Updated 6 Jan 2005
WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900
Copied with permission of Denis Eardley from his fine booklet:
"Discover Derbyshire - Wirksworth and the surrounding area"
Published by Solar Press 1999
ISBN 0 9535752 0 9
This booklet also contains details of 6 walks in the area and makes excellent reading.
DENIS EARDLEY now runs a comprehensive website at:
which includes descriptions and walks for
Wirksworth and many other places in Derbyshire.....
PLACES covered at present (many more to follow), Wirksworth Area underlined:
Ashford-in-the-Water, Ashover, Baslow, Belper, Buxton, Castleton,
Cromford, Dale Abbey, Edensor, Hartington, Hathersage, Hayfield,
Hognaston, Matlock, Melbourne, Monyash, Shardlow, Tissington,
The Wirksworth Project..
The Heritage Centre..
The Cromford and High Peak Railway..
High Peak Trail..
Steeple Grange Light Railway..
The National Stone Centre..
High Peak Junction..
The Cromford Mills..
The Dale and Green Hill..
Around the Market Place..
North End and Chapel Lane..
The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin..
D H Lawrence Connection..
Recreation Road Ground..
The Wigwell Grange Murder..
Wirksworth owes its past prosperity to lead-mining. Daniel Defoe on his tour of Britain in the 1720's described the town as a kind of market for lead: "The like is not known anywhere else that I know of except it be the custom house keys in London".
The Romans mined lead in the area, and it is probable that it was mined before then. During the last two centuries over thirty pigs or ingots of smelted lead have been discovered and traced back to Derbyshire. The majority of them bear the inscription LVI, a shortened version of Lutudarum , which was then the Roman mining centre in the area. Some experts consider that Carsington just two miles from Wirksworth was the site of Lutudarum.
During Saxon times there are records of St. Guthlac, the Prior of Croyland Abbey, being buried in a lead coffin from Wirksworth in 714. In the next century lead was taken from the town to be used for lining the roof of Canterbury Cathedral.
In 1288, The Inquisition for the King's Field of the High Peak held at Ashbourne gave the lead miner legal backing to the many customs and privileges that already existed in order to encourage mining in what was mainly a barren wasteland. Barmote Courts administered the laws and were presided over by barmasters, with Wirksworth emerging during the late Middle Ages as the centre for jurisdiction for the lead mining industry over the whole of the Low Peak.
Few restrictions were put on the miner in his search for lead, apart from mining being prohibited in church yards, gardens, orchards and on the highway. This did not please farmers, who were considerably inconvenienced when miners staked claims on their land. It was not unknown for farmers to plant fruit trees and create an orchard to protect their holdings.
When a vein of lead had been discovered, it had to be freed, by giving a dish of ore to the barmaster and applying for the title of the mine to be registered. Having been granted possession of his mine, the first requirement for the miner was to erect a stowe (or windlass) to signify ownership.
If the mine was not worked for three weeks, except for flooding and ventilation problems, the barmaster could cut a notch or "nick" in the stowe. This procedure would be repeated usually at three weekly intervals and if after the third "nicking" the mine was still unworked, ownership was forfeited and the stowe thrown down.
In the middle of the seventeenth century, Edward MANLOVE, a steward at the Barmote Court in Wirksworth, wrote a poem to assist miners in remembering the laws. The theft of ore was considered a very serious offence and the law was recorded by MANLOVE as follows:
For stealing ore twice from the minery
The thief that's taken fined twice shall be,
But the third time that he commits such theft,
Shall have a knife stuck through his hand to th'haft,
Into the stow, and there till death shall stand.
Or loose himself by cutting loose his hand,
And shall forswear the franchise of the mine,
And always lose his freedom from that time.
Between 1600 and 1780 lead mining reached a peak, before finally declining during the latter part of the nineteenth century. When miners were forced deeper and deeper for the ore, flooding problems became even more severe and made extraction uneconomic. The discovery of rich deposits of easily accessible lead ore at Broken Hill in Australia forced down prices even further, resulting in the closure of many mines.
A few mines continued production especially Mill Close at Darley Dale well into the twentieth century, but today nearly all the lead required in this country is imported.
ROYALTIES - All the lead in the King's Field belonged to the Soverign and royalties had to be paid. These rights were often given to local landowners, in return for services to the state. This was good news to those landowners with a good supply of lead just waiting to be discovered.
As lead mining declined, the limestone quarries provided work for the people who lived in the area. The arrival of the railway in Wirksworth, in 1867, which linked the town with Derby and the rapidly expanding railway network beyond, opened the way for the easy distribution of limestone which was in great demand. The situation was improved still further twelve years later when a railway tunnel was built below the town centre linking Dale Quarry, known locally as the "Big Hole", with the station. This was a big improvement in transportation as previously the stone had to be moved from the quarry by horse drawn vehicle down the Dale and through the centre of the town centre to the railway. Arched openings in the quarry face, which acted as ventilation shafts for the railway, can still be seen in the garden of a house on the Dale.
The great upheaval came in 1925-26 with the re-opening of Dale Quarry,
when mechanisation was introduced and a stone crusher installed in a hole between 200 and 300 feet deep. Inevitably the whole of this densely populated area declined and the town was badly affected by the dust, dirt and noise. Many of the people who could afford to do so reluctantly left, along with business and commerce. Buildings fell into disrepair, frequently being left empty to decay, and what had been one of Derbyshire's most important towns was left blighted with the residents who remained despairing that improvements would ever take place. The seriousness of the situation was recognised by the West Derbyshire District Council in 1978 when a large area in the centre of the town including part of the market place, was declared a General Improvement Area.
ARTHUR HARWOOD - It was Arthur HARWOOD the quarry owner who had the tunnel under Wirksworth built. Unfortunately one of the consequences of the expansion that followed was that his house and garden fell into the quarry!
The WIRKSWORTH PROJECT
In 1977, when the technical panel of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust were reviewing their list of buildings in the county, "thought to be empty, neglected or in need of repair", it became apparent that a large number of these were in Wirksworth. The Trust decided to obtain more specific details of the scale of the problems. It was by great good fortune, that at this time the Trust discovered an anonymous charity was trying to identify an historic town somewhere in the United Kingdom - a town suffering economic and social decline and in need of financial support. The Trust was convinced that Wirksworth met the criteria laid down and a presentation was made to the charity, as a result of which the town was placed on the list of candidates. There followed private visits by representatives of the benefactor and later by the benefactors themselves to assess the merits of the case. Gradually the list of names grew shorter, but Wirksworth's name remained. At last the anxious wait was over and the town was chosen for support.
On the 28th of November 1978, a public meeting was called at Wirksworth Town Hall to discuss the proposals for the regeneration of the town. The meeting was overwhelmingly in favour of the proposals and the Wirksworth Project was launched. At first progress was slow, but after what seemed almost insurmountable problems were overcome, the realisation of the dramatic progress that had been made became fully apparent when national and international recognition was achieved. In June 1983, Wirksworth was presented with the prestigious Europa Nostra Award for architectural conservation. This was the only award made to a United Kingdom project at that time. It was given for its "exemplary regeneration of a small country town through a broad programme of self-help and innovative features". Praise came from many other quarters and HRH Prince Charles referred to the project as "brilliantly imaginative".
REGENERATION- One of the aims of the Wirksworth Project was to retain the town's character, as expressed by its old buildings, narrow winding streets, stone setts and other traditional features. The object was to repair and improve buildings rather than demolish them.
The HERITAGE CENTRE
For those wanting to know more about Wirksworth a visit to the highly acclaimed Heritage Centre is essential. Situated just off the market place in Crown Yard, the centre shares the yard with a silversmith, blacksmith, computer shop, picture framer and Crown Yard kitchen, where snacks and home cooked meals can be purchased. The Heritage Centre is housed in what was once a Silk and Velvet Mill where in 1851 Samuel EVANS employed 28 to 30 workers. The property had been left empty for many years and considered "at risk", when the Civic Society took it over and converted it into one of the finest Heritage Centres in the Midlands when it opened its doors to the public in 1984.
The "Wirksworth Story" is explained on three floors at the Heritage Centre where you are taken on a fascinating journey through time. On the underground floor the exhibition "Making Tracks" takes you from Roman times to the present day. The local customs of Well Dressing and Clypping the Church are also explained. On the first floor the intriguing story of lead mining is told. Children and the not so young can enjoy the computer games and have the thrill of exploring The Dream Cave, a recreation of a cavern in which some lead miners found the remains of a prehistoric Woolly Rhino in the 1820's. The top floor features quarrying and there is a fascinating reconstruction of a Quarryman's House Place complete with commentary, which really brings home to you what life was like in the early 1900s. There are many other interesting displays to admire and impressive views of the town can be obtained from the windows.
If your appetite has been whetted and you have time to explore, then buy the comprehensively detailed Town Trail. This will help you find your way around this quaint little town and discover so much of interest you could have missed.
QUIRKSWORTH - Find out at the Heritage centre, why the Sunday Observer called the town "Quirksworth".
The CROMFORD and HIGH PEAK Railway
The construction of the Cromford and High Peak Railway was considered to be an engineering masterpiece which later attracted railway enthusiasts, not only from this country, but from all over the world. It linked High Peak Junction at 277 feet above sea-level with Whaley Bridge at 517 feet. In the middle it rose to over 1,000 feet at Ladmanlow. Stretching for 33 miles in length, the line was fully opened in 1831, when it was used to transport minerals, corn, coal and other commodities from one canal to the other.
When seeking to describe the railways bold and ingenious design, one nineteenth writer wrote: "The skyscraping High Peak Railway with its corkscrew curves that seem to have been laid out by a mad Archimedes endeavouring to square the circle". It had been the original intention to construct a canal to connect William JESSOP's Cromford Canal with Benjamin OUTRAM's Peak Forest Canal, but difficulties in ensuring an adequate water supply on the moors led to the scheme being dropped. Proposals were then put forward and accepted to build a railway. This involved steep inclines, up and down which wagons were hauled on chains until the 1850s and then on cables by steam driven winding engines. Initially, horses were relied on to pull the trucks along the flatter part of the route, but steam began to replace them in 1833 when the first locomotive came on the scene. The line continued to play an integral part in linking the canal systems for a further 20 years, when it was connected to the rapidly expanding railway network, which apart from providing a local service was also used to send limestone all over the country.
Some passengers were carried in the mid 1800s in addition to the cargo, but their journeys were far from luxurious as they had to get off and walk when the train came to an incline. There were also frequent delays waiting for trains to link up, and the railway staff seemed to find it very "thirsty work", requiring visits to nearby public houses leaving the passengers no alternative but to await their return, or to join them at the bar, before continuing their journeys. In 1872, the passenger service was terminated because of lack of trade. Several accidents have been recorded on the line. At Sheep Pasture Incline, to the east of Middleton Top, a "catch pit "was dug after a spectacular accident when two wagons ran away, hurtling downhill, before leaping from the track at the bottom, over both the canal and railway line and finally coming to rest in a field completely wrecked. The "catch pit" is still there plus some interesting railway buildings at High Peak Junction.
The closure of quarries and increased competition from road transport led to the Cromford and High Peak Railway finally closing down in 1967. Middleton Top Engine House still remains and is the sole surviving engine house of those that once stood at the top of every incline. It has been designated as an Ancient Monument, together with the Butterley beam-engine which used to wind the haulage cables. The engine has been lovingly restored and can be inspected by the public and seen in motion on the first weekend of each summer month and on Bank Holidays.
The visitor centre tells the story of the CHPR and provides information, maps, walk leaflets, books, gifts and refreshments. There is a car park, toilets, cycle hire centre, engine house and picnic site.
The HIGH PEAK TRAIL
Following the closure of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, the land was purchased jointly by Derbyshire County Council and the Peak park Planning Board and in partnership with the Countryside Commission converted into the High Peak Trail. It stretches from High Peak Junction on the Cromford Canal to Dowlow near Buxton, a total distance of seventeen and a half miles. Surrounded by beautiful countryside the traffic-free trail is ideal for horse riders, cyclists, naturalists, and walkers. It is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs along the flat stretches. There is an abundance of wild life along the route and it is particularly noted for wild flowers including cowslips, wild strawberry and thyme.
All the picnic sites car parks and information centres have been designed to provide visitors with the opportunity to relax and enjoy the magnificent scenery of the Derbyshire countryside. At Parsley hay the trail connects with the Tissington trail, which leads off in a south-easterly direction towards Ashbourne. The trail is managed by Rangers who apart from ensuring due care is taken of the countryside are always happy to provide helpful advice to make visits more enjoyable.
STEEPLE GRANGE LIGHT Railway
The Steeple Grange Light Railway is a one foot six inches gauge line built on the track bed of a branch of the old Cromford and High Peak Railway - now the High Peak Trail. Passengers board the train at Steeplehouse Station for a short but very interesting journey up a 1 in 27 gradient to Dark Lane Quarry, a long disused limestone quarry now overgrown with sycamore, ash and hawthorn trees. Many of the surrounding fields are designated as sites of Special Scientific Importance and well over 127 different species of plant have been recorded within the old quarries. The more shaded areas are covered with mosses and lichens with cowslips in the lighter parts. A wild snapdragon known as Toad flax, geraniums called shining Cranesbill and a host of other wild flowers can be found close to the railway. The railway also acts as a home to an abundance of wild life including rabbits, foxes, voles and even barn owls.
At Steeplehouse Station there is an unusual collection of locomotives and rolling stock all of which are ex-mining stock. An ex-NCB manrider, originally built for up to sixteen sturdy miners, is normally used to transport visitors along the line. There are ambitious plans to extend the line and the Steeple Grange Railway welcome new members as well as visitors just out to enjoy themselves with a pleasant train ride in beautiful countryside.
The NATIONAL STONE CENTRE
It sounds incredible but every year, each of us uses five tonnes of stone which finds its way into an enormous number of products. The fascinating story of how we all use stone from morning to night is told at the National Stone Centre in Wirksworth.
Officially opened in October 1990, on the site of six disused quarries, The National Stone Centre tells the story of stone, its geological history and industrial history. The exhibition at the visitor centre takes you on a journey through time, from the creation of the earth over 4 billion years ago to the present day. It shows how stone has been used through the ages for building; the different uses it has been put to as a result of cultural changes and the advancement of technology. From sugar to toothpaste and tyres to cosmetics the amazing list of the uses of stone seems endless.
Outside the visitor centre, the quarry trail takes you back over 300 million years. Viewpoint panels along the trail indicate where you are: the bottom of a lagoon, the side of a reef, or by the tropical Derbyshire coastline! There are plenty of remains of animal life to be seen, with shellfish embedded in the rocks and for the observant shark's teeth. Evidence of lead-miners pick marks can be found. In more modern times the site has been used for quarrying, before being abandoned in the mid 1960s after providing stone for the M1 motorway.
The shop contains a vast collection of gemstone jewellery, crystals, fossils and minerals. Hands-on activities include gem panning, fossil casting and fossil rubbing.
EDUCATIONAL CHARITY - Derbyshire is the biggest quarrying area in the country, producing 20 million tonnes of stone a year. This makes it an excellent site for the National Stone Centre, which is an educational charity supported by over 80 public, industrial and academic organisations.
The construction of Cromford canal was completed in late 1794, to improve the speed of movement of heavy goods in and out of Cromford. Although it was opened after the death of Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT, he was the prime mover in the decision to construct the canal. It linked up with the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill, which ran into the River Trent. This provided a connection with Derby and Nottingham and beyond that with Liverpool and Manchester by the Trent and Mersey Canal. The canal soon became very busy, as apart from the benefits it brought to ARKWRIGHT's Cromford Mills, thousands of tonnes of stone were shipped all over the country from Cromford Wharf. Lead was taken the much shorter distance to the smelter at Lea, using the Lea extension to the canal. One of the most unusual shipments was two stone lions, which having been sculptured at Darley Dale were taken by canal to Liverpool, where they can still be seen standing by the entrance to St. George's Hall.
The arrival of the railway era in the mid 1800's, gradually took most of the business away from the canal. Then disaster struck at the turn of the century with the collapse of the Butterley Tunnel. It was not rebuilt, and in 1944 the canal was finally abandoned as a commercial waterway. Thirty years later Derbyshire County Council purchased the section of the canal from Cromford to Ambergate and developed it for recreational purposes. Close to both the A6 trunk road and the Derby to Matlock railway line, it is easily accessible both by road and rail. The towpath is walkable from Cromford to Ambergate, a distance of five and a half miles, and the walk from Cromford Wharf to High Peak Junction is suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. It is very rich with wildlife and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest with the southern end from Ambergate to Whatstandwell being managed as a local nature reserve by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.
Cromford Wharf is the terminus of the canal and still possesses several interesting old canal buildings, a car park, toilets and a picnic area. At High Peak Junction, where the Cromford and High Peak Railway used to start, are to be found the oldest surviving railway workshops in the world. Only a short walk away is Leawood Pumphouse with its magnificent beam-engine, used to raise water from the Derwent to maintain a consistent level of water in the canal. The engine has been restored and can be seen working on some summer weekends and bank Holidays. Close by is Wigwell Aqueduct, or Derwent Aqueduct, as it is also known, which carries the canal across the River Derwent on an arch with an eighty foot span
HIGH PEAK JUNCTION
The starting point for the High Peak Trail where there are toilets, a picnic site and a car park off the Cromford to Holloway road. There are also Railway workshops and memorabilia, a visitor centre and a shop selling books, maps, gifts and refreshments.
The CROMFORD MILLS
Arkwright's first mill at Cromford was built in 1771 and the whole mill site was finished by 1791. At the same time, he developed Cromford into one of the first industrial villages, including workers' cottages, a market place and a lock-up.
Arkwright's mill, with its water powered machinery and a large workforce, became the model for others throughout Britain and abroad, earning Arkwright the title "Father of the Factory System".
Arkwright was knighted in 1786 and became High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1787. He amassed a large personal fortune and started to build himself a country house, Willersley Castle, before his death in 1792.
Few people arriving in Cromford for the first time realise that it was the first purpose built industrial village and that it encompasses the site of the world's first successful water-powered cotton mill. It was from Cromford that its revolutionary methods spread across the rest of the world. Its creator, Richard ARKWRIGHT, the semi-literate son of a Lancashire tailor, rose from obscurity to become the first commoner ever to be knighted for his contribution in industry. As a result of his achievement Britain was transformed from an almost self-sufficient country with an economy based on agriculture and cottage industries into the workshop of the world.
Born in Preston in 1732, ARKWRIGHT was one of eight children only seven of whom survived. In 1750, after his apprenticeship to a Kirkham barber he moved to Bolton where he worked not only as a barber, but also as a wig-maker of some repute and as a publican. As the call for cotton goods increased and the "flying shuttle", invented in 1733, came into general use, so greatly increasing the output of hand weavers in Lancashire, the need to improve the method of spinning became obvious. There were many attempts to mechanise the spinning process but it was Richard ARKWRIGHT, whose mechanical aptitude was well known, who perfected the process and made the roller spinning method a viable commercial proposition.
ARKWRIGHT travelled to Nottingham primarily in search of financial backing, as did James HARGREAVES with his "spinning jenny". There were a number of advantages in coming to the Midlands. It was the centre of a thriving hosiery industry where cheap strong cotton was needed. The local hosiers were already men of great substance willing and able to back the project. Skilled mechanics conversant with relatively complex machines were available and there was a potential source of other skilled workers. ARKWRIGHT's Nottingham mill, powered by horses, was still in the experimental stage when the partners built the first five-storey mill at Cromford in 1771.
Cromford was nothing more than a tiny hamlet in 1771. The countryside was described as a dreary waste where nature had placed an insurmountable object in the way of cultivation by fixing upon it those prominent rocks! But it had what ARKWRIGHT described as a "remarkable stream of water" - the Bonsall Brook issuing from the hills above and joined, just above the mill site, by the Cromford Sough draining from the Wirksworth lead mines. There was already an ancient corn mill on the brook and a lead smelting mill where the St. Mary's Church stands today. The lead miner's families and those of the scattered farmsteads provided labour for the first mill.
The Greyhound Pond is an important and unusual amenity in modern Cromford. Together with a series of ponds along the brook the purpose of its creation in the eighteenth century, as production expanded, was purely functional - to ensure a constant head of water for the wheels of the mills to drive the machinery.
The massive seven-storey mill, built in 1776 - destroyed by fire in 1890 - became the basic design in industrial architecture for the next 150 years. In perfecting the machinery and improving production methods, ARKWRIGHT had to attract many more workers to Cromford and to do this he built most of the village as we know it today. Cromford has some of the best examples of industrial housing in Britain standing as an international monument to the Industrial Revolution. It is a credit to ARKWRIGHT's foresight and business acumen that the houses still provide modest but attractive homes. With the houses he built all the facilities which were necessary to village life in those days. The village is now protected by a Conservation Order which encourages the enhancement and repair of these historic buildings. It provides an excellent opportunity to explore the first planned industrial community of the Industrial Revolution.
ARKWRIGHT died in 1792 at the age of sixty leaving his great cotton empire to his son Richard, a financier of the highest order. The two mills closed during the 1840'swhen the Sough water was diverted, and the site was rented out to whomsoever wished to use it foe whatever purpose. It was sold in the 1920's in order that death Duties could be paid.
In 1971 a very successful Festival was held to commemorate ARKWRIGHT's arrival in Cromford. The ARKWRIGHT Society was formed and when the site came up for sale eight years later, it put together a rescue plan and eventually purchased the whole of the site. Since that time there has been an ongoing programme of restoration which has won a number of national and local awards. In 1979 no one worked at the Cromford Mills; the buildings were derelict and the site heavily contaminated. To date, nearly one hundred jobs have been created, the site is free of contamination and all but three of the buildings restored and returned to economic usefulness creating an essential income for the Society. Work has already begun on the three remaining buildings, which include the first mill - the most historically interesting, but the most seriously damaged.
Today people from all over the world visit the site and school parties from all over England. They come to follow the progress of restoration, enjoy the guided tours, browse round the shops and refresh themselves in the excellent wholefood restaurant; but most importantly they come to learn at first hand of the massive contribution to the prosperity of Britain and the world made by Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT in the village of Cromford.
INDUSTRIAL ESPIONAGE - Manufacturing methods that had been devised by ARKWRIGHT at Cromford were soon copied in the United Kingdom and throughout the developed world. Information was frequently obtained by industrial espionage.
The DALE and GREEN HILL
The limestone cottages of The Dale and Green Hill cling to the hillside, as if Wirksworth was some little Cornish fishing village with nothing but the sea missing. In places it is possible to walk from the garden of one house onto the roof of another below. This is the area where the lead miners used to live, the jumble of small cottages having been built mostly from random stone extracted from nearby quarries. Nowhere is the lack of planning more apparent than in the area between the remains of Dale Quarry and Middle Peak Quarry, known locally by the intriguing name of Puzzle Gardens. The cottages are linked by a maze of "ginnels" or "jitties", there is no room for vehicular access and the visitor quickly gets lost with paths seeming to lead in all directions.
It was on Green Hill, in 1912, where Rolls-Royce used the steep gradient for special stop and re-start tests on their cars. During the following year's Austrian Alpine trials these tests paid of handsomely, enhancing considerably the prestige of their world famous car-engines. Many other trials have been held on the hill with both solo and side car motor bikes attempting to reach the top without stopping. This was not an easy task, as in those days the road surface was often rough and deeply rutted, which resulted in plenty of thrills and spills for the interested spectators who liked to join in and give the bikes a good push when they got stuck.
Situated half way up Green Hill is Babington House, an excellent example of the old builder's rule "Always use local products, if they are available", the builder only having gone as far as the back garden to quarry the stone to build the house. The house has been used for a variety of purposes and at one time was the Parish Workhouse before becoming the Cottage Hospital in 1868, which it remained for just over 60 years. The hospital was kept busy with a steady stream of patients from the quarries, where safety precautions were inadequate and workmen often took unnecessary risks to increase the amount of stone loaded and their wages at the end of the week.
Many of the accidents were of a horrific nature such as the one recorded in the "Quarry Managers Journal" in August 1921:
James ELSE a quarry man was working in a limestone quarry when a charge of gelignite exploded prematurely, blowing a ramrod through his neck. ELSE, it appears, was pinned to the rock, but apparently the arteries were not injured. The ramrod which was of steel and was ten foot or more in length, passed halfway through ELSE's neck, and before he could be taken to hospital the bar had to be cut through, close to the flesh at the front and back of the neck.
Amazingly, Mr ELSE made a satisfactory recovery.
At the foot of Green Hill stands Hopkinson House, a former lead merchant's home, built in 1631. This was one of Wirksworth's most important houses before decline set in and it stood derelict for many years. In 1954 the roof collapsed, the walls crumbled and the centre filled with rubble. Rescue came in 1981, when it was purchased by the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, as part of the Wirksworth Project, and was restored to its former glory.
ROYAL SURGEON - Frederick TREVES was a doctor in the town for a short time. Later he became a leading surgeon and performed a successful appendix operation on King Edward VII in 1902, an almost unheard of operation at the time, for which he was made a baronet.
Around the MARKET PLACE
Wirksworth's ancient market place occupies the centre of the town and is surrounded by a remarkably large number of handsome old buildings, which combine to make an impressive town centre. Little has changed over the last 150 years, apart from the construction of Harrison Drive, in 1940, to ease the flow of quarry traffic through the town. The facades of many of the shops and houses date from between 1760 and 1840, but the structures are often much older. A market is now held every Tuesday on the steeply sloping area at the foot of West End. It is very much reduced in size since 1306, when Edward I granted the town a market and four fairs per year.
It is worth walking to the top of the market place to admire the view of the town and the hills beyond. This is "Peak Practice" country, the town often being used to shoot scenes for the ITV television programme, the creator of whom lives locally. The premises at Number 1 West End have been featured as a "bank" in one episode of this popular television drama. Situated just opposite is the "West End Gallery", formerly the Green Man public house with its finely moulded sixteenth century beams on all of the three floors; this is now the home to fine painting and ceramic exhibitions. The carriage arch facing across the market place used to be part of the Crown Inn and now leads the way to the Heritage Centre which tells the "Wirksworth Story". At the bottom of the market place, set on an island site, is the Hope and Anchor, a fine seventeenth century building. There is an ornate plaster ceiling on the first floor and an elaborately carved wooden fireplace in the lounge bar, probably dating from about 1660.
In 1780, John TOPLIS, a local business man, established a bank in St. John's Street, in the premises now occupied by Lloyds Bank, which at the time was the only bank between Derby and Chesterfield. On the opposite side of the road at the corner of St. Mary's Gate is the site of the "Cruck Timber Frame Cottage". This was discovered in the early 1970's when two cottages were pulled down in what is predominantly stone and brick area. The "Adam Bede Plaque" over the shop just below indicates where Elizabeth EVANS, immortalised as Dinah Morris in the novel Adam Bede, spent the last years of her life.
Returning to the market place you pass the "Chemist's Shop" established in 1756, the bow windows of which are believed to be one of the oldest practising pharmacies in England. The market place is well served with a wide variety of shops, but "Traid Links" gives it a definite international feel, featuring "fairly traded third world goods". Across the other side of the street at Number 12 Market Place, William BEMROSE opened a printing and stationary business in the mid 1820s before becoming the owner just over two years later. This was the start of the BEMROSE printing firm based in Derby, which now enjoys an international reputation. BEMROSE described the three and a half years he spent in Wirksworth as the "happiest portion of my life".
The Town Hall on the corner of Coldwell Street is an impressive Italianate building in sandstone, the foundations of which were laid in 1871. The milestone at the front of the building has been given a grade II listing by the Secretary of State as being of Special Architectural Interest. The Red Lion is an old coaching and posting inn rebuilt over 200 years ago, but may well date back to medieval times. The ghost of a coachman is said to haunt the premises. He was attempting to manoeuvre his coach through the archway, when the horses suddenly took fright and dashed forward. Unable to move his head in time he was decapitated. Ever since then the dark figure of a headless man has haunted the Red Lion. Lower down Coldwell Street the Vaults Inn used to be occupied by Messrs. Charles WRIGHT and Company Limited, who blended and bottled many fine wines and spirits including the intriguingly named whisky "Old Gran's Special Toddy". Below the entrance to the public car park is the Art Design and Craft Centre, which has been in the name of the GREATOREX family for nearly 150 years, where the work of local artists and crafts people is displayed.
WASH GREEN - Up the hill to the east of Coldwell Street is the part of the town known as Wash Green. It probably got its name from the days when lead ore was washed and cleaned there. In 1827 Wash Green had a tape-mill, brickworks, saw-mill and a bleach and dye yard.
NORTH END and CHAPEL LANE
Prior to the construction of Harrison Drive in 1940, North End was part of the main road through the town to the north. Since it was restored by the Civic Society in 1979, Newton's Monument has stood at the entrance to North End, accidents permitting! Constructed of Hopton Wood Stone with a lamp on top of it, it was erected in the 1880sin the market place as an aid to safety by the Newton family who were maltsters in the town. The Old Lock Up was built in 1842 as a Magistrate's House and Lock Up, before serving as a police station for one hundred years. D H LAWRENCE and his German born wife Frieda, listed as an alien, had to report there once a week during the First World War when they lived at Middleton-by-Wirksworth. Many of the town drunks who washed away their hard-earned wages from working in the local quarries sobered up in a downstairs cell, which has been converted into a bar, in what is now a luxury guest house. The elegant conversion has been cleverly achieved while still meticulously retaining the fascinating links with the past.
In the nineteenth century, North End Mills, along with four other mills in Wirksworth manufactured the "red Tape" of officialdom. The town produced 800 miles of it each week, enough to stretch from London to Aberdeen! During World War II the mill was used by the Home Guard, but just after the war ended hosiery production began. Visitors to the Mills can still see hosiery being made, have a coffee and admire the collection of old photographs of Wirksworth. in what has become one of the largest Factory Shops of its type in the United Kingdom.
A newly built property, in the middle of a row of old houses, marks where Ebenezer Chapel once stood in Chapel Lane before it was demolished in the 1980s following a serious fire. Samuel and Elizabeth EVANS worshipped here; fortunately their memorial was saved and can now be seen in the Heritage Centre together with other Adam Bede memorabilia. Moot Hall was built in 1814 to replace the one that stood in the market place, which in turn replaced a previous building. It is the seat of the Barmote Court which deals with lead mining matters and still sits twice per year in April and October. The origin of the Court is unknown and it was described as being of great antiquity in 1288, when the laws were formalised. The decorative plaques on the outside wall were salvaged from the old building and inside is kept the massive brass dish once used as the standard measure for lead ore. The inscription shows it was presented to the miners of the King's Field at Wirksworth in the reign of Henry VIII. The Independent Sabbath School, near the Coldwell Street end of Chapel Lane, is the home of the Glenorchy Activity Centre run by the United Reformed Church. The centre has been completely refurbished and is suitable for self-catering groups of all ages.
LEAD MINING RULE - According to the old rules of lead mining, the King's Field in the Wapentake of Wirksworth is the only place in the world where you can dig for lead without permission. If any is found it must be registered with the Barmote Court, which meets twice per year at Moot Hall.
The PARISH CHURCH of St. MARY the VIRGIN
1721 and are mentioned in the churchwarden's accounts, when a payment of eleven pounds was made to
Isaac KIRK for setting up the piers and
six shillings for ale for the workmen.
The parish church stands on a site at the junction of at least five ancient trackways. It was one of the first centres of Christian teaching and may well have been built on the site of a prehistoric stone circle. The church is built in the shape of a cross and the foundations are said to date back to about 653 with much of the present structure dating from 1272. Radical restoration was undertaken between 1870 and 1874 by Sir George Gilbert SCOTT. A path completely encircles the churchyard giving it a cathedral-like appearance and the churchyard itself has been described by the notable Derbyshire historian, Roy CHRISTIAN, as the finest in the county. The lych gates leading from Church Walk to St. John's Street were erected in
This fine old church contains in the words of RWP COCKERTON, referring to the
"Wirksworth Stone", "one of our greatest archeological treasures". The stone slab attracts visitors from all over the world to examine the fine carving. It was discovered in 1820 when the pavement in front of the altar was being removed. The carved slab was placed face-downwards over a stone-built vault or grave containing a large perfect human skeleton. The slab was probably put there by the Normans, when they were carrying out alterations to the church, with instructions to place it face-downwards so as not to remind the people they had conquered the revered Saxons. A comprehensive explanation of all the carvings on the slab appears in the very informative guide available at the church.
In the late eighteenth century the curate, the
Rev Abraham BENNETT, contributed considerably to the knowledge of electrical science and wrote a book entitled "New Experiments on Electricity". His name is almost unknown today but he was one of the great thinkers of his time and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also a member of the forward thinking "Philosophical Society", of which Erasmus DARWIN was a leading member.
On the Sunday following 8 September, the ancient custom of clypping is carried out, when the congregation join hands in thanksgiving by completely encircling the church.
THE LEAD MINER - The much admired carved figure of a lead-miner with his pick and kibble is set into the west wall of the church. The carving was found at Bonsall and brought to Wirksworth in 1876.
The earliest occupation of the valley, now filled by Carsington Water, dates back to around 2000 BC. Evidence for this was found by archeologists when they discovered human remains, flints and knives from a Bronze Age burial mound, during a dig near where the Carsington Water Visitor centre is now located. Two Roman sites were also found, prior to the reservoir being built, one where lead working had been carried out.
Carsington Water was officially opened by HM the Queen in 1992 and instantly became one of Derbyshire's most important tourist attractions. The original estimate of three hundred thousand visitors per year soon had to be revised to over one million. Further evidence of the popularity of Carsington came when the East Midlands Tourist Board awarded it the "Visitor Attraction of the Year" in 1993.
The reservoir was built at a cost of one hundred and seven million and increased Severn Trent's raw-water capacity by ten per cent to meet the growing demand for water in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Water is pumped from the River Derwent at Ambergate Pumping Station and piped to Carsington Water when the river level is high then stored in the reservoir and released when the weather is very dry.
Open every day of the year, except Christmas Day, the visitor centre contains an award winning exhibition showing how Severn Trent provide a reliable and high-quality water supply for its customers. Entrance to this fascinating exhibition, which includes a 3D Virtual Adventure, is free of charge and will appeal to people of all ages. Also situated in the main building are the Severn Trent gift shop, the Borrowdale Restaurant, Henmore Room and the administration offices. Outside, the courtyard is surrounded by four shops, an education room, a terrace cafe and food kiosk.
There is a circular route for walkers around the reservoir, taking in the attractive conservation area villages of Carsington and Hopton, there is a slightly different route for cyclists - bikes can be hired from the Carsington Watersports and Cycle Hire Centre. If you want something a little more adventurous, windsurfing boards are available, or even a two day powerboat course can be booked. For the angler there is the choice of fishing for brown trout from land or by boat.
Only a short easy walk from the main car park is the wildlife centre where you can watch Carsington's birdlife in warmth and comfort. The weight of the turf-covered roof holds the building together without need of screws or nails. Along the bankside towards Carsington village are two further bird-hides where a fascinating hour can be spent seeing how many birds you can spot.
Severn Trent has planted half a million trees and shrubs in woodlands, copses and hedgerows; the result has been not only to enhance an already beautiful landscape, but to create many new habitats for wildlife. This was recognised in 1995, by the receipt of a Forestry Centre of Excellence award for using "the highest standards of woodland management" at Carsington.
The northern part of the reservoir has been reserved as a conservation zone, where eighty five per cent of all types of waterfowl have been recorded. Another form of conservation is demonstrated by the new Low Water Garden at the visitor centre, which shows how you can enjoy an attractive garden without the need for a lot of effort or water.
Carsington Water does get very busy at weekends and during peak holiday periods, so try to arrange your visit at a quieter time. The staff at the information desk in the visitor centre will gladly supply you with details of walks in the area and other information to ensure your visit is enjoyable
BAVARIAN GRANITE - The Kugel - whose name comes from the German word for ball - is a beautiful natural stone sphere, in the courtyard at Carsington Water. Made from Bavarian granite, it weighs over one tonne. Water is pumped into the socket on which it sits allowing it to revolve at the slightest touch.
D H LAWRENCE Connection
Mountain Cottage on the outskirts of Middleton-by-Wirksworth was the home of the famous writer David Herbert LAWRENCE, for nearly twelve months in 1918-19. Born at Eastwood in 1885 he hated the name David and was known to his family as Bert. The son of a miner and a schoolteacher, his mother's family, the BEARDSALLs, originally came from Wirksworth. LAWRENCE returned to the Midlands with Frieda, his German born wife of aristocratic descent, after brief stays in London and Berkshire following their expulsion from Cornwall. When unfounded accusations were made that they were spying for Germany they were given notice that they must leave and live in an unrestricted area. The loud singing of German songs while they were out walking along the cliffs hadn't endeared them to the local Cornish people who thought they were spying on the shipping supply lines. LAWRENCE's sister agreed to pay the rent on Mountain Cottage for her brother who was so desperate he had to apply to the Royal Literary Fund for assistance.
The view from Mountain Cottage is one of the most spectacular in Derbyshire across the Via Gellia to the hills beyond and was described by LAWRENCE as being "in the darkish Midlands, on the rim of a steep valley, looking over the darkish folded hills - exactly the navel of England, and feels exactly that". He only had one tiny book published in 1918, but one of his most poetic short stories, Wintry Peacock, was written at the cottage - about Ible a small hamlet on the opposite side of the Via Gellia. The winter of 1919 was long and hard and LAWRENCE had great difficulties in throwing off the effects of flu, before he and his wife finally left Middleton and embarked on a pilgrimage to Italy, Sicily, Ceylon, Australia and Mexico.
At the southern end of Wirksworth on the Derby Road stands Adam Bede Cottage opposite to Haarlam Mill.
This is where Samuel EVANS and his wife Elizabeth came to live in about 1814 and were portrayed as Adam Bede and Dinah Morris in George Eliot's famous novel Adam Bede. George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Ann EVANS, was the niece of Samuel and Elizabeth EVANS and came to stay with her aunt and uncle in 1826.The visit made such an impression on her that in the novel she wrote about Wirksworth calling it Snowfield, which placed the town on the literary map. The origin of the novel was a story told to George Eliot by her aunt, who had visited a young girl in Nottingham Prison. This girl, Hetty SORREL, who had been condemned to death for the murder of her child. Elizabeth EVANS stayed with her the night before the execution and they said prayers together and on the way to the execution she comforted Hetty.
Elizabeth EVANS was a dedicated Methodist preacher who spoke with great passion and forthrightness. She was well liked and respected in Wirksworth, although somewhat of a thorn in the flesh of the established church because of her unconventional style. Her husband Samuel was also a notable local preacher. When Elizabeth died in 1849, she was buried at her request in an unmarked grave in the Parish churchyard, over which a copper beech tree was planted and still stands to this day. The memorial to Samuel and Elizabeth EVANS can be seen in the Heritage Centre, together with other memorabilia relating to this fascinating story. An explanatory leaflet which provides a much more detailed account of the Adam Bede story is also available
a different angle on Adam BEDE's family
is suggested by e-mails from Catherine Dack]
Haarlam Mill stands opposite Adam Bede Cottage and it is where Samuel EVANS came to manage in 1814. Apart from writing about Samuel in her novel Adam Bede, George Eliot loosely based another of her novels Mill on the Floss on Haarlam Mill. The mill is built on the side of a fulling mill, a cotton-spinning mill having been established in 1778 by Richard ARKWRIGHT and was reputedly one of the first textile mills in the country to use waterpower.
RECREATION ROAD GROUND
On the outskirts of the town, just off the Derby Road, is the Recreation Road ground where Wirksworth Cricket Club have played continuously for 150 years, the club having been established in 1849. Wirksworth holds the distinction of playing the first recorded match in Derbyshire. A report in the Derby Mercury of 1757 reads:
On Thursday last a match of cricket was played at Brampton Moor by 11 young men from Wirksworth against the same number from Sheffield for £50 a side. At the latter end of the game the Wirksworth players were a considerable number of notches ahead of the others when, after a dispute about one of the Sheffield players being out, some of them desisted from playing again, whereby it was left undetermined, but we hear it has since been given in favour of the Wirksworth players and the money has been paid to them.
The stakes were surprisingly high for the period, but the fact that the result was disputed less so.
Like all lead miners, STAFFORD used to dream of hitting the jackpot and finding a rich vein of lead ore. The one night he had a dream much different than he had ever dreamed before. An old white haired man came to him as he lay in his bed and beckoned him to follow. He led STAFFORD on a tortuous journey along narrow passageways deep underground. At last he stopped and pointed to a great rock and told STAFFORD that behind that rock he would find a vein of lead so rich he would make his fortune. Then he disappeared just as mysteriously as he had appeared.
The following day STAFFORD awoke with a feeling of great anticipation - would indeed his dream come true? He did not tell anyone of his dream, but anxiously made his way through the maze of underground tunnels to the spot where the old man had indicated the rock would be. Everything was as he had dreamed and with great excitement he prepared drill holes for the gunpowder he had carried with him and lit the fuse. He took cover from the blast and as the dust began to clear, he inched forward hardly daring to look until he saw the unmistakable silvery gleam of lead ore. The old man had been right. He had discovered a rich vein of ore, which was to make him wealthy as had been predicted.
The WIGWELL GRANGE MURDER
In 1863 at Wigwell Grange, located two miles east of Wirksworth on the old turnpike road to Alfreton, George Victor TOWNLEY murdered Miss Elizabeth Caroline GOODWIN. Miss GOODWIN known to her family as Bessie, lived with her 80 year old grandfather at the Grange, she was a tall attractive young woman of 22 years. She had met TOWNLEY while paying an extended visit to Manchester; he came from a good family and after several meetings they had got engaged. During the summer of 1863 she had second thoughts and wrote to TOWNLEY breaking off the engagement. There followed an exchange of letters, until with reluctance she finally agreed to meet TOWNLEY at Wigwell.
On the day of the meeting they spent some time in the house in earnest conversation before being seen to walk through the grounds and into the road. It was there in a fit of rage TOWNLEY stabbed Bessie in the throat with fatal consequences. He admitted the offence and was held at the Old Lock Up in Wirksworth prior to his trial at Derby Assizes later in the year. At the trial a plea of insanity was put forward. TOWNLEY was found guilty, but the judge wrote to the Home Secretary who granted a respite, while enquiries were made into TOWNLEY's sanity. The sentence was eventually commuted to life imprisonment.
The trial created quite a lot of interest as both people involved were members of the gentry. But when the verdict became known there was an uproar, the national press were outraged by what seemed an injustice. It appeared TOWNLEY had been able to avoid being hanged, as a result of privilege and a private enquiry which his family and friends had paid for, when a poor man in a similar position would not. This so-called injustice did not last for long, as in February 1865, TOWNLEY committed suicide at Pentonville prison.
Every year at Spring Bank Holiday, hundreds of people flock to Wirksworth for the annual well dressing ceremonies and to enjoy all the fun and games of the festival. Since 1827, when piped water was first brought to the town, well dressings, or tap dressings as they were called at the time, have taken place. Few Derbyshire towns or villages can match that record for continuity. Even during the last war one well was dressed every year to avoid forfeiting a local bequest.
The custom of well dressing is largely confined to Derbyshire and dates back many hundred years. It is almost certain that wells were first dressed as pagan sacrifices to water-gods, as a thanksgiving for the supply of water. Probably the reason that the ceremony has survived almost exclusively in the county, is that villages where it was first introduced stood on porous limestone rocks. The rainwater therefore quickly drained away and springs were vital for the survival of the villages.
The wells decorated in Wirksworth follow the traditional pattern where only natural materials are used - flower petals, moss, lichen, fruit skins, seeds and other materials. A great deal of time, skill and hard work goes into preparing the pictures before at last the moment the display is put into place. Apart from the well dressing ceremonies, there is a full programme of events with the crowning of the Queen, processions, street entertainers, bands, fancy dress parades, craft fairs, market stalls, races and all the fun of the fair.
Well dressing normally takes place at Bonsall, during the last week in July.
The town celebrates the talents of local, national and international artists and performers of all descriptions every September when it holds its annual festival. Events cover every art-form with exhibitions, performances and workshops for people of all ages and interests. From brass bands to African drumming, from all day workshops to picnics in the park you will find something to interest and enthral you.
On the Sunday following the 8 September, the ancient custom of clypping is carried out, which involves the joining of hands to completely encircle the church. This service of thanksgiving signals the start of Wakes Week, which was originally a workers' holiday celebrated by picnics, musical events, dancing and parties. The festival has expanded that tradition and in recent years has been transformed into an event to excite and inspire not only local people, but also visitors from far and wide.
The festival is rapidly becoming known as one of the finest in the Midlands, as more and more people become aware of its success and extremely wide range of events. A large number of artists and performers live locally and join with performers from all over the world to provide a rich and varied event.
During the first weekend of the festival the Art and Architecture Trail takes place. Possibly the region's biggest visual arts event, the trail takes you to houses, shops, cafes and public buildings, many of which are not normally open to the public. In recent years more than 100 artists have shown paintings, sculpture, ceramics, photography, textiles and other unusual art forms. With open-air and street performances of theatre, dance and music, plus workshops led by skilled professionals, it is not surprising that this is indeed a very popular visitor attraction.