Well I like to think my great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, might have looked through the hole in this old Derbyshire gatepost on her way from Callow Farm to Hathersage village. The post stands beside a path she would have known well until 1886 when, at the age of 23, and apparently already betrothed to the local squire, she ran off with a city type, a Bolton spindle manufacturer, Tom Shorrocks.
The High Peak of her homeland was by no means a rural idyll, although it looks so today. Alongside stock rearing and subsistence agriculture, small landowner-tenant farmers like the Foxes had for centuries engaged in other trades. Lead and fluorspar mining were mainstays of the area. So was the making of millstones up on Stanage Edge, though not so much for wheat grinding since the local gritstone discoloured the flour, but for pulping wood and crushing the lead ore for the smelting houses. The grind-stones also served the cutlery industry in nearby Sheffield and stones for wood pulping were exported to North America and Russia.
Hathersage, then (seen distantly here through the gate post), has a busy industrial past. From Tudor times it was the centre of wire-drawing, at first for making sieves for miners, and later for pins and needles. By Mary Ann’s day there were 5 such mills there, all powered by steam, their chimneys gushing out fumes that would have hung over the Derwent Valley. By then, too, the railway had arrived, the line from Manchester to Sheffield passing through land once owned by her grandfather. So, as I say, this was no rural idyll, but a community of industry and enterprise of the sort that had characterized High Peak farming families for generations. Growing and stock rearing might put food on the table, but farming did not bring the kind of prosperity that a rich seam of lead could be expected to yield.
But I do wonder if Mary Ann was not shocked to find herself in the little terraced villa on Kildare Street in Farnworth, (part of Greater Manchester), there in a maze of town streets, far from the far-reaching uplands she would have seen every day from Callow Farm. Did she miss these views? She certainly told my grandmother about crossing the River Derwent stepping stones on her way into Hathersage. And she told how she never forgave her father for taking away her pony, this because she would not desist from jumping the 5-bar gate at the end of the lane. He feared for her life. She mourned only her pony’s loss, back-broken by the overweight farmer who had bought it from her father.
Perhaps she had good reason to leave. Perhaps the squire of Abney was not to her taste. Perhaps city life was more exciting. From my perspective it is too easy to be overly sentimental about the loss of this landscape; one that I find so beguiling. It wasn’t really like this in great grandmother’s day. As L.P. Hartley says in the opening of his novel The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”