Portrait Of My Aunt


Miriam Wilkinson nee Hickling:  21st February 1914 – 17th March 2003


There was only one thing my aunt loved more than her Devon garden, and that was the Derbyshire Peak District – the lanes round Bradwell, Ashford and Hathersage, the byways of Fox and Bennett family forebears. To a child brought up in the suburbs of Manchester, the Peak District of spring and summer holidays seemed like heaven.

For most of her married life, Miriam was a nomad – living in 42 different rented flats. Each one she tried to make home, and always with much flair and limited funds, as she followed her engineer husband from one telephone exchange to another, whenever and wherever he was dispatched to oversee the upgrade of Britain’s telecommunications. They had married at the start of World War 2, and the header photo probably dates from around this time. After a makeshift marriage whither my grandmother had arrived wearing only her shopping clothes since she looked down on the whole affair, Miriam had been left married, but stranded with her unsympathetic parents while my uncle was posted off to West Africa.

Looking back, he must have been helping to provide British navel and military intelligence with radio surveillance capability since he had no service rank as far as I know. He apparently lived in some style out in Africa. But it was all change a year later when he was posted to Coventry during the Blitz, presumably to work on restoring bombed out telephone connections. And this is where married life actually began, in a dismal rent room smelling of boiled cabbage and with Luftwaffe bombs raining down.

My uncle did not cope well with either the bombing or the war-time privations. Miriam had to keep him together on all fronts, while she went to work in a munitions factory. I cannot imagine what it was really like for her. She had lived a life of quiet and modest gentility, though always within the orbit of rich relatives. She had endured her mother’s spirit-crushing jibes while doting on a father who, in her hearing, had once described her to a family friend as ‘a dud’. Neither her mother or father had the faintest idea about parenting or how to prepare their two daughters for adult life.

My grandmother had been mostly brought up by a housemaid and a slightly dotty aunt as her own twice widowed mother drifted around in black silk dresses, taking covert sips of gin, while presiding over a Cheshire Inn. Grandfather had been abandoned by his own mother, who apparently fled merchant-class respectability and ran off to be an actress. She deposited grandfather with his dour Victorian Hickling grandparents, though returned in later life from time to time, wafting in at the family firm for a cash injection from ‘master Georgie’.

You can well see how lives of ‘quiet desperation’ get handed on from generation to generation.

Miriam had a talent for drawing and writing but even this outlet was denied. She had poor eyesight and had terrible headaches, but my grandfather would not let her have spectacles. No visible signs of imperfection would be tolerated. She told me how once, when returning from a childhood trip to Derbyshire by train, she had developed a rash on her face. Her parents being highly alarmed, took themselves off to another carriage to complete the journey to Manchester leaving Miriam alone in a state of disgrace. By the time she was fourteen she had suffered four nervous breakdowns and had to be taken out of school. Both she and my mother, who was eight years younger, were sent to small private schools. My mother was not allowed take up a place at a prestigious girls’ high school despite gaining a scholarship. My grandfather would have no ‘blue stockings’ in his family. He had some notion that providential husbands would somehow materialise: both his daughters would ‘marry well’ and thus be taken care of.

They did not and they were not. But each in their own very different ways made the best of very bad jobs, though in my mother’s case her methods of choice were destructive and damaging to others. Miriam remained stalwart, loyal to a man whose nerves were fragile, and who, in extremis, once attempted to strangle her as she slept.


My mother, Peggy, probably sixteen years old, Miriam around the time of her marriage circa 1939. Both stepping out with so much intention.


Miriam did not have a home of her own until the mid-1960s. It was on top of the hill in Pinhoe, near Exeter. There she made a garden that was filled with wildflower reminders of girlhood Derbyshire holidays – dame’s violets, bloody cranesbill, saxifrage, cowslips, primroses, the wild yellow pansies of the limestone uplands.  In their latter years, she and my uncle took to having an annual spring holiday in the Derbyshire Peak District. It was a source of great joy to both of them. Sometime later I took her ashes there.

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Miriam around 4 years old c 1918. The first time she met her father was when he returned from France at the end of the Great War. He had been an ambulance driver, and came home with gas-damaged lungs, which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. It left him the poorer too with years of medical bills to meet.  He said wearing a gas mask got in the way when he was trying to pick up the wounded.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Daily Prompt: constant

In Book Heaven At Scarthin Books

And no, the place isn’t haunted by the ghosts of bibliophiles past, at least I didn’t meet any while I was there. That’s me caught accidentally in the mirror, and with a daftly blissful look that reminds me of the Bisto Kid adverts wherein lads do much paradisal sniffing of delicious aromas. And of course books have their own parfum – from  well used and hypnotically musty to freshly pressed. So why would I not be looking happy in Scarthin Books? This well known Derbyshire emporium has 100,000 thousand volumes, old and new – spread over three floors (often literally) and stacked up to the rafters in 13 rooms.

The bookshop was once voted the 6th best in the world and, in  the forty odd years since it began, it has become a landmark and institution in the small Peak District village of Cromford. And if that name rings a bell, then it is the place where in 1771 Richard Arkwright built his cotton mill, thereby bringing us the factory system and all that went (still comes) with it. But please overlook that bit of unsavoury orientation. Overbearing capitalism is not the atmosphere one finds in the bookshop. Far from it. You can tell that, can’t you – even before you set foot inside.



In fact, once in there, it’s as if time has stopped, despite the ticking of the clock. There is nothing you need do; no schedule to keep; no quota to fill or target to reach. It’s more like stepping into Looking Glass Land then.



Do I know this man?


Books, books and more books on every conceivable topic. You could spend days and years here. And the good thing is there’s no need to leave because they feed you too – delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes, produced from behind a bookshelf in what passes for a kitchen.



And if the bookish experience becomes too overwhelming, you can take the air with the sunflowers up in the roof garden. What an utterly sound establishment.

And in case you are wondering which books tempted me, I bought Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing, which I am yet to read, but made its presence felt from a nearby bookshelf while I was eating the delicious carrot soup, and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which so completely entranced me that, once home, I set about tracking down everything Jean Rhys had written, and so mislaid the Atwood. Fortunately, writing this post has reminded me to locate both books, so I can re-read one and make a start on the other.

The places then – both physical and metaphorical – where words take us, including the disgracefully dusty bookcase under the bedroom window. So thank you Ailsa for this week’s prompt at Where’s My Backpack. Please follow the link below to see her ‘words’ challenge photos.




This post is for my good friend Kate who is also a devotee of Scarthin Books.

Now please watch the video which will tell you more about the bookshop, how it began and the people who love it.

Where’s My Backpack: WORDS

In Search Of Lost Time In Eyam And An Outbreak Of Plague


This very unusual wall sundial is to be found above the Priest’s Door on the east side of Eyam parish church in Derbyshire. It dates from 1775, and was designed and made locally. I discovered it when were in the village doing a spot of family history research – not researching in any organised way I might add – more a matter of walking ancestral paths and acquiring a sense of place. Eyam is anyway a village with an awful lot of history, not least the story of how its inhabitants dealt with an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665-1666 by imposing a cordon sanitaire around the village boundary, and for over a year sticking to it so as not to spread the disease to neighbouring communities.

Over the fourteen months that the outbreak persisted, 280 out of the 800 population died. It is thought the infection arrived in a parcel of fabric, sent in late summer from London to the Eyam tailor, Alexander Hadfield. The package was opened by his assistant, George Viccars, and it was he who was the first to fall ill and die. Thereafter, the disease spread rapidly throughout the autumn, slowed over the winter, and returned in full force in the following spring and summer. In the worst month of August 1666 seventy eight villagers died.

Eyam’s self-imposed quarantine was managed by the young village rector, Reverend William Mompesson, and Nonconformist minister Reverend Thomas Stanley. It was agreed that every household would bury their own dead and, in a bid to  maintain morale and give comfort to survivors, church services were held in the open air so people could gather together, but not too closely. Local landowner, the Duke of Devonshire, and others from neighbouring villages saw that supplies of food and other necessities were left at the village boundary.

It is a harrowing episode that demonstrates great human resilience and bravery, not least by the Reverend Mompesson, whose own wife was among the last victims. And today, as you wander around the village, the event continues to be marked by commemorative plaques outside the cottages that were once the homes of the families who were particularly afflicted.

It could seem mawkish, crass even, to make a visitor attraction from this horrific episode, but somehow it isn’t. The village quietly embraces you in a reflection on shared humanity – now and back through time.  In fact the sun dial says it all: Induce animum sapientum –  cultivate an enquiring mind. And then on the two supporting stone corbels, which you can’t quite read in the photo: ut  umbra sic vita – life passes like a shadow.

I especially like the way that when it is noon in Eyam, the sundial shows the relative times in Calicut, Mecca and Panama, to name but a few of the far-flung places inscribed on the dial. It also includes a chart for longitudinal adjustments of local True Sun Time to Greenwich meantime, and throughout the year. Somehow it is uplifting to feel that in this isolated Derbyshire village, and over the centuries, the gaze of its inhabitants has extended to a world beyond its village boundaries.

So far I haven’t mentioned why we were visiting Eyam or explained presumed family links with this locality. Researches into the Fox family of Callow in Hathersage (covered in other posts) suggest that a possibly direct ancestor, one Robert Fox, yeoman farmer and lead miner, was living in the area between 1678 and 1699. I have a copy of his will and household inventory, so I know he owned 13 cushions and several field beds in one or more parlours. There were no Fox plague victims in Eyam, although Robert Fox’s second wife, Margaret Mower, had lost an uncle, Rowland Mower. His will is included in the 1842 book by local historian, William Wood, The History and Antiquities of Eyam ~ with a full and particular account of the Great Plague.

The Fox family connection is all a bit of a yarn, which may never be unravelled. So for now some more views of the village:P1050536

Eyam Parish Church and its 8th century Saxon Cross complete with Celtic influences.








This is Eyam Hall, very much post-plague, and built between 1671-6 and incorporating a much smaller existing property in the heart of the village. Its builders were newcomers, the land-owning-merchant Wright family, and their arrival signified revival, and an increasing interest in developing the lead mining potential the area. Landowners large and small were keen to exploit this highly valued mineral. And although lead had been mined across Derbyshire since Roman times, there is almost a ‘gold rush’ feel about the exploitative zeal from the late 17th century.

It is possible that post-plague opportunities around Eyam attracted the likes of putative ancestor, Robert Fox. My band of fellow Fox-hunters has not been able to establish if he was an incomer or if there were existing family connections with Eyam. His father was a tenant farmer at The Oaks, near Highlow, a few miles away, and he and Robert’s brothers may also have been involved in the lead business,  possibly smelting.

Robert owned four small parcels of lead-bearing land in Foolow, two of which adjoined Wright land. When he thought he was dying in 1691 and wrote his will, he was very concerned to make it clear he had ownership of them, and that the proceeds of his property should be managed by his brother and brother-in-law for the upbringing and education of his four children – James, William, Mary and Robert. In fact he did not die until 1699, and it is not clear what happened to his family. We think the eldest James became a shoemaker in Eyam, and that Robert was possibly a very successful joiner in Wirksworth, the lead mining capital of Derbyshire. William is the one we have our eye on as the possible ancestor for the Callow Foxes, but his baptismal record has so far proved elusive, which is most annoying when we know that his three siblings were baptised in Eyam church. Ah, well. Such are the fascinations and frustrations of tracking down traces of families long past.


From: William Wood The History & Antiquities of Eyam 1842

Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past



P.S. A number of readers have asked what became of 3 year old Joseph Siddall. The Eyam Museum researches seem to indicate that there were in fact two surviving Siddall children, and they went to live with relatives in Sheffield, not that far from Eyam. There is quite a dynasty of Siddalls in the Eyam-Stoney Middleton area of Derbyshire, so they would not have been left without any family connections.

Meet T’owd Man ~ AKA The Old Man Of Wirksworth


He is said to be 800 years old, or thereabouts, this mythic little figure of a lead miner with his pick and kibble (basket). He is presently to be found embedded in the wall inside St. Mary’s Church in the Derbyshire Peak District town of Wirksworth. But this was not his original home. He once lived in the nearby village of Bonsall, where he was found during the restoration of the 13th century  parish church of St. James. This was in 1863, and it was then that T’owd Man found his way (along with other pieces of interesting medieval stone work) into the garden of one Churchwarden Coates.

This highhanded commandeering of the local lead miners’ talisman did not please the general populace, who wanted him restored to sacred territory. Somehow in the argy bargy he ended up being firmly mortared into the wall of St. Mary’s Church in Wirksworth instead – where he has remained ever since for his own good and general safekeeping. He has also become the town’s ‘unofficial’ symbol, so you can pay him a visit, AND get the tee shirt.

But this story of general displacement is making me wonder. What  if T’owd Man is a good deal older than is currently thought.  I’m assuming his 13th century date was given him because he was found in a church of 13th century origins. But to my eye he could easily be a Saxon carving. What if the medieval builders of the Bonsall church had also recycled him?  (There are in fact many examples of Saxon carving within St. Mary’s, all re-deployed from an earlier church. See my post Expressions of Power  ~ Secular and Spiritual? for more of the background history).

Lead mining was a key industry in the area from at least Roman times. There is also documentary evidence of its importance in Saxon Wirksworth. In 835 the township was ruled by Abbess Cynewaru, and in a missive of that time she states that she was every year sending a gift of lead valued at 300 shillings to Christ Church, Canterbury. Much later in the Domesday Book of 1086 the entry for Wirksworth includes 3 lead works.

Wirksworth was in fact the centre for the trade. It was a hard and dangerous business. The miners were also a maverick lot. Many were yeoman farmers who combined hill farming with lead working, and some grew extremely rich on the trade, although many died from explosions in the mines, and the general toxicity of working with lead.

All the miners’ activities were subject to a system of rigorous rules and regulations overseen by the Barmaster of the Barmote Court. This court was held in Wirksworth for at least 7 centuries, and had its origins in Saxon Burg Moots (moot is Saxon for gathering or assembly). The last version of the court or Moot Hall still survives. It was built just out of the town centre in 1814 to replace a grander Moot Hall that stood in the Market Place. It seems the noisy behaviour of the miners, and the congestion they caused in the town centre, led to the earlier building being demolished.


Wirksworth is a fine town for a visit. Its many surviving seventeenth and eighteenth century houses attest to the general prosperity of the place over many decades.  When the lead ran out in the 19th century, limestone quarrying replaced it. Rivers were harnessed to power cotton mills, and so the industrial age kicked in. And if this smacks too much of ‘dark satanic mills’, don’t you believe it. The town sits in glorious countryside, in the heart of England, in fact at ‘its very navel’ as one-time resident D.H. Lawrence put it. Here, then, are some more views from England’s very green and pleasant navel:

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Thursday’s Special ~ Traces of the Past Check in here to see what Paula and other bloggers have posted.

The Old Quarry At Middleton Top, Derbyshire


With today’s images I’m having a complete change in mood from yesterday’s full-colour Wenlock Edge vistas. These Middeton Top photos were taken in September during our brief stay in Derbyshire.

As you can see, the light was flat and dull. I thought colour photos probably wouldn’t work, but decided to try out my camera’s monochrome setting. (And yes a tripod might have helped.) The result, to my eye, looks rather like a lugubrious nineteenth century (if not older) engraving – quite a fitting outcome I’m thinking for this old Industrial Age quarry.

Middleton Top is anyway a dramatic spot. The quarry lies beside the old Cromford and High Peak Railway Line now part of the fabulous High Peak Trail. There is also an impressively long and steep inclined plane (1 in 8) and the 1829 steam winding engine that once hauled wagons up the hill is still there within its dark-stone engine house.

I always find quarries very disturbing places, the landscape hacked and blasted. Also the limestone in this part of the world seems to loom oddly – even on dull days. Up on the skyline between the two small trees you can just see a cluster of boulders; they caught my eye for this very reason. I also thought I spotted a raven there, but it flew off before I could organise myself with the binoculars. Instead, I went for maximun zoom on the Lumix and ended up with this ‘charcoal sketch’ effect. Also a bit unsettling. You will have to imagine the raven. Or a Wuthering Heights moment displaced from Yorkshire.P1050680


And I couldn’t end without including a photo of the steam-winding engine house: an important piece of Britain’s industrial archaeological landscape. The engine is still in working order and has demonstration open days, though sadly no longer powered by steam. There’s a video HERE.



Black & White Sunday

Looking Back: Traces Of The Past


I took this photo on a whim, just to see how it would turn out. This old farm-field post was one of several on the footpath to the Hathersage stepping stones that cross the River Derwent just outside the town. For those of you who read my earlier Derbyshire posts, you’ll know I was on a quest to follow in my great grandmother’s footsteps, taking the path that she once took from Callow Farm and into Hathersage.

I don’t remember ever seeing stone posts like this before, and don’t know how old it is. But I think it’s safe to say that this and others were there in the late 1880s-90 when Mary Ann Fox passed by to do her shopping.


You can read more of her story at Stepping Stones Through Time and Stronghold – The Telling Of Family Tales

There was also another idea running through my head when I took the photo – a far cry, too, from Derbyshire and my ancestors. When I saw the hole in the stone I was reminded of the 1960s young adult novel The Owl Service by Alan Garner. It is set in Wales and explores the rival affections between three teens through a parallel tale from the Welsh medieval story cycle of the Mabinogi.

It’s a great story, both the original and Garner’s use of it. Here’s a quick version of the myth.

The magician Gwydion makes a woman, Blodeuwedd, from flowers. She betrays her husband Lleu with a man called Gronw who tries to kill Lleu with a spear. He turns into an eagle and escapes. However, rough justice allows Lleu to have his turn to throw a spear at Gronw who may only use a stone for protection. Lleu throws the spear so hard, it passes straight through the stone and kills Gronw, and to punish Blodeuwedd for her part in all this, the magician Gwydion turns her into an owl.

So the first shot is my photo version – the stone of Gronw.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell



If you want to post some of your own ‘Traces of the Past’ please visit Paula at Lost in Translation


Derbyshire’s Arbor Low ~ They Call It The Stonehenge Of The North


Unlike Stonehenge a visit to Arbor Low does not include accompanying hosts of fellow enthusiasts, tacky gifts and bad coffee, nor the parting with large sums of money to go in (adult ticket £16.50). In consequence there are absolutely no facilities, no opening or closing times, and thus no need to pre-book to avoid the rush.

There is, however, an honesty box by the farm gate, and a requested fee of £1 per person. This is fine by me. The monument, though scheduled, is on private land. The farmer has to put up with the repeated nuisance of standing stones devotees, although on the September afternoon of our visit, takings suggested that scarcely a couple of dozen others had preceded us that day, and as we set off from the car there were only three people ahead of us on the track.

The only problem with Arbor Low is that once you’ve trekked through the farmyard and across the field to visit Derbyshire’s most important Neolithic henge (one’s head inevitably full of Stonehenge images, and lots of anticipation) it all looks decidedly flat when you get there, and so quite lacking in the upstanding drama of its more famous southern analogue. And while Arbor Low surely has considerable edge when it comes to setting (a thousand feet up on a limestone crest of the White Peak)  one wonders why the comparison has been implied at all. Isn’t Arbor Low its own special place?

I suppose, then, that mentioning the two sites in the same breath is really more about emphasising their prehistoric importance than suggesting any correspondence in physical scale or appearance. Arbor Low is anyway a much smaller circle. But it does have its own unique features, apart from the recumbent stones that is. These include a very impressive encircling ditch and an outer rampart with the added extra of a later Bronze Age round barrow built across its southerly bank. You can see it on the right of the next photograph.


So now that I’ve raised the vision of Stonehenge with its great sarsen lintels, I want you to forget it, and think about digging. The time is some four and half thousand years ago. I am the foreman, and I am handing you an antler pick, and maybe a cattle bone shoulder-blade to use as a shovel. We have marked out a circle some 70 metres across, and now you have to start digging 3 metres down into the limestone bedrock, while shovelling up your spoil to create the outer bank.

After many, many, many man-, woman-, and child-hours you can step back and regard the massive earthwork thus created. The freshly dug limestone of the rampart will doubtless have an unearthly white-grey glow. It will be visible from miles around, despite a more wooded landscape than today. At sunrise and sunset it will look spectacular against the skyline, the bank much taller and with a sharper profile that the present remains. In other words, it cannot be mistaken for anything other than a highly prestigious, and momentous man-made structure – the visual shock equivalent of coming upon a designer high-rise in the middle of a wilderness. Or maybe Starship Enterprise.


After all the digging you are left with a central oval platform around 50 metres across. Perhaps the limestone slabs are already located there, set up on end, and bedded, after much hefting and shunting, in the rocky ground. They could have been worked during the making of the ditch, or sourced from somewhere nearby. In any event, they would have involved considerable effort given your limited toolkit of stone, wood and bone.

From outside the earthwork – and because of the height of the outer bank, you cannot see either the stone circle, or to observe anything that is going on within. Stepping through the entrance to view the newly built monument is thus perhaps a deliberately contrived catch-your-breath moment: the scene before you covert, unnerving, awe-inspiring, drama-filled. If some ceremony is in progress – a narrative declaimed or sung, the outer bank will amplify the sounds in mysterious ways – echoing, resonant, other-worldly; it may be a place of loud whispers.

There will perhaps be no grass cover, just an exposed limestone arena. Around the oval platform you will see some forty standing stones.


In the centre there is also some kind of sanctuary, a rectangular configuration of more standing stones. The barrow on the southern bank is not yet there. It will be another thousand years before this spot is used as a burial site – perhaps by strangers, perhaps by the distant descendants of  you henge builders. These newcomers have also built another barrow, Gib Hill, just across the field from Arbor Low. Here they raised their own tomb atop the long barrow built by your forebears, a monument that possibly long preceded the stone circle. And so although you can no longer remember the rites and customs of these ancestors, you do know that, like the great mediaeval cathedrals of Europe with their roots in Roman and Saxon times, this place was considered ‘sacred space’ for a millennium and more…


And so back to reality and the flattened circle we see today. No one knows when the stones were laid low or why. There are other so-called recumbent stone circles in Britain. Sometimes some of the stones have also been buried. Superstitious dread could have much to do with it: an attempt to neutralise the stones’ power perhaps. There is also archaeological evidence in other contexts that suggests that the prehistoric occupants themselves have ritually ‘closed’ particular sites, perhaps prior to moving to a new centre of operations. There are other more practical reasons too: later farmers came along and simply re-used or moved the stones because they were ‘in the way’.

I also seem to remember from my student field-trip days to Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire that one of the stones had been buried in mediaeval times to cover up a murder. When the stone was being restored to its upright position, beneath it was found the grisly remains of a surgeon-barber, identifiable by the tools of his trade that were still with him. More fanciful interpretations of this find could of course suggest the presumed continuing practice in pagan sacrificial offerings, i.e. the kind of activity that we modern folk so very much like to associate with all ancient stones.


I suppose one of the most surprising things I discovered about Arbor Low is that there has been no archaeological exploration of this site since early Victorian times when the local antiquarian Thomas Bateman of Lomerdale Hall, and serial excavator of prehistoric barrows, tackled the place. It was he who discovered a human burial in the stone circle barrow and, during his Gib Hill excavation, uncovered a stone cist (a slab built tomb) in which the cremated human remains were placed along with an urn and offerings of meat and flint tools. And this, it seems, is all that is known.


So many mysteries then, and no likely answers. Instead I’ll leave you with the words of Thomas Bateman and his description of Arbor Low from his Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire 1848:

…the solitude of the place and the boundless view of uncultivated country are such as to carry the observer back through a multitude of centuries, and make him believe that he sees the same view and the same state of things as existed in the days of the architects of this once holy fane.


copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Disconnected Sunday: Plane…Sheep…Cloud…And Then…?


I was attracted by the sheep doing an ovine impression of Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen –  as spotted last week during our short break in the Derbyshire Peak District. Its posing place of choice is Hordron Edge, below Moscar Moor and Stanage Edge. We were walking up here on what he-who-is-usually-the-team-leader suspected would turn out to be a Tish-type wild goose chase. In short we, or rather I was in pursuit of a Bronze Age Stone Circle, otherwise known as the Seven Stones despite the fact that there are apparently eleven stones in the circle, and three more besides nearby.

I should admit straight off that I’m not renowned for my accurate map-reading, and so once we’d passed the sheep, walked for ages in surprisingly hot sunshine for late September, and then found ourselves on a path which kept wending onwards and upwards with absolutely no sign of a megalithic monument anywhere on the sky-line where I was expecting it, even I began to think I’d misread the map, and that we were definitely on a wild goose chase. Worse still, we’d left the lunch picnic in the car, so there wasn’t even the possibility of making the best of a bad job. And it was just the day for a moorland picnic too, not a state of affairs you can rely on in England’s uplands whatever the time of year.

‘We’ll just go to the next bend’ – I said – ‘so we can see over the brow of the hill’. But as always happens in such situations, we never came to the bend’s end. In fact the path began to rise very steeply. Then we noticed that exposed here and there beneath the turf were signs of a stone-paved trackway. Very puzzling in this middle of nowhere, but at least it suggested that we were headed somewhere. (I surmised later that it must be the relic of an old packhorse road up to Stanage Edge whither the locals once went quarrying to make millstones and grind stones).

And so as we pushed on, drawn on by the stone road, and quite unexpectedly Moscar Moor and Stanage lay before us. It is an awe-inspiring landscape, and so it is scarcely surprising that this whole area is rich in prehistoric cairns, circles, and settlement remains.

Also, by now I could see that my map-reading had been spot on, although the stone circle really took some finding in the heather.

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So I hope you weren’t expecting Stonehenge. Because here it is – the Seven Stones Circle of Hordron Edge, probably dating from around four thousand years ago.


The tallest stone is the one seen here in the foreground, and is about 1 metre high. It stands on the south west edge of the 16 metre circle, and has been dubbed the Fairy Stone. You can see it on the far right in the middle ground of the next photo. P1050638

Its particular significance is taken to be its relationship to the two conical hill tops, Win Hill on the left and Lose Hill on the right, the top of the stone possibly mirroring the landscape features. Peak District archaeologist John Barnatt has apparently observed that at the traditional start of winter and spring, the times of age-old festivals, the setting sun appears to roll down Win Hill.

Perhaps the placement of stone had something to do with the gathering of sun-power? Or the marking of the seasons in relation to the farming calendar? We can never know. All we can be sure of is that these monuments were important to the people who created them – gathering places for discourse, rituals, trade, or all of these. More recent local folklore has its say too – hence the naming of the Fairy Stone, and tales of strange lights being seen around about it.

And what do these monuments say to me? Well the main thing is that we should never underestimate the capacities of our ancient antecedents. Also that we should never equate current technological whizz-kidery with intellectual superiority. These people  of the past  knew how to make a life in this challenging territory – a life charged with meaning and a deep sense of their place in the landscape. I feel too, we have lost much of our ancestors’ capacity for poetry and metaphor – the exchange between fellow humans that relied almost exclusively on language – the songs sung, the tales unfolded, the riddles set, the nuances of double and treble meanings.

But before I get too carried away with highfalutin notions, we decide that lunch is now too far away for comfort. We retrace our steps down the old stone trackway. It perhaps does date from much more recent medieval times. I’ve been unable to find out anything about it, although there is medieval packhorse road along the top of Stanage Edge.

As I descend the steep hill on a sunny Indian Summer day I wonder what it must have been like to urge pack horses up this route in a blizzard, the wind slicing under your cape, threatening to snatch your bonnet, the biting cold, the darkness. Just imagine…

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copyright  2016 Tish Farrell

Hordron Edge Circle
Bronze Age Stone Circle
East of Ashopton, Derbyshire  OS Map Ref SK21528685
OS Maps – Landranger 110 (Sheffield & Huddersfield), Explorer OL1 (The Peak District – Dark Peak Area)

Clandestine Capture & Ancestor Sleuthing In Derbyshire: Thursday’s Special


This was where I was last Thursday morning – not posting on Thursday’s Special, but trying to find a good spot on a field path outside Hathersage so I could photograph Callow Farm. This was the place where four generations of my Fox family ancestors were tenant farmers from around 1700 to 1892. Before that, during the late 1600s, they rented another Duke of Devonshire farm, The Oaks, up on the wilder heights of Offerton Moor, not far from Callow.

As you can see, the house (centre) is covertly situated, in the lee of the hill beside the wood. I had to use a lot of zoom, hence the hazy look, though such haziness is perhaps fitting for this piece of ancestral snooping. The more readily visible buildings on the right are the farm’s barns, now an upscale holiday let.

If you go to the previous post Stepping Stones Through Time you’ll find more of the story behind this photo. This was the reason why I  had hoped to cross the stepping stones, to achieve a closer view than this one. Ah well. Maybe next time.


There’s still time to take part in last week’s Thursday’s Special. Paula says ‘Pick a word in September’. Choose from: populated, time-sensitive, companionable, burgeoning, clandestine, but first go and see her gallery of photos and be inspired.



Textures Of My Ancestral Landscape


These are some of the landscape textures that my maternal ancestors, the Fox family of Derbyshire’s High Peak would have known well – windswept moors and weathered scarps of millstone grit. They were yeoman farmers and lead miners, and they made a living from this bleak and beautiful country for hundreds of years.

Family legend has it that the Foxes arrived in England with William the Conqueror, but Fox is a name with Germanic origins so they may well have been Saxons, belonging to the conquered rather than to the conquering forces. The earliest records for Foxes in the Hope Valley, and Offerton in particular – where my Foxes farmed until the end of the nineteenth century, are around the thirteenth century, although I and my fellow Fox researchers are yet to establish direct lineage from these times.

There were centuries of prosperity when various family members lived in large stone farmhouses, made ‘good’ marriages, and owned land and lead mining concessions, but by the early twentieth century there was only one member of my Fox line left in the area, and he was living modestly in Eyam. The family farm of Callow where he was born, and by then owned by the Duke of Devonshire had been relinquished with a farm sale in 1892.   High rents were besetting many Derbyshire farmers at this time. The Mr Fox mentioned in the sale advertisement is my great great grandfather, George Brayley Fox:


The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent

Saturday 29 October 1892

Callow Farm Sale

Important Sale of 23 cows, heifers, steers and calves, two horses and foal, 30 sheep, hays stack, three wheat stacks, seven oat stacks, farm implements etc.

Mr Hattersley has been honoured with instructions from Mr Fox who is give up the Farm, to sell by Auction on Wednesday, Nov 3, 1892, the very superior LIVE and DEAD FARM STOCK, as briefly enumerated below:

Black Mare, believed to be in foal, excellent worker;

Valuable Brown Horse, six years old, with splendid action, believed to be sound, and quiet in all work;

Roan foal by Bedford;

One Cow in calf for December 25th, four in-calf cows for April, two barren cows in milk, four very choice heifers in calf for April, two barren heifer stirks, five strong bullock stirks, five spring-reared calves, 11 superior stock ewes, six fat sheep, one two-shear ram, 12 strong lambs, two very fine ducks, one fine drake.

Samuelson’s 2-horse combined mower and reaper, nearly new with additional shafts; wood tippler, horse rake, Cooke’s wood plough, set of wood harrows, nearly new; set of three harrows, swingtrees, fallow drag on wheels, stone roller, with shafts, horse turnip hoe, sheep troughs, joiner’s bench and tools, quarry tools, hay rakes and forks, 2 1-horse carts, winnowing machine, wheel chopper, with rising mouth, in excellent condition; corn chest, cart gears, stone cheese press, lever ditto, cheese rack and boards, nearly new; vats, garths etc, cheese pan, two brewing tubs, two oak chests, and a portion of furniture.

One stack of very prime new hay, three stacks of wheat, five stacks of white oats, two ditto of black oats and a quantity of table and other turnips.

Sale to commence 12 noon.


Every item here tells of great intimacy with the land. Just to read this notice gives me a painful sense of roots yanked up. I feel the touch and then the loss of the fine ducks, the strong lambs, the black mare in foal, the oats and the stone cheese press; even the turnips and the quarrying tools. But I would like to think, too, that somewhere in my bones are still traces of that High Peak millstone grit, the hardiness and courage that it took to carve a living from these uplands, and in my lungs the sharp, clean air of the moors of Longshaw where earlier generations of my family, so it is said, grazed four hundred sheep on their own run, and also owned the shepherd’s byre, that dating from 1399 was later sold and expanded into a handsome house for the Duke of Rutland’s agent, and is now the well known inn, Fox House, just outside Sheffield. Somewhere within this sturdy stone carapace is the earlier shepherd’s dwelling of quite another texture.


copyright 2016 Tish Farrell


This week at Black & White Sunday, Paula has given us the theme of ‘texture’. She also included a quotation by novelist British Paul Scott, which is very much responsible for my take on the challenge:

“The past becomes a texture, an ambience to our present”

P.S. Paul Scott served in the Intelligence Corps of the British Army in India during the World War Two. He wrote the phenomenal Raj Quartet, set in India during these years, and which was made into a very excellent TV serial back in the 1980s. The TV version is available on DVD, and with its all star actors is well worth watching. But read the books too.