly quickly those concerns were dealt with, and most British double-deck trams from the First World War onwards had a full-length double deck, commonly fully enclosed by glass:  [see Essentially Victorian Blackpool].

Sheffield 74 went through a number of metamorphoses, including transfer to Gateshead, where it ran until the early 1950s.  It must have looked as we now see it for only a few years.

When I first rode on the restored 74, I asked one of the crew how much was actually original.  The answer was identical to the answer I got when I asked about a tram at the Birkenhead Tramway – only the lower saloon, which in this case survived in Gateshead as a garden shed.

In the restoration of Sheffield 74, the top deck was taken from another Sheffield tram, 218, with parts from a third, 215, and the chassis (in tramway jargon, the truck) is from Leeds and the motors from Blackpool.  Most of the rest is, apparently, a superbly crafted fabrication.

The wizards of the Crich workshops have performed this feat time and time again – Derby 1 (formerly a summer house), Chesterfield 7 (a cottage), Leicester 76 (a cricket pavilion).  Some others, such as the Leeds trams 345 and 399 and the Liverpool Green Goddess 869, stood derelict for so long that they had to be fully rebuilt to be fit for passenger service.

What you see is not always what you got in vehicle restoration:  sometimes the shining monster is back-restored from a later design (like some of the locomotives currently emerging at Didcot) or even built totally from scratch, like the LNER A1 locomotive Tornado.

But up to now, the workshops at Crich and the other British preserved tramways have always ensured that what you see is built round something original, and what you get is at least as good as new.

For information about the National Tramway Museum, see http://www.tramway.co.uk.

Posted by: mike on Oct 15, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Bath

A few weeks ago I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Friendless Churches – not something I do every year, but an opportunity to see and photograph the immaculate restoration of the Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Bath, designed by Guy Dawber (1861-1938) for Mrs Louisa Sophia Harris, who lived at The Rocks, on the cliffside above Artists’ Corner in Matlock Dale.

Mrs Harris disliked the liturgical practices of the vicar of St Giles’, Matlock, and objected to his refusal to memorialise her pet dog, so she erected her own private Anglo-Catholic chapel at the end of her garden in 1897.

St John’s Chapel is a delightful architectural composition, its simplicity relieved by the oriel window and bell turret that punctuate its setting on the side of the cliff.

It’s also a gem of Arts & Crafts design, with stained glass by Louis Davis (1860-1941), plasterwork, embellished with painted vines and individually-modelled swallows, by George Bankart (1866-1929) and a painted altarpiece by John Cooke.  The rood screen, and probably the other interior fittings, were designed by Guy Dawber.

After many years of neglect and wanton vandalism, the chapel was vested in the Friends of Friendless Churches in 2002, and they have spent some £300,000 returning it to immaculate condition.

The Friends’ website is at http://www.friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk/CMSMS/index.php, which is the portal for gaining access to their properties.  There is an introduction to the Friends by the Secretary, Matthew Saunders, at http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/fiftyyears/friendless_churches.htm.

The AGM took place at Masson Farm [http://www.massonfarm.com/index.html] and included a high-quality afternoon tea with a view to match.

You know you’re at an upscale AGM when someone sends apologies for absence because they’re helping to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Posted by: mike on May 20, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTaking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosLife-enhancing experiencesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Buxton Dome

Any modern tourist resort needs a car park.  A Victorian resort needed a railway station.  In the days of coach-travel, stables were essential.

When the 5th Duke of Devonshire developed the spa at Buxton [see Buxton’s Crescent], he commissioned the architect John Carr of York also to build a commodious stable block on the hill at the back of the Crescent (1780-90).

The Stables (1785-1796) was a huge octagonal building accommodating 110 horses and sixty coaches, with a circular covered gallery around the internal courtyard for exercising.  Ostlers and grooms were accommodated above the horses, to take advantage of their body heat.

On top of the capital cost of the Crescent – £38,601 18s 4d – the Stables cost the Duke a further £40,000.

The imminent arrival of the railway in 1863 [See The shortest way, or the prettiest] indicated that the Stables would soon be redundant, and the Seventh Duke allowed two-thirds of the building to be converted by the Buxton Bath Charity “for the use of the sick poor” by the Chatsworth estate-architect Henry Currey in 1859.

Subsequently the courtyard was enclosed in 1881-2 by the superb 156ft-diameter dome – the largest in the world at the time of construction – by the Buxton architect Robert Rippon Duke (1817-1909).

Robert Rippon Duke is one of those minor Victorian architects who never made a national reputation, but stamped his identity on a particular locality.  His life is chronicled in an admirable biography by Mike Langham & Colin Wells, The Architect of Victorian Buxton:  a biography of Robert Rippon Duke, “the Duke of Buxton” (Derbyshire Library Service 1996).

The hospital was renamed the Devonshire Royal Hospital in 1934, and continued to offer hydropathic treatments until 2000.

After it closed, the University of Derby took over the site, restored and converted the building as reopened it as the Devonshire Campus in 2003.

The dome is open to the public and, because the campus houses the faculties of hospitality and what are described as culinary arts, there’s always a cup of coffee to be had at Bistro 44http://www.derby.ac.uk/thedomefinedining/bistro44.asp, and serious food at the Fine Dine Restauranthttp://www.derby.ac.uk/thedomefinedining.  Be sure to book.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 18, 2012

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakVictorian architectureTransports of delightTaking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Buxton LNWR Station

At one time, you had a choice of rail routes to travel between Buxton and Manchester.

As a result of farcical Victorian competition, there were two Buxton stations, served by two companies, running between Buxton and Manchester by completely different routes.

The London & North Western service, which survives, took a reasonably obvious way over the hills to Whaley Bridge and Hazel Grove, where it joined the main line through Stockport to Manchester.

The Midland route, which was a by-product of that company’s desperate dash to find an independent route from Derby to Manchester, dived through deep Derbyshire limestone dales and a lengthy, 1½-mile long tunnel at Dove Holes, to link with the Cheshire Lines into Manchester Central.

Though the Midland line passenger service closed in 1967, almost all of the track is still in place for use by mineral trains.  Only the approach tracks into Buxton and the Midland station have gone, replaced by the town’s inner relief road.

Present-day trains run into the North Western platforms, and though the train-shed roof has been demolished, the distinctive gable with its Crystal Palace fanlight window remains.  The adjacent Midland station was a mirror-image of this.

The shape of the window hints at the involvement of Sir Joseph Paxton, the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s head gardener and a Midland Railway director.  It seems that the Duke, as principal landowner, insisted that the two stations should sit harmoniously side-by-side, and Paxton was instructed to advise the architect, John Smith.

Indeed, when the two companies opened on May 30th 1863 it seems that the inaugural dinners were scheduled to begin an hour apart.  Presumably, Paxton turned up to both, and got two starters and only one pudding.

A full and well-illustrated account of the Buxton Midland station can be found at http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/b/buxton/index.shtml.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 16, 2012

Category:Taking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Buxton Crescent

The major health-resort of the Roman Empire was Aquae Sulis, which we know simply as Bath.  The second most important was Aquae Arnemetiae, high in the bleak Derbyshire hills, which is now the town of Buxton.

Whereas the spring-water of Bath steams at a temperature of 116°F, Buxton water is comparatively tepid at 81-2°F.  If you're in Buxton, you don't have to buy the stuff in a bottle;  you can simply fill your flask for free at St Ann's Well opposite the Crescent.

The fifth Duke of Devonshire (1748-1811), taciturn husband of the effervescent Georgiana (respectively played by Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley in the film The Duchess, 2008), reputedly used a single year’s profits from his copper-mine at Ecton, Staffordshire, to set up Buxton as a rival to Bath.

He employed the architect John Carr of York from 1780 to 1790 to build a crescent of hotels and lodging-houses, resembling John Wood II’s Royal Crescent at Bath.  Whereas John Wood had the advantage of an eminence overlooking the Avon valley and sufficient space for his expansive half-ellipse of thirty residences, Carr had to incorporate the thermal spring on a cramped site at the bottom of a steep hill.

Carr made the best of it, and designed a semicircular crescent with an arcade that offers protection in a town that famously catches the worst of the weather at every season.  Because of its low-lying position, the building is visible from all angles, especially by arriving travellers, so the cornice continues right round the building, hiding all the roof features except the cruciform chimney-stacks.

From no viewpoint is it apparent that the two return blocks are asymmetrical:  the east wing has seven bays, while the west has only five.  The wedge-shaped lodging houses are arranged with three storeys facing into the Crescent and four behind, so that the arrangement of rooms and staircases is curious and complex, to maximise the flexibility of accommodation for first- and second-class guests.

John Carr also gave Buxton, for the first time in its history, an imposing formal assembly room as part of the Great Hotel in the eastern pavilion.  Carr’s command of three-dimensional planning challenged his masons:  he was obliged to make a full-size model of the assembly room staircase which sits within the spandrel where the curved south wall joins the rectangular east wing.

This beautiful Adamesque assembly room with plasterwork by James Henderson Jnr of York was, in the 1970s, beautifully restored as the local branch library, until it became clear that the weight of the books and bookcases was threatening the stability of the floor.  The library was quickly removed, and from 1993 onwards the rest of the building gradually fell derelict.

The whole exterior of the Crescent has been restored, but schemes to renew the interior and bring the building back into use have repeatedly stalled.  The latest project is detailed at   http://www.highpeak.gov.uk/hp/news/historic-agreement-paves-way-for-crescent-development.

The Buxton Crescent has stood empty for too long.  It’s a building that deserves to be enjoyed.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 14, 2012

Category:Taking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosLife-enhancing experiencesThe Derbyshire Derwent ValleyCountry Houses

Buxton Old Hall Hotel

When I lectured to the Cavendish Decorative & Fine Arts Society in Buxton [http://www.cavendishnadfas.org.uk/index.html], I was taken for an enjoyable lunch to the Old Hall Hotel [http://www.oldhallhotelbuxton.co.uk], where the food was as excellent as the service was leisurely.  I chose wild boar burger which, to be honest, tasted much like any other hand-made burger – very good indeed.

The Old Hall is at the heart of historic Buxton.  It stands on the site of the Roman bath and medieval holy well, and was constructed as a typical Midland four-storey high house [compare with North Lees Hall, Hathersage] by George, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury who recovered from an attack of gout after trying the “baynes of Buckstones” in 1569.  It had a battlemented roof and contained a great chamber and lodgings for up to thirty guests.

Here he entertained most of the greatest names in Elizabethan politics – Lord Burghley (1575), Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (five times between 1576 and 1584) and his older brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick (1577).  Queen Elizabeth herself never travelled this far north, but did receive a delivery of Buxton water, which gave her no benefit:  it was said not to travel well.

Lord Shrewsbury was the fourth husband of the formidable Bess of Hardwick and the custodian of the captive Mary, Queen of Scots, who stayed here nine times between 1573 and 1584.  Caught between his domineering wife, the duplicitous Scottish queen and the volatile English one, he lived an unenviable life [See Des Res].

Buxton Old Hall was substantially rebuilt in 1670 and again in the late eighteenth century, but its core survives within the present-day hotel, as becomes obvious when you move from room to room through thick walls and odd doorways.

Celia Fiennes hated it when she visited in 1697:  

Its the largest house in the place tho’ not very good... the beer they allow at the meales is so bad that very little can be dranke...if you have not Company enough of your own to fill a room they will be ready to put others into the same chamber, and sometymes they are so crowded that three must lye in a bed;  few people stay above two or three nights its so inconvenient:  we staid two nights by reason one of our Company was ill but it was sore against our wills, for there is no peace or quiet...

Needless to say, it’s much improved over the past three hundred-odd years.  They take their time over the boar burgers, and the result is worth waiting for.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Sep 24, 2011

Category:Transports of delightLife-enhancing experiencesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Ultimate Driving Experience, National Tramway Museum

My friend John from the Isle of Man had the time of his life learning to drive a tram at the National Tramway Museum, Crich.

The Ultimate Driving Experience [http://www.tramway.co.uk/what-to-do/92/ultimate-driving-experiences] was a retirement present from his colleagues.  I had the privilege of being the photographer, which brought with it the challenge of working out how to capture someone driving a moving vehicle fitted with a windscreen.

John was superbly looked after from start to finish by his instructors Nigel and Paul.  Paul is a superlative driving instructor, and Nigel (nominally the conductor) kept us interested and informed and patiently answered our questions throughout the day.

The day starts, over a cup of coffee, with classroom instruction.  John needed to know one end of a tram from the other, as it were, and to be aware of the safety requirements of steering fifteen tons of tram along predestinate grooves.  (Nigel told us that a recent visitor actually asked him how you steer a tram.)

John’s chosen Blackpool tram was in the sick bay, so he was given a huge, bosomy Liverpool “Green Goddess”, a shiny powerful beast that hadn’t been out of the depot for some weeks and took a certain amount of getting going.  At one point we had to call the Crich equivalent of the AA when 869 mysteriously parked itself on the main line and refused to budge.

I was grateful to be allowed to listen in on the entire day so that I learnt a lot that I’d never realised about these ponderous vehicles.

The technology, for instance, is at once simple and complicated;  the machinery is both robust and extremely delicate.  Six hundred volts moving from wire to rail through a wood, steel and glass double-deck vehicle is not to be messed with.  Direct current behaves in a different way to the alternating current we use at home.

If you treat the tram properly, John was told, it’s really quite easy to move;  if you’re uncertain, there can be smoke and bangs and flashes – and you can cause damage that takes time and money to put right.  It very rarely happens.

I learned, watching and listening to Paul’s meticulous instruction and encouragement, that driving a tram is much more about coasting and momentum than I’d imagined.  As with a car, you keep your foot off the throttle as much as you can.

Making it move is one thing;  stopping it is another.  This is why the regular Crich tram-drivers have one or more of seven different licences, largely because of the variety of braking systems in the historic fleet.

We were hospitably received by this exceptionally professional museum – coffee in the morning, lunch, and then more coffee at the end of the day, constant friendly attention, the run of the museum both on foot and in our own big green tram.  We arrived at 10 am and left at 5 pm, and Paul and Nigel showed no haste to see us off.

I know more about trams and Crich than I’d have learned any other way, and – thanks to his former colleagues – John has another skill to add to his CV.

Posted by: mike on Jun 9, 2011

Category:The Derbyshire Derwent ValleyCountry Houses

Chatsworth west front

About fifteen years ago Andrew, 11th Duke of Devonshire, commissioned an extensive archaeological survey of the Chatsworth estate, a summary of which was published as John Barnatt & Tom Williamson, Chatsworth:  a landscape history (Windgather 2005).

It's a revelation.

Chatsworth has, of course, been repeatedly written up, ever since the Bachelor 6th Duke produced his privately printed Handbook of Chatsworth and Hardwick in 1845.  The recent survey pulls together a full review of the archaeology and the estate's enormous archive, backed by the evidence of maps, illustrations and modern photography.

This reveals a layered chronology of a significant area of the upland Derbyshire Peak back to prehistoric times.  In particular, since the mid-eighteenth century much of the landscape has been undisturbed, leaving evidence of prehistoric, medieval and early modern agriculture and industry that has been obliterated elsewhere in the county.

The shadowy presence of the great landscape designer, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, who is mentioned only once in the entire Chatsworth archive, is made clearer because almost all payments in the estate accounts were addressed to his "foreman" or contractor, Michael Millican.  Their work in creating the naturalistic landscape that stretches from Chatsworth House to the horizon began in 1759, financed to a great extent by the 4th Duke's lucrative copper mine at Ecton in Staffordshire.

Another recent discovery is the complexity of the patterns of drives and roads around the estate.  It seems that the eighteenth-century landscape was primarily designed to be seen from and near the house, and largely enjoyed on foot, rather like the characters' explorations of Mr Rushworth's Sotherton property in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814).

During the early Victorian period, the time of the Bachelor Duke, the park was crisscrossed with wide drives, carefully contrived to give advantageous views.  Many of these have since been grassed over and largely forgotten.  It seems that in the Bachelor's time visitors were encouraged to enjoy the mature landscape in the comfort of a carriage.

When I take groups to Chatsworth, particularly visitors from outside the UK, I make a point as the coach climbs the steep road (realigned in the early nineteenth century) from Beeley Bridge (1759) of explaining that everything within sight – buildings, grass, trees, water – is in fact contrived by man.  And you wouldn't get planning permission for it now.  Especially as it lies in a National Park.

The portal for information about visiting Chatsworth is http://www.chatsworth.org.

Posted by: mike on May 14, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Monsal Dale Viaduct & Headstones Tunnel

Monsal Dale Viaduct & Headstones Tunnel, Midland Railway Rowsley & Buxton Extension (1970)

My friend Richard is a serious walker.  He doesn't think twice about twenty-five miles in a day, and goes walking with people who'll tackle the West Highland Way (94 miles) carrying their own rucksacks.

So a walk along the Derbyshire Monsal Trail [see Changing trains in the middle of nowhere: Miller's Dale Station] counts as a gentle stroll.  This is the former railway line between Derby and Manchester that has so many tunnels the railwaymen called it "the flute".

Richard told me that as he walked across Monsal Dale Viaduct on a hot day in a T-shirt recently he was suddenly confronted with a blast of cold air.

This turned out to be the draught from Headstones Tunnel, which for years has been bricked up with a locked steel door for inspection parties.  Now the tunnel mouth is open again, and work proceeds to make it accessible to walkers, complete with lighting.

This welcome development is flagged on the Peak District National Park website:  http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/index/visiting/cycle.htm.

One might ask, what happened to the proposal to reinstate the railway line from Matlock to Buxton, which at present stops at the PeakRail terminus at Rowsley [see Rails across the Peak].  The most probable answer is not that there's a bridge missing across the A6 road at Rowsley, but that there's a problem a little further west.

UPDATE:  Richard told me (riding through another railway tunnel on a train, on our way to a Friday night at Anoki [see Cosy Curry]) that the Monsal Trail tunnels are now open:  http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/index/news/news-display-page.htm?id=24902.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 18, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Totley Tunnel west portal

Even if they're not the slightest bit interested in trains, few visitors to the Grindleford Station café [see No mushrooms – ever] can resist peering down from the station bridge at the western portal of Totley Tunnel and reading from the signs that it's 6,230 yards long and was built in 1893.  It was in fact the second longest railway tunnel in the UK until the construction of High Speed 1.

Even if you go down to the station platform and walk to the end, it's not possible to see light at the other end of the tunnel.

This is because not only is there a slight curve at the Grindleford end, but there's also a summit in the middle.  In the days of steam and loose-coupled freight trains this presented a considerable challenge.  Running a heavy coal-train north from Derbyshire, up the Hope Valley towards Manchester with controllable brakes only on the locomotive and the rear brake-van required skill and nerve.

When I first taught adult-education classes in transport history in the 1970s they repeatedly attracted retired locomen who explained the practicalities of train-driving with old technology.

The risk bringing the train down the grade in Bradway Tunnel from Chesterfield was that the loose-coupled loaded coal wagons would simply push the locomotive faster.  At the north end of Bradway Tunnel is a tight curve, with another short tunnel, that cannot be taken at speed.

Once past the curve and through Dore & Totley West Junction, the approach to Totley Tunnel is a sudden steep uphill gradient, and the weight of the wagons dragged the locomotive as it charged forwards at gradients of 1 in 100, 1 in 176 and then 1 in 150 – significantly steep for steam power.

Inside the tunnel, you can't see.  But there comes a point where the track levels and then dips downhill at 1 in 1,000.  You knew that was happening because the wagons would begin to bash together on their chain couplings pushing the loco as it headed towards the curve at the Grindleford end and, all too suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel would appear.

This isn't such a problem with modern traction, so I'm told.  A nudge of a control handle activates the brakes on every wheel of the train.  It's all too easy to be nostalgic about the age of steam.

Posted by: mike on Apr 16, 2011

Category:Transports of delightLife-enhancing experiencesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Grindleford Station

One of the finest, and simplest, eating experiences in Derbyshire is the full breakfast at the Grindleford Station Café.

Grindleford is the first station westwards on the Hope Valley Line, which carries passenger services between Sheffield and Manchester.  This line between Dore and Chinley was a late link in the Midland Railway network, opened in 1894.  The station building, like others on the line, is a standard design, built in timber with stone footings and chimneys.

Its interior has been altered, and for well over thirty years it has housed one of the truly great hikers' pit-stops.  Whether you walk, cycle, motor-cycle or drive it's a rest-and-be-thankful port-in-a-storm.  You can of course reach it by train with no more effort than walking the ramp up from the platform to the bridge;  if you're really decadent you can arrive by car.  (The station is a mile north of the village of Grindleford, on the B6521 road to Fox House.)

It was founded and driven by Philip Eastwood, a man who affected a truculence which would have been noticeable in the grumpiest eateries of Lower Manhattan.  His notices are legendary:  "Don't even think of asking for mushrooms", "Unaccompanied children will be sold into slavery", "This is a serving hatch, not a gawping hatch" and "If you want to be a fire guard, join the fire brigade".

Inevitably, some innocent customers took exception to this, but astute reviewers recognise that nobody builds a successful business by hating customers.  Review comments on http://russelldavies.typepad.com/eggbaconchipsandbeans/2004/07/grindleford_sta.html describe the service as "charmingly grumpy", "curt but helpful", "so awful it was wonderful".  The place is so special its Wikipedia entry contains irony: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grindleford.

Philip Eastwood Snr died in 2007 at the age of 63, dancing at a party, and his son, also Philip, then aged nineteen, promptly gave up his business-management degree-course and his plans for an athletic career to take on the family legacy, much to the relief of the rambling community.

The café continues, and Philip Jnr has added to the notices, but long-standing visitors will sense that the new management has a gentler temperament, and some of the heart has gone out of the truculence.  A Sheffield Telegraph writer ['Station café still on track', January 13th 2009] even spotted one that ended with the words "Thank you".

For cholesterol-on-a-plate breakfasts and lunches with chips piled high there is nowhere finer anywhere in the Peak District.  Don't use the loo without making a purchase, and if you want to check if the hair-dryer's still working, ask for mushrooms.

Posted by: mike on Apr 5, 2011

Category:Sacred placesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Padley Chapel, Grindleford

Padley Chapel, Grindleford, interior

North Lees Hall [see No sign of Mrs Rochester] was built by the Jessop family, associates of George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, probably in the 1570s.  Lord Shrewsbury was staunchly Protestant, and had a political need to distance himself from the Catholic captive queen, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom he guarded for fourteen years.  The pressure to demonstrate adherence to Queen Elizabeth's Protestant settlement was at its most intense in the late 1580s, the period of Mary Stuart's execution and the Armada, and Lord Shrewsbury made a particular point as Lord Lieutenant of enforcing the recusancy laws that oppressed practising Catholics.

The resulting atmosphere of paranoia and persecution must have been akin to modern totalitarian regimes.

At that time North Lees was leased to Richard Fenton, one of the original Twelve Capital Burgesses of Sheffield and a Mayor and alderman of Doncaster who lost influence in the late 1570s because of his Catholicism.  By 1580 he had chosen to retire to obscurity at North Lees:  on his way through Sheffield his baggage was searched and revealed "books and other furniture for Mass", a discovery which aroused no immediate comment but was doubtless carefully noted.

On Candlemas Day, 1588, acting under the Earl's orders, one Roger Columbell –

...went to the Northelees and took Mr Fenton, and searched his house, but found no suspicious persons.  He used himself very obediently and came with him willingly to Haddon where he shewed a protection and desireth if it may stande with your Lordship's pleasure, to have the benefit thereof for the liberty to be in his owne house,...And if this cannot be graunted him then his humble request is that he maye have respit to goe to his own howse for a week to take order for his things, and, chiefly, to comfort his doughter [sic], who was broughte in bed the same morninge and seemed amazed at his soden apprehension.

It seems likely that Richard Fenton was not released to return to North Lees until he left detention in London late in 1589.  He was repeatedly imprisoned until his death around 1604.

A couple of miles away, Padley Hall, outside Grindleford, belonged to Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, a recusant who in 1588 was found to be harbouring two priests, Nicholas Garlick (c1555-1588), Robert Ludlam (c1551-1588), who along with a third priest, Richard Simpson (c1553-1588), were subsequently martyred at Derby on July 25th of that year. These three – energetic and determined men in the prime of life – were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.

Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, who was also arrested, died in the Tower of London in 1591.

Padley Hall itself gradually declined until in the late nineteenth century much of it was ruinous.  In 1933 the remaining barn was converted into a Roman Catholic chapel to commemorate the Padley Martyrs by the Sheffield architects, Hadfield & Cawkwell.

Padley Chapel is usually open to visitors on Sundays through the summer.  Its website is still under construction but details of opening arrangements are at http://www.derbychurch.net/find/detail.php?OrgRef=padleychapel.  The nearest Tourist Information Centres are Bakewell [01629-816558] and Castleton [01433-620679].

Posted by: mike on Apr 3, 2011

Category:The Derbyshire Derwent ValleyCountry Houses

North Lees Hall

A recent article described one of the properties of the Landmark Trust [see Living in a pineapple] which provides life-enhancing opportunities to stay, on a self-catering basis, in unusual historic buildings in the British Isles and further afield.

Another organisation that provides similar holiday lets in Britain is the Vivat Trust [www.vivat.org.uk], who run North Lees Hall, near Hathersage in Derbyshire.

This is a highly significant building, built for the Jessop family of Broom Hall [see The genius of the knife, fork and spoon] who belonged to the sphere of influence of George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, custodian of the captive Mary, Queen of Scots and long-suffering husband of Bess of Hardwick.

Many of the Earl's associates built "high houses", with tall turrets, gridiron mullioned windows and skied chambers and galleries.  The plasterwork at North Lees Hall includes the arms of the Rodes family of Barlborough Hall;  other families with Shrewsbury links and comparable houses included the Sandfords of Thorpe Salvin Hall and the Hewitts of Shireoaks Hall.

Because North Lees Hall was more or less continuously let from the mid-seventeenth century until after the Second World War it was hardly altered, but at times neglected.  Sometime before 1792 the tenancy came to one Thomas Eyre, whose descendants stayed here until 1882. Their occupation had an interesting effect:  a whole procession of scholarly visitors assumed a quite spurious connection with the ancient and prolific Catholic family of Eyre.  The resulting legends are extremely attractive.

A more famous connection came from the 1845 visit of Charlotte Brontë, who is often assumed to have based Thornfield Hall at least partly on North Lees in writing the novel she entitled Jane Eyre – "...three stories high, of proportions not vast, though considerable...battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery."  She may have taken her heroine's family name from the occupants, and named the nearby fictional village Morton after the actual landlord of the George Inn, Hathersage.

After the Second World War the house was neglected, and at one stage was used for storing grain.  It was converted it into holiday accommodation by Lt-Col Hugh Beach.  It was purchased by the Peak Park Planning Board in 1971, and in 1987 it was leased to the Vivat Trust, who restored and reopened it as self-catering holiday apartments in 1989.  A further restoration took place in 2002.

Satisfied customers report at http://www.lovetripper.com/issues/issue-35/jane-eyre.html.  Other sites associated with Jane Eyre are described and illustrated at http://walk2read.com/books/jane_eyre.html.

Posted by: mike on Mar 16, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Cromford Canal Butterley Tunnel west portal (1963)

Cromford Canal, Butterley Tunnel west portal (1963)

The history of inland waterways in Britain has gained a fresh chapter within the past generation.  When the author Tom Rolt (1910-1974) struggled to navigate silted and derelict waterways before and after the Second World War in his narrow boat Cressy it seemed inevitable that water transport had at best a minimal place in the future economy.

Not least through the campaigning energy of Rolt and his quarrelsome colleagues who founded the Inland Waterways Association, political momentum built up, first to save barely navigable waterways from destruction and ultimately to resuscitate canals that were thought irretrievably lost – among them, the Rochdale, the Huddersfield Narrow, the Chesterfield, the Hereford & Worcester, the Lancaster, the Manchester, Bolton & Bury and the Montgomery.  Now canals that were proposed over two centuries ago and never built – such as the link between the Sheffield and Chesterfield Canals – are seriously discussed – http://www.waterways.org.uk/waterways/waterway_restoration/north_east___yorkshire/other_restoration_campaigns/other_restoration_campaigns.

There is clearly much more to this than air-headed enthusiasm.  The growth of leisure boating (of which Tom Rolt was a famous pioneer), the real-estate possibilities of waterside property and the recognition that waterways are an amenity not an eyesore have led to an environmental revolution.

My first personal experience of inland waterways was exploring the Cromford Canal in Derbyshire in the early 1960s, just as its course was repeatedly broken up by mining subsidence, opencasting, road upgrading and industrial development.

Fifty years later, the upper five miles from Ambergate to Cromford is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] while the bottom three miles from Ironville to Langley Mill has been completely obliterated by opencast mining.  In between, the obstructions include industrial installations, at least one bungalow and a major trunk road.

Repeated collapses within the Butterley Tunnel put paid to through traffic as far back as 1900 and provided easy justification for abandoning this particularly scenic waterway.  In fact, now that coal mining has ceased in the area, the tunnel appears to be stable, and an intrepid canoeist, Robin Witter, surveyed a substantial length of it in 1979.  His images are available at http://www.cromfordcanal.org.uk/vcanal/tunnel.htm.  The Wikipedia entry on the Butterley Tunnel indicates that a further exploration by Tina Cordon took place in 2006 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterley_Tunnel].

It's no longer facile to suggest the restoration of long-vanished canals.  There are now sufficient examples of resurrected waterways to provide economic and amenity arguments for schemes that in Rolt's time seemed utterly impractical.

In each case, it won't happen quickly, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

For more information see the website of the Waterway Recovery Group – http://www.waterways.org.uk/wrg.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Oct 15, 2010

Category:Sheffield's HeritageThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

David Mellor Round Building

My friends Doug and Marion, who share my appetite for life-enhancing experiences, took me to the David Mellor Factory [http://www.davidmellordesign.com/visitorCentre/index.php] at Hathersage, in Derbyshire, recently.

David Mellor (1930-2009) is a fascinating figure.  A Sheffield lad, the son of a toolmaker, he was the beneficiary of an education system that allowed him to begin training at art school in metalwork, pottery, woodwork, painting and decorating at the age of eleven.

As a teenage student at the Royal College of Art he designed his first cutlery, 'Pride', which was manufactured by the Sheffield company, Walker & Hall, in 1953, and remains David Mellor Designs' best-selling range.  Later cutlery designs include 'Symbol' (1963), the first stainless-steel mass-produced cutlery, for Walker & Hall, 'Embassy' (1963) for use in UK embassies across the world, and 'Thrift' (1965), a further Government commission which combined economy with good design by reducing the number of items in a place-setting from eleven to five for bulk institutional orders ranging from prisons to railway buffets.

He made Sheffield his base, and became famous not only for cutlery, but also for Eclipse saws for James Neil, garden shears for Burgon & Ball, and much, much else.  Working with the Abacus company, he redesigned the standard British traffic-light and pedestrian crossing (1965-70).  He devised a bus shelter that ran to 140,000 units and, at the request of the Postmaster General, Tony Benn, rethought the traditional post-box:  his square design was intended to be easier to empty, but encountered much public resistance because it wasn't round.  A letter-writer to the Scotsman newspaper complained that it would endanger passing drunks.

His first customised workshop building in Park Lane, Sheffield, was designed by Patric Guest in the early 1960s and is now a listed building.  He then took over the derelict Broom Hall, once the home of the Jessop family and dating back to the late fifteenth century, and turned it into a integrated living space and workshop, described in his Guardian obituary as "a rare example of a family house containing a 55-ton blanking press, a 180-ton coining press and two grinding machines".

Then, in 1990, he moved his business out to the Peak District National Park, taking over the site of the former Hathersage gasworks:  here the factory, the famous Round Building, was built on the base of the demolished gasholder with a roof derived from the principle of the bicycle wheel, upending the Sheffield tradition of fragmented cutlery manufacture so that the processes were integrated within a single space.

The architect was David Mellor's friend, Sir Michael Hopkins, whose other work includes Portcullis House opposite the Houses of Parliament, the Mound Stand at Lord's, and the Inland Revenue building and the initial phase of the University Jubilee Campus in Nottingham.

Hopkins returned to Hathersage to convert the retort house and other ancillary buildings on the site into a shop, a restaurant and the David Mellor Design Museum, opened in 2006.

David Mellor married Fiona MacCarthy, the biographer:  their son Corin Mellor (b 1966) is now Creative Director of David Mellor Design, while their daughter Clare (b 1970) is a graphic designer.

Roy Hattersley, his Sheffield near-contemporary, added this comment to the Guardian obituary:  "William Morris urged his followers:  'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.'  Mellor extended that precept to Britain's streets.  In the argot of Mellor's home town, 'he did all right'."

The David Mellor Factory is on the B6001 south of Hathersage, just beyond the railway station.  The café is excellent and the design museum fascinating;  factory tours are held at the weekend.

The David Mellor Factory opened a new Street Scene exhibition in September 2013:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23977482.

Posted by: mike on Sep 17, 2010

Category:The Derbyshire Derwent ValleyCountry Houses

Chatsworth south front

Motto of the Dukes of Devonshire – Cavendo Tutus (Safety with caution) – on the south front of Chatsworth House

There was a time when Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire could claim to be non-literary.  When her friend Evelyn Waugh sent her a copy of his biography of the Catholic theologian Ronald Knox, he inscribed it "For Darling Debo, with love from Evelyn.  You will not find a word in this to offend your Protestant sympathies", and she noticed that every page was blank – "the perfect present," as she described it, "for a non-reader".

Her two masterly descriptions of her home, The House:  a portrait of Chatsworth (Macmillan 1982) and The Estate:  a view from Chatsworth (Macmillan 1990), showed her to be a charming, lucid and informative writer, with an unerring facility for the apt anecdote.

Since that time she has written extensively and has now published an autobiography, Wait for me!  Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister (John Murray 2010), which is characterised by the candour that contemporary memoirs allow, discussing her miscarriages and her husband's alcoholism, with the comment, "Sixty years ago none of this would have been discussed:  it would have been swept under the carpet...in the pretence that it was not happening".

(Andrew Devonshire, shortly before his death, wrote his own memoir, Accidents of Fortune [Michael Russell 2004], honest and modest, as befits a man who declared he won his Military Cross "for being cheerful".)

In everything the Duchess writes, and in the interviews she gives, there is a characteristic astute common-sense, tipped with asperity – wondering, in a Sunday Times interview with Rosie Millard [September 7th 2008], if the media reporters who hounded her nephew Max Mosley had dull private lives, and vastly preferring Attlee to Blair among Labour prime ministers.

The survival of Chatsworth as a great house and a functioning landed estate is entirely attributable to the courage of Andrew, 11th Duke and to the business acumen of his duchess, Deborah.  When Edward, 10th Duke, died in 1950 four months too soon to escape death duties, it would have been an easy option for his son to sell up, pay the 80% duty and live the life of a prosperous publisher.

Instead, Andrew Devonshire took the view that he and his wife were "life custodians of what has been at Chatsworth for centuries":  he sold outlying land, handed over Hardwick Hall to the National Trust and gave items from the Chatsworth collection worth four-fifths of the duty owed.  The debt on the actual death duty was settled by 1967;  paying off the accrued interest took until 1974.  Then, with a further sale of a single Poussin and a collection of 69 Old Master drawings, he set up a £21 million trust to maintain Chatsworth.  Visitor entry pays about one-third of the running costs;  the rest is met by the Chatsworth House Trust.

His Grace was always the first to give credit for the way his Duchess turned the estate into an extremely effective cash generator.  She took great pride in the fact that "there are no merry-go-rounds";  her personal interest has always been in making the house and the estate popular and good value:  "I love shopkeeping better than anything."

It's Her Grace's flair that created the Chatsworth Farm Shop [http://www.chatsworth.org/shop-eat/the-farm-shop], the Cavendish Hotel and Restaurant in Baslow [http://www.cavendish-hotel.net] and the Devonshire Arms Hotel, Bolton Abbey [http://www.thedevonshirearms.co.uk].

When the 11th Duke died in 2004 the title and the Devonshire estate passed to his son, Peregrine, and his duchess Amanda.  They are now making their own mark on the house and the estate:  details of the Chatsworth Masterplan can be found at http://www.chatsworth.org/the-chatsworth-masterplan.

Posted by: mike on Aug 26, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

C&HPR water tender

One of the peculiar attributes of the Cromford & High Peak Railway was that it provided water-supply, not only for its own engines but also for adjacent farms and quarries on the high limestone hills that it traversed.

The water was carried along the line in trains of reused locomotive tenders which were filled from a spring at High Peak Wharf.  One of these tenders was rescued when the line closed in 1967 and ultimately ended up in the reserve collection of the National Railway Museum.

This fascinating but unspectacular piece of railway archaeology would hardly attract attention in the main museum at York, and has been loaned to the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway [http://www.e-v-r.com] in Derbyshire, where it's locally relevant.  There it stands, in a siding, labelled "Cromford" as you'd expect.

Apparently, this is incorrect.  Someone at the Middleton Top Visitor Centre [http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/countryside/countryside_sites/visitor_centres/middleton_top/default.asp], which is beside the actual trackbed of the C&HPR, has interviewed the last surviving engine-driver, who is adamant the tender at Wirksworth couldn't possibly have got up the cable-hauled Middleton Incline.

It has six wheels.  All the tenders based at Cromford had four wheels:  indeed, the six-wheeled versions had their middle wheels removed precisely so they could breast the top of the inclines.

The tender now at Wirksworth must have come from the other end of the line.  Perhaps it should say "Parsley Hay" on the side.

Does this matter?  Certainly not to 99.9% of the EVR's visitors.  But it shows that to make historical and archaeological facts as accurate as possible, it's important to listen to living witnesses.  Oral history matters, even if it's as prone to misinterpretation as written or moving-image evidence.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 24, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Heritage Shunters Trust

Wandering round the Peak Rail site at Rowsley South in Derbyshire, I came across a gentleman in a shed surrounded by more 1960s and 1970s heavy diesel shunting locomotives than you could shake a stick at.

Peak Rail provides a home and facilities for a number of specialist rail-preservation societies, and I was intrigued by the work of the Heritage Shunters Trust [http://www.heritageshunters.co.uk], who conserve and commemorate an extraordinary episode in the non-development of British Railways.

When the Attlee government nationalised the railways in 1948, the initial policy was to run the railways on steam and coal-fired electricity to make best use of the British coal industry.  Only later did the cheapness of imported oil become economically irresistible.

After British Railways decided in 1955 to phase out steam (having built over 3,500 locomotives since 1948, 999 of them to brand-new designs) there was a rush to obtain sufficient diesel locomotives on a one-for-one replacement basis.  In particular, small, heavy-duty steam shunters were replaced by a great variety of diesel equivalents, some to designs which had not been fully tried and tested.

This policy ignored the fact that single-wagon loads of freight were diminishing, as road transport became more efficient and cost-effective.  By the mid-1960s increasing amounts of rail freight were moving in train-loads not wagon-loads and there was less and less need for shunting locomotives.

This huge, diverse fleet proved to have been a waste of money, and not all of them were capable of doing the job they were intended for.  As pieces of engineering history, however, the different designs are fascinating.

There are over twenty of these engines at Rowsley, some fully restored, others awaiting attention.  I asked my guide what the display policy was – is it an art gallery of locomotive design, or do the workable engines have a practical function?  There is, after all, not much more shunting to do at Rowsley than there was on British Railways after the 1960s.

The major annual jamboree when the working shunters get an outing is the Shunter Hunter weekend – this year on October 23rd-24th – when the Trust takes over the Peak Rail line and works all the passenger services.  This puts up to ten shunting locomotives on the line.

If it raises funds to help volunteers preserve the engineering heritage it's a worthwhile enterprise.  And it's entertaining into the bargain.  Details of the Shunter Hunter weekend are at http://www.peakrail.co.uk/ShunterWeekend.html.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 16, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Middleton Top Engine House

Middleton Top Engine House

The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway runs an excellent 'Rails and Quarries' tour from their Wirksworth station, using their diesel railcar to run up the steepest section of line in use in the UK – 1 in 27 – to Ravenstor, the foot of a slightly mysterious incline that connected with the Cromford & High Peak Railway at Middleton Bottom.

The day I visited, the guide was Vince Morris – informative, professional and endlessly patient with people who struggle with stiles.  His itinerary involved a steep climb through the National Stone Centre [http://www.nationalstonecentre.org.uk] to the High Peak Trail [http://www.derbyshire-peakdistrict.co.uk/thehighpeaktrail.htm] , which follows the trackbed of the Cromford & High Peak Railway, up the 1 in 8½ incline to Middleton Top Engine House and then over the fields and through the derelict moonscape of Middle Peak Quarry and back through the centre of Wirksworth.

Middleton Top Winding Engine [http://www.middleton-leawood.org.uk] is an interesting survival, the only remaining example of eight built by the Butterley Company to haul trains up and down the inclines which in 1825 were judged the most effective and economical method of running a railway over the Peak massif.  William Jessop II was a director of both the Butterley Company and the C&HPR:  his younger brother, Josias, had engineered the railway though he died during the construction period.  The total cost of the railway, when it was completed in 1831, was £149,206 16s 8d.  Of this the eight winding engines cost £20,000.

More significantly, the largest single item of expenditure was for cast-iron rails, provided by the Butterley Company for £61,950.  The Butterley Ironworks was incapable at that time of manufacturing wrought-iron rails, so that when the railway wanted to replace horses with locomotives (as Josias Jessop had suggested in his initial specification), the track couldn't stand the weight and had to be re-laid in wrought iron from end to end.

As the Americans say, do the math.

This unique railway, which was technologically sound when it was promoted in 1825 and an anachronism almost as soon as it opened in 1831, continued to work with periodic modifications on the principle that if it works, don't fix it.  Middleton Top stopped winding in 1963, but at the Sheep Pasture Incline further down the line a steam engine built in 1883 was replaced with an electric winder in 1965.  The entire line finally closed in 1967.

As the French say, C'est la vie.

Events on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway can be found at http://www.e-v-r.com/ticketing/events10.htm.

The stretch of the Cromford & High Peak Railway between Whaley Bridge and Hindlow, some of which was abandoned as far back as 1892, can be explored from the comfort of an armchair thanks to http://picasaweb.google.com/montyburns56/CromfordHighPeakRailway.  I'm grateful to Paul Jones for this link.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 14, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Ecclesbourne Valley Railway

There's a sleepy little branch line up the Ecclesbourne valley in Derbyshire, from the former Midland main line at Duffield to the market town of Wirksworth.  Since 2002 a group of volunteers have been reviving it for tourist traffic.  Its survival is unusual, but nothing like as unusual as its origin.

For complicated reasons of Victorian railway politics, there was a possibility in the 1860s that the Midland Railway's line from Derby to Manchester might be blocked by its competitor, the London & North Western Railway, when the joint lease on the section between Ambergate and Rowsley ran out in 1871.

In case this happened, or perhaps to prevent the L&NWR making trouble, the Midland built the branch up the Ecclesbourne valley as far as Wirksworth, which is as far as any reasonable railway line would go.  Beyond that, they secured the right to tunnel under the hills, crossing the Via Gellia road on a 280-yard-long viaduct, emerging into daylight above Matlock and dropping down the Derwent Valley to their newly-built line from Rowsley westwards.

If it had been built it would have been even more heavy-duty than the "flute" line through Monsal Dale, Miller's Dale and Chee Dale.  It would have been a stiff challenge to drive expresses and – even more – coal trains up the grade, through a series of lengthy tunnels and round tight curves under the Heights of Abraham.

The Wirksworth-Rowsley extension was never built, and instead trains pottered up and down the Wirksworth branch, carrying limestone, milk and passengers.  The milk and passengers went over to road transport before and during the Second World War, but the huge Middle Peak Quarry kept the railway running until 1989.

Then, when the quarry was mothballed, the railway was left intact but utterly neglected, so that by the time the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway crews had the go-ahead to bring it back to life it was an 8½-mile-long jungle.  Whereas most railway-preservation groups have to lay fresh track, as did the EVR's neighbours at Peak Rail, here the heavy work has been clearing out blocked culverts and replacing rotten sleepers.

The line is open from the existing main line at Duffield so that passengers can connect with East Midlands trains' hourly Derby-Matlock service.

The main-line connection has been severed and, so I'm told, there's only a minimal chance of it being reinstalled.  The EVR can provide a worthwhile passenger service with steam locomotives and diesel railcars, and Wirksworth is a pleasant market town with a fascinating history.  The future looks promising for this once derelict survivor of a time when railway companies would build their lines almost anywhere.

Details of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway services are at http://www.e-v-r.com.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 12, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Cromford Station

The little railway with the long name – the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midland Junction Railway – only reached Rowsley, just short of the Chatsworth estate, before the money ran out and railway politics cut it short.  The original Rowsley station still stands, isolated in the middle of a retail park more depressing (in my view) than the contractor's yard it replaced.  When the line to Manchester was resumed in the 1860s, it turned left and headed up the Wye valley, rather than following the original route.

One of the directors of the MBM&MJR was Joseph Paxton, the protégé of the Bachelor Duke of Devonshire.  He sketched the first design for his Great Exhibition building, the Crystal Palace, on a sheet of MBM&MJR blotting paper during a directors' meeting.

Paxton designed the company's stations at Rowsley and Matlock, and his son-in-law, George Henry Stokes, did the particularly attractive station at Cromford in what is generally described as "French château" style.  The existing main, down-side building is later, but the tiny up-side waiting room and the elaborate stationmaster's house are Stokes'.

Ever since main-line services ceased in the late 1960s, the Cromford station buildings have been neglected, until in recent years the Arkwright Society has renovated the down-side building as a suite of two offices [http://www.arkwrightsociety.org.uk/other/cromford_station_channel/cromford_station] and Ryan Phelps has converted the waiting room opposite into a compact, high-quality holiday let [http://www.cromfordstationwaitingroom.co.uk/] which sleeps two very comfortably, and four at a pinch.

Here you can live in great comfort, with an hourly train-service up and down the Derwent valley between Derby and Matlock.  The first train north comes through at 0605, and the last one south passes at 2249.  Sleep would have been more of a problem when the great coal trains lumbered through twenty-four hours a day.

In a spare twenty minutes I took the guests on the 2010 Waterways & Railways of the Derbyshire Peak tour to take a look at Cromford Station.  One lady, curious to know if a train was due, pressed the "enquiries" button, expecting a recorded announcement, and was fascinated to be put in touch with a man who not only gave her the time, but checked that the driver was ready to leave Matlock on time.  And so fifteen very mature people stood fascinated, waiting for the headlight to appear in the tunnel, and to photograph a very brightly painted diesel railcar.  We're all anoraks really.

Cromford Station House is private, and the Waiting Room is of course let regularly:  if you visit Cromford Station please keep to the public platform.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 30, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Miller's Dale Station (1970)

Miller's Dale Station, Derbyshire (1970)

Miller's Dale Station was one of the sites on the Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour in June 2010.  It's a parking place on the Monsal Trail which utilises the trackbed from just west of Bakewell through to Blackwell Mill, a couple of miles from Buxton town centre.

The whole line is an astonishing piece of engineering, carved through the dales of the River Wye in the 1860s to the fury of John Ruskin, who complained that it destroyed an idyllic landscape so that "every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton".  The rapid succession of viaducts, cuttings and tunnels led the railwaymen to call this line "the flute".

Travellers gaze at the huge expanse of the former station, and wonder why the Midland Railway built a five-platform station on a shelf halfway up a remote cliff-face.  The reason was to provide a connection between the dead-end branch line to Buxton and the fast trains between Derby and Manchester, and – from 1905 – to allow expresses to overtake the heavy goods trains that struggled up the grade from Rowsley.

Ironically, when the line closed in 1968, there was uproar at a plan to demolish the Monsal Dale Viaduct, and in the 1980s the Peak Park Planning Board concluded that it was far cheaper to repaint the magnificent iron and steel Miller's Dale Viaducts than to dismantle them.

This means that it remains possible for PeakRail to bring train services back to Miller's Dale, one day.  When this plan becomes a reality, I suspect there will be an outcry from nature-lovers at the destruction of wildlife on the trail, and once again every fool in Buxton can swap places with every fool in Bakewell if they wish.

There's a detailed account with a collection of images of Miller's Dale Station at ttp://www.disused-stations.org.uk/m/millers_dale/index.shtml, and Graeme Bickerdike provides an informative update on the physical condition of the engineering structures along the line at http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/bridges/monsal.html.

At present, Miller's Dale Station has nothing to offer but public lavatories.  The nearby café, known as the Wriggly Tin, is now a house.  But according to a recent press report, this situation may shortly improve:  http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/localnews/3m-visitor-centres-hopes-for.6349207.jp.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 28, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Peak Rail Rowsley South

Peak Rail is a steam-railway project with a huge future.

The present is relatively modest.  Trains operate along a four-mile stretch of the Derbyshire Derwent valley.  Most of the resident locomotives are diesel, though trains are often steam-hauled.  The catering staff do an excellent line in Sunday lunch, afternoon tea and cream tea.  There is a regular roster of events to bring in special-interest groups.

The next major development will be running trains into the Network Rail station at Matlock.  At present the Peak Rail line terminates at a temporary station, Matlock Riverside, which is within walking distance of the town centre.  Once Peak Rail trains stand on the adjacent track to the railcars from Nottingham and Derby, it'll be easier for passengers to make the use of the line, and a restored direct rail link will enable steam tours from afar to travel up to Rowsley, and for Peak Rail excursions to head south on to the national network.

But the big agenda is the vision that started the whole project in 1975.  When the main line through Matlock to Manchester closed in 1968 the trackbed remained largely intact and much of it eventually passed to the respective local authorities, Derbyshire County Council and the Peak Park Planning Board.  The Peak Railway Association exists to support Peak Rail with proposals to restore train services up the Wye valley west of Rowsley, bringing visitors to Bakewell, Monsal Dale, Miller's Dale and eventually Buxton.

The practical impediments are, apparently, replacement of an overbridge at Rowsley and "difficulties" with Haddon Tunnel.  Otherwise the obstacles are primarily economic.  Repeated examinations of the plan have so far ruled out reinstatement, though the attractions of routing freight by rail across Derbyshire, relieving the heavily-used Hope Valley line from Dore to Chinley, may become more attractive in the years to come.

Details of Peak Rail's services and events are at http://www.peakrail.co.uk/index.htm.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 30, 2010

Category:The Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Belper Long Row

Long Row, Belper

I spent part of my teenage years in the Derbyshire Derwent Valley, at a time when its industrial heritage was largely intact but about to disappear.  On my way to school I watched most of Jedediah Strutt's late-eighteenth century mills knocked down;  I rode my bike the length of canal from Butterley Tunnel (now buried under the A.38 trunk road), past Bull Bridge Aqueduct (blown up for road-widening) and through Hag Tunnel (vanished between a dyeworks reservoir and a gas-treatment plant) all the way to Cromford;  I climbed George Stephenson's 'Steep' inclined railway (largely destroyed by the same gas plant).  I watched the Blue Pullman go past as I delivered newspapers in the final years that expresses ran between Derby and Manchester via Miller's Dale and Doveholes.

It was because so much of this internationally significant industrial heritage was disappearing, threatened or simply not understood that from the start of the 1970s local people and academics began campaign after campaign to safeguard the mills and industrial housing of Cromford, Belper, Milford and Darley Abbey.  The local authorities safeguarded the routes of the Cromford Canal and the Cromford & High Peak Railway, and volunteers helped to bring back to life the Leawood Pump and the Middleton Top Winding Engine.  Preserved railways have restored trains to surviving stretches of trackbed.  The National Tramway Museum thrives in a limestone quarry first developed by George Stephenson.  Sir Richard Arkwright's Masson Mill is now a shopping centre;  his home at Willersley Castle is now a hotel.

This upsurge of interest, energy and enterprise was rooted in a vibrant collaboration between local people, industrial archaeologists and historians, enlightened local politicians, industrial leaders and leading public figures such as the late and present Dukes of Devonshire.  The nomination of the valley as a World Heritage Site in 2001 set the seal on these efforts and promised to attract visitors and relieve pressure on Britain's first national park, the Peak District.

Yet there is so much yet to develop.  Many of the historic mills and empty or underused.  There is no coherent transport plan to allow tourists to get about the valley without cars.  The area lacks the coherent signage that makes the multiplicity of sites around Ironbridge coherent and navigable.

The language of the World Heritage News bulletin [www.derwentvalleymills.org] makes me wonder, though.  A masterplan is working to "develop the strategic vision" in Derby and Belper, and to define "how specific projects will be delivered".  A feasibility study looks at "viable usage options" for the Darley Abbey Mills, which involves "access and public realm issues to consider".  A river bus is proposed, and "completion of the masterplan will play a part in how this project moves forward."

I wonder, do we actually need this plethora of plans?  Is the slow progress in developing the site the result of a lack of planning since the 1970s?  Or is it because the administrative mills grind slowly?

Web material on the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site can be found at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1030, http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/environment/conservation/derwentvalley/default.asp, http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/derwentvalleymills.html, and http://www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/planning_and_building_control/conservation/world_heritage_site/default.asp.

Posted by: mike on Jun 28, 2010

Category:The Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Arkwright's Mill, Cromford

We used Cromford Mill as a lunch-stop on the recent Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour.  The Cromford Canal starts – for significant historical reasons – alongside the mills, and it was the most logical location for a lunch break between exploring the canal in the morning and moving on to its dizzy adjunct, the Cromford & High Peak Railway, in the afternoon.

It also gave the group members a brief opportunity to experience one of the most remarkable conservation projects in a remarkable area, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

Turn up as a tourist, and Arkwright's Mill [http://www.arkwrightsociety.org.uk] provides an excellent café, numerous shopping opportunities and a world-class historic site that will be better interpreted when the new £2.5 million interpretation centre is finished.

Here is one of the "cradles of the Industrial Revolution", where Richard Arkwright, as he then was, came in 1771 looking for sufficient water-power to drive his newly-patented spinning frame, which eventually took its place as one of the inventions that transformed the British textile industry.  It wasn't exactly the first water-powered factory in the world – the Derby Silk Mill started work in 1704 – but Arkwright's mills at Cromford, and the community that grew around this remote spot, pioneered the development of cotton and woollen towns across Britain and the world.

Further down the Derwent valley Arkwright's associates built the mills at Belper, Milford and Darley Abbey;  Arkwright himself extended his operations to Wirksworth, Bakewell and into Lancashire and Scotland.  Robert Owen's New Lanark, Titus Salt's Saltaire are in direct line of descent.  There is a version of Cromford at Ratingen in Germany, and another at Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which was started by a Strutt apprentice from Belper called Samuel Slater (otherwise "Slater the Traitor").

When I first knew Cromford well, helping out at the bicentennial Arkwright Festival in 1971, the cotton mills were a workaday, heavily polluted colour works, nobody visited Cromford except for occasional industrial archaeologists and, less than a decade before, Matlock Rural District Council had firm plans to demolish much of North Street (1776), one of the very first examples of planned industrial housing in the world.

That so much has been achieved to transform Cromford into an internationally significant tourist site is largely the work of the Arkwright Society, led for many years by Dr Chris Charlton, and still working hard to develop further one of the most fascinating stretches of historical landscape in Britain.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.


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